vendredi 17 avril 2015

Les enseigements de la Cour d'appel sur le devoir contractuel de collaboration

par Karim Renno
Renno Vathilakis Inc.

Je vous avais promis hier de revenir sur la décision rendue par la Cour d'appel dans l'affaire Dunkin' Brands Canada Ltd. c. Bertico inc. (2015 QCCA 624) et je tiens promesse. Cette fois-ci, ce qui nous intéresse sont les enseignements de la Cour à propos du devoir d'agir de bonne foi et du devoir implicite de collaboration, sujet dont nous avons déjà traité.
 

 
Comme hier, je n'entends pas passer en revue la trame factuelle de l'affaire. Disons simplement pour nos fins que les Intimés avaient intenté des procédures en dommages contre l'Appelante alléguant que cette dernière - à titre de franchiseur - ne leur avait pas donné le support nécessaire pour faire face efficacement à la concurrence de Tim Hortons.
 
Le jugement de première instance a donné raison aux Intimés et condamné l'Appelante a payer des dommages au montant de plus de 16 000 000$.
 
En appel, l'Appelante fait valoir un grand nombre de moyens, dont le fait que le juge de première instance aurait donné une portée beaucoup trop large au devoir de bonne foi contractuelle et de collaboration. En effet, dans un contexte de franchise, l'Appelante plaide que ces devoirs lui imposaient l'obligation de ne pas entrer en concurrence avec ses franchisés, mais rien de plus.
 
Tout en reconnaissant qu'on ne peut donner une portée trop large à l'obligation de collaboration sans risquer de dénaturer les contrats signés, l'Honorable juge Nicholas Kasirer - au nom d'un banc unanime - juge la proposition de l'Appelante trop réductrice. En effet, le devoir de collaboration impose à une partie d'œuvre de pair avec sa co-contractante pour atteindre un objectif commun, ce pour quoi le juge de première instance a eu raison de conclure à un manquement de la part de l'Appelante: 
[72]        Beyond the duty not to take actions that would wrongfully cause them harm, the Franchisor assumed, on the basis of this implied duty of good faith in the 1992 and 2002 agreements, a duty to assist and cooperate with the Franchisees by taking certain active measures in support of the brand. This meant that the Franchisees were entitled to rely on the Franchisor, as a matter of contractual fairness and as a reflection of their own presumed intentions, to take reasonable measures to protect them from the market challenge presented by Tim Hortons. The judge correctly identified these two sources of implied obligations in our case. Where a violation of these implied obligations incident to the nature of the contract and in conforming to equity was established, he was entitled to conclude that there was a contractual fault as this Court held in Provigo
[73]        It is of course important not to exaggerate the content of the implied obligation of good faith and its attendant “duty to collaborate” here. Despite some shared objectives, franchisors and franchisees also have divergent interests but are no less wrapped up in a relationship of collaboration. Stated simply, in our case the franchisees sold coffee and doughnuts; the Franchisor sold franchises and reserved for itself a right to take royalties based on the performance of the franchisees who it both assisted and supervised along the way to make sure the system worked. The Franchisor increased its return, through royalties, when gross sales increased; the Franchisee increased its profits where he or she made efficient use of its time and resources. In these circumstances, a franchisor does not want any franchisee to cut corners to increase profits at the expense of gross sales; a franchisee may see things differently. He or she may not want to sell more doughnuts at unprofitable hours, for example, or prefer not to renew inventory that is still suitable for use. The pursuit of these divergent interests is possible, but only within the parameters of the terms of the contract and the implied obligation of good faith. 
[74]        In this light, it is fair to see the parties – despite the aspirational language of “partnership” sometimes used in connection with the arrangement – as having some different goals. They are entitled, within the bounds of the execution of the contract in good faith (article 1375 C.C.Q.) and the content of the obligation of good faith that is implicit in their agreement (article 1434 C.C.Q.), to pursue those divergent interests. As the Supreme Court has held in a comparable context, the obligation of good faith does not displace the “legitimate pursuit of economic self-interest” that is at the core of freedom of contract. On its facts, for example, Provigo even allowed for some competition between franchisor and franchisee and, in my view, the duty of good faith applied here does not require of this Franchisor a degree of collaboration or contractual ‘solidarity’ with its franchisees that mandates altruistic business practices or self-sacrifice. 
[75]        But in the present case, the judge did not impose on the Franchisor, through the duty of good faith, an unfair standard of disinterested behaviour or require it to confer a liberality on the franchisees – it was in the Franchisor’s interest, broadly speaking, to assist its franchisees, to supervise the network and to collaborate with them by proposing reasonable measures to combat a competitor who, in the longer term, threatens the value of the brand for both parties. When established, the failure to do so is a contractual fault that gives rise to damages not as an arbitrary measure of redistribution of wealth but as an ordinary contractual remedy based on corrective justice. In any event, it is enough in the present case to observe that the judge made no error in identifying an implicit obligation, for the Franchisor to take reasonable measures to promote and enhance the brand, and that this conclusion found justification both in the nature of the agreement and in equity. Whether the doctrine of the implied obligation of good faith might have a more robust or more expansive content, including the question as to whether “good faith” and “loyalty” are qualitatively different sources of contractual duty, is a matter best left to another day.
Référence : [2015] ABD 154

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