Lift Truck Lease and Service, Inc. v. Nissan Forklift Corporation, North America
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER -...IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that defendant Nissan Forklift Corporation, North America's motion to dismiss is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part; the motion is GRANTED as to Count II and DENIED in all other respects. [Doc. 15] An appropriate order of partial dismissal will accompany this Memorandum and Order.. Signed by District Judge Charles A. Shaw on 9/7/2012. (MRC)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MISSOURI
LIFT TRUCK LEASE AND SERVICE, INC., )
d/b/a A.D. LIFT TRUCK,
NISSAN FORKLIFT CORPORATION,
No. 4:12-CV-153 CAS
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
This matter is before the Court on defendant Nissan Forklift Corporation, North America’s
(“Nissan”) motion to dismiss plaintiff Lift Truck Lease and Service, Inc.’s First Amended Complaint
(“Complaint”) pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. ADL opposes the
motion and it is fully briefed. For the following reasons, the motion will be granted in part and
denied in part.
The Complaint alleges that plaintiff does business as A.D. Lift Truck (“ADL”), and is a
Missouri corporation with its principal place of business in St. Louis, Missouri. ADL is in the
business of selling new and used lift trucks (forklifts) and other industrial transportation equipment,
and supporting parts and service, in various counties in Missouri and Illinois. Nissan is an Illinois
corporation with its principal place of business in Illinois.
Nissan is in the business of
manufacturing for resale lift truck and other industrial transportation equipment under the Nissan
Forklift and Barrett Industrial Trucks marks through a nationwide network of dealers, including
Prior to 2010, ADL had been a dealer for various other lift truck manufacturers. In late 2009,
Nissan told ADL that it was interested in forming a long-term relationship with ADL as a
franchisee/dealer of Nissan Forklift and Barrett Industrial Trucks, but that ADL would have to
discontinue its sales of all other brands of lift truck products in order to become a Nissan
franchisee/dealer. In late 2009, ADL discontinued sales of all lift truck products other than Nissan’s,
and severed its relationships with all other lift truck manufacturers.
On or about January 20, 2010, the parties entered into several agreements: a Nissan Forklift
Dealer Agreement of indefinite term (the “Standard Agreement”), which appointed ADL as the
exclusive authorized dealer of Nissan Forklift products in certain counties in Illinois and Missouri;
a Nissan Forklift Dealer Term Sales and Service Agreement (the “Term Agreement”) which expires
by its terms as of February 1, 2012; and a Dealer Sales Agreement of indefinite term (the “Barrett
Agreement”), for the sale of Barrett Industrial Trucks products. Since January 20, 2010, ADL has
been the exclusive authorized dealer of Nissan/Barrett products in the St. Louis area under the three
Agreements. The Agreements were filed as Exhibits A through C to the Complaint.
The Agreements impose certain performance obligations and sales goals on ADL, which are
modified from time to time by Nissan pursuant to annual Dealer Marketing Plans. See Ex. D to
Complaint. ADL alleges that during the course of the parties’ franchisee/dealer relationship, Nissan
never indicated that ADL’s sales performance was in violation of any of the Agreements or any
Dealer Marketing Plan.
On approximately January 10, 2012, Nissan sent a letter to ADL giving notice of its intent
not to renew the Term Agreement, and to allow it to expire as of February 1, 2012. See Ex. E to
Complaint. The letter asserts that ADL was in default of its obligations with respect to three items:
(1) Class 1, 4, 5 market share; (2) Class 2, 3 market share; and (3) Parts goals. The letter terminates
the Barrett Agreement because ADL “has not provided adequate sales coverage as outlined in
Section 11(a).” Id. The letter states, “This letter is your 90-day notice of non-renewal and
termination for both Agreements and [ADL] will no longer be a Nissan or Barrett Dealer as of
4/15/12.” Id. The letter also states that if ADL “cures the default outlined above” by achieving
specific target goals within 60 days of the date of the letter, “the non-renewal and termination will
not go into effect and [Nissan] will offer [ADL] a new 12-month Term Agreement.” Id.
