HOEVELER, District Judge.
THIS CAUSE is before the Court on Counter-Defendant Burger King Corporation's ("BKC") Motions: (1) to Dismiss Defendants' ("Austins") First Amended Counterclaim ("Counterclaim"); and (2) to Strike Defendants' Prayer for Damages in the Counterclaim. Also pending is Austins' Appeal from Magistrate Judge Bandstra's Order dated November 30, 1990.
Austins were franchisees of two Burger King restaurants. As a result of their nonpayment of royalties, advertising and sales promotion expenses, and rents as provided by the Franchise Agreements, BKC terminated the franchise relationships on March 30, 1990. Nevertheless, Defendants continued to operate the restaurants and to use the Burger King trademark. BKC brought this action for damages and injunctive relief
Defendants admitted in their Answer that they did not pay the various sums to BKC, but claim that their failure to pay was excused because of the various claims asserted in their counterclaims.
On December 26, 1990, the Court granted BKC's Motion for Preliminary Injunction against Austins' continued use of the BKC trademark. On November 5, 1990, the Court granted BKC's Motion to Dismiss Austins' Counterclaim, however, granted Austins' leave to amend such Counterclaim. Austins filed an Amended Counterclaim, which is the subject of this Order.
II. MOTION TO DISMISS
A. Legal Standard
A court shall not grant a motion to dismiss unless it appears beyond doubt that a claimant can prove no set of facts in support of his claim that would entitle him to relief. Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 78 S.Ct. 99, 101-102, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957). In examining a motion to dismiss, the material allegations of the claims are taken as true and are liberally construed in favor of the plaintiff. See, e.g., Burch v. Apalachee Community Mental Health Serv., Inc., 840 F.2d 797, 798 (11th Cir. 1988), aff'd, 494 U.S. 113, 110 S.Ct. 975, 108 L.Ed.2d 100 (1990); Jackam v. Hospital Corp. of Am. Mideast, 800 F.2d 1577, 1579 (11th Cir.1986) ("[T]he movant sustains a very high burden.") (citations omitted); St. Joseph's Hosp., Inc. v. Hospital Corp. of Am., 795 F.2d 948, 954 (11th Cir.1986); Quality Foods v. Latin Am. Agribusiness Dev. Corp., 711 F.2d 989, 995 (11th Cir. 1983) (Plaintiffs' "threshold of sufficiency ... is exceedingly low.").
1. Counts I and II: Breach of Express Contract
Counts I and II of the Counterclaim allege "Breach of Express Contract" for Franchise Agreements # 3754 and # 6470,
The Court finds that Allegations One through Five and Eight can support a claim for breach of express contract. Each of the allegations alleges a breach of a specific clause in the Franchise Agreement. Although some of the clauses that were allegedly breached are in the Introduction to the Agreement, the Agreement specifies that the Introduction is a part of the Agreement. BKC argues that Allegation Five is insufficient because the Franchise Agreement imposes no duty on BKC to encourage, solicit, or implement any Franchisee suggestions. The Court disagrees; Section 4 of the Franchise Agreement states, in relevant part: "Suggestions from franchisees for improving elements of the Burger King System, such as products, equipment, uniforms, restaurant facilities, service format and advertising are encouraged and will be considered by BKC when adopting or modifying standards, specifications and procedures for the Burger King System." This clause requires BKC to encourage and consider franchisee suggestions.
BKC argues that Austins' allegations relating to advertising (Six and Seven) in Counts I and II of their Counterclaim are specifically negated by the express terms of the Franchise Agreement. Section 8(B) of the Franchise Agreement states, in relevant part:
In its Order dated November 5, 1990, the Court dismissed a very similar claim of breach of express contract: "By the unequivocal terms of the contract in this case, BKC was not obligated to spend the advertising monies in any particular way. BKC could choose to spend all on local advertising, all on national advertising, or allocate a portion of the monies to both." The Court finds that this Order continues to be controlling here. The Agreement states that BKC retains discretion over advertising spending; accordingly, BKC could not have breached the express terms of the contract by failing to spend monies on local advertising.
