Earlier this month, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit issued a decision that could make it easier for manufacturers to force consumers into arbitration via “shrinkwrap” agreements—packaged contracts which bind consumers by merely opening and keeping a product. In Dye v. Tamko Building Products, Inc., Case No. 17-14052 (11th Cir. Nov. 2, 2018), the Eleventh Circuit considered an appeal of a district court’s order compelling arbitration and dismissing a lawsuit by Florida homeowners against the manufacturer of allegedly defective roofing shingles. The packaging of the shingles displayed the manufacturer’s entire product-purchase agreement, including a mandatory arbitration provision. In taking up the case, the Eleventh Circuit considered not only whether this shrinkwrap agreement was enforceable under Florida law, but also whether the homeowners were bound to arbitration because their hired roofers ordered, opened, and installed the shingles.
In a win for defendants, the Eleventh Circuit recently held that a party does not waive its right to compel arbitration for the claims of unnamed class members even if it has waived that right as to the named class representatives. In Gutierrez v. Wells Fargo Bank, NA, the plaintiffs filed a putative class action against Wells Fargo alleging it had committed certain unlawful practices related to the charging of overdraft fees. The plaintiffs were all former Wells Fargo customers who had accounts governed by customer agreements containing arbitration provisions with class action waivers. After the trial court consolidated similar cases in late 2009, it ordered the defendant banks to file all “merits and non-merits motions directed to the operative complaints,” including motions to compel arbitration, by December 2009. Wells Fargo replied to the trial court’s order stating it would not seek to compel arbitration as to the named plaintiffs but reserved its right to compel arbitration against any plaintiffs “who [might] later join, individually or as putative class members, in this litigation.” Wells Fargo then filed its answer and proceeded with discovery.
Dollar General reported its employee Rebecca Keyes to the police for embezzlement, causing her to be arrested. Keyes later sued Dollar General under a number of legal theories, including malicious prosecution, false imprisonment, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The trial court ordered arbitration for all of her claims, but the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed for all but one claim. The Court found that disputes over the alleged embezzlement and the fraudulent conversion of property from one’s employer, were not covered under an arbitration provision which defined “covered claims” as those “arising out of your employment with Dollar General.” This decision is but the latest by the Mississippi Supreme Court, one of which we previously wrote about here, refusing to enforce broadly worded arbitration clauses for certain types of claims. These cases are troubling for the financial services industry in that plaintiffs may be able to avoid even very broadly worded arbitration clauses through inflammatory allegations or in cases where there is alleged criminal conduct. The case was styled Rebecca Keyes v. Dollar General Corporation, No. 2017-IA-00010-SCT. Click here to read the opinion in full.
Lenders who move to compel arbitration should always consider the complex interplay between the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the Federal Arbitration Act. In Ryan D. Burch v. P.J. Cheese, Inc., 861 F.3d 1338 (2017), the Eleventh Circuit held that a general jury demand in the plaintiff’s complaint was not enough to preserve his statutory right to a jury trial on questions of arbitrability. Specifically, the Court held that the FAA’s procedural requirements for demanding a jury trial on arbitrability trumped the normal requirements for a jury demand found in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 38. While the case specifically concerns a jury demand, it also demonstrates that the FAA contains procedural requirements and that the Federal Rules only fill the gaps. Therefore, when arbitrability will be an issue, lenders should take care to consider the procedural requirements of the FAA in conjunction with those of the Federal Rules.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) issued a rule on Monday prohibiting class action waivers in arbitration provisions of certain consumer contracts. The rule—to be codified at 12 C.F.R. § 1040—also requires covered businesses to submit records to the CFPB regarding any arbitration filed by or against their customers regarding covered products and services. The provided records will be made public and hosted by the CFPB on a searchable database. The likely impact of this rule (should it be allowed to go into effect) will be significant for financial institutions and dramatically alter their relationships with their customers.
The Alabama Supreme Court recently held in Hanover Insurance Company v. Kiva Lodge Condominium Owners’ Association, Inc. (No. 1141331) that where a dispute is governed by a contract that requires arbitration the arbitrator must determine whether particular claims are time barred under the contract, not the courts.
The Eleventh Circuit recently held in Parm v. National Bank of California, that a payday lender’s arbitration clause was unenforceable because the forum selected was unavailable and no alternative forum was provided for.
Last week, the Eleventh Circuit refused to compel arbitration because the defendant financial institution failed to prove that its online deposit agreement actually included an arbitration clause. This decision reflects the importance of (1) documenting the original agreement (both the actual terms and the assent of the consumer), (2) retaining the documentation, (3) documenting any change in terms (and the customer’s assent to them) and (4) carefully proving the existence of these agreements (and the customer’s assent) in Court.
Last week, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”) issued a proposed rule which would prohibit mandatory arbitration provisions in millions of banking contracts, including contracts with consumers for credit cards and bank accounts. While financial institutions would still be allowed to offer arbitration as an option to customers individually, they would no longer be able to require it be done individually for claims brought as class actions. The intended, and drastic, result of the rule is that consumers would be free to join together in class action suits against their financial institutions for grievances which they had previously only been able to negotiate individually.