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Court rules arbitration provision null and void

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Tackling an issue of first impression, the Indiana Court of Appeals concluded that an arbitration provision in a loan agreement from a payday loan provider is null and void on the grounds of impossibility because the arbitrator named in the document is no longer available.

In Geneva-Roth Capital, Inc., et al. v. Akeala Edwards, No. 49A02-1101-PL-43, Akeala Edwards filed a lawsuit, on her behalf and a purported class, against LoanPoint USA claiming the loan agreement she entered into with the company violated the Indiana Consumer Credit Code’s Small Loans Act. She filled out an online application for a $300 loan, and part of the agreement included an arbitration provision that said the parties must arbitrate any disputes and that National Arbitration Forum would handle the disputes. Over the course of 90 days, LoanPoint USA deducted more than $700 in finance charges from Edwards’ account and only applied $23 to her original loan balance.

LoanPoint USA moved to stay the proceedings and compel Edwards to arbitrate her claim on an individual basis; Edwards argued since NAF was no longer available to arbitrate – the company was ordered by a Minnesota state court to not participate in any disputes after July 2009 based on fraud allegations filed by the Minnesota attorney general – the arbitration portion is invalid and unenforceable. The trial court concluded that the arbitration provision was null and void as impossible to perform since NAF is no longer available to serve in such a capacity. The trial court also found it could not appoint a replacement arbitrator pursuant to 9 U.S.C.A. Section 5 of the Federal Arbitration Act.

The appellate court looked to several jurisdictions – which have reached opposite results – to decide whether an arbitration agreement fails due to impossibility if the chosen forum cannot serve as arbitrator or if the trial court is obliged to appoint a substitute arbitrator pursuant to Section 5. The COA agreed with the rulings in Rivera v. Am. Gen. Fin. Servs. Inc., (259 P.3d 803 N.M. 2011), and Ranzy v. Tijernina, 393 F. App’x 174 (5th Cir. 2010), which found similar provisions to be null because they would be impossible to perform since the named arbitrator no longer could perform the duty.

“Having concluded that the NAF as the arbitral forum was integral to the arbitration agreement, and given that the NAF is no longer available to conduct consumer arbitrations, the arbitration provision is null and void on grounds of impossibility. Section 5 does not save the arbitration provision and cannot be used as a mechanism to appoint a substitute arbitrator. The trial court did not err in denying LoanPoint USA’s motion to compel arbitration,” wrote Judge Ezra Friedlander.
 

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  2. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  3. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  4. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  5. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

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