Congress Responds Rapidly to Block CFPB Rule Banning Mandatory Arbitration Clauses

On Monday, July 10, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced its new rule preventing banks and credit card companies from using mandatory arbitration clauses in new customer accounts.

On Tuesday, July 11, and as predicted on “CPR Speaks,” Congress moved to stop the CFPB final rule. Arkansas Republican Sen. Tom Cotton announced he was drafting a resolution to get the new CFPB rule rescinded using the Congressional Review Act. Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Pat Toomey, Chair of the Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Protection, is reported to be considering a similar step.

The newly popular 1996 Congressional Review Act—see the “CPR Speaks” link above–provides expedited  procedures through which the Senate may overrule regulations issued by federal agencies by enacting a joint resolution.

Characterizing the CFPB as having gone “rogue,” and its new rule as an “anti-business regulation,” Cotton is stressing the benefits of arbitration, as well as consumers’ capacity to make business decisions.

Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R., Texas, is also publicly criticizing the rule as bureaucratic and beneficial only to class action trial attorneys. He is urging Congress to work with President Trump to reform the CFPB and excessive administration by government. As also mentioned in yesterday’s post, in April Hensarling proposed H.R. 10, the Financial CHOICE Act of 2017, which would repeal the CFPB’s authority to restrict arbitration. The bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs.

It remains to be seen whether the CFPB’s new rule will survive these and other potential congressional and court challenges. Much will depend upon the Senate and how many Republicans switch sides on this issue. Please stay tuned to this space for important developments.

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.

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.

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.