2. Count III: Conversion
Count III of the Counterclaim for "Conversion of Advertising Monies" alleges that BKC exercised dominion and control
As a threshold matter, we must first determine which law applies to this tort claim. The Franchise Agreement provides that it "[s]hall be governed and construed under and in accordance with the laws of the State of Florida." However, "[c]laims arising in tort are not ordinarily controlled by a contractual choice of law provision.... Rather, they are decided according to the law of the forum state." Sutter Home Winery, Inc. v. Vintage Selections, Ltd., 971 F.2d 401, 407 (9th Cir. 1992) (citations omitted); see Ritchie Enter. v. Honeywell Bull, Inc., 730 F.Supp. 1041, 1046 (D.Kan.1990). Florida utilizes the "most significant relationship" test to determine which state's law applies to tort claims. Garcia v. Public Health Trust, 841 F.2d 1062, 1064-65 (11th Cir.1988). Here, both Florida and Georgia have significant relationships to the parties. The Court, however, does not at this time determine which of the two has the "most" significant relationship because it appears that the law of conversion is similar in both states.
Conversion is defined as:
12 Fla.Jur.2d Conversion & Replevin § 1 (1979). "A mere obligation to pay money may not be enforced by a conversion action. ... [A]nd an action in tort is inappropriate where the basis of the suit is a contract, either express or implied." Belford Trucking Co. v. Zagar, 243 So.2d 646 (Fla.App.Dist.1970) (citations omitted); see Advanced Surgical Technologies, Inc. v. Automated Instruments, Inc., 777 F.2d 1504, 1507 (11th Cir.1985); Futch v. Head, 511 So.2d 314, 320-21 (Fla.App.Dist.1987); Douglas v. Braman Porsche Audi, Inc., 451 So.2d 1038, 1039 (Fla.App.Dist.1984).
Here, Austins' allegations regarding BKC's failure to expend funds it collected from Austins on advertising are based solely on the obligations contained in the Franchise Agreement. Such allegations are properly asserted in a claim for breach of contract (as Austins have asserted in Counts I and II in their claim for breach of express contract and in Counts IV and V in their claim for breach of implied covenant of good faith), rather than in a claim for conversion. Austins allegations simply do not constitute conversion, as defined under either Florida or Georgia law. Accordingly, Count III of the Counterclaim is DISMISSED.
3. Counts IV through XI: Implied Obligation of Good Faith and Fair Dealing
Counts IV through XI allege that BKC breached the implied contractual obligation of good faith and fair dealing contained in the Franchise Agreement.
BKC argues that these Counts must be dismissed because the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing: (1) does not create substantive contractual rights independent from those set forth in the agreement; and (2) cannot be used to vary or contradict the express terms of the written agreement.
As in Scheck, the Court need not issue a ruling that in any way challenges BKC's assertion that the covenant of good faith cannot be implied in derogation of the express terms of a contract. See id. at 696, 697-698.
Id. 81 Ill.Dec. at 170, 466 N.E.2d at 972 (citations omitted); see also Beraha v. Baxter Health Care Corp., 956 F.2d 1436, 1443-45 (7th Cir.1992);
Carvel Corp. v. Diversified Management Group, Inc., 930 F.2d 228, 230-31 (2d Cir. 1991);
(quoting Burkhardt v. City Nat'l Bank, 57 Mich.App. 649, 226 N.W.2d 678, 680 (1975));
Florida courts have not directly ruled on the role of the implied covenant of good faith in a contract that vests one party with discretion to act. As we noted in Scheck, Florida recognizes the implied covenant of good faith. Scheck, 798 F.Supp. at 695. In Fernandez v. Vazquez, 397 So.2d 1171, 1174 (Fla.Dist.Ct.App.1981), the Florida Third District Court of Appeal held that
While the Fernandez court's holding was in part based on the policy of free alienation of property, it was also based on principles of contract law:
Id. at 1173-74. Based on Fernandez and our review of other Florida cases that hold similarly, we conclude that Florida would conclude as the courts cited above have, namely that "a party vested with contractual discretion must exercise that discretion reasonably and with proper motive, and may not do so arbitrarily, capriciously, or in a manner inconsistent with the reasonable expectations of the parties." Dayan, 81 Ill.Dec. at 170, 466 N.E.2d at 972.
