AAA confirms: No more consumer debt arbitration
July 23, 2009 by Ross Runkel at LawMemo
We reported yesterday that the American Arbitration Association (AAA) announced that it will stop administering consumer debt collection arbitrations.
Here is the AAA press release:
Contact: Wayne Kessler, Vice President, Corporate Communications American Arbitration Association (212) 716-3975 firstname.lastname@example.org
The American Arbitration Association® Calls For
Reform of Debt Collection Arbitration
Largest Arbitration Services Provider Will Decline to Administer Consumer Debt Arbitrations until Fairness Standards are Established
New York, NY– (July 23, 2009) – The American Arbitration Association (AAA), the world’s largest conflict management and dispute resolution services organization, today recommended in a House subcommittee hearing that the process surrounding consumer debt collection arbitration needs major reform and recommended a national policy committee to identify and research solutions. AAA said it will not administer any consumer debt collection programs until those solutions are determined.
AAA senior vice president Richard Naimark told the Domestic Policy Subcommittee of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that the AAA “has not administered significant numbers of debt collection arbitrations relative to some other organizations,” and has not handled any since June after it concluded a single high-volume program. However, he said that AAA had independently reviewed areas of the process and concluded that it had some weaknesses. As a result of that review, it is evident to the AAA that “a series of important fairness and due process concerns must be addressed and resolved before we will proceed with the administration of any consumer debt collection programs.” According to Mr. Naimark, areas needing attention from the national policy committee include consumer notification, arbitrator neutrality, pleading and evidentiary standards, respondents’ defenses and counterclaims, and arbitrator training and recruitment.
“AAA has been working with the Domestic Policy Subcommittee to review potential improvements in consumer debt collection arbitration procedures for some time. We believe that arbitration can play a major role in consumer debt collection disputes. A national policy committee dedicated to meaningful reform can enhance an array of due process elements so that there is deeper fairness and transparency. Consumers deserve an alternative to litigation, but they also need to be able to trust that option. Our goal will be to achieve that trust,” Mr. Naimark said after the hearing.
“We have been studying this issue for some time. We made our decision to impose a moratorium on administering consumer debt arbitration independently and not at the behest of any outside entity as has been claimed. We commend the Domestic Policy Subcommittee for its initiatives to protect consumers in debt collection cases, and we will continue to work with it willingly and enthusiastically,” Mr. Naimark said.
For Immediate Release
About the American Arbitration Association
The global leader in conflict management since 1926, the American Arbitration Association is a not-for-profit, public service organization committed to the resolution of disputes through the use of arbitration, mediation, conciliation, negotiation, democratic elections and other voluntary procedures. In 2008, 138,447 cases were filed with the Association in a full range of matters including commercial, construction, labor, employment, insurance, international and claims program disputes. Through 30 offices in the United States, Ireland, Mexico, and Singapore, the AAA provides a forum for the hearing of disputes, rules and procedures and a roster of impartial experts to resolve cases. Find more information online at www.adr.org.
What? AAA stops consumer debt collection arbitration
July 22, 2009 by Ross Runkel at LawMemo
The American Arbitration Association (AAA) announced yesterday that it will stop administering consumer debt collection arbitrations.
The Wall Street Journal quotes an unnamed AAA official as saying that AAA will stop taking these cases "until some standards or safeguards are established."
This announcement comes on the heels of a lawsuit against the National Arbitration Forum (NAF) and a decision by NAF to stop taking similar cases.
Both organizations have recently posted self-laudatory statements on their web sites, praising the fairness and effectiveness of arbitration proceedings between consumers and corporations.
These two organizations are quite different from each other. NAF is a for-profit close-held company. AAA is non-profit of long standing.
The two organizations seem to have different reasons for their actions. NAF has been hit with law suits, the most recent claiming undisclosed overlaps in ownership between NAF and some of its corporate customers, and it looks like they spend more on defense than they earn on the arbitrations. AAA is now suggesting there is a actually a fairness issue in these cases, citing the need for "some standards or safeguards."
Whatever the reasons, this is a major development. Many phone companies and credit-card issuers insert arbitration clauses in their contracts. So what will happen now?
National Arbitration Forum ends consumer arbitration business
July 20, 2009 by Ross Runkel at LawMemo
National Arbitration Forum (NAF) is famous for providing arbitration services for disputes between consumers and credit card companies.
NAF announced yesterday that it will "voluntarily cease to administer consumer arbitration disputes as of Friday, July 24, 2009."
This follows a law suit by the Minnesota Attorney General, alleging violation of state consumer fraud, deceptive trade practices and false advertising laws by hiding financial ties to collection agencies and credit card companies.
