The Reaction: Here’s What They’re Saying in the Wake of the Senate’s Vote to Overturn the CFPB Arbitration Rule

By Elena Gurevich and Russ Bleemer

Last night in a narrow 51-50 vote, Senate Republicans overturned the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau rule that would have allowed the consumers to file class action suits against financial institutions and prohibited waivers of such processes accompanied by mandatory predispute arbitration.

Vice President Mike Pence cast the deciding vote.  See our blog post from earlier today here.

According to the New York Times, “By defeating the rule, Republicans are dismantling a major effort of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the watchdog created by Congress in the aftermath of the mortgage mess.” See Jessica Silver-Greenberg, “Consumer Bureau Loses Fight to Allow More Class-Action Suits,” N.Y. Times (Oct. 24)(available at http://nyti.ms/2yL9eHn)

Reuters, noting that the House already passed the resolution repealing the rule soon after it was released in July, observed that the resolution under the Congressional Review Act “also bars regulators from instituting a similar ban in the future.” Lisa Lambert, “Republicans, Wall Street score victory in dismantling class-action rule,” Reuters (Oct. 24)(available at http://cnb.cx/2yQd8B2).

Moments after the vote, the White House issued a statement applauding Congress for passing the resolution and stating that a recent Treasury Department report was clear evidence that “the CFPB’s rule would neither protect consumers nor serve the public interest.” The White House statement is available at http://bit.ly/2yLFOew.

President Trump is expected to sign the resolution the moment it hits his desk. This, according to Reuters, will “abruptly end a years-long fight that has included multiple federal regulators, consumer advocacy groups, and financial lobbyists.”

In its blog that closely monitors the CFPB, consumerfinancemonitor.com, Ballard Spahr, a Philadelphia-based law firm, congratulated the Senate for “its courageous action and for recognizing . . . that arbitration benefits consumers, while class action litigation benefits only the plaintiffs’ bar.”

Keith A. Noreika, the acting Comptroller of the Currency, issued a statement praising the vote and calling it “a victory for consumers and small banks across the country.” Noreika stressed the crucial role of the OCC that “identified the rule’s likely significant effect on consumers.” The OCC statement is available at http://bit.ly/2gJ1rFC.

Late Tuesday night, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D. Mass., who was among those who defended the rule this week wrote on Twitter, “Tonight @VP Pence & the @SenateGOP gave a giant wet kiss to Wall Street. No wonder Americans think the system is rigged against them. It is.”

CNN reported that “Consumer advocates said the vote was a tremendous setback for Americans, and that it offered companies like Wells Fargo and Equifax ‘a get-out-of-jail-free card.’” Donna Borak & Ted Barrett, “Senate kills rule that made it easier to sue banks,” CNN (Oct. 25)(available at http://cnn.it/2zCxJFN).

CNN also quoted Karl Frisch, executive director of Washington’s Allied Progress, a consumer watchdog group, who said that “This repeal will hurt millions of consumers across the country by denying them their rightful day in court when they get screwed over by financial predators.”

Public Citizen, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit consumer advocacy group echoed this sentiment, tweeting that the “#RipoffClause enables bad actor banks like @WellsFargo to steal billions from the very consumers they defraud and get off scot free.”

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Gurevich is a CPR Institute 2017 Fall Intern. Bleemer edits Alternatives for the CPR Institute.

The CFPB’s Arbitration Rule is Overturned by the Senate

By Elena Gurevich and Russ Bleemer

Just a day after the U.S. Treasury Department issued a report criticizing a controversial Consumer Financial Protection Bureau rule that prohibited class waivers requiring consumers use mandatory predispute arbitration for disputes, the U.S. Senate voted on October 24 to overturn the rule.

The House in July had voted to overturn the rule under the Congressional Review Act, which gives Congress 60 legislative-session days to reverse administrative rulings it disagrees with.

The bill will go to President Trump, who is expected to sign it.

The legislative moves will overturn five years’ worth of efforts to roll back the use of class waivers accompanied by arbitration by the CFPB, which was designated by the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act to examine the utility of the ADR process in consumer disputes.

A 728-page 2015 study by the independent Washington agency said that arbitration was ineffective in vindicating consumers’ rights in financial services contracts, which are under the CFPB’s jurisdiction. The agency vowed to regulate arbitration.

After the report, Republicans, who long said the agency was too powerful, used the CFPB’s moves to increase calls to eliminate the agency in last year’s presidential campaign.

Late last night, Jeb Hensarling, R., Texas,  who as House Judiciary Committee chair led the fight against the rule, congratulated the Senate, noting in a statement on his social networks that the vote “is a victory for consumers, a defeat for the wealthy trial lawyers lobby and a rejection of the unchecked, unconstitutional and unaccountable CFPB.”