We now review each of the specific Counts alleging a breach of the implied covenant of good faith (Counts IV through XI) to determine whether they state a
Counts IV and V allege that BKC breached its implied contractual obligation of good faith and fair dealing by abusing its discretion with respect to marketing and promotion and defeating Austins' reasonable expectations. Section 8(B) of the Franchise Agreement vests all discretion with respect to marketing and promotion decisions in BKC: "All [advertising, sales promotion and public relations] expenditures shall be at the discretion of BKC."
Counts VI and VII allege that BKC breached the implied covenant of good faith: (1) "to maintain the integrity of the Burger King System;" and (2) to not terminate the franchise wrongfully.
Austins' claim in Counts VI and VII appears very similar to their claim for breach of express contract in Counts I and II (Allegations One Through Three). The allegations in Counts VI and VII do not allege an abuse of discretion on the part of BKC. Rather, they are part and parcel of Austins' claim that BKC deprived them of the benefits expressly granted to them by the Franchise Agreements. Accordingly, Austins' claim that BKC failed to "maintain the integrity of the Burger King System," while sufficiently stating a cause of action for breach of express contract,
Similarly, the second allegation of Counts VI and VII states that BKC had an implied obligation "to not wrongfully terminate" the Franchises. Section 16 of the Franchise Agreement addresses "Default and Effect of Termination" in explicit terms. Any breach of such Clause by BKC would be an express breach of contract,
Because Counts VI and VII are more properly set in a claim for breach of express contractual obligations, they are hereby DISMISSED.
Counts VIII and IX allege that BKC breached the implied covenant of good faith "to provide down store support" to Austins. Austins argue that these Counts:
Section Five of the Franchise Agreement, entitled "Services Available to Franchisee," states, in relevant part: "BKC agrees to periodically advise and consult with FRANCHISEE in connection with the operation of the Franchised Restaurant." Allegation Five of Counts I and II (Breach of Express Contract) states that Burger King discontinued its periodic advice and consultation with Austins in 1989. As in Counts VI and VII, Austins' claim here does not allege an abuse of discretion on the part of BKC, but rather involves an express breach of the benefits accorded to Austins by the Franchise Agreement.
Counts X and XI allege that BKC breached the implied covenant of good faith by requiring a capital investment in new equipment for the Restaurants. The Franchise Agreement provides at Section 4(D), in relevant part:
4. Count XII: Promissory Estoppel
Count XII asserts a claim of promissory estoppel for the "Undeveloped Rock Site." Austin claims: that in 1987 he was looking for a site to develop a second BKC franchise; that BKC presented him with a site to develop ("Undeveloped Rock Site"); that he placed a $5,000 deposit on the property and began development of the site; that after some time, he discovered that the site was uneconomical for development due to the rock that permeated the site; that BKC had known of the rock problem on the site, yet failed to disclose it to Austin; that Austins reasonably relied on BKC's representations regarding the viability of the site; and that BKC admitted its liability regarding the above, yet failed to fully reimburse Austins for their damages.
BKC argues that when Austin applied for a second franchise on December 6, 1988, he executed a general release from all claims existing prior to the date of the application. BKC offers the Franchise Application as an Exhibit to its Motion to Dismiss.
"[M]atters outside the pleadings cannot be considered on a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6)." St. Joseph's Hosp., Inc. v. Hospital Auth. of Am., 620 F.Supp. 814, 820 (S.D.Ga.1985) (citations omitted); see Concordia v. Bendekovic, 693 F.2d 1073, 1075 (11th Cir.1982) ("`Matters outside the pleading' ... includ[es] any written or oral evidence in support of or in opposition to the pleading that provides some substantiation for the pleadings.") (citations omitted). Accordingly, this issue is one that may properly be the subject of a motion for summary judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ. Pro. 56, Concordia, 693 F.2d at 1073; St. Joseph's Hospital, 620 F.Supp. at 1075, rather than a motion to dismiss.
