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  • Court upholds clickwrap agreement, reiterating that general principles of contract apply

    Fintech

    On March 28, the U.S. District Court of New Mexico enforced an arbitration agreement entered into by a consumer on a website. Before completing a purchase of a product through the defendant’s website, the plaintiff had to check a box next to a statement that she had read and agreed to the terms of the hyperlinked user agreement, which included an arbitration clause. The defendant was able to present evidence that it was impossible for the plaintiff to complete the purchase without checking the box and clicking on a button to accept the agreement. Plaintiff provided testimony that she couldn’t remember ever seeing the terms of use or agreeing to them.

    The court, in upholding the agreement, reiterated that electronic contracts are still governed by traditional contract principles, including reasonable notice and unambiguous assent requirements. Because the agreement was made available, twice via hyperlink, and because the plaintiff acknowledged her awareness and assent of the agreement by clicking a button in the affirmative twice, the court held that the plaintiff had sufficient notice and had demonstrated adequate assent to the terms. This decision reinforces the effectiveness of electronic arbitration agreements and the use of hyperlinks to present documents, when presented in a manner consistent with underlying contract law.

    Fintech Courts ESIGN Arbitration

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  • 2nd Circuit finds bankruptcy claim non-arbitrable

    Courts

    On March 7, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit denied a bank’s motion to compel arbitration, holding that arbitration of the debtor’s claims would present an inherent conflict with the intent of the Bankruptcy Code because the dispute concerns a core bankruptcy proceeding. The debtor’s claims against the bank relate to a purported refusal to remove a “charge-off” status on the debtor’s credit file after the debtor was released from all dischargeable debts through a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The bankruptcy court allowed the debtor to reopen the proceeding in order to file a putative class action complaint against the bank alleging that the designation amounted to coercion to pay a discharged debt. The bank moved to compel arbitration, based on a clause in the debtor’s cardholder agreement, and the court denied the motion. On appeal, the district court affirmed the bankruptcy court’s decision. In affirming both lower courts’ decisions, the 2nd Circuit reasoned that a claim of coercion to pay a discharged debt is an attempt to undo the effect of the discharge order and, therefore, “strikes at the heart of the bankruptcy court’s unique powers to enforce its own orders.” The circuit court found the debtor’s complaint to be non-arbitrable based on a conclusion that it would create an inherent conflict with the intent of the bankruptcy code.

    Courts Second Circuit Arbitration Bankruptcy Appellate

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  • 3rd Circuit holds payday lender’s arbitration clause unenforceable

    Courts

    On February 27, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit held that an arbitration clause is unenforceable if the corresponding forum selection provision designates a forum that does not actually exist. According to the opinion, in 2012 the plaintiff obtained a $5,000 loan from the defendant, an online loan servicer. An arbitration provision accompanying the loan agreement stated that arbitration would be conducted by an authorized representative of a specific tribal nation. The plaintiff subsequently sued the defendants for allegedly violating the federal Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act, and various New Jersey state laws. The defendants filed a motion to compel arbitration, which the lower court denied. In affirming the lower court’s decision, the 3rd Circuit concluded that the tribal arbitration forum referenced in the loan agreement does not actually exist and “because the loan agreement’s forum selection clause is an integral, non-severable part of the arbitration agreement,” the entire arbitration agreement is unenforceable.

    As previously covered by InfoBytes, in January, a district court judge ordered the same online loan servicer and its affiliates to pay a $10 million penalty for offering high-interest loans in states with usury laws barring the transactions. The penalty was based on a September 2016 finding that online loan servicer was the “true lender” of the loans issued through entities located on tribal lands. The penalty was significantly reduced from the CFPB’s request of over $50 million. 

