James B. Niehaus Photo

James B. Niehaus

Partner | Chair, Litigation Practice Group


Jim focuses his practice on competition law—resolving disputes between and managing the relationships among competitors and businesses at different levels of the distribution chain. This includes litigating and counseling clients with respect to distribution, antitrust, intellectual property, franchising and licensing matters. Jim has extensive experience in litigating business disputes in the alcoholic beverages, motor vehicle and telecommunications industries, as well as disputes involving claims of unfair competition, misappropriation of trade secrets, breach of non-compete agreements, breach of franchise agreements and infringement of intellectual property rights.

Jim has assisted clients as national distribution counsel, including counseling clients on how to establish new distribution networks, both domestic and international, and how to restructure dealer networks in compliance with various state and federal dealer and franchising laws.

Over the past several years, Jim has represented several manufacturers in disputes with distributors involving Ohio’s Alcoholic Beverages Franchise Act, including a successful appeal to the Supreme Court of Ohio, the first two trials to determine “diminished value” under the Act and successful appeals to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in cases under the Ohio Franchise Act.

Jim also has extensive antitrust and intellectual property experience.


    • Successfully obtained award of $238,000 in attorney fees as the prevailing party in the defense of complex and vigorously litigated contract dispute.
    • Successfully represented the plaintiff, a Spanish winery, in an action seeking a declaration that the winery had just cause pursuant to the Ohio Alcoholic Beverages Franchise Act to terminate the franchise between the winery and the distributor. Court entered a directed verdict after a four day jury trial.
    • Represented defendants in an action by two wholesale distributors challenging their termination under the Ohio Alcoholic Beverages Franchise Act and, in the alternative, seeking a determination of the diminished value of their businesses as a result of the loss of the brands. The distributors also challenged the application of the statute as an unconstitutional taking of their property. The trial court issued several opinions interpreting the statute in favor of the defendants and granted summary judgment to the defendants on all of the plaintiffs claims, except for the diminished value claim. Following a bench trial, the court issued a diminished value ruling that was generally favorable to the defendants.
    • Represented defendants in a copyright infringement, trade secret, patent infringement and breach of a non-compete action. The plaintiff filed for a preliminary injunction on the copyright infringement claim. After an evidentiary hearing, the court denied the motion.
    • Represented the defendant in an action brought to determine the diminished value of the distributor’s business attributable to the loss of one of their major brands of beer. This was the first case to litigate this issue in Ohio under the Ohio Alcoholic Beverages Franchise Act. Following the trial, the court issued an opinion favorable to the defendant.
    • Represented the defendant in an action brought under the Ohio Alcoholic Beverages Franchise Act. Although plaintiff prevailed in the trial court, the Court of Appeals reversed, and the Ohio Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals.
    • Represented the plaintiff in a declaratory judgment action seeking an interpretation of the Ohio Motor Vehicle Dealer Act. After the trial court favorably interpreted the statute, we successfully defended the case on appeal.
    • Represented the plaintiff in a jury trial seeking injunctive relief and damages for breach of non-compete agreements, misappropriation of trade secrets and tortious interference with contract. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff and against all nine defendants; Persuaded the Court of Appeals that, notwithstanding the damage award, the trial court should be required to enforce the non-compete agreements for the balance of their terms.
    • Represented the plaintiff in an action to enforce a non-compete agreement. The court conducted a hearing on a preliminary injunction motion, and granted the motion.
    • Represented defendants in a claim brought pursuant to the Ohio Alcoholic Beverages Franchise Act. The plaintiff sought a preliminary injunction to prevent termination of the franchise. After a hearing, the court denied the motion.
    • Represented defendant in an action alleging theft of trade secrets and interference with business relations; obtained a directed verdict for the defendant.
    • Represented the defendant in a case alleging breach of a non-compete agreement and theft of trade secrets; obtained a verdict in favor of the defendant.
    • Represented a defendant in an action brought to enforce a right of first refusal to acquire a partnership operating a cellular telephone system; obtained a verdict for the defendant.
    • Represented the defendants in a case alleging theft of trade secrets and breach of contract; obtained a verdict for the defendants; affirmed on appeal.
    • Represented a defendant in the Plastics Additives class action antitrust litigation.
    • Represented a major computer manufacturer to pursue claims in several antitrust class actions.
    • Represented a defendant in a patent infringement and theft of trade secrets matter involving medical devices.
    • Represented a major steel producer in connection with a Justice Department investigation into the impact on competition in the steel industry of various proposed mergers and acquisitions.
    • Represented a defendant in a wrongful termination case brought pursuant to the Minnesota Heavy Equipment Dealers Act.
    • Represented the plaintiff in a trade secret misappropriation and copyright infringement action.
    • Counseling a Fortune 500 company on antitrust compliance programs, Robinson-Patman Act issues and various distribution matters.
    • Represented a major telecommunications carrier in a price discrimination case.
    • Represented a major telecommunications carrier in a price fixing case.
  • Education