The CFPB had finalized its rule and published it July 19. It would have fully taken effect next year after a 180-day waiting period.

The rule, however, didn’t outlaw arbitration, though it increased the CFPB’s scrutiny by requiring reporting. The rule instead required that class processes, in either litigation or arbitration, be made available to consumers signing financing contracts or purchasing financial services.

Business lawyers, lobbyists and trade groups said the rule would wipe out financial services arbitration, because companies would rather face class action in courts, under familiar federal rules, than class arbitration with few outlets for appeal.

The Senate didn’t follow the House’s quick lead because it didn’t have the votes to overturn the rule, with some Republicans fearing a backlash for voting to support a banking industry-approved bill in the wake of scandals that invoked arbitration.

In fact, the Senate was split evenly, with two Republicans, Lindsay Graham, of South Carolina, and John Kennedy, of Louisiana, joining the Democrats. Vice President Mike Pence joined fellow Republicans to cast the deciding vote.

Treasury might have brought a senator or two to the side of overturning the law. On Monday, in a highly unusual move, the Treasury Department issued a 17-page report blasting the rule. See “Limiting Consumer Choice, Expanding Costly Litigation: An Analysis of the CFPB Arbitration Rule,” U.S. Dept. of the Treasury (Oct. 23)(available at http://bit.ly/2h0N7VB).

According to the Washington Post, Jaret Seiberg, an analyst with Cowen and Co.’s Washington Research Group, said that the Treasury Department report “[p]rovides some needed political cover for the few Senate Republicans who have been reluctant to vote in favor of the banks.” See Renae Merle, “Treasury Department sides with Wall Street, against federal consumer watchdog agency on arbitration rule,” Washington Post (Oct. 23)(available at http://wapo.st/2zxMABI).

It wasn’t the first Washington institution to fire back at one of its own on arbitration.  Earlier this month, the CFPB report and rule had been the subject of a heated argument between Keith A. Noreika, the acting U.S. Comptroller of the Currency, and Richard Cordray, the CFPB’s director.

Noreika slammed the CFPB’s action in an article on the Beltway website The Hill.  See “Senate should vacate the harmful consumer banking arbitration rule,” The Hill (Oct. 13)(available at http://bit.ly/2izENzT).

According to Noreika, the CFPB failed to support its case and “failed to disclose the costs to consumers that will likely result from the rule’s implementation.”

Soon after Noreika’s post, Cordray responded, stating that Noreika’s claims were “bogus” and “out of the blue.” See “The truth about the arbitration rule is it protects American consumers,” The Hill (Oct. 16)(available at http://bit.ly/2gIHbk2).

Added Cordray, “Why should Wells Fargo be able to block groups of customers from suing over fake accounts? Why should Equifax be able to force people to surrender their legal rights when the company put their personal information at risk?”

For more on yesterday’s vote, see Jessica Silver-Greenberg, “Consumer Bureau Loses Fight to Allow More Class-Action Suits,” N.Y. Times (Oct. 24)(available at http://nyti.ms/2yL9eHn).

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Gurevich is a CPR Institute 2017 Fall Intern. Bleemer edits Alternatives for the CPR Institute.

A DOA Exception? California’s Law Revision Commission Looks to Reassess Mediation Confidentiality as Commenters Blast its Legislative Recommendation

By Russ Bleemer

The prospects for a new California mediation confidentiality law that would provide an exception allowing parties to introduce evidence in a post-ADR malpractice case faded this week in the face of a frank report by the state commission that proposed the change.

“The opposition to the [California Law Revision] Commission’s tentative recommendation can only be described as overwhelming,” concludes Barbara Gaal, chief deputy counsel to the California Law Revision Commission, in a 36-page report released Wednesday.  She adds, “It is not unanimous, but it is deep and widespread. California’s mediation confidentiality statute may differ from those in other jurisdictions, providing greater protection in some respects, but a broad range of stakeholder organizations and many individuals appear to be well-satisfied with that approach and offer many reasons for their position.”

The new Sept. 27 report provides 155 pages of comments on a proposal to amend the state’s evidence that the commission has studied since 2012.  (The commission’s analysis is at http://bit.ly/2xQBnON; the comments are collected at http://bit.ly/2x2Dx9Y.) The amendment would add a new Section 1120.5 to the California Evidence Code, titled “Alleged misconduct of lawyer when representing client in mediation context.”

Because of an absolutist approach by the state’s courts, concerns have been raised for years over malpractice cases.  The state courts have barred the introduction of materials made in preparation for and used at mediation sessions in most cases.