    Courts Arbitration Third Circuit Payday Lending Appellate

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  • Texas Supreme Court says borrowers must arbitrate with payday lender

    Courts

    On February 23, the Texas Supreme Court affirmed a state appeals court panel decision which found that borrowers’ claims in a class action alleging a payday lender’s wrongful use of the criminal justice system to collect unpaid debts were subject to an arbitration agreement in their loan contracts with the payday lender. According to the opinion, the borrowers entered into loan contracts with the payday lender and used postdated checks as security for the loans. The payday lender deposited the postdated checks after the borrowers defaulted on their payment obligations, which resulted in the checks being returned for insufficient funds. The borrowers were then charged by the State of Texas for the issuance of bad checks and the charges were ultimately dismissed. The borrowers filed a class action lawsuit against the payday lender alleging the wrongful use of the criminal justice system to collect on their unpaid loans and asserted violations of, among other things, the Deceptive Trade Practices Act and Consumer Protection Act. The trial court denied the payday lender’s motion to compel arbitration because the court found that the class action allegations related to the use of the criminal justice system and not the underlying loan contract, and that the payday lender waived its right to arbitration by invoking the judicial process. Upon appeal, the panel versed the trial court’s decision. In affirming the appeals court panel holding, the Texas Supreme Court agreed that the class action suit was “factually intertwined with the loan contracts” and therefore, the arbitration provision applied and there was insufficient evidence to support the trial court’s holding that the payday lender waived its right to arbitrate.

    Courts State Issues Arbitration Payday Lending

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  • District judge denies law firm’s motion to compel arbitration

    Courts

    On February 12, a judge for the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin held that a debt collection law firm could not compel a plaintiff to settle claims in arbitration because the law firm was not a party to the arbitration agreement it sought to enforce. According to the opinion, the plaintiff filed a proposed class action suit against the law firm and a credit card issuer for allegedly violating the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) by publishing the plaintiff’s credit score on a complaint to obtain payment filed with a local country circuit court. The plaintiff subsequently dismissed the claims against the credit card issuer after resolving the issues outside of the court. The law firm filed a motion to compel arbitration, arguing that it is a third party co-defendant of a claim subject to an arbitration provision, which covered the credit card issuer, cardholders, and third party co-defendants. In denying the motion to compel, the judge held that the law firm is not a co-defendant “at the only time that matters, which is when the court is deciding the motion to compel arbitration” because the credit card issuer is no longer a party to the lawsuit. The judge also noted that if the credit card issuer wanted an associated law firm to be covered by the arbitration provision, it could have used broader language in the agreement.

    Courts Arbitration Debt Collection FCRA FDCPA

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  • District court grants motion to compel arbitration, cites failure to dispute scope of clause

    Courts

    On January 29, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania granted a motion to compel arbitration, finding that an arbitration clause set forth under extension agreements with an automobile finance company to refinance and extend the plaintiff’s loan obligation is “valid and enforceable.” Additionally, the court ruled that alternative motions to dismiss filed by other defendants were moot, and then stayed and administratively closed the matter pending the resolution of the claims subject to arbitration. The plaintiff alleged violations of her Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act, and several other state and federal credit statutes, when defendants—including the automobile finance company—repossessed her vehicle despite having signed extension agreements. In response to the defendants’ assertion that her claims were subject to the arbitration clause, the plaintiff argued that the extension agreements were unenforceable due to the unavailability of the “designated arbitrators,” and that defendants were barred from trying to obtain “alternative relief” by relying on additional terms outlined in a second extension agreement that released defendants from liability. However, the court ruled that the plaintiff’s failure to dispute the scope of the arbitration clause meant that the defendants were “entitled to enforcement of the arbitration clause with respect to all claims and defenses asserted,” so long as the designated arbitrators are available.

    Courts Auto Finance Arbitration Debt Collection Repossession FDCPA

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  • Maryland issues bipartisan consumer protection recommendations

    State Issues

    On January 26, the Maryland Financial Consumer Protection Commission (the “Commission”) and ranking officials from the Maryland legislature announced bipartisan “Interim Recommendations” of the Commission for State and local action in response to the federal government’s “efforts to change or weaken […] important federal consumer protections.” New legislation in response to the recommendations is expected to be released in the near future. Key recommendations include, among other things: (i) requiring credit reporting agencies to provide an alert of data breaches promptly and provide free credit freezes; (ii) adopting new financial consumer protection laws in areas where the federal government may be weakening oversight; (iii) addressing potential issues with Maryland’s current payday and lending statutes; (iv) adopting the Model State Consumer and Employee Justice Enforcement Act that addresses forced arbitration clauses; and (v) adopting new laws that address new risk, such as, virtual currencies and financial technology.

