The CFPB today issued a consumer-friendly rule that is likely to significantly curtail the use of arbitration in consumer financial agreements.  That rule has two major components.  First, it prohibits institutions from relying on arbitration clauses to avoid class actions.  And second, it mandates the submission of redacted data on consumer financial arbitrations that will be accessible on the internet.

The rule was originally proposed in May of 2016, roughly a year after the CFPB issued its report on the use of arbitration in the financial industry.  During the required 90-day period, the CFPB received around 110,000 public comments on its proposal.  Yet, the CFPB waited over a year to finalize and issue the rule.  During that time, President Trump took office and his administration reversed course on three previous arbitration-related rules/positions from the Obama Administration.  That context lead to speculation that the CFPB might weaken its proposed rule or otherwise take a safer course.

Yet today the rule was issued and it appears substantially the same as the initial proposal.  Maybe the CFPB wisely spent the past year gearing up for the challenges that similar pro-consumer arbitration rules have faced — like lawsuits challenging the rule’s validity or Congress using its ability to pull the plug on rules within the first 60 days.  Or maybe it just took a year to draft this 775 page behemoth of a rule with all its arguments in favor of its issuance (and responses to its detractors).  (Note that the Trump Administration has been trying to convince a federal court that the President has the authority to fire the CFPB director without cause, which probably did not help any negotiations over the proposed rule.)

In any case, the result is a very far-reaching rule that will likely lead to an uptick in class actions in the financial industry.  It applies to all consumer lending, credit card agreements, auto leases, debt management services, check cashing services, and debt collectors.  Starting six months after the effective date of the rule (assuming no court injunction), it will affect all new agreements within its scope.

The text of the key provisions of the rule follows:

(a) Use of pre-dispute arbitration agreements in class actions—(1) General rule. A

provider shall not rely in any way on a pre-dispute arbitration agreement entered into after the

date set forth in § 1040.5(a) with respect to any aspect of a class action that concerns any of the

consumer financial products or services covered by § 1040.3, including to seek a stay or

dismissal of particular claims or the entire action, unless and until the presiding court has ruled

that the case may not proceed as a class action and, if that ruling may be subject to appellate

review on an interlocutory basis, the time to seek such review has elapsed or such review has

been resolved such that the case cannot proceed as a class action.

(2) Provision required in covered pre-dispute arbitration agreements. Upon entering

into a pre-dispute arbitration agreement for a consumer financial product or service covered by

  • 1040.3 after the date set forth in § 1040.5(a):

(i) Except as provided elsewhere in this paragraph (a)(2) or in § 1040.5(b), a provider

shall ensure that any such pre-dispute arbitration agreement contains the following provision:

“We agree that neither we nor anyone else will rely on this agreement to stop you from being

part of a class action case in court. You may file a class action in court or you may be a member

of a class action filed by someone else.”

(ii) When the pre-dispute arbitration agreement applies to multiple products or services,

only some of which are covered by § 1040.3, the provider may include the following alternative

provision in place of the one required by paragraph (a)(2)(i) of this section: “We are providing

you with more than one product or service, only some of which are covered by the Arbitration

Agreements Rule issued by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The following provision

applies only to class action claims concerning the products or services covered by that Rule: We

agree that neither we nor anyone else will rely on this agreement to stop you from being part of a

class action case in court. You may file a class action in court or you may be a member of a

class action filed by someone else.”

(iii) When the pre-dispute arbitration agreement existed previously between other parties

and does not contain either the provision required by paragraph (a)(2)(i) of this section or the

alternative permitted by paragraph (a)(2)(ii) of this section:

(A) The provider shall either ensure the pre-dispute arbitration agreement is amended to

contain the provision specified in paragraph (a)(2)(i) or (a)(2)(ii) of this section or provide any

consumer to whom the agreement applies with the following written notice: “We agree not to

rely on any pre-dispute arbitration agreement to stop you from being part of a class action case in

court. You may file a class action in court or you may be a member of a class action filed by

someone else.” When the pre-dispute arbitration agreement applies to multiple products or

services, only some of which are covered by § 1040.3, the provider may, in this written notice,

include the following optional additional language: “This notice applies only to class action

claims concerning the products or services covered by the Arbitration Agreements Rule issued

by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.”

