Skip to main content
Menu Icon Menu Icon
Close

InfoBytes Blog

Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

Filter

Subscribe to our InfoBytes Blog weekly newsletter and other publications for news affecting the financial services industry.

  • Court again rejects “unconscionable” arbitration provision

    Courts

    On February 12, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia denied for a second time a satellite TV provider’s (defendant) motion to compel arbitration in a TCPA class action, concluding that the arbitration provision was “overbroad, absurd and unconscionable.” As previously covered by InfoBytes, the plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the defendant alleging the defendant violated the TCPA by making automated and prerecorded telemarketing calls to an individual even though her number was on the National Do Not Call Registry. The defendant moved to compel arbitration, claiming that the plaintiff’s dispute was covered by an arbitration agreement in the contract governing her cell phone service with a telecommunications company, which is an affiliate of the defendant. The district court denied the request, ruling that the allegations “did not fall within the scope of the arbitration agreement.” On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit issued a split opinion vacating a district court’s decision with the majority concluding that the allegations fit within the broad scope of the arbitration agreement, and that even though the plaintiff agreed to arbitration with a telecommunications company in 2012, the agreement extends to the TCPA allegations against the defendant after the telecommunications company acquired the defendant in 2015. Specifically, the appellate court stated that the arbitration agreement had a “forward-looking nature,” and that it seemed unlikely that the telecommunications company and its affiliates “intended to restrict the covered entities to those existing at the time the agreement was signed.” The 4th Circuit remanded the case back to the district court for consideration of unconscionability.

    On remand, the district court again denied the motion, stating that the “arbitration provision is overbroad, absurd and unconscionable, and far exceeds anything contemplated by Congress in enacting the [Federal Arbitration Act].” Specifically, the court stated the plaintiff was “an ordinary wireless consumer” given a “small electronic pinpad device” with a few lines of the agreement displayed at a time and an option to skip to an acknowledgment screen, which required her signature, in order to “obtain her line of service.” She would then be “irrevocably locked in to face demands that she arbitrate any dispute arising out of any relationship with virtually any of [the telecommunications company]’s corporate cousins—a list that could, overtime, comprise [] current competitors or not-yet created subsidiaries.” Because the arbitration provision was unconscionably broad, the court denied the motion to arbitrate.

    Courts TCPA Appellate Fourth Circuit Arbitration Federal Arbitration Act

    Share page with AddThis
  • District court rescinds arbitration order in ATM and overdraft fee case

    Courts

    On August 10, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California agreed to reconsider a prior decision, which granted a bank’s motion to compel arbitration in connection with a lawsuit concerning the bank’s assessment of two types of fees. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the court compelled arbitration of a plaintiff’s lawsuit asserting claims for breach of contract and violation of California’s Unfair Competition Law due to the bank’s alleged practice of charging fees for out-of-network ATM use and overdraft fees related to debit card transaction timing. The court concluded that even if the California Supreme Court case McGill v. Citibank rule— which held that an arbitration agreement is unenforceable if it constitutes a waiver of the plaintiff’s substantive right to seek public injunctive relief (covered by a Buckley Special Alert here)—was applicable to a contract, it would not survive preemption as the U.S. Supreme Court has “consistently held that the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) preempts states’ attempts to limit the scope of arbitration agreements,” and “the McGill rule is merely the latest ‘device or formula’ intended to achieve the result of rendering an arbitration agreement against public policy.” 

    The plaintiff moved for the court’s reconsideration after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued opinions in Blair v. Rent-ACenter, Inc. et al and McArdle v. AT&T Mobility LLC). In Blair (and similarly in McArdle), the 9th Circuit concluded that McGill was not preempted by the FAA. The appellate court found that McGill does not interfere with the bilateral nature of a typical arbitration, stating “[t]he McGill rule leaves undisturbed an agreement that both requires bilateral arbitration and permits public injunctive claims.” (Covered by InfoBytes here.)

    The court granted the plaintiff’s motion, concluding that the public injunction waiver in the account agreement is “encompassed by McGill” and therefore, the arbitration agreement is “invalid and unenforceable,” and because the arbitration agreement includes a non-severability clause, the “clause plainly invalidates the entire arbitration agreement section as a result of the invalidity and unenforceability of the public injunction waiver provision therein.”