The approach has provided a boost to California’s strong mediation culture, but has left victims of attorney malpractice with tough—some say insurmountable–paths to proving their claims.

The many comments submitted on the tentative recommendation “include scattered words of praise or appreciation for the Commission, its staff, its process, and its work on this study,” Gaal writes, but “[i]n general, however, they do not have much positive to say about the Commission’s proposal.”

Gaal urges the members of the commission to go back to the drawing board—not necessarily re-do the commission’s work (“Relationship Between Mediation Confidentiality and Attorney Malpractice and Other Misconduct – Study K-402,” available at http://www.clrc.ca.gov/K402.html), but re-examine the reasons the study was undertaken, and whether the commission wants to proceed with a recommendation to the legislature.

She writes that the staff urges the commission members to “re-read” the tentative recommendation’s “key policy considerations at stake” in the study in assessing the criticisms.  (Direct access to the tentative recommendation is at http://bit.ly/2x2ePqr .)

The 15-page policy section emphasizes that protecting mediation confidentiality “rests on four key premises”: confidentiality promotes candor in mediation; candid discussions lead to successful mediation; successful mediation encourages future use of mediation to resolve disputes; and mediation use in resolving disputes is beneficial to society.

“The preparation of a Commission recommendation is not a popularity contest, but rather a quest to develop an analytically sound proposal that will serve the citizens of California well,” Gaal advices. “Nonetheless, the degree of opposition to the Commission’s proposal suggests that careful reexamination of the competing consideration is in order.”

If the commission elects to go forward with the tentative recommendation, Gaal notes that the commission’s staff will prepare a memo—presumably on the reasons for the proposal to be forwarded to the legislature—for the commission’s December meeting.

The commission’s efforts were examined extensively in Jeff Kichaven, A California Correction? Legislature Will Consider Allowing Attorney Malpractice Proof from Mediation,” 35 Alternatives 97 (July/August 2017)(available at http://bit.ly/2sNUOm1), and “How California Intends to Recalibrate the Concept of Mediation Confidentiality,” 35 Alternatives 93 (June 2017)(available with a subscription or after login at www.cpradr.org at http://bit.ly/2sWyqr1).

Kichaven’s July/August Alternatives cover article, in which the Los Angeles mediator strongly backed the proposal, which will allow evidence from mediations pertaining to attorney malpractice to be introduced in litigation, was submitted as a comment.

The article also a comparatively rare show of support in the face of the avalanche of the “decidedly negative” reaction.  Among the reasons commenters opposed the proposal, according to the commission report:

  • It will undermine confidentiality;
  • It could harm mediation participants who are not parties to an attorney-client dispute
  • It will overburden the courts;
  • The proposed mediation confidentiality exception’s benefits are minimal compared to the downsides;
  • The exception “provides insufficient protection for mediator communications and will cause mediators to quit and mediator malpractice insurance rates to rise”;
  • It will threaten the stability of mediated settlements;
  • It would create the need to warn participants about the new proposed exception, “and that will create problems”;
  • It will hurt vulnerable groups;
  • It will affect attorneys disproportionately; and
  • It “is a trap for the unwary,” will yield unpredictable results, and unpredictable protection for mediation communications.”

“In light of the generally negative input on the tentative recommendation,” Chief Deputy Counsel Gaal writes, “the Commission should take a hard look at its options and consider how to proceed. While the Commission should not base its policy recommendations on political considerations, neither should it ignore practical reality. The goal of a Commission study is to achieve positive reform of the law. That requires the crafting of a balanced reform that has a realistic chance of enactment.” [Emphasis is in the original.]

The document lays out the Commission’s options: Proceed with the current proposal in the face of what likely will be strong legislative opposition; turn the tentative recommendation into an information report for the California Legislature without recommending or proposing legislation; limit the exception to the private attorney-client discussions in a mediation context, instead of allowing litigants to introduce communications from the proceedings itself, thereby shielding the mediator or its adversaries; develop an “informed consent approach” and circulate a revised tentative recommendation; or revisit all of the options raised in the study, including leaving the current law intact.

The author edits Alternatives to the High Cost of Litigation for the CPR Institute. CPR Institute Fall 2017 Intern Angela Cipolla contributed to research.

 

Growth of Cannabis Plants and Issues Fertilizes Legal and ADR Business

By Judge Steven I. Platt (Ret.)

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If you think lawyers who are creative, indeed entrepreneurial, should be encouraged to ply their trade, and that emerging industries are fertile ground to do so, then you should give a shout-out to the rapidly expanding business of manufacturing, packaging, selling and distribution of cannabis for medicinal and recreational purposes.