(B) The provider shall ensure the pre-dispute arbitration agreement is amended or provide

the notice to consumers within 60 days of entering into the pre-dispute arbitration agreement.


(b) Submission of arbitral and court records. For any pre-dispute arbitration agreement

for a consumer financial product or service covered by § 1040.3 entered into after the date set

forth in § 1040.5(a), a provider shall comply with the requirements set forth below.

(1) Records to be submitted. A provider shall submit a copy of the following records to

the Bureau, in the form and manner specified by the Bureau:

(i) In connection with any claim filed in arbitration by or against the provider concerning

any of the consumer financial products or services covered by § 1040.3:

(A) The initial claim and any counterclaim;

(B) The answer to any initial claim and/or counterclaim, if any;

(C) The pre-dispute arbitration agreement filed with the arbitrator or arbitration


(D) The judgment or award, if any, issued by the arbitrator or arbitration administrator;


(E) If an arbitrator or arbitration administrator refuses to administer or dismisses a claim

due to the provider’s failure to pay required filing or administrative fees, any communication the

provider receives from the arbitrator or an arbitration administrator related to such a refusal;

(ii) Any communication the provider receives from an arbitrator or an arbitration

administrator related to a determination that a pre-dispute arbitration agreement for a consumer

financial product or service covered by § 1040.3 does not comply with the administrator’s

fairness principles, rules, or similar requirements, if such a determination occurs; and

(iii) In connection with any case in court by or against the provider concerning any of the

consumer financial products or services covered by § 1040.3:

(A) Any submission to a court that relies on a pre-dispute arbitration agreement in

support of the provider’s attempt to seek dismissal, deferral, or stay of any aspect of a case; and

(B) The pre-dispute arbitration agreement relied upon in the motion or filing.

(2) Deadline for submission. A provider shall submit any record required pursuant to

paragraph (b)(1) of this section within 60 days of filing by the provider of any such record with

the arbitrator, arbitration administrator, or court, and within 60 days of receipt by the provider of

any such record filed or sent by someone other than the provider, such as the arbitration

administrator, the court, or the consumer.

(3) Redaction. Prior to submission of any records pursuant to paragraph (b)(1) of this

section, a provider shall redact the following information:

(i) Names of individuals, except for the name of the provider or the arbitrator where

either is an individual;

(ii) Addresses of individuals, excluding city, State, and zip code;

(iii) Email addresses of individuals;

(iv) Telephone numbers of individuals;

(v) Photographs of individuals;

(vi) Account numbers;

(vii) Social Security and tax identification numbers;

(viii) Driver’s license and other government identification numbers; and

(ix) Passport numbers.

(4) Internet posting of arbitral and court records. The Bureau shall establish and

maintain on its publicly available internet site a central repository of the records that providers

submit to it pursuant to paragraph (b)(1) of this section, and such records shall be easily

accessible and retrievable by the public on its internet site.

So you’ve got an arbitration award, what next? In other types of civil cases, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (Rules) control service, and they have greatly reduced the role of U.S. Marshals in serving parties. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(c). But enter the Federal Arbitration Act § 9 and § 12 (FAA). When a party seeks to confirm, vacate, or modify an arbitration award, § 9 and § 12 say that a nonresident party must be “served by the marshal of any district within which the adverse party may be found in like manner as other process of the court.” Which set of requirements controls here?

Since adequate service is necessary for the court to have personal jurisdiction, the question of service has been litigated in a few district courts, but no federal appellate courts. See Logan & Kanawha Coal Co.v. Detherage Coal Sales, LLC, 789 F. Supp. 2d 716, 718 (2011) (chronicling the courts that have analyzed the issue). Some courts, like the D.C. District Court in VentureForth Holdings LLC v. Joseph, have found that service consistent with the Rules also satisfies FAA § 9 and § 12. Those courts rely on the final phrase of § 9 or § 12 that says, “in like manner as other process of the court.” They read that phrase as indicating that arbitration award confirmation or modification service should follow the same rules as other civil suits. They derisively dismiss the requirement in §§ 9 and 12 as an artifact or an anachronism.

