“Payday” Loan Recipients Compelled To Arbitrate RICO Claims

The strong federal presumption in favor of enforcing arbitration clauses is well known. In Moss v. BMO Harris Bank, N.A., 13 CV 5438 (JFB)(GRB), Judge Bianco reaffirmed just how strong it is. The case is a putative class action asserting civil RICO claims based on defendants’ alleged role in facilitating “payday” loans, which are short-term, high fee, closed-end loans made to consumers to provide funds in anticipation of an upcoming paycheck.

Plaintiffs signed loan agreements with various online lenders that contained arbitration clauses. The defendants were neither parties to the loan agreements nor mentioned by name in the agreements. But the defendants, who facilitated the funds transfers connected with the loans, nevertheless moved to compel arbitration on the theory that the plaintiffs had agreed to arbitrate disputes against the lenders’ “agents” and “servicers.” Plaintiffs argued that the arbitration provisions did not place them on notice that they were consenting to arbitrate with defendants.

The court disagreed with plaintiffs. Judge Bianco applied a “two-part intertwined-ness test” to determine whether plaintiffs were sufficiently put on notice of their agreement to arbitrate. First, the court had to determine whether plaintiffs’ claims arose under the subject matter of the underlying agreements. It had little trouble concluding that they did. Second, the court had to determine whether there was a “close relationship” between the plaintiffs and non-signatory defendants. While this was a closer question, the court held that the loan agreements’ references to “agents” and “servicers” implicitly described the services provided by defendants. Therefore, it was foreseeable to plaintiffs that they had agreed to arbitrate claims against the defendants, especially because the agreements explicitly referred to the electronic funds transfer process. Thus, the court compelled arbitration and stayed the federal court case.

New York Insurance Law Does Not Require Arbitration Of Insurer’s Claim To Recover Payments On Fraudulent Claims

On May 6, 2014, the Second Circuit issued a decision in Allstate Insurance Co. v. Mun, Docket No. 13-1424-CV, holding that while the New York Insurance Law gives a medical provider the right to demand arbitration of a refusal to pay a claim, that right does not extend to a claim by an insurer to recover from the provider already-made payments.

In Allstate Insurance, the plaintiff sued the defendants in the EDNY to recover payments the plaintiff had made to the defendants on no-fault insurance claims that, the plaintiff alleged, were fraudulent. The defendants moved to compel arbitration of the plaintiff’s claims. The EDNY denied the motion, holding “that medical providers have a right to arbitrate as-yet unpaid claims, but not claims that were timely paid.” The Second Circuit affirmed, explaining:

Section 5106 of the New York Insurance Law provides, in relevant part:

(a) Payments of first party benefits and additional first party benefits shall be made as the loss is incurred. Such benefits are overdue if not paid within thirty days after the claimant supplies proof of the fact and amount of loss sustained. . . .
(b) Every insurer shall provide a claimant with the option of submitting any dispute involving the insurer’s liability to pay first party benefits, or additional first party benefits, the amount thereof or any other matter which may arise pursuant to subsection (a) of this section to arbitration pursuant to simplified procedures to be promulgated or approved by the superintendent. Such simplified procedures shall include an expedited eligibility hearing option, when required, to designate the insurer for first party benefits . . . .

N.Y. Ins. Law § 5106(a)‐(b) (emphases added). . . .

Defendants rely on citations to the FAA; but the real question is: do Allstate’s policies, which implement requirements imposed by New York law and which must be construed to satisfy those requirements, grant Defendants the right to arbitrate Allstate’s fraud claims?

The arbitration provision in the Allstate policies appears quite broad. It contemplates arbitration if the claimant and insurance company do not agree regarding any matter relating to the claim. But it is not as broad as it may seem. An arbitrable dispute is one between the insurance company and a person making a claim for first-party benefits. Defendants are no longer making a claim. They made a claim; they made many claims. And those claims were promptly paid by Allstate. Allstate’s fraud suit therefore does not raise a dispute between it and a person making a claim for first-party benefits. The arbitration provision does not apply.

(Internal quotations and citations omitted).

This decision illustrates that notwithstanding case-law favoring arbitration and the rights of health care providers vis-à-vis insurers, at the end of the day, it is the law and applicable contracts that define the scope of the right to demand arbitration.