In the interest of judicial economy, the Court will preliminarily review the issue presented regarding whether the general release appears to meet BKC's burden on a converted motion for summary judgment.
The document submitted by BKC as Exhibit C to its Motion to Dismiss is entitled "Multiple Franchise Application and General Release" ("Release") and is dated December 6, 1988. The first page of the Release states that Applicant Austin "is applying to BKC for a franchise ... to be located in Smyrna in consideration of the acceptance for processing of this application by BKC." The Release continues:
Assuming that Austin was aware of the Undeveloped Rock Site claim and did not so indicate on the General Release, the Release appears adequate to foreclose Austins' claim in Count XII. It appears from reading Count XII that the Release was executed after the events described. Austins argue that their Undeveloped Rock Site claim does not fall within the express language of the Release that states "Except
The Court does not dismiss this Count at this time. Austins may submit affidavits or other exhibits to withstand BKC's converted Motion for Summary Judgment on this Count, if they are able. Austins may also submit an additional memorandum of law, if they so desire. BKC may reply to said memorandum. In addition, BKC may submit any other relevant evidence for the Court to consider on this question. Austins' memorandum of law and any evidence attached thereto should be submitted within thirty days of the date of this Order. BKC should respond within twenty days. Failure to submit such a memorandum and evidence will result in dismissal of Count XII.
5. Count XIII: BREACH OF EXPRESS CONTRACT [NDTL]
Count XIII alleges breach of the BKC NDTL Assistance Letter and Sales Estimate ("the Agreement" or "NDTL Agreement"), which Austin executed so that BKC would assist him with the development of a second restaurant site. Austin alleges that BKC materially breached the Agreement: "(1) by failing to provide [Austins] with the input and expertise of the BKC Development Department; and/or, (2) by failing to develop a market plan for the target area; and/or, (3) by failing to identify the site in accordance with BKC criteria."
BKC's Motion to Dismiss refers to that portion of the NDTL Agreement that states that "[BKC's] assistance to [Austins] does not constitute a representation or guarantee that a particular location will be a successful restaurant location." In addition, BKC cites this Court's Order dated November 5, 1990, which read:
BKC argues that Austins' repleaded Counterclaim cannot be salvaged given the waiver cited above from the NDTL Agreement.
Austins counter that their claims in this Count are different from the allegations previously dismissed by the Court, because the allegations as currently stated track the language of the NDTL Agreement. In addition, Austins argue: "If the language of release contained in the NDTL contract releases the Plaintiff from performing any of its obligations under the NDTL contract, then the entire agreement would have no meaning."
The Court agrees. While the release in the NDTL Agreement serves to preclude any assertion that BKC failed to assist in the selection of a "successful" restaurant location, it does not protect BKC from a claim of breach of contract that involves BKC's failure to perform what is required of it under the Agreement. If the release is read as BKC suggests, BKC would be completely insulated from liability under the contract, and therefore, there would be a lack of mutuality of obligation in the contract. BKC has not suggested that the "agreement" in question is not, in fact, a
6. Count XIV: Intentional Fraud — # 6470
In Count XIV, Austins allege that BKC "knowingly and intentionally" concealed certain material facts from them; that Austins "reasonably relied on [BKC's] recommendation, advice and supposedly superior knowledge and expertise" regarding "the suitability of the South Cobb Drive Site;" and, that Austins proximately suffered damages as a result of such fraud.
BKC first argues in its Motion to Dismiss that the terms of the express release in the NDTL Agreement shield it from liability. As we stated in Scheck, "a general release cannot be held to bar a claim which did not exist when it was signed." Scheck, 756 F.Supp. at 547 (citations omitted). At the time the NDTL Agreement was signed, Austins did not have a claim of fraud against BKC. This claim will not be dismissed because of the release.
BKC then argues that Austins' fraud claim is facially insufficient because BKC and Austins were not in a fiduciary relationship.