However, some courts, like the Southern District of West Virginia in Logan & Kanawha v. Detherage Coal Sales, require service by U.S. Marshal. The first and primary argument for those courts is that the plain language of the FAA §§ 9 and 12 requires service by U.S. Marshal. When confronted with the apparent tension between the Rules and the FAA, they point to the fact that Congress has not yet repealed the marshal requirement in the FAA even if the new Rules reduce the role of U.S. Marshals. The Rules, in fact, still retain the option of using U.S. Marshals to serve other parties, so a court could order service by U.S. Marshal without violating Rule 4.

All in all, there are some district courts—but not circuit courts—talking about the potential conflict between the service requirements in the Rules and the FAA, and they do not all agree. There is no circuit law on it yet, but at least some of the district courts seem content to allow Congress’ anachronism to control current outcomes. The safest bet for any party seeking to confirm, vacate, or modify an arbitration award in federal court is to use a U.S. Marshal for service, or to get an express waiver of that requirement from the opposing party.

ArbitrationNation thanks Claire Williams, a law student at the University of Minnesota Law School, for researching and drafting this post.


A nonexhaustive list of courts not requiring marshal service

  • VentureForth Holdings LLC v. Joseph, 80 F. Supp. 3d 147, 148 (D.D.C. 2015) (“[T]his Court holds that service of a nonresident complies with § 9 of the FAA if service is provided in accordance with Rule 4 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.”)
  • United Cmty. Bank v. Campbell, No. 1:10 CV 79, 2011 WL 815684, at *2 (W.D.N.C. Mar. 1, 2011) (The Court finds that the Bank properly effected service pursuant to Rule 4(e).)
  • Elevation Franchise Ventures, LLC v. Rosario, No. 1:13-CV- 719 AJT/JFA, 2013 WL 5962984, at *4 (E.D. Va. Nov. 6, 2013) (“Service of process upon an individual is governed in this court by Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(e)(1) . . . .”)
  • Hancor, Inc. v. R &R Eng’g Prod., Inc., 381 F. Supp. 2d 12, 15 (D.P.R. 2005) (relying on Reed & Martin, Inc. v. Westinghouse Elec. Corp.)
  • Litigants in the Second Circuit should be aware of Reed & Martin, Inc. v. Westinghouse Elec. Corp., 439 F.2d 1268, 1277 (2d Cir. 1971). In it, the Second Circuit analyzed the same phrase “in like manner” that courts point to when arguing that service in accordance with Rule 4 is sufficient. The court held that “[t]he phrase ‘in like manner as other process of the court’ found in § 9 of the Arbitration Act refers to Fed. R. Civ. P. 4 on the accomplishment of appropriate service, not to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(a). . . .” While this quote appears to support service in accordance with the Rules, there are two big caveats. First, the court was addressing an issue on which the FAA is silent (time to answer). Second, this case was decided in 1971 when Rule 4 required “[s]ervice of all process shall be made by a United States marshal . . .” so at the time there was no conflict between the Rules and the FAA and therefore the court could not have addressed the current tension between the FAA and the Rules.


A nonexhaustive list of courts requiring marshal service:

  • Johnson v. Drake, No. 3:16-CV- 1993-L, 2017 WL 1173275, at *6 (N.D. Tex. Mar. 30, 2017) (“[C]ourts cannot simply disregard the plain language of 9 U.S.C. § 9 . . . .”)
  • PTA-FLA, Inc. v. ZTE USA, Inc., No. 3:11-CV- 510-J- 32JRK, 2015 WL 12819186, at *6 (M.D. Fla. Aug. 5, 2015) (“[S]ervice on nonresidents must be made via marshal. . . “)
  • Logan & Kanawha Coal Co. v. Detherage Coal Sales, LLC, 789 F. Supp. 2d 716, 722 (S.D.W. Va. 2011)
  • Nu-Best Franchising, Inc. v. Motion Dynamics, Inc., No. 805 CV 507T27TGW, 2006 WL 1428319, at *3 (M.D. Fla. May 17, 2006) (“Plaintiffs were required to serve notice through the United States Marshal.”)
  • Int’l Union of Operating Engineers Local 825 Employee Benefit Funds v. Getty Contracting LLC, No. CIV. 2:14-7799 KM, 2015 WL 4461512, at *2 (D.N.J. July 20, 2015) (“If it is a nonresident of New Jersey, Getty must be served via the U.S. Marshal in its home district.”)
  • Dobco, Inc. v. Mery Gates, Inc., No. CIV. 06-0699 (HAA), 2006 WL 2056799, at *2 (D.N.J. July 21, 2006) (“Rather, Dobco had an obligation to have Mery Gates served by a marshal, as the strict language of the statute provides.”)

