Our Automotive and Vehicle Dealerships Industry Team gained widespread recognition assisting with drafting Section 747 of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2010 (Dealer Arbitration Law) and by representing the National Association of Minority Auto Dealers and its membership during the Chrysler and GM congressionally facilitated negotiations, as well as the interests of the National Association of Automotive Dealers and the Automotive Trade Executives Association. We represent a wide variety of new and used automotive and vehicle dealer principals and franchise owners and participate in regional dealership associations. We also counsel and represent the interests of construction
Acquisitions and Divestitures
Our attorneys have extensive experience handling the wide range of issues associated with dealership acquisitions and divestitures. This includes tax, finance, structure, environmental, ERISA, securities, labor relations, real estate matters and acquiring, maintaining and divesting fleets of vehicles. We work with buyers, sellers, financial sources, parties to joint ventures, and members of strategic alliances in structuring transactions and protecting our clients’ interests. To better serve our clients, we also assist them with finding capital, partners and advisors.
Attorney General Matters
The New York State Office of the Attorney General historically has focused on automotive dealers and taken an aggressive posture with respect to their advertising practices. Investigations are conducted for individual consumer complaints and in the areas of advertising financing of vehicle purchases, and vehicle repairs. Harris Beach attorneys have defended numerous dealerships in the course of these investigations and have helped them negotiate resolutions, thereby minimizing the risk of formal public proceedings. This includes the negotiation of “Assurance Agreements” and related fines. Our attorneys also provide guidance on compliance with the attorney general’s requirements.
Whether an automobile dealer is considering vacant land for a potential dealership site, purchasing an existing dealership site or acquiring a building to convert it to a dealership, we assist dealers through the entire process. That process involves handling zoning, land use and environmental issues, and assisting dealers in obtaining financing as well as seeking available government sponsored tax credit programs.
Consumer and Privacy Protection
Consumers who purchase a new or used vehicle from a New York state dealership are automatically covered by a number of federal and state protections. Harris Beach attorneys regularly counsel automotive and vehicle dealerships on warranty issues, including manufacturer warranties on new vehicles and New York state minimum warranty standards (Lemon Laws) for new and used vehicles. Our attorneys provide guidance and training on the full range of privacy concerns which affect automotive and vehicle dealerships in New York state. We counsel industry clients on compliance with the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA), and the Federal Trade Commission’s Privacy Rule and Safeguards Rule. The GLBA requires that dealers ensure the security and confidentiality of nonpublic personal information they collect from their customers, and imposes restrictions on banks and other financing institutions contacted by dealers. The Privacy Rule requires that dealers provide customers a written notice of their privacy policies and practices, and the Safeguards Rule requires dealers to conduct a thorough risk assessment of their security measures and design a comprehensive information security program to protect their customers’ nonpublic personal information.
Our attorneys handle all matters related to the dealer-manufacturer agreements, including franchise agreements, rates of compensation for service warranty work, requirements for facilities, signage upgrades for existing dealerships, terms of approval for new locations, audits of warranty work, product allocation and demands by manufacturers for dedicated parts. Harris Beach representation includes handling disputes over responsibility for maintenance of manufacturer-owned property; matters related to new car sales personnel; service personnel certifications; and manufacturer demands for minimum customer parking, minimum inventory space, minimum service technicians, dedicated and certified service parts department staff, separate cashier stations for different make vehicles, separately outfitted showrooms, manufacturer approval of succession plans and admission of new partners.
Department of the Treasury Requirements
The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the United States Department of the Treasury administers and enforces economic and trade sanctions based on US foreign policy and national security goals. Harris Beach helps dealerships comply with OFAC sanctions and adhere to laws such as The USA PATRIOT Act. This includes assisting with responses to credit agency reports and reviews of non-credit transactions requiring verification that the dealer is not conducting business with persons on the Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons lists.