As we discussed when reviewing Austins' action for conversion, a choice of law clause in a contract is inapplicable to a tort claim like fraud. See discussion of Count III, supra; see also, Ryder Truck Lines, Inc. v. Goren Equip. Co., 576 F.Supp. 1348, 1354 (N.D.Ga.1983) ("The issues of fraud and duress, however relate to the validity of the contract as a result of alleged pre-contract misrepresentations, and are matters outside the contract."). Again, the Court is not obligated to determine whether Florida or Georgia has the most significant relationship to the parties at this time, as it appears that the law of fraudulent concealment is similar in both states.
Taylor v. American Honda Motor Co., 555 F.Supp. 59, 64 (M.D.Fla.1982) (citations omitted).
Austins have not alleged that BKC employed any "artifice or trick" to prevent them from making an independent factual inquiry, nor have they indicated that they did not have an "equal opportunity to become apprised of the facts" surrounding the transaction. Rather, they are arguing that their relationship with BKC required BKC to make certain material disclosures that it would otherwise not have been obligated to make.
In its Order dated November 5, 1990, the Court held that no fiduciary relationship existed between BKC and Austins: "The majority of courts which have considered a
In addition, the NDTL Agreement itself contains a proviso already cited by the Court, "BKC's assistance to [Austins] does not constitute a representation or guarantee that a particular location will be a successful restaurant location," and the Agreement states that "BKC recommend[s] that I not sign any contract without first seeking independent expert legal advice." These clauses give further credence to the Court's belief that the parties were acting at arms-length.
Austins argue that their relationship with BKC, if not a fiduciary relationship, was a confidential or special relationship. The Court has reviewed several decisions that considered whether franchisers and franchisees stand in a special or confidential relationship. The great majority of courts have determined that a franchiser and franchisee do not enjoy such a relationship. See George Hammersmith, Inc. v. Taco Bell Corp., 942 F.2d 791 (Table), 1991 WL 159466, at *4-5, 1991 U.S.App. LEXIS 19716, at *13-16 (9th Cir. July 12, 1991) (finding no special relationship as a matter of either California or Oregon law, in part based on the for-profit nature of the relationship between franchiser and franchisee.); O'Neal v. Burger Chef Sys., Inc., 860 F.2d 1341, 1349-52 (6th Cir.1988); Vaughn v. General Foods Corp., 797 F.2d 1403, 1413-14 (7th Cir.1986), cert. denied, 479 U.S. 1087, 107 S.Ct. 1293, 94 L.Ed.2d 149 (1987); Crim Truck & Tractor Co. v. Navistar Int'l Transp. Corp., 823 S.W.2d 591, 595 (Tex.1992) ("Every contract includes an element of confidence and trust that each party will faithfully perform his obligation under the contract. Neither is the fact that the relationship has been a cordial one, of long duration, evidence of a confidential relationship.") (footnote omitted) (citation omitted). But see, Williams v. Dresser Indus., Inc., 795 F.Supp. 1144 (N.D.Ga.1992); West Coast Video Enter., Inc. v. Ponce de Leon, No. 90 C 1236, 1991 WL 49566, at *6-8, 1991 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 4209, at *18-21 (N.D.Ill. April 3, 1991) (finding a "special" relationship based on the Illinois Franchise Disclosure Act); Mister Donut of Am., Inc. v. Harris, 150 Ariz. 321, 723 P.2d 670, 673 (1986).
In addition, the Court has reviewed both Florida and Georgia law regarding confidential or special relationships. The Court found no case in which a Florida court held that a franchisee and franchiser are in a confidential or special relationship. While the Florida Supreme Court recently stated, "The law appears to be working toward the ultimate conclusion that full disclosure of all material facts must be made whenever elementary fair conduct demands it," Johnson v. Davis, 480 So.2d 625 (Fla.1985), Florida courts have generally limited the finding of a "confidential" or "special" relationship to the area of real property sales. Id. (disclosure of latent defects to buyers of real estate required).
Here, in examining the circumstances of the parties' dealings as alleged, the Court finds that under either Florida or Georgia law (and based, in part, on its review of the law of other jurisdictions), no special or confidential relationship exists between Austins and BKC with respect to the NDTL Agreement.