It was only a few weeks ago that this blog covered the reversal of the CMS regulation on arbitration in nursing homes.  Now, the Trump Administration has altered course on two other issues of arbitration policy.

First, the Department of Education has “delayed until further notice” its ban on pre-dispute arbitration agreements.  That regulation was final in November of 2016.  The notice cites litigation regarding the rule as the primary reason for the indefinite delay.

Second, the Solicitor General announced it would switch sides in the big SCOTUS showdown over class action waivers in employment agreements.  The administration had previously supported the NLRB, but now will oppose it.

These two actions probably do not bode well for CFPB’s ability to finalize its proposed rule banning pre-dispute regulation and have the rule remain in force…

**Special greetings to new subscribers that signed up after the ABA’s Arbitration Training Institute last week!

In National Labor Relations Board v. Alternative Entertainment, Inc., No. 16-1385, 2017 WL 2297620 (6th Cir. May 26, 2017), the Sixth Circuit joined the Seventh and Ninth Circuits in upholding the NLRB’s decision that barring an employee from pursuing class action or collective claims violates the NLRA. Already lined up on the other side of a growing Circuit split are the Second, Fifth, and Eighth Circuits.

In Alternative Entertainment, Inc., the NLRB claimed that language in both the employment contract and the employee handbook used by Alternative Entertainment, Inc. (“AEI”) “violated the NLRA by barring employees from pursuing class-action litigation or collective arbitration of work-related claims.” Alternative Entertainment, Inc., 2017 WL 2297620 at *1.

Joining the Seventh Circuit’s critique of the Fifth Circuit’s logic in D. R. Horton, the Sixth expressly takes on the Fifth stating “the Fifth Circuit started with the wrong question.” When the Sixth asks the question it believes is the right one–if the NLRA is compatible with the FAA–the Court finds them in “harmony” and holds the employer’s ban on concerted action violates the NLRA. As a result, the court found the ban is also unenforceable under the FAA’s saving clause. According to the Sixth, the NLRA bans contracts that interfere with “employees’ right to engage in concerted activity, not because they mandate arbitration.” Any contract provision that interfered in this way would be illegal, which is in full accord with the FAA’s rejection of any contract that “undermine[s] employees’ right to engage in concerted legal activity.”

The Sixth’s second disagreement with the Fifth Circuit is expressed by the Sixth’s use of Chevron deference (arguing in the alternative, after stating there is no statutory ambiguity). The Sixth accepts the NLRB’s permissible construction of the NLRA’s right to concerted activity as a substantive, not procedural right.

In a partial dissent, and referring to the “manifestation of hostility toward arbitration,” Justice Sutton references the history of judicial protection and support of arbitration agreements provided over time. Specifically, the dissent objects to the majority’s overreaching use of Chevron, and states the majority opinion ignores Concepcion’s rejection of similar arguments harmonizing the NLRA with the FAA. (The majority opinion, however, distinguishes the kind of arbitration provision used by AEI and the kind of arbitration provision used by the employer in Concepcion.)

One question here is why would the Sixth Circuit bother drafting and filing this opinion when SCOTUS has already accepted review of this issue? It is possible the Sixth decided to issue this opinion in an effort to intentionally level the sides of this split by adding its voice to the Seventh and Ninth Circuits. It is also possible that since arguments had been heard in November 2016, opinions had already been formed by the time SCOTUS granted cert. on the question in January 2017. Either way, SCOTUS is expected to opine later this year on cases consolidated as National Labor Relations Board v. Murphy Oil USA, Inc., which will resolve the growing divide among the circuits. In granting cert., SCOTUS acknowledged the extent of the Circuit split as it existed in January—and footnoted this Sixth circuit case along with four other potential cases from the Third, Fourth, Eleventh and the D.C. Circuits. SCOTUS saw this one coming their way. I look forward to reading the resolution of this split.