Here is the NAF's press release:
National Arbitration Forum to Cease Administering All Consumer Arbitrations in Response to Mounting Legal and Legislative Challenges
MINNEAPOLIS, July 19, 2009
American Consumers to Lose Affordable Access to Justice through Nation's Largest Administrator of Consumer Arbitration Disputes
BusinessWire -- The National Arbitration Forum (FORUM), the largest U.S. administrator of consumer arbitrations, today announced that it will voluntarily cease to administer consumer arbitration disputes as of Friday, July 24, 2009, as part of a settlement agreement with the Minnesota Attorney General.
"The National Arbitration Forum remains committed to consumer arbitration as the best and most affordable option for consumers to resolve disputes quickly and efficiently. However, the FORUM lacks the necessary resources to defend against increasing challenges to arbitration on all fronts, including from state Attorneys General and the class action trial bar," said Forthright CEO Mike Kelly. "Mounting legal costs, a challenging economic climate, and increased legislative uncertainty surrounding the future of arbitration have prompted the FORUM to exit the consumer arbitration arena. At this time, the costs of providing consumer arbitration services far exceed the revenue generated. Until Congress resolves the legal and legislative uncertainty the cost is simply too high for users and providers of consumer arbitration."
Legislative proposals pending in both houses of Congress threaten to eliminate pre-dispute arbitration as an effective means of alternative dispute resolution. The Arbitration Fairness Act of 2009 (S. 931/H.R. 1020) would invalidate every pre-dispute contractual arbitration agreement that is part of a consumer, financial or franchise dispute – in effect, every contract. The Fairness in Nursing Home Arbitration Act (S. 512/H.R. 1237) would eliminate pre-dispute mandatory arbitration in all nursing home contracts. Legislation before the House to create a new Consumer Financial Protection Agency (H.R. 3126) addresses arbitration and would give broad regulatory authority to restrict or eliminate all consumer arbitrations.
"The National Arbitration Forum provides fair and affordable access to justice to American consumers regardless of size of their claims. Without access to arbitration, consumer disputes will now be forced into an overcrowded and underfunded legal system, where many consumers who cannot afford attorneys will have to navigate complex court procedures," continued Kelly. "The consequence to American consumers is that there will be no meaningful alternative to costly and unpredictable litigation."
Notably, nothing in the Minnesota Attorney General’s complaint alleges that arbitration proceedings administered by the FORUM are unfair; the fairness of arbitration is ensured by the independence of the neutral arbitrators.
National Arbitration Forum consumer arbitration claims are decided by an independent panel of more than 1,600 highly experienced and impartial legal professionals, including former judges and experienced attorneys. FORUM neutrals are bound to a code of professional ethics, and decide cases outside of any influence from the FORUM or the other parties.
About the National Arbitration Forum (FORUM)
Founded in 1986, the National Arbitration Forum (FORUM) is a world leader in arbitration and mediation services. The FORUM provides accessible civil justice through the recruitment, selection, and management of a highly experienced and distinguished panel of over 1,600 former judges and seasoned lawyers. Now optimized by Forthright, the FORUM is the faster, lower cost, and superior alternative to litigation, that ensures parties receive the same outcomes they would in court. www.adrforum.com
Arbitration or ‘Arbitrary’: The Misuse of Arbitration to Collect Consumer Debts
July 20, 2009 by Ross Runkel at LawMemo
A House subcommittee hearing on July 22 will focus on business-consumer arbitrations relating to to debt collection.
The title of the hearing gives you an easy way to predict the outcome: “Arbitration or ‘Arbitrary’: The Misuse of Arbitration to Collect Consumer Debts”
Text of the House press release:
For Immediate Release:
Contact: Nathan White (202)225-5871
Hearing: “Arbitration or ‘Arbitrary’: The Misuse of Arbitration to Collect Consumer Debts”
Date: July 22, 2009, 2:00 p.m.
Location: Rayburn House Office Building, Room 2154
On Wednesday, July 22, 2009, at 2:00 p.m. in room 2154 of the Rayburn House Office Building, the Domestic Policy Subcommittee will hold a hearing entitled, “Arbitration or ‘Arbitrary’: The Misuse of Arbitration to Collect Consumer Debts.”
The purpose of this hearing is to evaluate contractually-mandated arbitration of disputes between businesses and consumers in the context in which the vast majority of those disputes occur—the collection of debts from consumers. The hearing will evaluate whether consumer debt collection arbitration, as currently administered, produces results that are fair and legitimate.
Experts invited to testify:
The Honorable Lori Swanson, Attorney General, State of Minnesota.
Thanks to Disputing, U.S. Congress Hearing on the Misuse of Arbitration to Collect Consumer Debt, for the heads up and the links.
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