ADL also alleges that it has considerable customer goodwill developed in its thirty-five years
of operation as a seller and servicer of lift trucks, a significant portion of which it developed prior
to becoming a Nissan franchisee. ADL alleges that Nissan contacted ADL’s customers to inform
them that after April 15, 2012, it would no longer be an authorized Nissan/Barrett dealer or servicer
and that another entity would take over those functions in the St. Louis area.
ADL filed this action on January 27, 2012 asserting claims against Nissan under the
franchise provisions of the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act (“MMPA”) in Count I, the Illinois
Franchise Disclosure Act (“IFDA”) in Count II, and the power equipment dealer provisions of the
MMPA in Count III. Count IV asserts a claim for tortious interference with business expectancy
and Count V requests preliminary and permanent injunctive relief.
The purpose of a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim is to test the legal sufficiency
of the complaint. “To survive a motion to dismiss, a claim must be facially plausible, meaning that
the ‘factual content . . . allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable
for the misconduct alleged.’” Cole v. Homier Dist. Co., Inc., 599 F.3d 856, 861 (8th Cir. 2010)
(quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009)). To determine whether a claim is facially
plausible, a court must “‘accept the allegations contained in the complaint as true and draw all
reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party.’” Id. (quoting Coons v. Mineta, 410 F.3d
1036, 1039 (8th Cir. 2005)). If a court “can infer from those factual allegations no more than a
‘mere possibility of misconduct,’ the complaint must be dismissed.” Id. (quoting Iqbal, 129 S. Ct.
The principle that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint
is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949-50 (stating “[t]hreadbare recitals of
the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice”).
Although legal conclusions can provide the framework for a complaint, they must be supported by
factual allegations. Id. at 1950. A complaint “must contain either direct or inferential allegations
respecting all the material elements necessary to sustain recovery under some viable legal theory.”
Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 562 (2007) (quoted case omitted).
In evaluating a motion to dismiss, a “court may consider the pleadings themselves, materials
embraced by the pleadings, exhibits attached to the pleadings, and matters of public record.” Mills
v. City of Grand Forks, 614 F.3d 495, 498 (8th Cir. 2010) (cited case omitted).
A. Count I - Missouri Merchandising Practices Act (Franchise Act)
In Count I, ADL alleges that the Term Agreement creates a franchise between it and Nissan
as that term is defined by § 407.405 of the Missouri Revised Statutes. ADL alleges that the letter
of January 10, 2012 purports to give it notice of Nissan’s intent not to renew the franchise as of
February 1, 2012, and therefore gave ADL only twenty-two days’ notice prior to termination, in
violation of the ninety-day notice requirement of § 407.405.
Nissan moves to dismiss Count I on the following grounds: (1) § 407.405 does not apply to
ADL because it is a power equipment dealer and therefore its rights are governed exclusively by the
Power Equipment Act, § 407.753, Mo. Rev. Stat.; (2) ADL has not pleaded facts to establish the
existence of a franchise relationship with Nissan; (3) even if § 407.405 applied to ADL, Nissan
provided ninety days’ notice of termination in compliance with the statute; and (4) ADL’s claim is
premature and it has no damages because the parties’ relationship has not yet been terminated, as
suit was filed in the middle of the cure period and, if cure occurs, no termination will occur.
Nissan cites no case law in support of its argument that ADL is restricted to asserting claims
under the Power Equipment Act, § 407.753, and is excluded from any protection offered by the
Franchise Act, § 407.405. Nissan’s citation to this Court’s decision in McBud of Missouri, Inc. v.
Siemens Energy & Automation, Inc., 68 F.Supp.2d 1076 (E.D. Mo. 1999), does not support its
argument. Nor does anything in the text of either statute indicate that they are mutually exclusive.