More and more states, including Maryland, are legalizing cannabis for multiple purposes. These jurisdictions are providing forums for the creation, development of new, and in some cases, eclectic business relationships. These include consulting agreements, distribution deals, partnerships, licensing relationships and even the co-authoring of “How-to Manuals.”

Like all other business dealings and organizations created for the purpose of developing new and different products for profit, the potential for disputes to arise between partners, competitors, and parties working together, one day and competing against each other the next, is present.

Due to the nature of the cannabis industry and its multiple levels and conflicting state and federal regulatory schemes, many individuals and businesses are choosing to use ADR instead of litigating when troubles or disputes arise. This is for a variety of reasons.

For one, there is a perception, or at least a concern, among the individuals and business organizations that are invested in this emerging industry as well as many of the lawyers and law firms who may represent them that judges and juries who don’t “like” them or “don’t like” what they do for historical and/or cultural reasons may “punish” them, i.e. not give them a fair hearing in their case. This perception can be effectively addressed by private mediation and/or arbitration by one or more Neutrals agreed upon by the parties and who hopefully have some knowledge of the industry.

This perception leads cannabis industry entrepreneurs to insert into their contracts, mandatory mediation and arbitration classes designed to avoid these negative possibilities.

Mediation, by its inherent nature, as well as, in certain situations, by statute, rule, or contract includes a confidentiality component. Confidentiality, as the state of Delaware found out the hard way, is prohibited in public dispute resolution forums, i.e. The Courts. Private Arbitration on the other hand, can be confidential if agreed upon and mandated accordingly by contract or by ADR provider rules.

Confidentiality is very important if the activity, or even part of the activity which is the subject of the dispute remains illegal under federal law even if it is legal in many states. This is the case with most of the activities associated with the cannabis industry. Evidence of this includes the refusal of most banks and other traditional financial institutions to finance the development of the industry and the companies which are forming within it. This reality is further evidenced by the refusal of colleges and universities to offer training for those who work in the medical marijuana industry. It is noteworthy that the most recent example of this trend was our own University of Maryland School of Pharmacy, acting on the advice of the Maryland Attorney General’s Office cancelling plans to offer training for those who work in the medical marijuana industry.

This development has necessitated medical marijuana industry entrepreneurs and workers to search elsewhere for education and training on everything from how to set up their business, to how to grow, store, transport, market and sell. Their product as well as bookkeeping of their business while staying within the law, i.e., not running afoul of conflicting federal and state regulations of their businesses. They have found, by process of elimination, that the only sources for that education and training are other individuals and companies located in states which legalized medical, and in some cases, recreational marijuana use in previous years. These individuals and companies alone have the education, background, and most importantly the experience to provide the education and training needed to establish and develop potentially profitable medical marijuana enterprises here.

The result has been that these new entrepreneurs and their businesses are negotiating and entering into consulting contracts with experienced individuals and companies in the medical marijuana industry in other states in order to obtain information and training. These contracts are not easily crafted and understood even by lawyers familiar with the industry.

The relationships created by the contracts between the consulting companies and those who avail themselves of their services to provide start-up training are often fraught with the risk of the disclosure of trade secrets, as well as the violation of covenants not to compete, etc. In turn, the contracts often have provisions drafted to minimize, if not eliminate, those risks.

They are not always successful which in turn creates conflicts which if not resolved quickly and efficiently can kill an emerging medical marijuana business before it gets started. The result has been mediation and arbitrations generated by the dispute resolution provisions in these consulting contracts.

I have been involved as both a Mediator and an Arbitrator in a number of these cases involving lawyers and parties from across the country. Intermingled with these is litigation usually filed in multiple federal courts in an attempt to either consolidate in a geographically convenient or perceived philosophically friendly forum the cases involving identical parties or 3rd parties spun off for tactical reasons from other parties. No end to this time-consuming and expensive as well as in many cases overlapping litigation, arbitrating and mediations is in sight.

Indeed, my favorite case and experience so far is the case in which the parties and counsel sought dismissal or transfer of a case in which I was the Chair of a 3-Arbitrator Panel. They first sought that relief from the U.S. District Court in D.C. which not only declined to dismiss or transfer our arbitration case, but instead ordered the parties to proceed before my panel in Maryland or D.C. The losing party then came to our panel requesting the same relief. When we realized that they were asking the panel to, in effect, reverse the U.S. District Court’s decision, my only comment on behalf of The Panel which accompanied our negative decision was—“I’d ask you what you are smoking-but we already know.”

