CFPB to Host Field Hearing on Arbitration

On May 5, the CFPB will host a field hearing on arbitration in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Last October, the CFPB assembled its Small Business Review Panel to review proposals to limit pre-dispute arbitration agreements for consumer financial products and services, signaling preliminary stages of the anticipated proposed rulemaking. The May 5 hearing will be the CFPB’s third field hearing on arbitration; the first was in March 2015 and the second in October 2015.

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Seventh Circuit Finds No Enforceable Arbitration Agreement Case Involving Chicago-Based Credit Reporting Company

Recently, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit issued an opinion affirming a district court’s denial of a credit reporting company’s motion to compel arbitration in a putative class action. The Seventh Circuit considered whether a particular online process was sufficient to form a contract between the company and its customer. Sgourros v. TransUnion Corp., No. 15-1371 (7th Cir. Mar. 25, 2016). The plaintiff in the case purchased a credit score report from the company that he alleged was inaccurate — it was 100 points higher than a lender’s report — and therefore he alleged that the report was useless. The plaintiff sued the company under various state and federal consumer protection laws. The company sought to compel arbitration, arguing that the plaintiff had agreed to the terms of a service agreement that included a mandatory arbitration clause because he clicked on various acceptance buttons in the online ordering process. Read more…

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CFPB Releases Fact Sheet: Policy Priorities over the Next Two Years

On February 25, the CFPB released a fact sheet outlining its policy priorities over the next two years. The document lists the following nine near-term priority goals: (i) arbitration; (ii) consumer reporting; (iii) debt collection; (iv) demand side consumer behavior; (v) household balance sheets; (vi) mortgages; (vii) open-use credit; (viii) small business lending; and (ix) student lending. Regarding arbitration, the CFPB noted that it “will continue the rulemaking process and propose a rule consistent with its study that will further enable consumers to effectuate their rights and hold institutions accountable for unlawful conduct.” With respect to consumer reporting, the CFPB will focus on issues surrounding the accuracy of consumer reporting and institutions’ dispute resolution processes. In the debt collection space, the CFPB plans to initiate rulemakings on debt collector conduct (including issues relating to the substantiation of consumer debt and the disclosure of information to consumers) while simultaneously pursuing rigorous supervision and enforcement activity to ensure industry compliance. Read more…

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Second Circuit Upholds District Court Decision to Dismiss Arbitration Case

On November 19, the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the Southern District of New York’s decision to dismiss a case alleging that two leading credit card issuing banks schemed to require that disputes be settled in arbitration, as opposed to class action lawsuits. The plaintiffs challenged the District Court’s decision on the grounds that language in United States v. General Motors Corp. should be used “to adopt a rule that the existence of conspiracy is a legal conclusion subject to review de novo.” Ross v. Citigroup, Inc., No. 14-1610 (2nd Cir. Nov. 19, 2015). Plaintiffs further argued that the District Court’s conclusion that the defendants’ actions did not constitute as conspiracy in violation of the Sherman Act should not be shielded by the “clearly erroneous” test. The District Court analyzed various “plus factors,” including motive, the quantity and nature of inter-firm communications, and whether the arbitration clauses were “artificially standardized” because of an illegal agreement, to determine whether or not conspiracy existed among the credit card issuing banks. The District Court concluded that the credit card issuing banks’ final decision to implement class-action-barring clauses was reached “individually and internally.” Stating that General Motors has never been applied as generously as the plaintiffs argued for it to be, the Second Circuit’s review of the record found the District Court’s conclusion plausible and not “clearly erroneous.”

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Alabama District Court Enforces Electronic Arbitration Agreement

On October 13, the Northern District of Alabama entered an order compelling an employer and employee to arbitration where the employer demonstrated the existence of an electronic arbitration agreement. Yearwood v. Dolgencorp, No. 6:15-cv-00898-LSC, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 138993 (N.D. Ala. Oct. 13, 2015). The employee provided an affidavit denying ever having seen or signed such a form electronically. The court held that under the Alabama version of the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act, the burden of proving attribution of the signature to the employee falls on the employer. In support of its motion to compel arbitration, the employer offered evidence demonstrating its practice of requiring employees to complete a series of electronic forms upon hiring, which included the arbitration agreement. The employer also produced evidence demonstrating that the arbitration agreement was executed by someone using the employee’s unique access credentials (user ID and password) on the employer’s online hiring system, and that the employee’s password had to be re-entered at the time of signing. The employer also produced evidence that the employee agreed to use the electronic signature system and agreed to keep her password confidential. Weighed against the employer’s proof of its process and records demonstrating execution, the court held that employee’s blanket denial by affidavit was insufficient to rebut the proof of attribution. The court found that the signature on the arbitration agreement was attributable to the employee and ordered the parties to arbitrate.

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