District Court Erred in Refusing Motion to Stay Class Action Against Bank and Compel Arbitration of Individual Claim based on Arbitration Clause with Class Action Waiver because Class Action Waiver, and Cost-Sharing Provision, of Arbitration Clause did not Render Provision Unconscionable Eighth Circuit Holds
Plaintiff filed a putative class action in Missouri state court against Chase Bank alleging that it had imposed penalties on credit card holders and that it had violated Missouri’s Merchandising Practices Act (MMPA); in essence, the class action complaint alleged that Chase improperly increased the interest rate charged on credit card balances. Cicle v. Chase Bank USA, 583 F.3d 549, 2009 WL 3172157, *1 (8th Cir. 2009). According to the allegations underlying the class action complaint, plaintiff’s credit card with Chase initially “carried a 7.99% annual percentage rate (APR) on unpaid balances,” but then “increased dramatically, to 25.99%.” Id. When asked about the increase, the Bank responded that “a credit agency had reported her as past due on an unrelated loan or account, so Chase increased the APR from the 7.99% ‘Preferred Customer Pricing’ rate.” Id. Defense attorneys removed for the class action to federal court under CAFA (Class Action Fairness Act of 2005) and on the ground of federal question jurisdiction under the National Bank Act (NBA). Id. The Bank then asked the district court to stay the class action to compel plaintiff to arbitrate her individual claim pursuant to the terms of the arbitration clause in her Cardmember Agreement, which included a class action waiver. Id. The district court denied the defense motion, concluding that the class action waiver and the provisions for cost-sharing were unconscionable under Missouri law, id., at *3. The Eighth Circuit reversed, holding that the class action waiver was neither substantively nor procedurally unconscionable.
The Cardmember Agreement contained an arbitration clause, governed by the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), that required arbitration on an individual basis of any dispute with the bank; specifically, the arbitration clause contained a class action waiver, prohibiting the cardmember from bringing “a class action or other representative action” and precluding the cardmember from being “part of any class action or other representative action.” Cicle, at *1-*2. The arbitration was to be binding, and covered “any claim, dispute or controversy by either you or us against the other, or against the employees, parents, subsidiaries, affiliates, beneficiaries, agents or assigns of the other, arising from or relating in any way to the Cardmember Agreement, any prior Cardmember Agreement, your credit card Account or the advertising, application or approval of your Account (‘Claim’).” Id., at *2. The arbitration clause provided an exception for small claims court matters, id. With respect to costs, the arbitration clause provided that the Bank would pay for the filing fee (up to $500) and, “if there is a hearing, we will pay any fees of the arbitrator and arbitration administrator for the first two days of that hearing.” Id. The agreement provided that all other fees would be “allocated in keeping with the rules of the arbitration administrator and applicable law,” and that each side otherwise would be responsible for their own attorney fees and costs, regardless of whether they prevailed, unless the arbitrator orders otherwise based on “any applicable law.” Id. Reviewing the district court’s decision de novo, see id., at *3, the Eighth Circuit reversed its refusal to enforce the arbitration clause.