FRANCHISOR 101: Franchisee Not Bound by Arbitration Provision
In March 2013, Edison Subs, LLC, a Subway franchisee/transferee, filed a complaint in New Jersey against Subway and Aliya Patel (the original franchisee/transferor) and Subway's affiliate for breach of contract, fraud, violations of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act, negligent misrepresentation and violations of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing. Edison alleged that it entered into an oral franchise agreement with Subway that Patel induced Edison to accept through misrepresentations and omissions and that Subway and Patel breached the oral agreement by ejecting Edison from the premises after Edison had operated the Subway restaurant for two years.
The Subway Franchise Agreement required all claims to be arbitrated in Connecticut, so Subway brought an action to compel arbitration of Edison's claims. The U.S. District Court in Connecticut observed that it was undisputed that Edison did not sign, and denied ever receiving, a copy of the Franchise Agreement.
Subway argued that Edison could be bound by the terms of the Franchise Agreement under common law principles of contract and agency, including estoppel. Despite the fact that Edison never signed the Franchise Agreement, the court noted that a signatory may be able to compel a non-signatory to comply with certain terms of an agreement when the non-signatory directly benefits from the agreement.
To rely on this theory and enforce arbitration, Subway had to prove that Edison received notice of the Franchise Agreement and the arbitration provision and knowingly accepted the Franchise Agreement's benefits. The court found there was no evidence offered that Edison had notice of Subway's written Franchise Agreement or that Edison knowingly exploited the Franchise Agreement. Therefore the court denied Subway's plea for an injunction to compel arbitration.
Franchisors should maintain a signed and dated copy of each Franchise Agreement for each franchised business and a signed and dated FDD receipt that predates the Franchise Agreement and any payments made to the franchisor under the Franchise Agreement by at least 14 days. Click: Subway Franchise Arbitration Ruling to see the ruling.