ArbitrationNation thanks Jaclyn Schroeder, a law student at Mitchell Hamline School of Law, for researching and drafting this post.

In a first indication of the Trump Administration’s stance on consumer arbitration, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) this week issued a new proposed rule that rolls back the Obama Administration’s regulation, which precluded pre-dispute arbitration agreements in nursing homes.  (Too many negatives in that sentence… in other words, the Trump Administration wants to ensure that nursing homes can have arbitration agreements in their admission documents.) For context, CMS just issued the regulation it is now retracting in October of 2016.  The 2016 rule applied to any new agreements between residents and long-term care facilities that receive dollars through Medicare or Medicaid, and prohibited the centers from requiring residents to sign arbitration agreements as a condition of admission.  Before the 2016 rule could even take effect, though, its legality was challenged and a federal court stayed implementation of the new regulation during the case. Seven months and a new president later, the agency is changing course.  Why?  The announcement suggests it is for three reasons.  First, because a federal court found merit to the challenges to the rule.  Second, because President Trump’s January 30, 2017 Executive Order “Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Costs” encouraged all agencies to repeal two existing regulations for every new regulation.  And finally, “[u]pon reconsideration, we believe that arbitration agreements are, in fact, advantageous to both providers and beneficiaries because they allow for the expeditious resolution of claims without the costs and expense of litigation.”  Those second and third points could support the roll back of most, if not all, of the Obama Administration’s regulations relating to arbitration. The new proposed CMS rule offers an olive branch to those who lobbied for the 2016 rule.  It proposes to require that arbitration agreements be written in plain language, explained clearly to prospective residents of long term care facilities, and that the resident acknowledge his/her understanding.  The new rule also prohibits any language that would discourage a resident from contacting governmental authorities, and requires facilities to keep copies of arbitration awards for five years (suggesting CMS may request inspection).   The announcement summarizes that the new rule “would . . . strengthen requirements regarding the transparency of arbitration agreements in LTC facilities. This proposal would support the resident’s right to make informed choices about important aspects of his or her health care. In addition, this proposal is consistent with our approach to eliminating unnecessary burden on providers.” If you are curious how other arbitration rules proposed or passed during the Obama Administration have fared so far, Bloomberg BNA has done a great summary of where things stand.  (Short answer: most are on hold.) **Many thanks to Mark Kantor for alerting me to this development.

The Federal Arbitration Act has been in effect for nearly 100 years (92, to be precise).  Nevertheless, the First Circuit found two issues of first impression to address this month.  In Oliveira v. New Prime, Inc., 2017 WL 1963461 (1st Cir. May 12, 2017), the court refused to compel arbitration of a class action complaint, because it interpreted Section One of the FAA to exempt contracts for independent transportation contractors.

Mr. Oliveira brought a putative class action suit against the interstate trucking company for which he worked–Prime–for violating the Fair Labor Standards Act, Missouri minimum wage statute, and other labor laws.  Prime moved to compel arbitration under the FAA.  In response, Plaintiffs argued that the FAA had no application to their contracts because they are transportation workers. Prime argued that that issue–the applicability of the FAA–should be decided by an arbitrator.  Furthermore, it argued that the FAA does not exempt independent contractors and these workers had been classified as independent contractors.  The district court agreed it must decide the threshold question, but then ordered discovery on the question of whether the named plaintiff was an independent contractor.

On appeal, the First Circuit decided to tackle both the tough legal issues head on, and not wait to see if discovery mooted either of them.

First, it analyzed whether an arbitrator or a court should decide whether the FAA applies to a plaintiff’s contract.  It noted that the 8th Circuit had concluded an arbitrator should decide, while the 9th Circuit had concluded a court should decide.  Finding the 9th Circuit’s analysis more persuasive, it held that “the question of whether the [Section] 1 exemption applies is an antecedent determination that must be made by the district court before arbitration can be compelled under the FAA.”