This post is reprinted with permission from “A Pursuit of Justice,” a blog by Judge Steven I. Platt (Ret.) that focuses on the intersection of law, economics, politics and the development of public policy.  Judge Platt currently owns and operates his own private Alternative Dispute Resolution Company, The Platt Group, Inc. through which several retired judges and experienced practitioners offer mediation, arbitration and neutral case evaluation services to business, governmental agencies and their lawyers mostly in complex litigation and disputes.  Judge Platt’s experience and vocation make him an expert in conflict resolution particularly in complex disputes whether they are political, economic, legal, or as most often the case all of the above. Judge Platt can be reached at info@apursuitofjustice.com or via his website at www.theplattgroup.com.

House Passes Resolution to Override CFPB Mandatory Arbitration Rule

On July 25, and by a vote of 231-190, the U.S. House of Representatives relied upon the authority provided by the Congressional Review Act to pass a “resolution of disapproval” (H.J. Res. 111) to revoke the CFPB final arbitration rule published on July 19, 2017. The White House also issued a statement of support for the resolution.

The CRA requires both the House and Senate to pass a resolution of disapproval within 60 legislative days; the Senate vote on a similar resolution is expected to take place in September.

For a summary of the Democratic response to the House’s action, see Ballard Spahr’s Consumer Finance Monitor, “House Financial Services Committee Democratic Staff Report on CFPB Assails Republicans, Defends CFPB and Arbitration Rule,” by Barbara S. Mishkin.

For a review of how these issues have unfolded, see also CPR Speaks’ earlier posts on the CFPB Rule, “CFPB Announces Final Rule Barring Mandatory Arbitration in Consumer Financial Contracts” and “Congress Responds Rapidly to Block CFPB Rule Banning Mandatory Arbitration Clauses.”

Making the Mandatory Argument: Arbitration, Class Waivers and the Practitioners’ Role

By Russ Bleemer

Legislative and court arguments over whether ADR processes can be used to defray class litigation are moving toward a decisive 2017 conclusion.

New regulations barring the use of class waivers associated with mandatory arbitration clauses in consumer financial contracts, like credit card agreements or wireless telephone service agreements, are due for release soon by the Washington, D.C.-based Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  The CFPB had issued a proposal in May and accepted public comments until August.

In the December Alternatives, Sanford Jaffe and Linda Stamato, longtime conflict resolution process theorists, designers, and practitioners at the Center for Negotiation and Conflict Resolution at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., backed the move.  They argue that the mandatory arbitration processes that prohibit class litigation that the CFPB targets indeed should go.

But with the intervention of last month’s election, the prospects for the vitality and longevity of the coming regulation has dimmed.

So the authors also argue that the responsibility for preserving the integrity of alternative dispute resolution processes by breaking the link between mandatory processes and class waivers lies with practitioners themselves.

“Rarely seen are misgivings about mandatory arbitration expressed by dispute resolution professionals,” the authors write. “But we ought to be heard in the hearings and rule-making processes, and in social and print media, to support the proper use of the processes we have worked to design, develop, apply and evaluate.  We need . . . to defend the principles upon which this field is grounded, not the least of which is choice. We need to return to the attitudes and beliefs with which the field started decades ago, to fulfill the promises of the architects of the field.”

In addition to discussing mandatory arbitration in contracts over which the CFPB regulates, Jaffe and Stamato discuss mandatory arbitration in the employment context, noting the line of cases involving the clash between the Federal Arbitration Act and the National Labor Relations Act.

Three federal circuit courts have held that the FAA permits employers to use class waivers in requiring arbitration to resolve workplace disputes, while two circuits have gone the other way, saying that the NLRA preserves a right to class processes, including litigation, under the law which says that employees may “engage in . . . concerted activities.” See CPR Blog post from Aug. 23 HERE.

Since the December issue of Alternatives was released (HERE free on CPR’s website for members logged in; HERE with archives on publisher John Wiley’s site) , the U.S. Supreme Court has scheduled five FAA-NLRA cases for discussion at its Jan. 6 case conference.

Experts believe the Court will accept one or more of the cases—perhaps one favoring the defense view upholding mandatory arbitration with a class waiver, and one backing the National Labor Relation Board’s ruling that class processes must be preserved—to finally decide the matter, which has been brewing since the NLRB struck the mandatory arbitration/class waiver provision it found in D.R. Horton Inc., 357 NLRB No. 184, 2012 WL 36274 (Jan. 3, 2012)(PDF download link at http://1.usa.gov/1IMkHn8), enforcement denied in relevant part, 737 F.3d 344 (5th Cir. 2013)(Graves, J., dissenting)(PDF download link at http://bit.ly/1XRvjrM), reh’g denied, No. 12-60031 (Apr. 16, 2014).