The Court notes that in Maude v. General Motors Corp., 626 F. Supp. 1081 (W.D. Mo. 1986), the
United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri held that an automobile dealer was
statutorily entitled to ninety days’ notice of cancellation under § 407.405 despite the subsequent
enactment of the Motor Vehicle Franchise Practices Act, § 407.825. This holding is contrary to the
logic of Nissan’s argument. The Court finds that this aspect of Nissan’s motion is unpersuasive and
should be denied.
The Court also finds that ADL has adequately pleaded the existence of a franchise
relationship with Nissan. The MMPA defines “franchise” as:
a written or oral arrangement for a definite or indefinite period, in which a person
grants to another person a license to use a trade name, trademark, service mark, or
related characteristic, and in which there is a community of interest in the marketing
of goods or services at wholesale, retail, by lease, agreement, or otherwise[.]
§ 407.400(1), Mo. Rev. Stat.; Missouri Beverage Co., Inc. v. Shelton Bros., Inc., 669 F.3d 873, 876,
877 (8th Cir. 2012) (quoting § 407.400 and discussing the elements of “franchise” under Missouri
The Complaint and its attachments indicate that ADL has written arrangements pursuant to
which Nissan granted ADL “a nonexclusive privilege to identify itself as an Authorized Dealer, and
to display, in the conduct of its dealership operations, the trademarks and servicemarks [Nissan
Forklift Corporation] uses in connection with Nissan products.” Ex. A to Complaint, Standard
Agreement at 2, § 184.108.40.206 The Dealer Marketing Plan prepared by Nissan for ADL requires it to sell
certain quantities of forklifts and other products. Ex. D to Complaint. These documents evidence
an arrangement between the parties pursuant to which Nissan granted ADL a license to use its trade
and service marks, and the existence of a community of interest in the marketing of goods and
services. This aspect of Nissan’s motion to dismiss should therefore be denied.
Nissan’s third argument is that even if § 407.405 applies to ADL, Nissan provided ninety
days’ notice of termination in compliance with the statute. This argument does not entitle Nissan
to dismissal of Count I when the allegations of the Complaint are accepted as true. ADL alleges that
it received a termination letter dated January 10, 2012, giving notice of Nissan’s intent not to renew
the Term Agreement which was expiring on February 1, 2012. This is a period of twenty-two days,
not ninety days. The letter also states that Nissan “further terminates your Barrett Sales Agreement
. . . dated 1/20/10.” Ex. E to Complaint. The letter then states that it is “your 90-day notice of nonrenewal and termination for both Agreement and Dealer will no longer be a Nissan or Barrett Dealer
as of 4/15/12.” Id. Nissan cites no authority interpreting or applying the statute’s ninety-day notice
As stated above, in evaluating a motion to dismiss, the Court may consider exhibits attached
to a complaint. Mills, 614 F.3d at 498.
requirement in a situation such as this, where the termination letter was sent less than ninety days
before the termination date specified in the parties’ agreements and referenced that termination date,
but purports to establish a different termination date. In this factual context, the effective date of the
termination is unclear, and the letter is subject to more than one interpretation.2 As a result, Nissan’s
motion to dismiss on this basis should also be denied.
Finally, Nissan argues that ADL’s claim is premature and it has no damages because the
parties’ relationship has not yet been terminated. The Court notes that Nissan’s motion to dismiss
and reply memorandum were filed prior to Nissan’s self-selected termination date of April 15, 2012,
which has now passed. This argument is therefore moot and does not warrant dismissal of ADL’s
Franchise Act claim.
B. Count II - Illinois Franchise Disclosure Act (“IFDA”)
In Count II, ADL alleges that the three Agreements between it and Nissan create a
“franchise” within the meaning of 815 Ill. Comp. Stat. 705/1, and the termination letter dated
January 10, 2012 failed to provide at least six months’ notice of Nissan’s intent not to renew its
franchise with ADL, in violation of 815 Ill. Comp. Stat. 705/20.