Second, it interpreted the language in Section 1 in order to answer the question of whether the exemption “extends to transportation-worker agreements that establish or purport to establish independent-contractor relationships.”  (Recall that the truckers were arguing they were exempt from the FAA, whether they were independent contractors or not.)  The FAA says it does not apply to “contracts of …any other class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce,” and the Supreme Court interpreted that language in 2001 to mean that “contracts of employment of transportation workers” are exempted from the FAA.  After noting that multiple courts have found the exemption does not extend to independent contractor relationships, the First Circuit brushed that aside with this gem: “Interpreting a federal statute is not simply a numbers game.”

Instead of playing a numbers game, the First Circuit played a “pull out the antique dictionary” game.  It looked at definitions of contracts of employment from 1925, when the FAA was enacted, and concluded the phrase means any agreement to perform work, and is broad enough to include independent contracting.  Therefore, because Prime had conceded Mr. Oliveira was a transportation worker, “the contract in this case is excluded from the FAA’s reach.”

However, the court inserted a footnote allowing that a state arbitration act may provide a basis to compel arbitration in a future scenario like this one. . . which raises interesting preemption issues.

Just as I predicted, SCOTUS reversed the Kentucky Supreme Court’s decision in Kindred this morning.  The interesting piece, though, is that the seven member majority went out of its way to cut off some of the “on trend” methods that state courts have been using to avoid arbitration clauses.

The Kentucky decision can be summarized easily.  The case  involved nursing homes attempting to compel arbitration of wrongful death and personal injury claims by estates of deceased residents.  In each case, a relative with power of attorney had signed an admission document that included arbitration when the resident entered the nursing home.  However, the Kentucky court refused to infer the agent’s “authority to waive his principal’s constitutional right to access the courts and to trial by jury” unless that power is “unambiguously expressed” in the power-of -attorney document.  (You may recall this is the decision that analogized entering into an arbitration agreement to: putting a child up for adoption, aborting a pregnancy, and entering into personal servitude.  If that doesn’t cry out “judicial hostility to arbitration,” I don’t know what does.)

Justice Kagan, writing for the seven-member majority, found Kentucky’s “clear statement rule” preempted by the Federal Arbitration Act.  “[T]he court did exactly what Concepcion barred: adopt a legal rule hinging on the primary characteristic of an arbitration agreement–namely, a waiver of the right to go to court and receive a jury trial.”  In response to Kentucky’s attempt to paint its rule as broader than arbitration, the Court said No Kentucky court, so far as we know, has ever before demanded that a power of attorney explicitly confer authority to enter into contracts implicating constitutional guarantees.”

That preemption aspect of the decision seems to confirm what I have been saying about the impact of DirecTV: states are in much better position to defend their anti-arbitration “general contract rule” if they can point to at least one non-arbitration circumstance in which it has been applied.  (The decision added a footnote to clarify this isn’t an absolute necessity: “We do not suggest that a state court is precluded from announcing a new, generally applicable rule of law in an arbitration case.” But that’s like saying it is conceivable that your mother will appreciate a new vacuum for mothers day, but we don’t recommend it.)

The Court’s decision to clearly state that courts cannot invalidate arbitration agreements based on their (necessary) waiver of the right to a jury trial also cuts off a trendy argument in state courts.  New Jersey courts, for example, have invalidated arbitration agreements in recent years based on their failure to clearly advise consumers they are waiving their rights to jury trials (SCOTUS denied cert in the key NJ case, Atalese.)  Those NJ decisions are now shaky precedent, IMHO.

The decision then went beyond the basic preemption analysis.  Respondents had argued the FAA had no application to contract formation, that only state law controlled that question.  SCOTUS quickly disabused the respondents, and all state courts, of that notion, reasoning that the purpose of the FAA would be completely undercut by the rule: “If the respondents were right, States could just as easily declare everyone incompetent to sign arbitration agreements.  (That rule too would address only formation.)” In doing so, the Court cut off another avenue for avoiding the FAA.  (In my view, though, the slippery slope argument relied on by SCOTUS also cuts against the formation/validity  distinction used to separate which issues are decided in court and which by arbitrators.)