Meantime, the viability of the CFPB’s yet-to-be-released regulations is in doubt in light of President-elect Trump’s anti-regulation views, including his loathing of the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which authorized the CFPB.  While the agency is committed to a forthcoming final regulation, it’s unlikely it will stand without attack.

In the forthcoming January issue of Alternatives, available at the links above on or around Jan. 4, Philadelphia-based Ballard Spahr partner Alan Kaplinsky will counter the December Alternatives commentary discussed above with an outline of the options to challenge to the CFPB’s regulation, which some analysts say may emerge before Trump’s Jan. 20 inauguration.

As Kaplinsky points out, a Congressional repeal may not even be necessary.  A new Trump appointee replacing current CFPB Director Richard Cordray could roll back the roll-out, restore (or reassert) mandatory arbitration and class waivers, and delay or change the regulations via the Administrative Procedure Act.

The December Alternatives commentary, “Private Justice: Losing Our Day in Court,” by Sanford M. Jaffe and Linda Stamato, is available now for all readers HERE.

The author edits Alternatives to the High Cost of Litigation for the CPR Institute.

How Patent Arbitration Fits in a Post-Grant World

When the Leahy–Smith America Invents Act took effect in September 2012, and introduced to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office post-grant trial proceedings, commentators said it could mean a drastic decline in the use of arbitration to decide patent disputes.

There was good reason for concern.  The proceedings were promised to be efficient and expeditious.  They provide third parties with an administrative opportunity—a trial process, to be sure, but an alternative to court litigation–to effectively and efficiently challenge validity in the USPTO of any patent claim.

The post-grant proceedings are an adversarial process before the Patent Trial and Appeal Board, with a statutory one-year pendency from the date of initiation.

Post-grant proceedings provide what alternative processes frequently promise: They are faster and less expensive than traditional litigation.

But the proceedings–post-grant review and inter partes review—are limited to validity issues.

The market outcome has been that, instead of supplanting arbitration, the post-grant proceedings have proven to be a complementary process to ADR.

And, notes New York patent neutral Peter L. Michaelson in the cover story in the new March issue of Alternatives, patent arbitration, “where employed in appropriate situations and structured properly, will likely see increasing use.”

In his article, Michaelson notes that the issues in patent disputes, whatever the forum, often range well beyond challenges to the patent’s validity.  The USPTO’s post-grant proceedings are fundamentally different from arbitration and are not ADR substitutes, writes Michaelson, “and thus not likely to adversely affect the future use of arbitration to any significant extent.”

But how do post-grant proceedings and arbitration work together in defending a patent portfolio?  Obviously, if business considerations beyond validity are part of the claim, arbitration can come into play, rather than traditional litigation.

Using a generation-old conflict resolution tenet, author Michaelson says that patent arbitration requires proper structuring.  The invocation of arbitration to resolve a patent dispute involves “fitting the process to the fuss,” he writes.

“Once properly configured, an arbitral process can yield substantial cost and time efficiencies, along with other benefits unavailable through litigation.”

In his March Alternatives article, available later this week for free for CPR members after logging into CPR’s website here, and available by subscription here and at altnewsletter.com, Michaelson details those benefit.  He describes the steps needed to provide a patent arbitration forum that maximizes satisfying outcomes faster and at less cost than proceeding to court, and discusses the need for ADR when faced with more than a validity challenge.

The New Italian Mediation Law: Experimenting with a “Soft” Approach to Mandatory Mediation

By Giulio Zanolla, LL.M., Esq., CPR Speaks Contributor

GiulioMediation was first introduced as a prerequisite to litigation in the Italian legal system in 2011, when the government issued a decree to implement the EU Mediation Directive of 2008. This legislative measure sparked a mix of enthusiastic reactions and harsh criticisms that culminated with lawyer strikes against its implementation. In 2012, the mandatory provision of the mediation regulation was declared unconstitutional, but the Constitutional Court’s decision was based on the government’s lack of legislative legitimacy to impose the mandatory requirement, rather than on the illegitimacy of the mandatory requirement itself.

The heated debate on the mediation regulation continued inside and outside the rooms of policymakers and led the Italian Parliament to enact a law in 2013 re-introducing mandatory mediation for certain civil and commercial actions in a mitigated form. The new mediation law, which is not affected by the constitutionality issue of the previous regulation, aims to address the concerns brought by a sector of the legal community claiming that the prerequisite of participating in mediation prior to bringing a legal action unjustly burdens and restricts disputants’ rights to access to justice. Unlike the previous regulation, the new Italian mediation law mandates that parties in certain civil and commercial disputes attend only an initial information session with the mediator; it does not require parties to participate in an actual mediation process as a prerequisite to litigation. The parties remain free to opt out of the mediation before the actual process starts and without any consequence for refraining to continue in mediation.