    Courts State Issues Fees Arbitration Preemption U.S. Supreme Court Federal Arbitration Act

    Share page with AddThis
  • 9th Circuit: Payday arbitration remanded because of new California interest rate law

    Courts

    On June 9, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit remanded a case against a payday lender back to district court because a newly issued California amendment took effect—which prohibits lenders from issuing loans between $2,500 and $10,000 with charges over 36 percent calculated as an annual simple interest rate (covered by InfoBytes here)—which may impact the court’s analysis. As also previously covered by InfoBytes, plaintiffs filed a putative class action suit against the payday lender alleging the lender sells loans with usurious interest rates, which are prohibited under California’s Unfair Competition Law and Consumer Legal Remedies Act. The lender moved to compel arbitration, but the district court concluded the arbitration provision was unenforceable. In addition to finding the arbitration provisions procedurally unconscionable, the court found that the provision contained a waiver of public injunctive relief, which was substantively unconscionable based on the California Supreme Court decision in McGill v. Citibank, N.A (covered by a Buckley Special Alert here).

    On appeal, the 9th Circuit remanded the case back to the district court to reconsider whether the consumer’s requested injunction enjoining the payday lender from issuing loans above $10,000 would actually prevent a threat of future harm in light of the new California law and considering the operative complaint does not allege the lender issued or continues to issue loans above $10,000. Additionally, the appellate court rejected the lender’s arguments that McGill was preempted under the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) and agreed with the district court’s application of California law, because “Kansas law is contrary to California policy and [] California holds a materially greater interest in this litigation.”

    Courts Arbitration Ninth Circuit State Issues Preemption Federal Arbitration Act Appellate

    Share page with AddThis
  • District Court compels arbitration for most class action overdraft claims

    Courts

    On August 23, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California held that a portion of a class action suit alleging a bank improperly assessed overdraft fees must proceed to arbitration. According to the opinion, a consumer filed the class action complaint alleging the bank charged multiple non-sufficient funds fees for the same credit card payment transaction, in violation of the contract between the bank and the consumer. The class action alleged claims for breach of contract, or, in the alternative, unjust enrichment, as well as a claim for violating the California Business & Professions Code and a claim for violating the California Consumer Legal Remedies Act. The bank moved to compel arbitration of all the claims based on an arbitration clause contained in the customer deposit agreement. The court concluded that the claims for breach of contract and unjust enrichment are covered by the arbitration clause in the deposit agreement and therefore compelled arbitration. As for the injunctive relief the consumer sought under the California state statutory claims, the consumer argued that the court should apply the California Supreme Court decision in McGill v. Citibank, N.A (covered by a Buckley Special Alert here), which held that a waiver of the plaintiff’s substantive right to seek public injunctive relief is not enforceable, and that “Texas law is contrary to a fundamental policy of California.” The court determined that because Texas does not have a “rule comparable to McGill and because California has a materially greater interest than Texas,” California law applies to the injunctive relief claims and therefore, the claims “must be litigated and not arbitrated.” However, to the extent the consumer sought monetary relief under the state statutory claims, those claims must be arbitrated.

    Courts Arbitration Federal Arbitration Act State Issues Overdraft

    Share page with AddThis
  • 9th Circuit denies rent-to-own company’s arbitration bid

    Courts

    On June 28, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit affirmed the denial of a rent-to-own company’s motion to compel arbitration in a putative class action alleging the company charged excessive prices. According to the opinion, three named plaintiffs filed suit against the company in 2017, alleging that the company structured its rent-to-own pricing in violation of California law, including the Karnette Rental-Purchase Act, the Unfair Competition Law, the Consumers Legal Remedies Act, and the state’s prohibitions against usurious loans. The plaintiffs sought public injunctive relief, as well as compensatory damages and restitution, among other things. The company moved to compel arbitration in accordance with the arbitration agreement executed in connection with the plaintiff’s rent-to-own air conditioner contract. The district court denied the motion to compel arbitration, concluding that the arbitration agreement violates the California Supreme Court decision in McGill v. Citibank, N.A (covered by a Buckley Special Alert here) because it constitutes a waiver of the plaintiff’s substantive right to seek public injunctive relief. Moreover, the court concluded that McGill was not preempted by the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), and that the agreement’s severance clause allowed for the plaintiff’s Karnette Act, UCL, and CLRA claims to be severed from the arbitration.