    State Issues State Legislation Consumer Finance Data Breach Payday Lending Arbitration Virtual Currency Fintech Credit Reporting Agency Security Freeze

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  • Illinois Appellate Court rules generic card agreement cannot compel arbitration

    Courts

    On January 4, the Illinois Appellate Court (Fifth District) handed down an opinion affirming a circuit court’s decision to deny a debt collection company’s motion to dismiss and compel arbitration. In 2015, the company filed complaints against defendants-counterplaintiffs for failing to make payments on their accounts and entering into default. In class action counterclaims, the defendants-counterplaintiffs challenged the debt collection company’s alleged practice of suing to collect debt purchased from others without “sufficient proof of ownership of the debt,” and sought damages for purported violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, among others. The debt collection company argued that because the class action counterclaims fell within the scope of a binding card agreement—which included an arbitration clause and a class action waiver provision—the class claims should be barred and dismissed. The circuit court considered whether the agreements entered into between the company and the defendants-counterplaintiffs were subject to arbitration, and determined that the company failed to demonstrate that the card agreement containing the arbitration clause was received by, agreed to, or otherwise applied to the consumers within the agreements governing the accounts in question. The appellate court affirmed and concluded that, upon review, the company’s appeal failed to “demonstrate when or how the generic [c]ard [a]greement containing the arbitration provision pertained to [defendants-counterplaintiffs] or that it was communicated . . . prior to subsequent credit card use.”

    Courts Arbitration Debt Collection State Issues FDCPA

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  • Ninth Circuit Denies Arbitration, Lacks Jurisdiction to Review Anti-SLAPP Motion

    Courts

    On December 27, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued an opinion affirming the district court’s decision to deny the defendants’ request to compel arbitration against plaintiffs who elected to participate in the defendants’ administration of California’s “Bad Check Diversion Program” (BCD Program). The order is the result of two consolidated appeals from separate district court orders related to a putative class action lawsuit claiming that the defendants violated the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) and California Unfair Competition Law in their administration of the BCD Program. The BCD Program, administered by private entities in agreement with a local district attorney, provides consumers accused of writing bad checks the opportunity for deferred prosecution. Under the BCD Program, the defendants sent notices on official district attorney letterhead offering the plaintiffs the chance to avoid criminal prosecution under California’s bad check statute if they participated in the BCD Program and paid specified fees. The notices also included an arbitration clause. In the class action lawsuit, plaintiffs alleged that defendants violated the law by misleading plaintiffs into thinking law enforcement sent the letters and by allegedly including false threats in the letters that implied that failure to pay would result in arrest or imprisonment.

    In response to the lawsuit, defendants filed a motion under California’s Anti-SLAPP law, which protects defendants from strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPP), to strike the plaintiffs’ state law claims as well as a motion to compel arbitration pursuant to the arbitration clause in the notices. With respect to the defendant’s motion to compel arbitration, the panel opined that the BCD Program is not subject to Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) provisions because it is “an agreement between a criminal suspect and the local authorities about how to resolve a potential state-law criminal violation” rather than a “private or commercial contract.” In response to the defendants’ Anti-SLAPP motion, the appellate panel concluded that it “lacked jurisdiction to review the district court’s denial of defendants’ Anti-SLAPP motion because, under the terms of the state statute, such a denial in a case deemed [by the lower court] to be filed in the public interest is not immediately appealable.”

    The panel remanded to the district court for further proceedings.

    Courts Ninth Circuit Arbitration FDCPA

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  • Trump Signs Legislation to End Arbitration Rule

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

    On November 1, President Trump signed a resolution repealing the CFPB’s embattled arbitration rule (Rule). The resolution, which passed the Senate two weeks ago, was issued under the Congressional Review Act (previously covered by InfoBytes here). Trump’s signature came two days after Richard Cordray, the Director of the CFPB, wrote to the President requesting he veto the resolution. In his letter, Cordray sought to appeal to the President’s business experience in an attempt to explain the necessity of going to court when “treated unfairly.” With Trump’s signing of the resolution, the Rule is now unenforceable. The Rule has previously come under scrutiny from federal regulators (see previous InfoBytes coverage here and here), as well as from industry trade groups (see previous InfoBytes coverage here). After the President’s signing, Keith A. Noreika, Acting Comptroller of the OCC, praised Congress and the President for vacating the rule, touting it as a “victory for consumers” because upholding the Rule would have “significantly increased the cost of credit.”

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance Consumer Finance CFPB Arbitration OCC Congressional Review Act

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