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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

California appellate court concludes lender’s arbitration provision unenforceable

Courts State Issues Arbitration Lending Consumer Finance

Courts

On January 11, the Court of Appeals of the State of California affirmed the denial of an auto lender’s motion to compel arbitration, concluding that the arbitration clause was invalid and unenforceable. According to the opinion, in May 2019, consumers filed a class action complaint alleging the lenders charged unconscionable interest rates in violation of California’s Unfair Competition Law (UCL) and Consumers Legal Remedies Act (CLRA). The company moved to compel arbitration, which the consumers opposed, arguing that the agreement was “procedurally and substantively unconscionable,” and that the California Supreme Court decision in McGill v. Citibank, N.A. (covered by a Buckley Special Alert here, holding that a waiver of the plaintiff’s substantive right to seek public injunctive relief is not enforceable) applied. The trial court denied the motion to compel arbitration, concluding that the McGill rule applied and that the injunctive relief provision could not be severed from the rest of the arbitration agreement because severability did not apply to the class waiver provision.

On appeal, the state appellate court agreed with the trial court, concluding that the McGill rule applied. Specifically, the appellate court concluded that the injunctive relief the consumers were seeking “encompasses all consumers and members of the public,” and “an injunction under the CLRA against [the lender]’s unlawful practices will not directly benefit the Customers because they have already been harmed and are already aware of the misconduct.” Moreover, the appellate court determined that there is no precedent holding that “the remedy of public injunctions under CLRA and UCL should be limited to false advertising claims.” The court further concluded that the class waiver was not severable, stating that the lender’s argument that the arbitration agreement could not be determined void until after an appellate court reviews the viability of the class waiver was “illogical.” Accordingly, the appellate court affirmed the denial of the motion to arbitrate.

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