    • Notre Dame Law School, J.D., magna cum laude, 1983
    • University of Notre Dame, B.A., 1980


    • State of Ohio 
    • Supreme Court of Ohio
    • U.S. Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit, Seventh Circuit, Eighth Circuit and Federal Circuit
    • U.S. District Court, Northern District of Ohio, Southern District of Ohio, Eastern District of Michigan, Northern District of Indiana, and District of Arizona
  • Professional Affiliations

    • American Bar Association—Member (1983-Present)
    • Ohio State Bar Association—Member (1983-Present)
    • Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association—Member (1983-Present)
    • John M. Manos, Inn of Court—Treasurer (2004-2014); President (2014-Present)
    • ALFA International—Steering Committee, Business Litigation

    Community Involvement

    • United Way of Cleveland—Trustee (2000-2019)
    • Catholic Charities Corporation—Trustee (1996-Present)
    • Cleveland Leadership Center, Leadership Cleveland (Class of 2007)

    Firm Involvement

    • Chair, Litigation Practice Group - Frantz Ward LLP
    • Founding Partner—Frantz Ward LLP
    • Named Best Lawyers’ “Lawyer of the Year” in Litigation—Intellectual Property in Cleveland (2020)
    • Named to The Best Lawyers of America in the areas of Commercial Litigation; Litigation-Antitrust; Litigation-Intellectual Property; and Trade Secrets Law (2007-2024)
    • Named to Chambers USA: America’s Guide to Leading Lawyers for Business in the area of Litigation: General Commercial (2019-2023)
    • Named to the Ohio Super Lawyers list (2009-2024)
    • AV Preeminent Peer Review Rated—Martindale-Hubbell
    • Recipient of the Legal Eagles Man of the Year Award from the St. Edward High School Alumni Association (2013)
    • Research Editor, Notre Dame Law Review, Notre Dame Law School (1983)
    • "What's In a Name?" Frantz Ward Client Alert (October 2020) 
    • "Legislators and Business Leaders Pave Way for Blockchain Innovation in Northeast Ohio," Frantz Ward Client Alert (July 2018)
    • “The Prevailing Party Need Not Win It All,” Frantz Ward Litigation News (March 2018)
    • Key Case Decision Regarding Termination of Distributor's,” Frantz Ward Litigation News (August 2017)
    • "Brewers Beware: When It Comes to Claims of False Advertising COLA's May Not Be Safe Harbors," Frantz Ward Client Alert (October 2016)
    • "Can You Keep a Secret? Why the Trade Secrets Act of 2016 May Affect Your Business," Frantz Ward Client Alert (May 2016)

    • “Ohio Business Competition Law,” Lawyers Coop Publishing (1994)
    • “Protecting Intellectual Property Under the Law,” Cambridge Institute (1989)
    • “Unconscionability and the Fundamental Breach Doctrine in Computer Contracts,” Notre Dame Lawyer (1982)
    • "Navigating a Business Divorce," Frantz Ward Litigation Seminar, Cleveland, OH (September 2019)
    • “Avoiding Antitrust Landmines When Drafting Contracts” Association of Corporate Counsel CLE, Cleveland, OH (June 2018)
    • "Multistate Distribution Issues - Ohio and Surrounding States," Ohio Craft Brewers Conference, Cleveland, OH (January 2018)
    • "The Ohio Alcoholic Beverage Franchise Act," St. Edward High School Legal Eagles Alumni Association, Cleveland, OH (December 2017)
    • "Frequent Subtopics in Supplier-Distributor Litigation," Annual National SuperConference-Wine, Beer & Spirits Law, Portland, OR (September 2017)
    • "Negotiating Key Contract Terms and Conditions," Northeast Ohio Association of Corporate Counsel, Cleveland, OH (June 2017)
    • “Franchise Law and the Impact of Recent Case Decisions,” Ohio Craft Brewers Association Annual Conference, Cincinnati, OH (February 2017)
    • “Understanding and Drafting Distribution Agreements,” Ohio Craft Brewers Association, Dayton, OH (February 2016)
    • “Litigating Distribution Issues Under the Ohio Alcoholic Beverage Franchise Act,” Ohio Bar Association, Columbus, OH (January 2016)
    • “Navigating Distribution Issues for Craft Brewers,” Ohio Craft Brewers Association, Wooster, OH (February 2015)