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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

1st Circuit: Original creditor’s arbitration agreement applies to debt buyer

Courts First Circuit Appellate Arbitration Debt Collection FDCPA


On November 25, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed a grant of a motion to compel arbitration in a debt collection action, concluding that a debt buyer holds the same arbitration rights as the original creditor under a cardmember agreement entered into with the plaintiff. The debt buyer purchased a pool of defaulted credit card debts from the original creditor, including the plaintiff’s charged-off account. After a municipal judge ruled that the debt buyer could not prove it owned the unpaid debt, the plaintiff filed a class action lawsuit alleging, among other things, that the debt buyer and its law firm (collectively, “defendants”) violated the FDCPA by attempting to collect the debt after the statute of limitations had expired. The defendants filed a motion to compel arbitration, and the district court approved the magistrate judge’s recommendation that an enforcement clause in the cardholder agreement between the plaintiff and the original creditor be enforced. The plaintiff appealed, arguing that the defendants should not be able to compel arbitration because they were not the signatories of the original cardholder agreement.

On appeal, the 1st Circuit concluded that the plaintiff offered no support for deviating from the “long-standing given in contract law. . .that ‘an assignee stands in the shoes of the assignor,’” holding that the original creditor’s rights were assigned to the debt buyer and its agents, including the right to invoke the cardmember agreement’s arbitration provision.