Nissan moves to dismiss Count II on the grounds that (1) the IFDA does not apply to ADL
because it is not an Illinois resident; (2) ADL fails to allege facts showing the existence of a
franchise relationship, specifically that ADL paid Nissan a franchise fee of $500 or more, a required
element of a franchise under 815 Ill. Comp. Stat. 705/3.
The question occurs, if the Term Agreement were to end on February 1, 2012 and not be
renewed, what would be the status of the ADL/Nissan relationship between February 1, 2012 and
April 15, 2012?
ADL responds that it has standing under the IFDA because the Standard Agreement grants
it a license to sell Nissan products in twenty specified counties in Illinois. ADL further responds
that the IFDA applies when an offer to sell a franchise is made from Illinois and accepted in Illinois,
citing 815 Ill. Comp. Stat. 705/3(20), and that it alleges Nissan’s principal place of business is
located in Illinois. ADL cites no cases to support its argument that the IFDA’s “offer to sell”
provision entitles it to the IFDA’s protections, and the provision does not do so by its plain language.
The IFDA provides in pertinent part, “It shall be a violation of this Act for a franchisor to
terminate a franchise of a franchised business located in this State prior to the expiration of its term
except for ‘good cause’ as provided in subsection (b) or (c) of this Section.” 815 Ill. Comp. Stat.
705/19 (emphasis added). Nissan cites numerous decisions holding that the IFDA does not apply
to franchisees whose businesses are located only outside of Illinois. Nissan has not indicated that
any of these decisions address whether, under the statute, ADL is “located in Illinois” where its
dealership territory includes twenty Illinois counties. Nor does Nissan discuss the effect, if any, of
the parties’ contractual choice of law provision, which states that Illinois law shall govern the
parties’ rights and obligations. The Court is therefore not persuaded by this argument.
Nissan’s other argument against application of the IFDA is that ADL does not allege an
essential element of a franchise under the statute – that it paid Nissan a franchise fee in excess of
$500. ADL responds that under 815 Ill. Comp. Stat. 705/3(14), it has paid Nissan indirect franchise
fees by virtue of the contractual mandate that it make unreasonably large purchases of products,
parts, and advertising services from Nissan.
Whether or not ADL’s response may be factually correct, the Complaint fails to allege that
any franchise fee was paid or that any inventory or service purchase requirements constituting an
indirect franchise fee were imposed. The Complaint’s incorporation of the Agreements requiring
ADL to purchase inventory and services from Nissan is insufficient to allow the Court to infer more
than a “mere possibility of misconduct,” Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1950, as there is nothing in the
Complaint to indicate the purchase requirements were unreasonable or that an established market
did not exist, as that term is defined under the IFDA. Nissan’s motion to dismiss Count II should
therefore be granted.
C. Count III - Missouri Merchandising Practices Act (Power Equipment Act)
In Count III, ADL alleges that it is a power equipment dealer within the meaning of
§ 407.753, Mo. Rev. Stat., and that the Agreements between it and Nissan are subject to the
provisions of the Power Equipment Dealers Act. ADL alleges that under § 407.753, the Agreements
cannot be terminated by Nissan absent “good cause,” and that good cause has not existed to
terminate the Agreements at any time relevant to the Complaint’s allegations. ADL also alleges that
Nissan failed to comply with the statute’s requirement that it provide at least ninety days’ prior
written notice of nonrenewal of any of the Agreements.
Nissan moves to dismiss Count III on the grounds that (1) its termination letter complied with
the statute’s ninety-day notice requirement; (2) ADL fails to plead any lack of good cause to
terminate the Agreements, and the termination letter details ADL’s failure to substantially comply
with essential and reasonable market share requirements imposed upon it by the Term Agreement;
and (3) ADL filed its Complaint during the pendency of the cure period offered by the termination
letter, so no termination has occurred.