Through the initial information session, the parties have an opportunity to learn about the mediation process and make an informed decision regarding whether to attempt an out-of-court resolution through mediation or to initiate litigation. The information session is free of charge, and parties who refuse to attend the session are subject to sanctions in the subsequent trial. Only if all the parties agree to proceed with mediation will the mediator formally commence the procedure and begin to facilitate discussions of the disputed issues. With the new Italian mediation law, the parties’ participation in the actual mediation process is fully voluntary. The parties’ only mandatory requirement is to educate themselves about the option of mediation through the initial information session.

Recent statistical data available from the Ministry of Justice regarding the first six months of 2014 demonstrates that more than 22 percent of all disputes for which the initial information meeting is mandatory and more than 50 percent of disputes mediated by deliberate initiative of the parties are resolved without recourse to court litigation. In a little over a year since enactment of the law, the benefits of the new law are tangible, not only for those parties who resolved their disputes without litigation, but also—and especially—for the overwhelmed Italian judicial system as a whole, and ultimately for all taxpayers.

Most important, each of the numerous information sessions and mediations that took place but did not result in settlement created a concrete opportunity for parties and attorneys to familiarize themselves with the mediation process and educate users about mediation, thus contributing to the development of the culture of mediation throughout the country.

If we believe that the principle of voluntariness is of fundamental value to the mediation process and if we agree that the need for user education is a critical element in the development of a culture of mediation, the Italian mediation law could represent a balanced solution to the question of how to promote the use of mediation through legislation. The next few years’ statistics will reveal whether the number of parties who choose to continue in mediation past the initial information session, and the concomitant overall settlement percentage, will grow thanks to an increased level of awareness and sophistication among mediation users.

Giulio Zanolla is an attorney, a mediator, an ADR instructor, and the author of the blog The Case for Mediation: An ADR Blog by Giulio Zanolla. This article was first published in the The Weinstein JAMS International Fellow Newsletter, Fall 2015. Mr. Zanolla can be reached at giulio@zanollamediation.com.

2016 Copyright of Giulio Zanolla, Esq. – All Rights Reserved

CFPB Decision Implicitly Recognizes Arbitration as Legitimate Alternative to Litigation

CFPB’s Decision Not to Bar Mandatory Arbitration Clauses Implicitly Recognizes Arbitration as Legitimate Alternative to Litigation

There has been much focus over the past years on mandatory arbitration clauses combined with class action waiver provisions that preclude parties from bringing claims on anything other than an individual basis. Earlier this month, in a move to protect consumers, The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Arbitration Field Hearing announced the Bureau’s decision, following a study and report the CFPB published and issued to Congress earlier this year, to launch a rulemaking process to bar class action waivers in combination with consumer financial arbitration agreements,

Here’s what CFPB Director, Richard Cordray, had to say regarding the decision:

After carefully considering the findings of our landmark study, the Bureau has decided to launch a rulemaking process to protect consumers. The proposal under consideration would prohibit companies from blocking group lawsuits through the use of arbitration clauses in their contracts. This would apply generally to the consumer financial products and services that the Bureau oversees, including credit cards, checking and deposit accounts, certain auto loans, small-dollar or payday loans, private student loans, and some other products and services as well. …

 So what does this rulemaking process mean?

To start, the rules wouldn’t ban arbitration clauses altogether. Rather, they would require clauses to state that they don’t apply to cases filed as potential class-action lawsuits unless a judge denies class certification or a court dismisses the claims. Furthermore, the proposals would mandate that companies using arbitration clauses divulge records to the CFPB showing the claims filed by consumers and the awards issued — which may be made available to the public in an effort to ensure fairness and transparency of the arbitration process on behalf of the consumer. Should the proposal be adopted by the CFPB, new rules would apply to financial products overseen by the CFPB, including those cited by CFPB director, Cordray.

Many consumer groups are hailing the CFPB’s efforts as a victory for consumers. Still, the CFPB’s move is expected to face stiff opposition from the likes of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; the Minneapolis-based Association of Credit and Collection Professionals (ACA International), a membership group of credit and collection industry firms as well as asset buyers, attorneys, creditors and vendor affiliates; and other business groups which, according to a recent New York Times article, maintain that “arbitration offers a more efficient but equally fair means for consumers to resolve complaints. These private proceedings, held outside court, provide the same opportunity for relief without the staggering legal bills, the groups say.”

