Last week, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”) finalized a new rule that prohibits most credit card issuers and banking institutions from requiring consumers to enter into mandatory arbitration agreements that bar collective action lawsuits.
The CFPB rule restores consumers’ right to file or join group lawsuits. By so doing, the rule also deters companies from violating the law. When companies know they are more likely to be held accountable by consumers for any misconduct, they are less likely to engage in unlawful practices that can cause harm. Further, public attention on the practices of one company can more broadly influence their business practices and those of other companies. Under the rule, companies can still include arbitration clauses in their contracts. But companies subject to the rule may not use arbitration clauses to stop consumers from being part of a group action. The rule includes specific language that companies will need to use if they include an arbitration clause in a new contract.
The rule also makes the individual arbitration process more transparent by requiring companies to submit to the CFPB certain records, including initial claims and counterclaims, answers to these claims and counterclaims, and awards issued in arbitration. The Bureau will collect correspondence companies receive from arbitration administrators regarding a company’s non-payment of arbitration fees and its failure to follow the arbitrator’s fairness standards. Gathering these materials will enable the CFPB to better understand and monitor arbitration, including whether the process itself is fair. The materials must be submitted with appropriate redactions of personal information. The Bureau intends to publish these redacted materials on its website beginning in July 2019.
The new CFPB rule applies to the major markets for consumer financial products and services overseen by the Bureau, including those that lend money, store money, and move or exchange money. Congress already prohibits arbitration agreements in the largest market that the Bureau oversees – the residential mortgage market. In the Military Lending Act, Congress also has prohibited such agreements in many forms of credit extended to servicemembers and their families. The rule’s exemptions include employers when offering consumer financial products or services for employees as an employee benefit; entities regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission or the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which have their own arbitration rules; broker dealers and investment advisers overseen by state regulators; and state and tribal governments that have sovereign immunity from private lawsuits.
The full text of the new arbitration rule is available on the CFPB’s website. The effective date of the rule is 60 days following publication in the Federal Register. The CFPB rule does not have an effect on existing contracts as it only applies to contracts that are entered into more than 180 days after the effective date.
Although consumer advocates applaud the new CFPB arbitration rule, Republican lawmakers in both the Senate and the House of Representatives are reportedly considering measures designed to eliminate the new CFPB rule.
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