[As usual, Justice Thomas dissented based on his position that the FAA does not apply in state courts.]

It is not uncommon for lenders to exempt small claims actions from their arbitration provisions. The question confronted by the Court of Appeals of Maryland in a recent case was: when a lender opts for small claims court, does that waive any later right to enforce the arbitration clause?  The court’s answer was yes, if the claims are related.

In Cain v. Midland Funding, LLC, __ A.3d__, 2017 WL 1101804 (Md. Mar. 24, 2017), the lender pursued its collection action against the credit card holder in small claims court in 2009.  It obtained a default judgment for $4,520.  In 2013, that same credit card holder filed a class action complaint against the lender, arguing the lender had been an unlicensed collection agency. The lender moved to compel arbitration.  The trial court compelled arbitration, finding the lender had not waived its right to arbitrate by bringing the 2009 case, and the intermediate appellate court agreed.

A five-member majority of Maryland’s highest court applied a de novo standard of review and reversed on the issue of waiver (two judges dissented).  It applied Maryland case law that holds participating in a judicial proceeding only constitutes a waiver of the right to arbitrate issues raised in that proceeding, but not “unrelated issues.”  Therefore, the court looked at whether the lender could have arbitrated its collection action, and if so, whether that was related to the licensing issue raised in 2013.

The arbitration agreement at issue states that “claims filed in a small claims court are not subject to arbitration, so long as the matter remains in such court and advances only an individual. . . Claim.” The court found that language, along with the broad language that “all Claims . . . are subject to arbitration,” gave the lender the choice to litigate or arbitrate the collection issue.

The court also found the 2009 and 2013 claims were sufficiently related to apply the waiver doctrine. “Put simply, if Midland had not pursued its 2009 collection action, Cain’s current claims would not exist.”  The majority noted that 2016 cases from both Nevada and Utah had reached similar conclusions.  Finally, the court refused to require a showing of prejudice: “Cain does not have to demonstrate that he will suffer prejudice if the arbitration clause is enforced.”

This issue is an important one for lending institutions. If the small claims court option is generally efficient, it may be worthwhile adding a clause to those arbitration provisions that pursuit of a claim in small claims court does not waive the right to raise arbitration as a defense in any later action.


Maryland did not make my list of 5 states most hostile to arbitration last summer (and still wouldn’t). BUT, some of the states on that list have recently issued surprisingly pro arbitration decisions.  Check these out:

  • WEST VIRGINIA recently reversed a lower court’s refusal to enforce arbitration. It found the employee had failed to show the arbitration provision was unconscionable. It wasn’t all sunshine and arbitration butterflies, though.  One justice wrote a concurring opinion asking Congress to take action. “We can only hope that…Congress will implement better safeguards to the FAA to ensure that the legal rights of unsophisticated employees are protected.” Employee Resource Group, LLC v. Harless, 2017 WL 1371287 (W.Va. April 13, 2017).
  • WEST VIRGINIA also enforced an arbitration clause waiving class actions in Citizens Telecommunications Co. v. Sheridan, 2017 WL 1457006 (W.Va April 20, 2017). In that case, the class action waiver had been added via notice to all consumers pursuant to a modification clause in the original terms of the agreement. Because the new terms and conditions were distributed with a paper billing statement and “accepted” via continued use of the internet service, the court found they were a valid unilateral contract, just like an employee handbook. Therefore, the court enforced individual arbitration of the claims.
  • HAWAII confirmed an arbitration award in RT Import v. Torres, 2017 WL 1366999 (Ha. April 13, 2017), although reversed the trial court’s award of additional costs above the award. The court did get a jab in at arbitration in a footnote, though. It noted that the arbitrator awarded damages for emotional distress to a corporation. After commenting that there is no legal authority allowing such damages, the opinion states: “parties who submit their claims to binding arbitration assume all the hazards of the arbitration process, including the risk that the arbitrator may make mistakes in the application of law and in their findings of fact.”
  • ALABAMA found the arbitration agreement between a family and a funeral home was not unconscionable in Newell v. SCI Alabama Funeral Services, LLC, 2017 WL 1034469 (March 17, 2017).

