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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. Linda, I sure hope you are not seeking a law license, for such eighteenth century sentiments could result in your denial in some jurisdictions minting attorneys for our tolerant and inclusive profession.

  2. Mazel Tov to the newlyweds. And to those bakers, photographers, printers, clerks, judges and others who will lose careers and social standing for not saluting the New World (Dis)Order, we can all direct our Two Minutes of Hate as Big Brother asks of us. Progress! Onward!

  3. My daughter was taken from my home at the end of June/2014. I said I would sign the safety plan but my husband would not. My husband said he would leave the house so my daughter could stay with me but the case worker said no her mind is made up she is taking my daughter. My daughter went to a friends and then the friend filed a restraining order which she was told by dcs if she did not then they would take my daughter away from her. The restraining order was not in effect until we were to go to court. Eventually it was dropped but for 2 months DCS refused to allow me to have any contact and was using the restraining order as the reason but it was not in effect. This was Dcs violating my rights. Please help me I don't have the money for an attorney. Can anyone take this case Pro Bono?

  4. If justice is not found in a court room, it's time to clean house!!! Even judges are accountable to a higher Judge!!!

  5. The small claims system, based on my recent and current usage of it, is not exactly a shining example of justice prevailing. The system appears slow and clunky and people involved seem uninterested in actually serving justice within a reasonable time frame. Any improvement in accountability and performance would gain a vote from me. Speaking of voting, what do the people know about judges and justice from the bench perspective. I think they have a tendency to "vote" for judges based on party affiliation or name coolness factor (like Stoner, for example!). I don't know what to do in my current situation other than grin and bear it, but my case is an example of things working neither smoothly, effectively nor expeditiously. After this experience I'd pay more to have the higher courts hear the case -- if I had the money. Oh the conundrum.

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