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Steak ’n Shake loses appeal over franchisee’s independent pricing

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A longtime Steak ’n Shake franchisee who sued the chain after it insisted on setting prices for menu items prevailed again Friday as the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed an Illinois federal court’s ruling in the franchisee’s favor.

The U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois granted franchisee Stuller Inc. a preliminary injunction to stop implementation of a policy Steak ’n Shake announced in 2010 in which the company set prices for all menu items at its company-owned and franchise stores.

“The record contains sufficient evidence to find, as a threshold matter, that Stuller would suffer irreparable harm if it was forced to implement Steak N Shake’s pricing policy. Specifically, Stuller has presented evidence that the policy would be a significant change to its business model and that it would negatively affect its revenue, possibly even to a considerable extent,” 7th Circuit Judge Daniel Manion wrote for the unanimous panel.

Springfield, Ill.-based Stuller operate five Illinois Steak ’n Shake restaurants under franchise agreements with predecessors that date back to 1939, making it the oldest franchise in the country, according to Manion’s opinion. “In all that time, Stuller has had the ability to set menu prices,” he wrote.

Stuller sued when Steak ’n Shake said it would terminate the franchises if Stuller refused to adopt a new policy of uniform prices and promotions. It won the injunction while the court considers Stuller’s request for a declaratory judgment that it wasn’t required to comply with the policy. Stuller also accused Steak ’n Shake of breach of contract and violation of the Illinois Franchise Disclosure Act.  

In its interlocutory appeal, Indianapolis-based Steak ’n Shake argued that the injunction should not have been granted, citing the court’s ruling in Second City Music, Inc. v. City of Chicago, 333 F.3d 846, 850 (7th Cir. 2003) that stated “Injury caused by failure to secure a readily available license is self-inflicted, and self-inflicted wounds are not irreparable injury.”

“Steak N Shake misreads our decision in Second City,” Manion wrote.

“We acknowledge that Steak N Shake contests the validity and strength of the evidence presented by Stuller, but that argument goes to the ‘sliding scale analysis’ conducted by a court in deciding to grant or deny a preliminary injunction, and not to Stuller’s threshold requirements. In addition, if Stuller implemented Steak N Shake’s policy and subsequently prevailed on the merits of its case, it would be difficult to reestablish its previous business model without a loss of goodwill and reputation. Because this is harm that cannot be ‘fully rectified by the final judgment after trial,’ it is irreparable,” the court ruled.

In a footnote, the court said, “We also note that a review of the district court’s docket sheet indicates that the district court issued an opinion on July 12, 2012 denying Steak N Shake’s motion for summary judgment on all the claims, granting Stuller’s motion for summary judgment (for a declaratory judgment), and denying Stuller’s motion for summary judgment on (breach claims) and setting a trial date in September on the issue of damages. Because Stuller’s case now has a greater likelihood of success, the balance of harms when granting an injunction weighs even more in Stuller’s favor.”


 

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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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