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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

8th Circuit says website terms of use are unenforceable

Courts Class Action Arbitration Eighth Circuit Appellate

Courts

On October 8, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eight Circuit overturned a district court’s ruling that a corporate defendant’s arbitration clause found in its website’s terms of use was unenforceable. The 8th Circuit disagreed holding that a triable issue of material fact existed as to whether the plaintiffs agreed to arbitrate.  Relying on a notation on the back of the gift cards that directed purchasers to its website where the terms of use and arbitration agreement were located, the defendant argued that the plaintiffs had agreed to arbitration. The district court disagreed explaining that plaintiffs “could not assent to it. . .unless they saw it first. For that reason, there was no ‘need’ to hold ‘a trial on the question of arbitrability.’”

On the appeal, the 8th Circuit explained that the district court’s task was to determine if the defendant and the plaintiffs had an arbitration agreement, and, if so, what it covered; however, the district court improperly addressed the question of mutual consent, which was in dispute and “generally a factual question.” According to the 8th Circuit, where there is a material dispute of fact regarding whether there was an agreement to arbitrate, the Federal Arbitration Act requires the district court to proceed to a trial on the issue.

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