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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

District Court: Underlying court judgment does not waive right to compel arbitration

Courts FDCPA Debt Collection Arbitration State Issues Class Action

Courts

On June 21, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York granted defendants’ motion to compel arbitration in an action accusing the defendant of violating the FDCPA by making false statements when attempting to collect outstanding debt. In 2018, the defendant purchased the plaintiff’s charged-off account and a year later filed a lawsuit seeking to collect on the outstanding credit card debt. Default judgment was entered in favor of the defendant, who then attempted to collect on the judgment by filing an income execution to garnish the plaintiff’s wages. The plaintiff filed suit, contending that the income execution contained false statements and failed to comply with various requirements under the New York State Consumer Protection Law. The defendants filed a motion to compel arbitration and to dismiss the complaint based on provisions in a credit card agreement between the plaintiff and the original creditor. The plaintiff argued that the arbitration provisions did not apply because the judgment obtained by the defendant on the underlying debt extinguished the agreement and, as such, “there is no longer an ‘account’ upon which to enforce the arbitration provision.” The court disagreed, noting that if the plaintiff’s assertion that “an underlying court judgment merges with and extinguishes an underlying contractual debt” was correct, “contracts would be rendered meaningless whenever a party breached any portion of an agreement and the other party obtained a judgment on such breach.” Additionally, the court noted that the agreement “expressly permitted parties to file suit without waiving the right to compel arbitration on subsequent claims.” Specifically, the agreement provides that cases filed to collect money owed by a consumer will not be subject to arbitration, but that a response to such a collection suit claiming any wrongdoing may be subject to arbitration. “Thus, regardless of whether an underlying court judgment merges with and extinguishes an underlying contractual debt, the contract itself and its obligations—including the ability to compel the arbitration of subsequent claims—do not similarly merge,” the court wrote.

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