Nissan’s first and third arguments are not persuasive for the reasons discussed above with
respect to the Franchise Act claim in Count I. Nissan’s second argument is also unpersuasive, as
the Complaint alleges that ADL “has satisfied all of its obligations as a franchisee/dealer under the
[Agreements] as the time for the performance of those obligations has come due” and that “during
the course of the parties’ franchisee/dealer relationship, Nissan never indicated to ADL that ADL’s
sales performance was in violation of the [Agreements] or any Dealer Marketing Plan.” Complaint
at ¶¶ 25, 26. For purposes of a motion to dismiss, the Court accepts these allegations as true. The
allegations are sufficient for the Court to reasonably infer that Nissan did not have good cause to
terminate its relationship with ADL. Nissan’s argument that ADL did not meet market share
requirements are more appropriate for presentation on a motion for summary judgment or to a jury.
Nissan’s motion to dismiss Count III should be denied.
D. Count IV - Tortious Interference with Business Expectancy
In Count IV, ADL alleges that Nissan interfered with its business expectancy when it
contacted ADL’s customers and informed them, prior to the cure period set out in the termination
letter, that ADL would no longer be an authorized dealer or servicer of Nissan or Barrett lift trucks
after April 15, 2012. ADL alleges that it had a reasonable expectation of continuing business
relationships it had developed with customers over its thirty-five years of operation as a seller and
servicer of lift trucks, “a significant portion of which was developed prior to ADL becoming a
Nissan franchisee/dealer,” Complaint, ¶ 33, and that Nissan was aware of these relationships.
Nissan moves to dismiss Count IV on the grounds that (1) ADL has failed to set forth a
substantial evidentiary basis that Nissan is liable for tortious interference; (2) ADL has failed to set
forth allegations showing any lack of justification on Nissan’s part; (3) ADL’s allegation that Nissan
required it to discontinue sales of all other lift truck products is untrue, as the Standard Agreement
only required it to agree not to be an authorized TCM or Doosan Forklift dealer; and (4) ADL cannot
assert a claim for tortious interference based on potential business from customers of Nissan Forklift
or Barrett Industrial Trucks.
Nissan’s first argument is without merit. At the dismissal stage, ADL is not required to
establish a “substantial evidentiary basis” for its claim. To survive a motion to dismiss, ADL need
only assert a facially plausible claim, the factual content of which “‘allows the court to draw the
reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.’” Cole, 599 F.3d at 861
(quoting Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949). The case relied on by Nissan, Community Title Co. v. Roosevelt
Federal Savings & Loan Ass’n, 670 S.W.2d 895, 905-06 (Mo. Ct. App. 1984), addressed whether
a substantial evidentiary basis for a tortious interference claim had been presented at trial, and
therefore is unpersuasive authority with respect to a motion to dismiss.
Nissan’s second argument is that ADL fails to plead facts showing lack of justification. The
elements of a cause of action for tortious interference with business relations under Missouri law are:
(1) a contract or a valid business relationship or expectancy; (2) the defendant’s knowledge of the
contract or relationship; (3) intentional interference by the defendant inducing or causing a breach
of the contract or relationship; (4) the absence of justification; and (5) damages resulting from the
defendant’s conduct. Fischer, Spuhl, Herzwurm & Assocs., Inc. v. Forrest T. Jones & Co., 586
S.W.2d 310, 315 (Mo. 1979) (en banc).
“Missouri is among those jurisdictions which require that plaintiff plead and prove the acts
of the defendant inducing or causing the breach be without justification.” SSM Health Care, Inc.
v. Deen, 890 S.W.2d 343, 346 (Mo. Ct. App. 1994); see Cady v. Hartford Acc. & Indem. Co., 439
S.W.2d 483 (Mo. 1969) (affirming dismissal of tortious interference claim where plaintiff failed to
allege facts from which it could be found that the defendant, who had an interest in the contract at
issue, interfered without justification with plaintiff’s contract); Pillow v. General Am. Life Ins. Co.,
564 S.W.2d 276, 282 (Mo. Ct. App. 1978) (same). To survive the motion to dismiss, ADL must
therefore plead facts, as opposed to conclusions, tending to show that Nissan acted without
Under Missouri law, “One who has a present existing economic interest, such as a prior
contract of his own or a financial interest in the affairs of the person persuaded not to enter into a
contract, is privileged to interfere with another’s business expectancy to protect one’s own economic
interest.” Community Title Co. v. Roosevelt Fed. Sav. & Loan Ass’n, 796 S.W.2d 369, 373 (Mo.
