Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Law 75 protects dealers who develop the “market” in Puerto Rico. But, does the “market” include federal military installations, cruise ships, or duty free shops?

There are two elements for Law 75 to apply, prima facie, first, the statute protects a Puerto Rico dealer, and who qualifies as a dealer is a highly factual question; second, the business activities of the dealer must be directed to promote the sale or service of the principal’s products or services within the Puerto Rico market. Thus, the statute does not extend coverage to stateside or foreign distributors at least to those that have no sales or distribution offices or operations within Puerto Rico. Nor should Law 75 have an extraterritorial reach for sales made outside of the Puerto Rico territory. Accordingly, the measure of damages in Law 75 should not include any sales made by a Puerto Rico distributor outside the Puerto Rico market. That should be straightforward enough.

But, what is the market within the geographic boundaries of Puerto Rico that is covered by Law 75? Plain language of Law 75 does not help to answer that question. Are sales made to federal military customers within federal military installations in Puerto Rico covered? In Patterson v. Ford Motor, 931 F. Supp. 98, 102 (D.P.R. 1996), the issue was raised but the court did not answer the question ruling instead that Plaintiff, a sales representative, did not qualify as a Law 75 dealer. Would sales made by Puerto Rico distributors to cruise ships that dock within Puerto Rico’s territorial waters be covered by Law 75? Are duty free sales at the LMM international airport covered? Does the answer to these questions turn on constitutional or quasi-political definitions of what is a “territory”? If that’s the right test then arguably sales to U.S military installations within Puerto Rico may not be covered. Or does the answer turn instead on the practical import of who is the ultimate consumer for the products (understanding that many but not all consumers are Puerto Rico residents) and what benefits does the principal derive from sales by Puerto Rican distributors to these outlets (military bases, cruise ships, and duty free shops) all of which have a nexus to Puerto Rico? Either way there is no definitive answer on point in the case law to these questions.