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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

District court rescinds arbitration order in ATM and overdraft fee case

Courts State Issues Fees Arbitration Preemption U.S. Supreme Court Federal Arbitration Act


On August 10, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California agreed to reconsider a prior decision, which granted a bank’s motion to compel arbitration in connection with a lawsuit concerning the bank’s assessment of two types of fees. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the court compelled arbitration of a plaintiff’s lawsuit asserting claims for breach of contract and violation of California’s Unfair Competition Law due to the bank’s alleged practice of charging fees for out-of-network ATM use and overdraft fees related to debit card transaction timing. The court concluded that even if the California Supreme Court case McGill v. Citibank rule— which held that an arbitration agreement is unenforceable if it constitutes a waiver of the plaintiff’s substantive right to seek public injunctive relief (covered by a Buckley Special Alert here)—was applicable to a contract, it would not survive preemption as the U.S. Supreme Court has “consistently held that the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) preempts states’ attempts to limit the scope of arbitration agreements,” and “the McGill rule is merely the latest ‘device or formula’ intended to achieve the result of rendering an arbitration agreement against public policy.” 

The plaintiff moved for the court’s reconsideration after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued opinions in Blair v. Rent-ACenter, Inc. et al and McArdle v. AT&T Mobility LLC). In Blair (and similarly in McArdle), the 9th Circuit concluded that McGill was not preempted by the FAA. The appellate court found that McGill does not interfere with the bilateral nature of a typical arbitration, stating “[t]he McGill rule leaves undisturbed an agreement that both requires bilateral arbitration and permits public injunctive claims.” (Covered by InfoBytes here.)

The court granted the plaintiff’s motion, concluding that the public injunction waiver in the account agreement is “encompassed by McGill” and therefore, the arbitration agreement is “invalid and unenforceable,” and because the arbitration agreement includes a non-severability clause, the “clause plainly invalidates the entire arbitration agreement section as a result of the invalidity and unenforceability of the public injunction waiver provision therein.”