House Bill 2491 and Senate Bill 1539 of the New Jersey Legislature seek to expand the type of franchises, which are subject to the New Jersey Franchise Practices Act. In general, the New Jersey Franchise Practices Act currently applies to franchises where: 1) the franchisor has granted the franchisee a license, mark, trade name, etc.; 2) there is a “community of interest” in the marketing of goods and services; 3) where the franchisee has established or maintains a “place of business” in New Jersey; 4) where the gross sales between franchisor and franchisee are more than $35,000 in the prior year; and 5) more than 20% of the franchisee’s sales are derived from the franchise. The proposed change in the statute would apply the provisions of the Franchise Practices Act to “mobile” franchises, in other words, franchises that do not have a brick and mortar location. Under the proposed Bill, a “place of business” would include a location where the franchisee “displays for sale or at which or from which the franchisee sells the franchisor goods.” This would include an office or warehouse from which franchisee personnel visit or call upon customers or, perhaps more importantly from which the franchisor’s goods are delivered to customers.
Potentially more significant than the proposed changes to the definition of “place of business” is the additional language that the Bill would tack on to the “general purpose” section of the Franchise Practices Act. The proposed Bill would add the following language:
“…and to protect franchisees from unreasonable termination by franchisors that may result from a disparity of bargaining power between national and regional franchisors and small franchisees. The legislature finds that these protections are necessary to protect not only retail businesses, but also wholesale distribution franchisees that “through their efforts” enhance the reputation and goodwill of franchisors in this State. Further, the legislature declares that the courts have in some cases more narrowly construed the Franchise Practices Act then was intended by the legislature”.
This additional language should concern franchisors doing business in New Jersey, since it is unnecessary to achieve the expansion to the “place of business” definition that is the focus of the Bill. This tougher language may indicate that there are further changes to the statute being considered. Certainly, the inclusion of the proposed language would be used as a justification by judges to give much broader application to the Act than has been the case in years past.
The two Bills are currently in the initial stage of the legislative process, and will probably not be acted upon until May or June of this year. The current sponsors of the two Bills are Assemblyman Joseph Cryan – District 20 (Union County) and Senator Bob Smith – District 17 (Middlesex and Somerset Counties). The legislation was introduced in the House on March 10, 2008, and in the Senate of March 17, 2008.