We assist dealers in preparing their properties for ease of conveyance, addressing environmental risk associated with operations and negotiations with the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) concerning releases of hazardous substances. We counsel clients on regulatory matters involving the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). We also advise clients on the liabilities related to underground and above ground petroleum storage tanks and disposal of hazardous materials, including heavy metals, ignitable wastes, solvents, toxic wastes and paints.
Federal Reporting Requirements
Our attorneys provide counsel on federal compliance and reporting requirements, including the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, Fair Credit Reporting Act and Federal Trade Commission Act.
Financing and Incentives
We are familiar with, and advise dealers on, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act and Regulation B which govern the procedures dealers follow when assisting customers with arranging credit. We are also following the state of New York’s possible adoption of a regulatory framework in which dealers would be obligated to disclose the incentives they receive in connection with financing secured for customers.
Franchising and Licensing
Our attorneys leverage their collective automotive dealership company experience to provide effective counsel to clients on dealership licensing requirements, franchise agreements and disputes, and the respective merits of licensing versus franchising as business expansion strategies.
General Liability Defense
Harris Beach attorneys have defended automotive industry clients in a wide variety of litigated matters, including providing regional counsel in personal injury defense matters.
Inspections and Hearings Before the DMV
Our attorneys represent dealers in Department of Motor Vehicles hearings. Two of the issues often addressed are alleged improper inspection practices and licensing problems.
IRS Cash Reporting
In connection with efforts to avoid money laundering and to ferret out terrorist activities, the federal government requires reporting of certain cash transactions. For example, reporting too many cash transactions may trigger an IRS audit of a dealership. We are familiar with these guidelines through our representation of both financial institutions and auto dealerships.
Harris Beach advises clients on all areas of employer/employee relations, the hiring and firing of employees, harassment and discrimination issues, federal and state minimum wage, overtime laws, notice requirement, employee handbooks, employee policies, rules governing commissioned sales personnel, the Fair Labor Standards Act and safety in the workplace (OSHA) issues. We have an extensive track record of successfully representing company management when faced with union organizing and/or collective bargaining negotiation issues. Our attorneys have substantial experience in litigating employment matters, including class actions, in federal and state courts.
We also provide preventive legal advice and training for all levels of management on Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), Americans with Disabilities (ADA), handling and investigating sexual harassment and discrimination claims, hiring and firing, and many other workplace issues.
New York’s Statutory Framework for Dealerships
Unlike most other states, New York has enacted specific statutory protections for automobile dealers in their dealings with automotive manufacturers. The familiarity of Harris Beach attorneys with these special protections has enabled our clients to successfully confront manufacturers over threatened franchise terminations, disputes concerning warranty reimbursement and repairs, succession planning and site control.
Real Property Tax Assessment Disputes
Our attorneys represent dealerships in proceedings to lower real property tax assessments and regularly handle matters involving the loss of actual and/or potential display space. We provide dealership clients with knowledgeable and aggressive representation in tax assessment disputes.
We also recognize that it is usually beneficial to both sides to resolve these disputes without litigation. We have considerable experience in bringing parties together to work out solutions without a court battle, as well as considerable experience in the trial of these cases if fair settlements for our clients cannot be obtained.
Increasingly, dealerships face auto manufacturers’ efforts to exert control over or influence the appearance, configuration or location of dealership property. Harris Beach has represented dealers in negotiation and litigation of such matters, including disputes over dualing of dealerships, modification of manufacturer programs to exclude dualed dealers, configuration of properties and conditioning of approvals on steps to separate facilities for different lines of vehicles.
Succession Planning and Partnership Agreements
Attorneys with our Automotive and Vehicle Dealerships Industry Team help plan and execute strategies designed to meet our clients’ business and personal goals, as well as providing practical recommendations to help them minimize tax costs and comply with increasingly complex tax regulations. From partnership agreements to business succession planning, our attorneys are familiar with the issues unique to automotive and vehicle dealerships. We help dealership owners develop plans so they can transfer their businesses to their children, while minimizing the impact of estate and gift taxes. We also represent dealers in disputes between partners/shareholders.