FRANCHISEE 101: Unsigned Franchise Agreement Binds Franchisee's Shareholder
Texas Appeals Court recently
held in Pritchett v. Gold's Gym Franchising, LLC that a Texas forum-selection clause in a Franchise Agreement was incorporated by reference into a personal guaranty agreement and was binding on a franchisee's out-of-state shareholder who did not sign the Franchise Agreement.
Gold's Gym and its franchisee, Bodies in Balance, entered into a Franchise Agreement in 2008. Each of Bodies in Balance's three shareholders signed a Guaranty, agreeing to be "personally bound by each and every provision in the Franchise Agreement."
The Franchise Agreement contained a "Consent to Jurisdiction" provision saying Bodies in Balance and its shareholders agreed the courts in Dallas County had exclusive jurisdiction over all disputes. The Guaranty did not have a "Consent to Jurisdiction" provision. Pritchett, a 50 percent shareholder, argued that, despite the Consent to Jurisdiction provision in the Franchise Agreement, he could not be forced to litigate claims in Texas because he had not signed the Franchise Agreement.
The court ruled that to uphold terms incorporated by reference in an agreement, "it must be clear that the parties to the agreement had knowledge of and assented to the incorporated terms." Since the Guaranty said "Guarantors do hereby agree to be personally bound by...each and every provision in the [2008 Franchise] Agreement...," the Court concluded that the parties to the Guaranty intended the entire Franchise Agreement, including its forum-selection clause, to be part of the Guaranty.
According to the Court, if Pritchett signed the guaranty, he was subject to the forum-selection clause in the Franchise Agreement and waived any jurisdictional objection to being sued in Dallas County.
Prospective franchisees should be cautious about, and fully understand the effects of, incorporation by reference clauses in their Franchisee Agreements.
Read the court opinion: Tim Pritchett, Appellant, v. Gold's Gym Franchising, LLC, Appellee