On December 27, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued an opinion affirming the district court’s decision to deny the defendants’ request to compel arbitration against plaintiffs who elected to participate in the defendants’ administration of California’s “Bad Check Diversion Program” (BCD Program). The order is the result of two consolidated appeals from separate district court orders related to a putative class action lawsuit claiming that the defendants violated the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) and California Unfair Competition Law in their administration of the BCD Program. The BCD Program, administered by private entities in agreement with a local district attorney, provides consumers accused of writing bad checks the opportunity for deferred prosecution. Under the BCD Program, the defendants sent notices on official district attorney letterhead offering the plaintiffs the chance to avoid criminal prosecution under California’s bad check statute if they participated in the BCD Program and paid specified fees. The notices also included an arbitration clause. In the class action lawsuit, plaintiffs alleged that defendants violated the law by misleading plaintiffs into thinking law enforcement sent the letters and by allegedly including false threats in the letters that implied that failure to pay would result in arrest or imprisonment.
In response to the lawsuit, defendants filed a motion under California’s Anti-SLAPP law, which protects defendants from strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPP), to strike the plaintiffs’ state law claims as well as a motion to compel arbitration pursuant to the arbitration clause in the notices. With respect to the defendant’s motion to compel arbitration, the panel opined that the BCD Program is not subject to Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) provisions because it is “an agreement between a criminal suspect and the local authorities about how to resolve a potential state-law criminal violation” rather than a “private or commercial contract.” In response to the defendants’ Anti-SLAPP motion, the appellate panel concluded that it “lacked jurisdiction to review the district court’s denial of defendants’ Anti-SLAPP motion because, under the terms of the state statute, such a denial in a case deemed [by the lower court] to be filed in the public interest is not immediately appealable.”
The panel remanded to the district court for further proceedings.