Because pricing discount and sales class actions are likely to continue and retailers, especially brick-and-mortar ones, may have difficulty enforcing arbitration agreements and class action waivers, companies will want to not only check the ways in which they draft and enforce arbitration agreements, but carefully monitor compliance with pricing laws.

The Tenth Circuit recently affirmed a district court’s denial of J.C. Penney’s bid to compel arbitration in a putative class action challenging J.C. Penney’s pricing discounts and sales in Cavlovic v. J.C. Penney Corp., Inc., No. 2:17-CV-02042-JAR-TJJ (10th Cir. March 7, 2018). The case involved an in-store transaction. The Court of Appeals rejected J.C. Penney’s attempt to enforce (1) an arbitration clause contained in a credit card agreement; and (2) an arbitration clause contained in the agreement governing J.C. Penney’s rewards program.Shopping bags in the mall

Plaintiff purchased a pair of earrings at a J.C. Penney retail location with an advertised price of $209.99. The earrings were marked with a previous price of $524.98, and Plaintiff also received 25% off due to an additional sale. After purchasing the earrings and retuning home, Plaintiff claimed that she noticed an original price tag of 225, which was blacked out. Alleging the former price of $524.98 was fraudulently inflated and that she should have been given a discount off the $225 price, she sued J.C. Penney. She alleged false advertising under the Kansas Consumer Protection Act and asserted that she suffered emotional distress.

In response, J.C. Penney tried to enforce two different arbitration clauses–one from a J.C. Penney’s branded credit card (used to purchase the earrings) and the other from a rewards program (of which Plaintiff was a member). J.C. Penney lost on both arguments. The Tenth Circuit held that J.C. Penney was not a party to the credit card agreement formed between the issuing bank and the Plaintiff, and could not enforce the contract as a third party under Utah law, which governed the agreement. As for the rewards program, while J.C. Penney was a party to that agreement, the Court determined Plaintiff’s complaint was outside the scope of the arbitration clause, which governed disputes only “arising from or relating to” the rewards program itself.

Arbitration Poison Pill Spells Doom for AT&T’s Arbitration Hopes

Takeaways:

  1. California Supreme Court recently held that an arbitration agreement that waives the right to seek public injunctive relief regardless of forum is (1) contrary to public policy and (2) not preempted by the Federal Arbitration Act.
  2. District Court for the Northern District of California granted a motion to reconsider its earlier order compelling arbitration of putative class action because the arbitration agreement at issue waived consumers’ right to seek public injunctive relief and was, by its terms, not severable from the remainder of the arbitration agreement.
  3. Parties may agree to arbitrate claims for public injunctive relief, but they cannot agree to waive consumers’ right to assert those claims at all.
  4. Drafters of arbitration agreements should reconsider poison-pill provisions that invalidate the entirety of the arbitration agreement if only the portion addressing injunctive relief is unenforceable.

Continue Reading California Federal Court Rescinds Order Compelling Arbitration in Consumer Class Action Because Arbitration Agreement Prohibited Public Injunctive Relief