7. Count XV: Breach of Florida Franchise Act
In Count XV, Plaintiffs allege that BKC breached the Florida Franchise Act (Fla. Stat. § 817.416) by intentionally misrepresenting
BKC counters that Austins do not have standing under the Florida Franchise Act (§ 817.416(1)(a)) because it applies only to "persons" that are "doing business in Florida." Austins counter that the choice of law provision in the Franchise Offering Memorandum and Franchise Agreement explicitly states that Florida law will govern the parties' relationship.
The Court was unable to find any case interpreting this Florida statute as BKC has suggested. BKC cites a number of cases from other jurisdictions that have limited the extraterritorial application of state franchise acts to in-state franchisees. See Highway Equip. Co. v. Caterpillar Inc., 908 F.2d 60 (6th Cir.1990) (Illinois Franchise Disclosure Act); Hoff Supply Co. v. Allen-Bradley Co., 750 F.Supp. 176 (M.D.Pa.1990) (Wisconsin Fair Dealership Law); Power Draulics-Nielsen, Inc. v. Libbey Owens-Ford Co., Bus. Franchise Guide (CCH) ¶ 9075 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 27, 1987) (Connecticut Franchise Act); see also Premier Wine & Spirits v. E. & J. Gallo Winery, 644 F.Supp. 1431, 1439 (E.D.Cal. 1986) (California Franchise Relations Act), aff'd, 846 F.2d 537, 540 (9th Cir.1988). In the only case cited by BKC in which the franchise agreement contained a choice of law provision, Highway Equip. Co. (stating that Illinois law would apply), the Sixth Circuit refused to apply the Illinois Act to an Ohio franchisee. Highway Equip. Co., 908 F.2d at 63. The court concluded that the Illinois legislature did not intend for the Illinois Franchise Disclosure Act to apply extraterritorially, id. at 64, basing its conclusion in part on the legislature's reenactment of the Illinois Franchise Disclosure Act in 1987. When it reenacted the Act, the Illinois legislature "confirmed that the statute is intended to protect Illinois residents only." Id. at 63 (citing Ill.Rev.Stat. ch. 121½, ¶ 1702).
The Florida Franchise Act does not reveal a similar, clear intention by the Florida legislature to limit its application to Florida residents or domiciliaries. The Act defines "person" as "an individual, partnership, corporation, association, or other entity doing business in Florida." Fla.Stat. § 817.416(1)(a). It then defines "franchise or distributorship" as "a contract or agreement ... between two or more persons." Id. at § 817.416(1)(b) (emphasis added). The Act goes on to declare it "unlawful, when selling or establishing a franchise or distributorship, for any person" to make certain intentional misrepresentations, id. at § 817.416(2) (emphasis added), and provides that "[a]ny person, who shows in a civil court of law a violation of this section may receive a judgment for all moneys invested in such franchise or distributorship." Id. at § 817.416(3) (emphasis added). Substituting the definition of "person" into the other relevant portions of the Florida Franchise Act, demonstrates that the Act is only applicable to franchisees and franchisers "doing business in Florida."
Here, the Court finds that by including a choice of law provision in its Franchise Agreement that provides for Florida law to govern the Agreement, BKC is subject to the dictates of the Florida Franchise Act. Such intent to have the
Id. at 629-30 (citations omitted) (emphasis added).
Based on the above language and the Court's analysis, this Count is not dismissed.
8. Count XVI: Negligent Misrepresentation — # 6470
Count XVI alleges that BKC negligently misrepresented the allegations complained
The law of negligent misrepresentation is similar under either Florida or Georgia law. See Hasenfus v. Secord, 962 F.2d 1556, 1561 (11th Cir.1992) (Florida law); Horizon Fin., F.A. v. Hansen, 791 F.Supp. 1561, 1574 (N.D.Ga.1992) (Georgia law). Negligent misrepresentation is similar to fraud, except that it involves negligent failure to ascertain the truth or falsity of a representation, rather than knowledge that such representation is false.