    On appeal, the 9th Circuit agreed with the district court, rejecting the company’s arguments that McGill was preempted by the FAA. The appellate court found that McGill does not interfere with the bilateral nature of a typical arbitration, stating “[t]he McGill rule leaves undisturbed an agreement that both requires bilateral arbitration and permits public injunctive claims.” Moreover, the appellate court noted that the severance clause in the agreement, which precludes an arbitrator from awarding public injunctive relief, is triggered by the McGill rule, and disagreed with the company that the arbitrator would still adjudicate liability first, concluding that the clause provides “the entire claim be severed for judicial determination.”

    Courts Appellate Ninth Circuit Arbitration Federal Arbitration Act

    Share page with AddThis
  • California District Court says payday lender’s arbitration provision is unconscionable

    Courts

    On June 10, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California denied a national payday lender’s motion to compel arbitration, agreeing with plaintiffs that the arbitration provision in their loan agreement was unenforceable because it was procedurally and substantively unconscionable. According to the opinion, plaintiffs filed a putative class action suit against the payday lender alleging the lender sells loans with usurious interest rates, which are prohibited under California’s Unfair Competition Law and Consumer Legal Remedies Act. The lender moved to compel arbitration asserting that the consumers’ loan agreements contain prohibitions on class actions in court or in arbitration, require arbitration of any claims arising from a dispute related to the agreement, and disallow consumers from acting as a “private attorney general.”

    The court first determined that California law applied.  It concluded that, while the lender was headquartered in Kansas, the consumers obtained their loans in California, and California “has a materially greater interest than Kansas in employing its laws to resolve the instant dispute,” based on its “material and fundamental interest in maintaining a pathway to public injunctive relief in unfair competition cases.”

    The court then determined that the arbitration provision was procedurally unconscionable because, even though the consumers had a 30-day opt-out window, it required them to waive statutory causes of action “before they knew any such claims existed.” Finally, because the provision contained a waiver of public injunctive relief, the court determined it was substantively unconscionable based on the California Supreme Court decision in McGill v. Citibank, N.A (covered by a Buckley Special Alert here). The court rejected the lender’s arguments that McGill was preempted under the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), noting a 2015 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, “effectively controls” the dispute and the 9th Circuit reasoned that a similar state-law rule against waivers was not preempted by the FAA. Lastly, the court held that the unconscionable public injunctive relief waiver provision was not severable from the entire arbitration provision, because the agreement contained “poison pill” language that would invalidate the entirety of the arbitration provision.

     

    Courts Arbitration Federal Arbitration Act State Issues Ninth Circuit Preemption

    Share page with AddThis
  • District Court orders ATM and overdraft fee case to arbitration

    Courts

    On January 25, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California granted a bank’s motion to compel arbitration in connection with a lawsuit concerning the bank’s assessment of two types of fees. According to the order, the plaintiff filed a lawsuit asserting claims for breach of contract and violation of California’s Unfair Competition Law due to the bank’s alleged practice of charging fees for out-of-network ATM use and overdraft fees related to debit card transaction timing. The bank moved to compel arbitration pursuant to the arbitration provision in the deposit account agreement executed between the bank and the plaintiff. The plaintiff argued against arbitration, citing a California Supreme Court case, McGill v. Citibank, which held that “waivers of the right to seek public injunctive relief in any forum are unenforceable.” In response, the bank argued that (i) McGill does not apply because the plaintiff is not seeking public injunctive relief; and (ii) McGill is preempted by the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA). The court agreed with the bank, determining that the relief sought by the plaintiff would primarily benefit her, stating “any public injunctive relief sought by [plaintiff] is merely incidental to her primary aim of gaining compensation for injury.” As for preemption, the court noted that even if the McGill rule was applicable to a contract, it would not survive preemption as the U.S. Supreme Court has “consistently held that the FAA preempts states’ attempts to limit the scope of arbitration agreements,” and “the McGill rule is merely the latest ‘device or formula’ intended to achieve the result of rendering an arbitration agreement against public policy.” 

    Courts State Issues Fees Arbitration Preemption U.S. Supreme Court Federal Arbitration Act

    Share page with AddThis