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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

3rd Circuit: Plaintiff must arbitrate debt adjustment allegations

Courts Appellate Third Circuit Debt Collection Arbitration Class Action State Issues


On March 24, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit determined that a plaintiff must arbitrate proposed class claims brought against a debt resolution law firm. The plaintiff alleged the law firm engaged in racketeering, consumer fraud, and unlawful debt adjustment practices in violation of various New Jersey laws. The district court denied the firm’s motion to compel arbitration, applied the law of the forum state, New Jersey, and ruled that the arbitration provision was invalid and unenforceable. The law firm appealed, arguing, among other things, that the arbitration provision would have been found valid if the district court had applied Delaware law in accordance with the parties’ 2013 professional legal services agreement. On appeal, the 3rd Circuit disagreed with the district court, holding that the arbitration provision demonstrated that the plaintiff gave up her right to litigate her claims in court, despite there appearing to be a true conflict between Delaware and New Jersey law. The appellate court concluded that the arbitration clause met the standard set forth in Atalese v. U.S. Legal Services Group, L.P., which held that an arbitration provision “will pass muster if it, ‘at least in some general and sufficiently broad way,. . .explain[s] that the plaintiff is giving up her right to bring claims in court or have a jury resolve the dispute.’” Moreover, the 3rd Circuit noted that the arbitration provision was also sufficiently broad enough to reasonably encompass the plaintiff’s statutory causes of action.

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