I really should have titled this post “State Court Smorgasbord”…

Demonstrating just how difficult it can be to separate questions about the “formation” of an arbitration agreement from the “validity” of that agreement, the Fifth Circuit found this month that when an argument was applied to two of the parties’ three agreements, it related to their formation, but when the same argument was applied to the third agreement, it related to its validity.

In Lefoldt v. Horne, 2017 WL 1326241 (5th Cir. April 11, 2017), the plaintiff, a community hospital, had engaged the defendant to provide auditing services.  The parties signed contracts in 2009, 2010, and 2012.  However, only the 2009 agreement was reflected in the minutes of the hospital’s board.  In 2014, the hospital filed for bankruptcy, and its trustee sued the auditor for professional malpractice.  In response, the auditor moved to compel arbitration, based on arbitration provisions in all three contracts.

In order to determine whether the dispute was arbitrable, the Fifth Circuit had to confront two confounding rules. First was Mississippi’s “minutes rule,” which the hospital raised as a defense to arbitrability.  The “minutes rule” appears to require  that a public board reflect actions taken in the minutes of its meetings, and, if an agreement to contract is not reflected in those minutes, the contract is not enforceable.  The second issue the Fifth Circuit had to address was the first footnote in SCOTUS’s Buckeye Check Cashing decision, which distinguished disputes over a contract’s validity from those over “whether any agreement between the alleged obligor and oblige was ever concluded.”  That matters because issues of validity can be sent to an arbitrator, which those over formation generally cannot.

The court found the issue of whether Mississippi’s “minutes rule” was one about formation or validity “a close question.” However, it concluded that the minutes rule raised an issue of the very formation of the 2010 and 2012 service contracts.  That decision allowed the court to decide whether those contracts were formed, and it found they were not validly formed, so the trustee did not have to arbitrate issues under those two contracts.

However, the court found that because the hospital board recorded the auditing contract in its 2009 minutes, the application of the “minutes rule” in that instance involved the validity of the 2009 contract. The court found an arbitrator should decide “whether and how the minutes rule applies to the 2009 engagement letter and the scope of the arbitration clause,” unless the district court finds a delegation clause on remand.

This case is a great example of how the current arbitration jurisprudence may have gotten off course.  Should it be this difficult for a court to decide whether a particular argument should be heard by a court or an arbitrator?  See my post from five years ago (has it really been that long?!) on the thin line between formation and validity.

One of the few “get out of arbitration free” cards that SCOTUS offers litigants is this: find another federal statute that clearly entitles plaintiff(s) to a court trial. In a recent 8th Circuit case, that court carefully considered, and then rejected, the argument that the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) constituted that type of “get out of arbitration free” statute.

The claims in McLeod v. General Mills, Inc., 2017 WL 1363797 (8th Cir. Apr. 14, 2017), stem from a 2012 reduction in force at General Mills.  In exchange for severance packages, terminated employees released the company from claims relating to their termination, and agreed to individual arbitration of future disputes.  In McLeod, 33 of those employees sued the company alleging violations of the ADEA.  In response, the company moved to compel arbitration on an individual basis.

The Chief Judge of the District of Minnesota denied General Mills’ motion. He found that the plain language of the statute at issue “requires General Mills to defend the validity of the plaintiffs’ release agreements in court, not in an arbitral forum.” The statute reads: “any dispute that may arise over whether any of the requirements, conditions, and circumstances set forth in [Section 626(f)(1) ] have been met, the party asserting the validity of a waiver shall have the burden of proving in a court of competent jurisdiction that a waiver was knowing and voluntary.” 29 U.S.C. § 626(f)(3) (emphasis added).

On appeal, the Eighth Circuit reversed. It found that the statute relied upon by the district court was not applicable, because General Mills was not asserting the validity of a waiver within the meaning of that statute.  Furthermore, the Eighth Circuit concluded that the ADEA does not grant employees the substantive right to a jury trial or to a class action, but only provides procedural rights that can be waived.

**Yikes – three weeks since my last post. Where was I?  In arbitration of course!