“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.

RICO Applies To Foreign Enterprises When Underlying Predicates Were Intended To Apply To Such Conduct

On April 23, 2014, the Second Circuit issued a decision in European Community v. RJR Nabisco, No. 11-2475-cv, reversing a decision of the EDNY holding that “RICO does not apply to enterprises outside the United States.”

In European Community, the plaintiff asserted RICO and associated state law claims against the defendants alleging a multi-step international scheme involving “the smuggling of illegal narcotics into Europe by Colombian and Russian criminal organizations,” money laundering and using the laundered funds to purchase cigarettes, the sale of which funded further drug smuggling. The EDNY dismissed the complaint on several grounds, including that RICO does not apply to enterprises located and directed outside the United States. The Second Circuit reversed, explaining, with respect to RICO’s extra-territorial application, that:

We conclude that RICO applies extraterritorially if, and only if, liability or guilt could attach to extraterritorial conduct under the relevant RICO predicate. Thus, when a RICO claim depends on violations of a predicate statute that manifests an unmistakable congressional intent to apply extraterritorially, RICO will apply to extraterritorial conduct, too, but only to the extent that the predicate would. Conversely, when a RICO claim depends on violations of a predicate statute that does not overcome Morrison‘s presumption against extraterritoriality, RICO will not apply extraterritorially either. In all cases, what constitutes sufficient domestic conduct to trigger liability is the same as between RICO and the predicate that forms the basis for RICO liability.

(Emphasis added).