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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

District Court finds that lender did not waive arbitration clause by filing collection lawsuit

Courts Arbitration State Issues Class Action FDCPA

Courts

On May 19, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas granted a lender’s motion to compel arbitration in a putative class action debt collection case, ruling that the lender’s collection lawsuit against an individual did not waive the arbitration clause in the underlying promissory note. After the plaintiff borrower defaulted on a personal loan, she received a collection letter from a law firm hired by the creditor, which contained a warning that if payment was not made within 30 days, a recommendation would be made to the creditor to file a lawsuit to collect on the debt. Six days after sending the letter, the creditor filed suit in small claims court to recover the unpaid debt. The plaintiff then filed a separate lawsuit against the creditor and the law firm, alleging violations of the FDCPA and the Texas Debt Collection Act (TDCA). The plaintiff claimed, among other things, that the letter made “false, deceptive, or misleading representations” because the creditor demanded payment within 30 days even though the FDCPA provides borrowers 30 days to dispute a debt after receiving a collection letter. The plaintiff further sought to hold the creditor “vicariously liable [under the TDCA]” for the law firm’s allegedly unlawful collection activities. The defendants moved to compel arbitration, but the plaintiff argued that the arbitration clause in the underlying promissory note was waived when the defendants sued to collect on the unpaid debt. The plaintiff also argued that the law firm hired by the creditor could not compel arbitration because it was not a party to the promissory note. The court disagreed, finding that the creditor’s decision to file a lawsuit for breach of contract in small claims court “should not prevent it from later enforcing its right to arbitrate a completely separate claim.” The court further concluded that the allegations brought against the law firm are “inextricably enmeshed and have a significant relationship to the terms” of the promissory note, and that, as such, the law firm may compel arbitration even though it is a nonsignatory to the agreement.

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