The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman
Defendant, Anytime Fitness, LLC, ("Anytime"), brings forth this matter alleging breach of contract and a violation of the Clayton Act. Plaintiffs, Anytime Franchisees, ("Franchisees"), object to Anytime's motion. For the following reasons, Anytime's motion is granted in part and denied in part.
Plaintiffs are each individual franchisees of Anytime and are each parties to a separate individual franchise agreement granting them the right to operate a 24-hour fitness facility within Anytime's franchise system. Each franchise agreement contains the same material substantive provisions as those of other franchisees.
Since December 1, 2009, Anytime has required its franchisees to enroll all existing and future members of their fitness centers in a health and fitness website called "Anytime Health", which is maintained by an Anytime affiliate, Anytime Health, LLC. On June 4, 2010, Anytime issued a policy statement to all of its franchisees requiring each to pay a reoccurring charge of fifty cents ($.50) per month for each club member that joins Anytime Health after July 31, 2010. This fee, to be turned over by the franchisees to Anytime Health, LLC, is capped at $225 dollars a month, per club.
Between August 1, 2010 and the present date, Anytime has been enacting this policy and charging plaintiffs with a monthly $225 fee. While plaintiffs have made timely payments of the Anytime Health fee, they allege that this fee was not disclosed to them at the time of execution of the franchise agreements or at any other time prior to June 4, 2010. Consequently, plaintiffs have brought forth a breach of contract claim and a claim alleging a violation of the Clayton Act. Specifically, plaintiffs contend that Anytime has breached the fee provisions set forth in the franchise agreements and used its leverage as a franchisor to enhance sales in the fitness website market in violation of Section 3 of the Clayton Act. Anytime seeks to dismiss all claims in full or, in the alternative, transfer venue of this matter to the District of Minnesota.
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure set forth the federal pleading requirement of a short and plain statement of the claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a). In order to survive dismissal, the complaint must allege sufficient factual content to raise the right to relief above a speculative level. Bell Atlantic Corp. v Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 569 n. 14, 127 S. Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). When considering dismissal of a complaint, the Court accepts as true all well-pleaded allegations and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Pisciotta v. Old Nat. Bancorp, 499 F.3d 629, 633 (7th Cir. 2007).
Anytime argues that pursuant to section 18.B of each franchise agreement, the parties agreed to participate in mediation prior to the filing of any actions before a court. Here, the parties have yet to mediate their issues in this matter. Therefore, Anytime argues that plaintiffs' claims should be dismissed. Plaintiffs, on the other hand, argue that mediation is not required by the terms of the franchise agreements because plaintiffs seek equitable relief.
Section 18.B of the franchise agreements states: Mediation. Except where either of us believes it is necessary to seek equitable relief to preserve the goodwill of our respective businesses (including, but not limited to, the enforcement of obligations upon termination of this Agreement and the covenants not to compete contained in this Agreement), we each agree to enter into mediation of all disputes involving this Agreement or any other aspect of the relationship between us, for a minimum of four (4) hours, prior to initiating any legal action or arbitration against the other. (emphasis added).
The franchise agreement unambiguously states that mediation will be required except where either party seeks equitable relief. Equitable relief is defined as "a non-monetary remedy, such as an injunction or specific performance, which is obtained when the available legal remedies, usually monetary damages cannot adequately redress the injury." Black's Law Dictionary (2011). Here, plaintiffs seek to permanently enjoin Anytime from charging plaintiffs the Anytime Health fee. Further, Anytime concedes that because the plaintiffs do not seek monetary damages of past months of required payment, but instead seek to eliminate the Anytime Health Fee in its entirety, they are seeking equitable relief. Def.'s Reply Brief, at n 8. Accordingly, pursuant to the franchise agreements, plaintiffs are not required to mediate their claims prior to bringing forth this matter.
Anytime still maintains that mediation is required in this case because the mediation exception set forth in the franchise agreements is not for any and all cases seeking equitable relief, but only in those where equitable relief is necessary to preserve goodwill. "Goodwill has been defined as the favor won from the public and the 'probability that customers will continue their patronage.'" Sealock, O.D. v. Peterson, O.D., No. A06-2479, 2008 WL 314146, at * 4 (Minn. Ct. App. Feb. 5, 2008) citing Black's Law Dictionary, 694 (6th ed. 1990). Plaintiffs have alleged that their customers' use of the Anytime Health program has been minimal and unsatisfactory. One could infer from these allegations that as franchisees are obligated to charge customers a mandatory fee for a product that they dislike, over time, the goodwill of the franchisees will suffer. Accepting the allegations set forth in the ...