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Distribution, Franchise & Dealership

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Manufacturers and suppliers who sell their goods and services through independent distributors often find themselves in disputes with those distributors.

For example, disagreements may arise out of the distributor’s failure to meet certain sales levels, or the distributor may begin selling a line of products competitive with those of the manufacturer. Oftentimes these disputes lead manufacturers and suppliers to attempt to alter or terminate their relationships with their Wisconsin distributors.

Unwary manufacturers and suppliers who attempt to materially alter or terminate their relationships with Wisconsin distributors are often surprised to learn that what they are proposing to do, while permissible almost everywhere else, is prohibited by the Wisconsin Fair Dealership Law (WFDL). The WFDL places extra-contractual restrictions upon manufacturers and suppliers that want to substantially change their relationship with their Wisconsin distributors. But the WFDL does not apply to all Wisconsin distributors. Several Godfrey & Kahn litigators have substantial experience with the WFDL and have advised both manufacturers and suppliers as well as distributors regarding the scope of the WFDL, helping clients identify to which relationships the law applies, and what the law does and does not permit.

When counseling proves unsuccessful, our litigators are experienced at both the trial and appellate court levels on all issues associated with the WFDL. In fact, Godfrey & Kahn litigators represented the defendant manufacturer in the seminal case of Ziegler Co., Inc. v. Rexnord, Inc., which established the modern framework for determining whether a supplier’s relationship with its distributor is covered by the WFDL. Since that time, we have represented the suppliers of Snapple, Guinness, bird food, telephone systems, electronics, liquor and many other products. We have also represented distributors in a variety of industries.

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