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March 28. 2012 9:46PM

NH judge considering Maine shop seizure

BRENTWOOD – A judge is considering whether the owners of Moe's Italian Sandwiches will be able to seize equipment and restaurant furniture from two sisters who abandoned a store franchise in Wells, Maine, late last year.

A lawyer for the regional sandwich maker appeared in Rockingham County Superior Court on Wednesday morning asking a judge to enforce parts of a 10-year franchise agreement with sisters Jolene and Betsy Ecker.

The company filed a court injunction in an effort to claim the equipment.

The Wells, Maine location was open for less than a year before the Eckerts notified Cheryl Pagano, president of Moe's parent company, that they were closing the business at the end of 2011.

Lawyer Jeremy Walker argued that the franchise agreement allows the company to claim the equipment after the Eckerts decided to close the business.

Elizabeth Eckert told Judge N. William Delker that Pagano offered to buy the equipment within 60 days as outlined in the franchise agreement. But no purchase was ever made.

“They didn't exercise their right within due time,” she said.

The Eckerts suggested to Delker they no longer had control of the restaurant's equipment because their lease with the landlord of the property ended in December.

Walker disputed that information and contended the sisters were planning on opening another restaurant in the same location.

The Eckerts said during the hearing that it became apparent that they could not sustain a business in Wells because it is a resort community, where the population drops significantly after the summer. Walker said the company had the right to take over the Wells-based sandwich shop once the Eckerts decided they wanted out of the business, in accordance with the franchise agreement.

Moe's operates 13 locations in New Hampshire and has planned to expand its brand into Maine, according to Walker.

Delker suggested that there were aspects of the agreement that could be subject to other litigation, but he would focus only on the injunction seeking to take control of the equipment and furniture. The judge said he expects to reach a decision soon.


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