For the past decade or so, California has been one of the few states to provide open, online document access to all franchise-related filings made in the state. The current form of this access is available via the state’s DOCQNET website at https://docqnet.dbo.ca.gov/. The system allows anyone to search the California filings, including franchise disclosure documents, made by any franchisor since 2004. As a result, California DOCQNET has been one of the few Internet sources for obtaining free franchise disclosure documents.
The state’s Department of Business Oversight (the “Department”) has recently announced that due to compliance with accessibility guidelines under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the state be eliminating the ability of system users to obtain franchise filings. The state’s announcement reads as follows:
The Department of Business Oversight is committed to providing a Self-Service Portal that is accessible to all users regardless of physical ability. In furtherance of this goal, the DBO Self-Service Portal will be modified to display search results in an index format only starting June 26, 2020. This means that users will no longer be able to view copies of the actual document. The DBO Self-Service Portal will display search results with the following parameters:
• Date range for searchable public records will be limited to the past 10 years
• Search results will no longer be hyperlinked to viewable documents
If a user wishes to view a copy of a document indexed in the DBO Self-Service Portal, they may submit a Public Records Act request through the Department’s website at https://docqnet.dbo.ca.gov/create-pra/.
Questions about accessibility may be sent to Webmaster@dbo.ca.gov. Any questions or comments about this change may be directed to ASK.DBO@dbo.ca.gov.
Removing the ability to immediately access franchise filings will undoubtedly disadvantage franchisors, franchisees, potential franchisees, and their counsel who have a need to research California franchise filings. While the option to request these documents will remain available, it is unlikely that any such request will be fulfilled quickly.
During a recent webinar presented by the International Franchise Association, one of the Department’s senior attorneys encouraged people who will be negatively affected by this change to submit their comments to the Department. A decrease in access will certainly hurt people in the franchise community. As a result, I encourage you to send your comments to the above-referenced email address at ASK.DBO@dbo.ca.gov.