Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Federal Courts Differ Over Arbitrability of California Consumer Claims

This posting was written by William Zale, Editor of CCH Advertising Law Guide.

Two federal district courts in California have reached opposite conclusions on the question of whether claims for injunctive relief under California false advertising and consumer protection statutes are subject to arbitration.

Nelson v. AT&T Mobility LLC

The federal district court in San Francisco held that the Federal Arbitration Act preempted California Supreme Court decisions barring arbitration of claims for injunctive relief under the state’s consumer statutes, in Nelson v. AT&T Mobility LLC, No. C10-4802 THE, (ND Cal. Aug. 18, 2011).

An AT&T wireless customer asserted class action claims under the California Unfair Competition Law (UCL) and Consumers Legal Remedies Act (CLRA) seeking injunctive relief to bar AT&T from continuing to engage in business practices including alleged overbilling by improperly calculating surcharges on monthly bills.

The court held that the U.S. Supreme Court’s April 27, 2011 decision in AT&T v. Concepcion (CCH Advertising Law Guide ¶64,265) compelled arbitration of Nelson’s claims.

Ferguson v. Corinthian Colleges

The federal district court in Santa Ana expressly declined to follow the Nelson decision in Ferguson v. Corinthian Colleges, Nos. SACV 11-0127 DOC (AJWx) and SACV 11-0259 (AJWx), (CD Cal. Oct. 6, 2011).

Students asserted class action claims under the UCL, CLRA, and the California False Advertising Law (FAL) alleging that Corinthian used fraudulent misrepresentations to entice prospective students to enroll. Through Corinthian’s various websites, the students claimed they were deceived about federal financial aid, the true cost of attending the programs, the value of Corinthian’s accreditations, and the employment prospects and career placement services that students could expect.

The court denied Corinthian’s Motion to Compel Individual Arbitration, holding that the statutory purpose of the injunctive relief provisions of the UCL, FAL, and CLRA and the public interest concerns in this case likely could not be met through arbitration. The court found no apparent conflict with the Federal Arbitration Act and noted that Concepcion did not take a position on the arbitrability of public injunction actions.

These conflicting decisions highlight the unresolved tension between state consumer protection law and the policies favoring arbitration of disputes embodied in the Federal Arbitration Act.

The opinions in Nelson v. AT&T Mobility LLC and Ferguson v. Corinthian Colleges will be reported in CCH Advertising Law Guide.

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