Illinois Appellate Court Dismisses Lawsuit Between Truck Manufacturer and Franchisee

DiTommaso-Lubin represents clients from many industries who operate all kinds of businesses, including both franchisors and franchisees. Our Aurora business attorneys came across an appellate decision from the Fourth District here in Illinois that involves a dispute that arose out of a franchise agreement between a heavy-duty truck manufacturer and a truck dealer.

232054_semi-truck_4.jpg Crossroads Ford Truck Sales, Inc. v. Sterling Truck Corp. is a disagreement that came about after the two parties entered into a sales and service agreement where Plaintiff Crossroads had the right to purchase Sterling Trucks and vehicle parts from Defendants and Defendants “reserved the right to discontinue at any time the manufacture or sale” of their parts or change the design or specs of any products without prior notice to Plaintiff. Several years after entering the agreement, Defendants allegedly announced that they were discontinuing the production of Sterling trucks and that Detroit Diesel Corporation (the truck's engine manufacturer) would cease accepting orders as well. Defendant sent written notice of these decisions to Plaintiffs. Defendants decided to discontinue manufacture of the Sterling vehicles allegedly because they were duplicative of other vehicles manufactured by Sterling's parent company.

In response to this notice, Plaintiff filed suit alleging violations of the Motor Vehicle Franchise Act, fraud, and tortious interference with contract. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss on all counts, which was granted in part by the trial court because Defendants' discontinuance and re-branding of the Sterling brand constituted good cause for terminating the contract. Plaintiff then filed an interlocutory appeal for the trial court's partial dismissal.

The Appellate Court affirmed the trial court's dismissal of the violations of sections 4(d)(1) of the Franchise Act because Plaintiffs failed to allege specific facts supporting each element of violation under the Act and instead merely made conclusory allegations for each violation. The Court also found that the allegations under section 9 of the Act were improperly plead, as Plaintiff's allegations contained only conclusions without the specific facts required by the Act. The Court then upheld the lower court's ruling as to the allegations under section 9.5 of the Act because the sales and service agreement remained in effect and had not been terminated. Next the Court found the dismissal of the fraud claims to be proper because Plaintiff failed to allege a misrepresentation of a present fact and dismissed the claims under section 4(b) of the act because Defendant's conduct was neither arbitrary nor in bad faith. Finally, the Court did not address the alleged 4(d)(6) violations due to a lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, as such violations are within the purview of the Review Board under section 12(d) of the Act.

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Federal Court Indicates Equitable Tolling Only Available in FLSA Cases When There is Evidence of Deception by Defendants

783403_catering_service_2.jpgDiTommaso-Lubin handles wage and hour class action litigation on a regular basis, and many of our clients' claims are based upon violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Our Schaumburg unpaid overtime attorneys were interested to see a recent class-action brought by restaurant workers alleging violations of the FLSA.

Cao v. Wu Liang Ye Lexington Rest., Inc. is a suit filed by twenty-four employees of two restaurants in New York City. The employees worked as waiters, delivery workers, and a food packer for Defendants and filed suit for unpaid minimum and overtime wages, illegal tip deductions, expense reimbursement for the purchase and maintenance of bicycles and uniforms. Plaintiffs also sought statutory liquidated damages, prejudgment interest, and attorneys' fees. Plaintiffs filed for default, which was granted by the Court. Plaintiffs subsequently submitted their damages calculations and Defendants opposed Plaintiffs' application for damages on the basis that Plaintiffs' calculations were inflated and Defendants' violations of the FLSA were not willful.

The Court addressed Defendants' arguments by first discussing the applicable law. The limitations period for FLSA claims is generally two years, but is three years for defendants that willfully break the law. The Court then ruled that the three year statute of limitations was applicable because Defendants defaulted and therefore admitted Plaintiffs' willfulness allegations. The Court also found the longer statute of limitations applied because Defendants admitted that they did not try to learn about the FLSA's requirements until just prior to the commencement of the lawsuit. Plaintiffs argued that they should receive unpaid wages for the entirety of their employment under the doctrine of equitable tolling due to the fact that Defendants failed to post a notice explaining the FLSA in plain view of employees. The Court saw no reason to extend Plaintiffs' claims beyond the statutory three year period because Defendants' had not engaged in any sort of deception or other exceptional activity, and prior case law held that equitable tolling only applies in unusual circumstances. The Court finished by granting Plaintiffs damages for unpaid minimum wage, overtime wages, unlawful tip deductions, reimbursement for bicycle expenses, liquidated damages, prejudgment interest, and attorneys' fees.

The Court denied reimbursement for uniform expenses because most of the clothing worn by employees could be “worn as a part of the employees' ordinary wardrobe.” Plaintiffs did also wear a red vest that could be considered outside an ordinary wardrobe, but there was no evidence in the record that Plaintiffs' incurred expenses obtaining or cleaning the red vests.

Cao v. Wu Liang Ye Lexington Rest., Inc. provides future wage and hour litigants with several lessons when it comes to preparing damages applications. First and foremost, courts are unlikely to apply equitable tolling to extend the FLSA's statute of limitations in the absence of intentional deception or fraud by defendants. Additionally, this case serves as a reminder that employees should keep accurate records of work related expenses if they wish to recover damages under the FLSA.

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