jeudi 28 juin 2012

Des quittances signées dans un état de dépendance économique et sur la base de fausses représentations peuvent être annulées

par Karim Renno
Irving Mitchell Kalichman s.e.n.c.r.l.

Bien que cela ne soit pas un automatisme, les relations entre franchiseurs et franchisés sont généralement catégorisées comme étant des contrats d'adhésion. Dans ce contexte, les engagements contractuels signés par les franchisés sont susceptibles d'annulation en raison de leur caractère possiblement abusif comme le souligne l'Honorable juge Daniel H. Tingley dans l'affaire Bertico Inc. c. Dunkin ' Brands Canada Ltd. (2012 QCCS 2809).


Dans cette affaire, les Demandeurs, des anciens franchisés de la Défenderesse, intentent un recours en dommages contre la Défenderesse à laquelle ils reprochent de ne pas avoir respecté ses obligations contractuelles en tant que franchiseur.

Un des moyens de défense soulevé par la Défenderesse est la signature, par certains Demandeurs, de quittances. Ces quittances ont été signées dans le cadre d'un programme d'amélioration des magasins franchisés. En vertu du programme, les franchisés qui signaient la quittance recevaient certaines sommes d'argent pour rénover leurs franchises. Les Demandeurs demandent la nullité de ces quittances au motif qu'elles sont abusives et que leur signature a été obtenues suite à de fausses représentations.

Le juge Tingley donne raison aux Demandeurs sur la question. Selon lui, le contexte dans lequel les quittances ont été signées donne ouverture à leur annulation:
[64] The owners of the stores that were renovated under the remodel programme and who signed a Quittance all submit that they were induced to renovate under false pretences and based upon representations that turned out to be equally false. Given that the Quittances were treated as amendments to the franchise agreements, those Franchisees who signed them want them annulled as being abusive. 
[65] A condition precedent imposed by ADRIC to proceeding with the programme was that at least 75 stores in good standing had to commit to it. This never happened. Less than half those numbers of stores were renovated under the remodel programme. The so-called “synergy of numbers” was never realized. Worse, stores were closing and no new stores were coming on stream. To the extent that the remodel programme was intended to stop store closures, encourage new stores and improve the profits of existing stores, it was a failure. Mr. Desrosiers was right. ADRIC had seriously underestimated the Tim Hortons’ phenomenon. 
[66] ADRIC represented that sales of remodelled stores would increase by 15% in the first year and for several years thereafter. As noted, this assurance was never realized by any of those who participated in the programme. 
[67] Concurrently with the implementation of the remodel programme, ADRIC had announced it was investing some $40,000,000 to revive the brand in Quebec. Half this amount was to come from the pockets of the Franchisees who were to remodel their stores. In the result, no credible evidence was advanced to even suggest that anything like $20 million of ADRIC’s funds was injected at or around the turn of the century to protect, support and enhance the brand. Such funds continued to come from the Franchisees largely through their annual contributions to the Advertising fund, an ever-diminishing amount as stores continued to close. It was business as usual in circumstances where “usual” wasn’t nearly good enough. 
[68] As a requirement to forgive the sins of the past – some five years of benign neglect in the face of a determined new player in the Quebec fast food market – the Quittances likely served as a powerful disincentive to commit to the programme. As Mr. Fisher might have said, the requirement to sign releases to get funding probably “contributed” to the failure of the programme. 
[69] It was overkill, ill advised and, in the context of a time when the Franchisees were struggling just to survive, it was abusive to impose it upon those who chose to adopt the Franchisor’s recommendations, albeit under false pretences and on the faith of representations that turned out to be equally false. Signing a release in such circumstances is a nullity; it was abusive and the necessary consent was missing or vitiated.
Le texte intégral du jugement est disponible ici: http://bit.ly/KPCO1Y

Référence neutre: [2012] ABD 216

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