Recently, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit issued an opinion affirming a district court’s denial of a credit reporting company’s motion to compel arbitration in a putative class action. The Seventh Circuit considered whether a particular online process was sufficient to form a contract between the company and its customer. Sgourros v. TransUnion Corp., No. 15-1371 (7th Cir. Mar. 25, 2016). The plaintiff in the case purchased a credit score report from the company that he alleged was inaccurate—it was 100 points higher than a lender’s report—and therefore he alleged that the report was useless. The plaintiff sued the company under various state and federal consumer protection laws. The company sought to compel arbitration, arguing that the plaintiff had agreed to the terms of a service agreement that included a mandatory arbitration clause because he clicked on various acceptance buttons in the online ordering process.
In this regard, the company took the position that the plaintiff had agreed to the terms of the service agreement by clicking the “I Accept & Continue to Step 3” button. The federal district court disagreed, concluding that no contract had been formed, and the Seventh Circuit affirmed. In reviewing the matter, the appellate court found that the online presentation process was insufficient to form a contract, because the web pages did not include a clear statement that the purchase was subject to the terms and conditions of the service agreement. The court observed that no such statement appeared either in the displayed text of the agreement visible within the scroll box, or in the statement displayed below the scroll box. The company argued that there was additional language in the service agreement stating that the purchase was governed by the service agreement, and the plaintiff should be bound by that language. However, the court held that since the additional language was not readily visible unless the plaintiff scrolled the agreement or opened the printable version, it was insufficient to put him on notice that the service agreement applied to the purchase. The court also observed:
Illinois contract law requires that a website provide a user reasonable notice that his use of the site or click on a button constitutes assent to an agreement. This is not hard to accomplish, as the enormous volume of commerce on the Internet attests. A website might be able to bind users to a service agreement by placing the agreement, or a scroll box containing the agreement, or a clearly labeled hyperlink to the agreement, next to an “I Accept” button that unambiguously pertains to that agreement. There are undoubtedly other ways as well to accomplish the goal.
Accordingly, the Seventh Circuit found that no enforceable agreement to arbitrate arose between the company and the plaintiff and remanded the case to the District Court for further proceedings on the merits.