In Bissett v. Ply-Gem Indus., Inc., 533 F.2d 142 (5th Cir.1976), the Fifth Circuit interpreting Florida law found that "projections of future profits or business success" may constitute fraud. Id. at 146; see also Varnum v. Nu-Car Carriers, Inc., 804 F.2d 638, 641-42 (11th Cir.1986) (concurring op.), cert. denied, 481 U.S. 1049, 107 S.Ct. 2181, 95 L.Ed.2d 838 (1987). The court classified such representations as "expressions of opinion [that] can be actionable if the declarant had exclusive or superior knowledge of the facts underlying the opinion.... [A] plaintiff may recover upon a showing that the defendant knew, or should have known, that the facts in his possession invalidated the opinion which he expressed." Bissett, 533 F.2d at 146 (citations & footnotes omitted).
The second alleged negligent misrepresentation is for "failing to disclose the known required total investment for Franchise # 6470." This type of misrepresentation also appears actionable. It would clearly be material to a franchisee, and it would be the type of information that Austins would not have "an equal opportunity to become apprised of."
The third alleged misrepresentation reads as follows: "misrepresenting BKC's efforts to sell or establish more Burger King restaurants in the market and market area of Franchise # 6470 than was reasonable for BKC to expect could be sustained in such market and market area." While this allegation is a bit unclear, it appears that Austins are alleging that BKC misrepresented to the Austins the number of restaurants that it was going to open in Atlanta, presumably by understating such number.
Based on the above, the Court does not dismiss this Court at this stage of the litigation (i.e. Motion to Dismiss).
9. Count XVII: Breach of the Implied Covenant of Good Faith in the NDTL Agreement
Count XVII of the Amended Counterclaim alleges that BKC "materially breached the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing in the NDTL Agreement by failing to provide consistent and honest advice to [Austins] with respect to the viability of the South Cobb Drive Site."
The Court does not find that these allegations trigger any breach of the implied covenant of good faith. Rather, they involve allegations of an express breach of the NDTL Agreement as alleged in Count XIII and allegations of misrepresentation as alleged in Count XVI. Accordingly, Count XVII is hereby DISMISSED.
III. MOTION TO STRIKE DEFENDANTS' PRAYER FOR DAMAGES
BKC has moved to strike Austins' prayer for punitive damages and certain compensatory damages.
A. Punitive Damages
BKC moves to strike Austins' prayer for punitive damages because: (1) Austins' allegations of fraud, by themselves, are insufficient to support a punitive damage award; (2) Punitive damages are unavailable under the Florida Franchise Act.
Punitive damages are available under Florida law "only upon a showing that the act complained of is characterized by `willfulness, wantonness, maliciousness, gross negligence or recklessness, oppression, outrageous conduct, deliberate violence, moral turpitude, insult, or fraud.'" Cook v. Deltona Corp., 753 F.2d 1552 (11th Cir.1985) (quoting 17 Fla.Jur.2d Damages § 119 (1980)).
G.M. Brod & Co. v. U.S. Home Corp., 759 F.2d 1526, 1536 (11th Cir.1985).
Here, the only Count remaining for which punitive damages is alleged is Austins' claim of negligent misrepresentation of certain material facts in Count XVI. While it does not appear that this claim will support a punitive damage claim, the Court cannot conclusively state that such claim does not involve the type of "gross negligence" referred to above at the motion to dismiss stage of this litigation.
The Court agrees with BKC that punitive damages are unavailable under the Florida Franchise Act. Fla.Stat. § 817.416(3)
B. Compensatory Damages
The Court agrees with BKC that dismissal of BKC's complaint is not a proper remedy for Austins. Therefore, that portion of Austins' prayer for relief is STRICKEN.
In addition, BKC correctly notes that a judgment relieving Plaintiff Loretta Austin of her obligation under Note # 3754 and Equipment Lease # 6470 is not a proper remedy for Austins because said financing agreements were entered into with third parties not party to the instant lawsuit. Austins argue that "to the extent that [their claims for release of the L. Austin's obligations] may be viewed as claims for indemnification and/or contribution from the Plaintiff for the Plaintiff's own wrongdoing, they are certainly valid." As Austins' have not plead a claim for indemnification or contribution, this portion of Austins' prayer for relief is hereby STRICKEN.
