On April 7, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit upheld a district court’s ruling compelling individual arbitration in five separate putative class action suits concerning allegations that a national bank’s overdraft practices violated the covenant of good faith and fair dealing. The opinion does not address plaintiffs’ claims concerning the bank’s alleged overdraft practices, but rather reviews the enforceability of arbitration clauses contained in account agreements between plaintiffs and the bank (or its predecessor), which require individual, non-class arbitration of consumer account-related disputes. The plaintiffs appealed a ruling by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida that the account agreements “delegate to the arbitrator all questions of arbitrability, including Plaintiffs’ challenge to the enforceability of the arbitration clause,” and that it is up to the arbitrator, and not the court, to determine whether the parties are required to arbitrate. According to the plaintiffs, the arbitration clause is illusory and/or unconscionable and therefore unenforceable. They challenged, among other things, that “the incorporation of the [American Arbitration Association] (AAA) rules cannot overcome the plain language of the delegation clause,” which the plaintiffs argued limited delegation of gateway issues to those related to a disagreement about the meaning of the arbitration agreement or whether a disagreement is a “dispute” subject to binding arbitration.”
The appellate court disagreed, concluding that nothing in the account agreement with the bank “explicitly excludes or contradicts” anything included in the AAA rules, and that it has repeatedly held that an agreement that incorporates “AAA rules with language providing that ‘the arbitrator shall have the power to rule on his or her own jurisdiction,’” shows “a clear and unmistakable intent that the arbitrator should decide all questions of arbitrability.” Moreover, the 11th Circuit found no inconsistency in the account agreement’s language, holding that when “[r]ead together, we view the incorporation and delegation clause as ‘mutually reinforcing methods of delegation.’” With respect to the predecessor bank’s agreement, which does not contain a delegation provision, the appellate court ultimately determined that the arbitration clause was neither illusory and/or unconscionable.