Class Act: Looking at How the CFPB Wants to Restrict Arbitration Agreements

By Russ Bleemer

If you want to make your voice heard on federal arbitration regulation, now’s the time.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in May released its proposal to ban arbitration agreement provisions that bar class processes and require individual ADR for disputes in consumer financial services contracts under the agency’s jurisdiction.

The formal public announcement early last month was followed by the publication May 24 of the official proposal. “If finalized in its current form,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray last month, “the proposal would ban consumer financial companies from using mandatory pre-dispute arbitration clauses to deny their customers the right to band together to seek justice and meaningful relief from wrongdoing. This practice has evolved to the point where it effectively functions as a kind of legal lockout.”

Public comments, due by Aug. 22, are piling up. There are 599 at this writing. (You can view them HERE, along with the full proposal and the link to provide a comment.) A day after the comment period opened, the deluge was kicked off with a letter signed by more than 200 law professors strongly supporting the agency’s proposals.

But Republicans on the House Financial Services Committee, continuing a long-running push to eliminate the CFPB and overturn the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 that created the agency, introduced on June 8 a new proposal that specifically bars the CFPB from regulating arbitration.

The June Alternatives, available now HERE, covers in detail Cordray’s remarks and those of a pro-and-con panel at the May 5 CFPB Albuquerque, N.M., field hearing that introduced the proposed regulation. (An enhanced, annotated version of the article can be accessed directly by subscribers and individuals at CPR Institute members who are logged into CPR’s website at this link.)

The June Alternatives article discusses how the agency’s research into arbitration’s effects on consumers—a voluminous 728-page report conducted over a three-year period that was released in March 2015–led to last month’s proposal.

Agency representatives, including Cordray, emphasized that the CFPB is not proposing to ban pre-dispute arbitration agreements. The key agency goal is to allow consumer class actions that the waivers have cut off.

The Albuquerque panel discussion of arbitration practice experts included three consumer advocates who congratulated the agency, and three business representatives who criticized it and suggested alternative paths–assuming what has become, for some of the panel, traditional public roles in a short period of regulatory time.

The debate continues in Alternatives in the special combined summer July/August issue, which will be available by July 14 HERE. In “Between the Lines: How the CFPB Will Police Financial Services Arbitration,” we examine the specifics of the proposal, including the mandatory language that the CFPB wants included in consumer financial services arbitration agreements.

Following the June report linked above, the new article wades through the 377-page proposal and accompanying report to highlight how the class action moves will affect arbitration parties, providers, contract drafters, neutrals and tribunals.

It will focus on the details in the CFPB’s proposal and report absent from generalized coverage of the CFPB’s move—minutiae to most, but parts of the proposal that are essential to arbitration practitioners and providers’ businesses, and which are drawing comments this summer.

Russ Bleemer edits the CPR Institute-published Alternatives to the High Cost of Litigation.

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