According to CPR’s SVP of Product Development and Public Policy, Beth Trent, “While it’s difficult to tell the precise impact of the CFPB’s proposed rule, the CFPB’s decision not to bar mandatory arbitration clauses is quite telling. It implicitly recognizes that arbitration is a legitimate alternative to litigation, which is supported by the CFPB’s own data which shows that arbitration is a speedier process than class action litigation, that claim rates in class actions are low, and that average recovery per class member is low.”

“People generally prefer speedy resolution of their claims, and it’s not clear that individuals would necessarily choose to bring a class action,” Ms. Trent added. “That said, lawyers most often initiate class actions with only one, or a few named class representatives, and the vast majority of individuals have no choice regarding whether they are included in a proposed class. In fact, they may be entirely unaware that they are included in a class action at all. Ultimately, the impact of the proposed rule will be shaped, at least in part, by the business response to that rule. Most notably, whether businesses offer arbitration programs that meet standards of due process and consumer needs in a cost-effective manner.”

The next CFPB step is convening meetings of a Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act panel, which will review the impact of the proposed regulation on small businesses.  The first such meeting is scheduled for Washington, D.C., Oct. 28, according to the CFPB Monitor, a blog published by the Philadelphia-based law firm Ballard Spahr.

Litigation Financiers: Explain Yourselves!

Litigation Financiers: Explain Yourselves!

By Russ Bleemer

Replies are due from litigation financing companies to a request by prominent U.S. senators on how the firms run their operations and earn their profits.

In a sweeping inquiry, the senators asked three financing firms about how they fund lawsuits and arbitrations, usually against big companies, in exchange for a share of the recovery.

Two of the firms are based in the United Kingdom, and a third in Australia.  All are affiliated with hedge funds.  The litigation financing firms, whose parents are publicly traded overseas, get most of their revenue from investing in U.S. litigation and arbitration cases.

The field has grown immensely in recent years, and U.S. regulation is a patchwork of court decisions, legal ethics rules, and state laws.

But this is the first time lawmakers in the nation’s capital have taken notice, and they are not happy with what they are seeing in the wake of the industry’s growth.

In a late August release, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R., Iowa, and Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R., Texas, issued three letters they had sent to the companies.  The letters were a deep dive into the companies’ operations, asking 12 expansive questions about the kinds of cases that the companies invest in, how much money the firms have advanced, and the names of the law firms they are backing.

Grassley and Cornyn—generally business-friendly conservatives—are clearly suspicious, and the questions may be precursors to regulating litigation financing.  In giving the firms until the middle of last month to produce the extensive replies the questions require, Grassley noted in a press release statement that:

Litigation speculation is expanding at an alarming rate. And yet, because the existence and terms of these agreements lack transparency, the impact they are having on our civil justice system is not fully known.  . . . It’s vitally important to our civil justice system that litigation decisions aren’t unduly influenced by third parties.

The senators’ concern is that the litigation financing firms are perpetuating courtroom fights and adding frivolous litigation to court dockets–even though at least one firm says it is backing fewer individual plaintiffs and leaning significantly toward financing business-to-business litigation conducted by big law firms.

The senators’ questions asked for the financing firms’ revenues for supporting arbitration matters, too, as well as whether the financing agreements include arbitration clauses.  The letters asked if the arbitration clauses cover disputes between the financing firms and the plaintiffs they back over whether the plaintiffs should settle their cases.

The Grassley/Cornyn inquiry picks up on long-running objections by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, whose tort-reform arm has blasted litigation financing since its U.S. emergence over the past decade.  But the letters are information requests, and not subpoenas; Grassley, chairman of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, has not announced that he is considering hearing.

The senators asked for a reply by Sept. 18.  At this writing, neither Grassley nor Cornyn have released further information.  And only one of the three firms, Burford Capital, a U.K. firm incorporated in Guernsey, an island in the English Channel, has issued a full public response. Noting that “[w]hat may be new about Burford is its introduction of professionalism and institutional specialization to the field,” the firm posted its lengthy Sept. 25 defense of litigation financing in response to the senators’ inquiries on its blog, here.

But for the litigation financing firms’ initial reactions, and more facts and figures as well the background that led to the Grassley/Cornyn letters, see the ADR Briefs feature, “Senators Want Explanations from Top Litigation Funding Firms,” in the October Alternatives (to be cited at 33 Alternatives 140 (October 2015)), which will be available on Oct. 6 HERE for free for CPR members and HERE for subscribers.  CPR membership information is available HERE, and Alternatives subscription information is available at www.altnewsletter.com.

Russ Bleemer is a CPR Consultant and the Editor of CPR’s award-winning publication, Alternatives