Wisconsin Court of Appeals Upholds Arbitration Clause Against a Consumer Despite Its Class Action Ban

In Cottonwood Financial Ltd v. Estes, Wisconsin Court of Appeals, Case No. 2009AP760, decided Dec. 20, 2011, the court enforced an arbitration agreement against a consumer despite the ban on class action proceedings contained within the agreement. The Wisconsin court followed the holding of a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, 563 U.S. __, 131 S.Ct. 1740 (2011), which it summarized as holding that “a state law that ‘classif[ied] most collective-arbitration waivers in consumer contracts as unconscionable[,]” and thus unenforceable, was preempted by the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA).’” Although the pre-Concepcion decision out of the same court of appeals found the agreement unenforceable, Concepcion caused this court to reverse its earlier decision and now uphold the agreement in its most recent opinion.
The bottom-line of this decision is that forced arbitration agreements that preclude consumers from bringing their claims in court, before a jury, regardless of whether its is brought as a class action or an individual claim, can be forced into privately held, confidential arbitration proceedings without the ability to raise the claims on behalf of all similarly harmed consumers. This will tend to preclude small dollar claims from ever being enforced to the benefit of unscrupulous businesses.

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