IV. APPEAL FROM MAGISTRATE'S ORDER
Austins' filed an Appeal from Magistrate Judge Bandstra's Order dated November 30, 1990 that states, in relevant part, that "Discovery in this case shall be limited to Burger King restaurants # 3754 and # 6470 and all issues raised in the pleadings with respect to these franchises and these franchises only."
The Court agrees with Austins that, in light of this Order, there are certain issues involving the Burger King System that extend beyond Burger King restaurants # 3754 and # 6470. For example, in Counts I and II, Austins' allege that Burger King substantially damaged the BKC System and value of the BKC Marks in 1989. Counts IV and V, which involve a breach of the implied covenant of good faith as it relates to advertising obligations, also appear to involve issues beyond Franchises # 3754 and # 6470. Accordingly, said Appeal is GRANTED and the Magistrate's Order is set aside.
Rather than reinstate Austins' previous discovery request, however, the Court suggests that Austins submit a renewed discovery request to BKC (and file it with the Court) that is tailored as narrowly as possible and is guided by the principles enunciated in this Order. BKC then may file an additional motion for a protective order, if it believes that one is necessary.
In summary, BKC's Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED as to Counts III, VI, VII, VIII, IX, XIV, and XVII and DENIED as to Counts I, II, IV, V, X, XI, XIII, XV, and XVI. Allegations Five and Six in Count I are STRICKEN. In addition, Count XII is converted into a Motion for Summary Judgment, as discussed above.
Austins' prayer for punitive damages as to all claims except for negligent misrepresentation is hereby STRICKEN. Austins claim for compensatory damages relating to dismissal of BKC's Complaint and payment of Loretta Austin's obligations (under specified financing arrangements with a third party lender) is hereby STRICKEN.
Finally, Austins' Appeal of Magistrate's Order of November 30, 1990 is GRANTED. Austins' should resubmit a discovery request to BKC as outlined above.
DONE and ORDERED.
Id. at *3; see also Gregory v. Popeye's Famous Fried Chicken & Biscuits, Inc., No. 87-1461-Civ, 857 F.2d 1474 (Table) 1988 U.S.App. LEXIS 12304 (6th Cir. Sept. 9, 1988) (interpreting the above disclaimer as the Copeland court did).
Id. at 232.
Dayan, 81 Ill.Dec. at 171, 466 N.E.2d at 973.
In the case at bar, the Franchise Agreement specifies certain events that permit BKC to terminate the Agreement. Clearly, some of the clauses that permit BKC to terminate the Agreement involve some measure of discretion by BKC. Austins, however, have failed to plead that the "wrongful termination" they are alleging involves BKC's wrongful exercise of discretion contained within the termination clause of the Franchise Agreement. Accordingly, the Court cannot find from these assertions that the implied covenant of good faith was allegedly breached in BKC's termination decision.
Id. 379 S.E.2d at 613-14 (citations omitted).
Id. at 1222 n. 1 (citations omitted). Mayer is distinguishable in that it involved imposition of a constructive trust on certain real property. In addition, the Court finds that the case at bar does not involve a fiduciary relationship as a matter of fact.
Id. at 596.
Because the Court has dismissed Count III for Conversion and Count XIV for Intentional Fraud, punitive damages relating to such Counts are unavailable. BKC also moved to strike Austins' punitive damage claim for Count XII — Promissory Estoppel because such claim is "the equivalent of a breach of contract action and ... punitive damages may not be awarded under Florida law for a breach of contract action." Because the Court has converted BKC's Motion to Dismiss into a motion for summary judgment on this Count, the Court does not address this issue at this time. However, we note that punitive damages are recoverable in Florida for contract claims if there is an accompanying independent tort. Homeco Dev. v. Markborough Properties, Ltd., 709 F.Supp. 1137, 1140 (S.D.Fla. 1989); see also, Serina v. Albertson's, Inc., 744 F.Supp. 1113, 1116 (M.D.Fla.1990) (concluding that the facts in the breach of contract and independent tort may be "interlaced," yet limiting recovery because of the "economic loss rule.")