1990) (en banc). As a result, a party with “an economic interest in a contract cannot be held liable
for inducing a breach thereof even though motivated by self interest, in the absence of pleading and
proof that such self-interested purpose was accomplished by improper means.” Murray v. Ray, 862
S.W.2d 931, 935 (Mo. Ct. App. 1993) (quoted case omitted). For purposes of intentional
interference with a business expectancy, improper means are those means which are “independently
wrongful, notwithstanding injury caused by the interference.” Community Title, 796 S.W.2d at 373.
Examples of improper means are “misrepresentation of fact, threats, violence, defamation, trespass,
restraint of trade, or any other wrongful act recognized by statute or the common law.” Id.
Here, Nissan has economic interests in its franchisee/dealer relationship with ADL, and in
selling its forklifts to customers in the market for such equipment. Nissan has a legal right to protect
those interests as long as it employs no improper means in doing so. The Complaint alleges that
Nissan’s communication of the termination to ADL’s customers was wrongful because at the time
the communication was made ADL had complied with the parties’ Agreements, and the applicable
cure period for any deficiency under the Agreements had not yet expired. Complaint, ¶¶ 25, 36, 62.
The Court finds that ADL has sufficiently pleaded facts from which it can be reasonably inferred
that Nissan used improper means, specifically that it communicated misrepresentations of fact to
Nissan’s argument that the parties’ Agreements did not require ADL to sever its relationship
with all other forklift dealers raises an issue of fact that is not a proper basis for a motion to dismiss.
Finally, its argument that ADL cannot assert a claim for tortious interference based on potential loss
of business from customers of Nissan Forklift or Barrett Industrial Trucks fails, where ADL pleads
facts that Nissan’s communication interfered with ADL’s business expectancy with customers who
preexisted its relationship with Nissan.
Nissan’s motion to dismiss Count IV should therefore be denied.
E. Count V - Request for Preliminary and Permanent Injunctive Relief
In Count V, ADL asserts that Nissan’s conduct as alleged in the other counts of the
Complaint will cause irreparable harm to its business goodwill, customer relationships, and status
as a Nissan franchisee/dealer, and seeks preliminary and permanent injunctive relief enjoining
Nissan from terminating the parties’ relationship, terminating the Agreements, and communicating
“false, deceptive, or misleading information about ADL to ADL’s customers.” Complaint, ¶ 73.
Nissan moves to dismiss this count on the basis that ADL cannot establish the necessary
elements for injunctive relief, including the likelihood of success on the merits and the existence of
irreparable harm. See Dataphase Sys., Inc. v. C L Sys., Inc., 640 F.2d 109, 113 (8th Cir. 1981) (en
banc)) (discussing factors relevant to issuance of injunctive relief). This aspect of Nissan’s motion
should be denied as premature, because ADL has not yet filed a motion for preliminary or permanent
injunctive relief in this matter. As a result, the issue of injunctive relief is not currently before the
For the foregoing reasons, the Court will grant defendant Nissan’s motion to dismiss Count
II of the First Amended Complaint, plaintiff’s claim under the Illinois Franchise Disclosure Act, but
will deny the remaining aspects of the motion.
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that defendant Nissan Forklift Corporation, North America’s
motion to dismiss is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part; the motion is GRANTED as to
Count II and DENIED in all other respects. [Doc. 15]
An appropriate order of partial dismissal will accompany this Memorandum and Order.
CHARLES A. SHAW
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Dated this 7th day of September, 2012.
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