On April 5, 1974, Governor Patrick Lucey signed the Wisconsin Fair Dealership Law into law, hailing it as the Magna Carta for small businesses. In his words, the WFDL was enacted to “protect the thousands of small businessmen in Wisconsin” who operate “filling stations, building materials and supply houses, lumber yards, sports equipment stores” and a variety of other businesses. The statutory text expressly identifies the promotion of fair business relations and protection from oppressive conduct among its principal goals.

At its core, the WFDL prohibits “grantors” from terminating or significantly changing “dealerships” without good cause, proper notice, and an opportunity to cure. As Governor Lucey alluded to, the WFDL is not cabined to a particular industry, but is broadly written so that it may apply to “an extraordinarily diverse set of business relationships,” including alcoholic beverage distributors, lawn and farm implement dealers, and other businesses reliant on their relationship with a particular supplier. If a grantor violates the statute, the dealer may file suit for injunctive relief, damages, or both, and, if successful, the dealer may recover its attorney fees.

Because of the statute’s broad protections, it is critical for dealers and grantors alike to recognize when the WFDL may apply to their relationship. And, despite extensive litigation over the past 50 years, the metes and bounds of the WFDL remain unfamiliar to most businesspeople. To combat this issue, each month, leading up to the statute’s 50th anniversary, we will explain an important decision, development, or intricacy of the WFDL and how it affects the rights and obligations of companies conducting business in Wisconsin.

Stafford Rosenbaum has represented dealers, grantors, franchisees, franchisors, distributors and manufacturers for over 50 years. We offer comprehensive representation to all levels of distribution networks and have represented businesses operating in many industries, including heavy equipment; automotive; outdoor power equipment; beer, wine and spirits; restaurants and fast food; and agricultural supplies. Our attorneys are particularly knowledgeable about the Wisconsin Fair Dealership Law and regularly counsel business leaders and attorneys across the country on its intricacies. In fact, Stafford Rosenbaum attorneys were instrumental in crafting the Wisconsin Fair Dealership Law, and two of our partners co-author the authoritative treatise on the law. The most recent edition of the treatise was published last year and details the complexities of the statutory text and case law developments over the years—many featuring parties represented by Stafford Rosenbaum.

The post The Wisconsin Fair Dealership Law Enters Its 50th Year: An Introduction first appeared on Stafford Rosenbaum LLP.