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More franchisees join revolt over Steak n Shake menu pricing

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More Steak n Shake franchisees are revolting over the company’s policy that prohibits restaurants in the chain from setting their own menu prices.

Three franchise owners filed suit last month against Indianapolis-based Steak n Shake, including two on the same day – April 22 – in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana in Indianapolis.

They argue the company continues to force its franchisees to abide by the menu policy even after a federal appeals court sided last year with a fellow franchise owner that first challenged the practice.

“Steak n Shake’s royalties are calculated as a percentage of a franchisee’s revenue, not profits, which explains why Steak n Shake wants to increase customer volume through the sale of lower-priced food without concern as to whether franchisees actually make a reasonable profit,” the franchisees argue in their lawsuits.

Reached by phone, Steak n Shake lawyer Tonya Sallee declined to discuss the suits, citing company policy that prohibits commenting on pending litigation.

The dispute over pricing started in 2010, when Springfield, Ill.-based Stuller Inc. brought its complaint against Steak n Shake in a federal court in Illinois. Stuller operates five Illinois Steak n Shake restaurants under franchise agreements with predecessors that date back to 1939, making it the oldest Steak n Shake franchise in the country.

The court granted Stuller a preliminary injunction to stop Steak n Shake from forcing menu prices on franchisees.

Steak n Shake appealed. But last August, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the Illinois federal court’s ruling in Stuller’s favor.

Yet, even after the failed appeal, the three franchisees suing Steak n Shake argue that the company “has held steadfast in its ongoing, and system-wide, breach of those [franchise] agreements by continuing to force its franchisees to abide by the policy.”

They argue in their suits that Steak n Shake’s executive leadership, led by CEO Sardar Biglari, decided that it would set menu prices contrary to existing language in the franchise agreements that says otherwise.

Steak n Shake shareholders elected Biglari CEO in 2008, and the company now is operated by San Antonio-based holding company Biglari Holdings Inc.

The three franchisees who filed suits last month against Steak n Shake are Georgia-based People Sales & Profit Co., Missouri-based Druco Restaurants Inc. and Pennsylvania-based Scott’s S&S Inc. In total, they operate eight Steak n Shake restaurants in the three states.

They’re seeking a permanent injunction to bar Steak n Shake from mandating company-wide menu prices and from terminating their franchise for refusing to comply with the pricing policy. They also are suing for breach of contract and fraud.

One of the lawyers representing them, Richard Shevitz of Indianapolis-based Cohen & Malad LLP, said more lawsuits could be forthcoming.
 
Steak n Shake operates 501 restaurants, including 87 franchised locations.

In its fiscal first quarter ended Dec. 19, Steak n Shake reported revenue of $163.2 million, a 1.7-percent increase from the same time in 2011.
 

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  1. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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