On August 28, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit held that a district court did not err when it denied a group of lenders’ motion to dismiss class action claims alleging that their loan agreements violated Georgia’s Payday Lending Act (PLA), the Georgia Industrial Loan Act (GILA), and state usury laws. According to the opinion, the plaintiffs entered into agreements for loans generally amounting to less than $3,000 that were to be repaid from recoveries received by the plaintiffs in their individual personal injury lawsuits. The defendants moved to dismiss the complaint and strike the class allegations, arguing that the loan agreements’ forum-selection clause required the borrowers to bring their lawsuit in Illinois, and that the class action waiver provision in the agreements prevented the plaintiffs from being able to file any class action against them. The plaintiffs maintained, however, that these provisions in the loan agreements were unenforceable because they violated Georgia public policy, and the district court agreed.
On appeal, the 11th Circuit affirmed the district court because it also concluded that the loan agreements’ forum-selection and class action waiver provisions were unenforceable as against Georgia public policy. Regarding the forum-selection clause, the appellate court held that the PLA “establish[es] a clear public policy against out-of-state lenders using forum selection clauses to avoid litigation in Georgia courts.” Regarding the class action waiver, the appellate court noted that both the PLA and the GILA specifically authorize class action suits; that the district court did not consider whether the waivers were procedurally or substantively unconscionable did not matter because the fact that the waivers violate public policy is an independent and sufficient basis to hold them unenforceable. The defendants also noted that the statutes did not prohibit class action waivers or create a statutory right to pursue class actions, but a contractual provision “need not literally conflict with Georgia law to contravene public policy.” (Citing Langford v. Royal Indemnity Co.) Instead, the appellate court agreed with the district court that “enforcement of the class action waivers in this context would eliminate a remedy contemplated by the Georgia legislature and undermine the purpose of the PLA and the GILA.”