The Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit recently remanded a case to the district court for full consideration of a request to compel arbitration, finding the lower court’s order “inconsistent with the emphatic federal policy in favor of” arbitration. The plaintiff, Dillon, sued several banks which were allegedly “complicit” in effectuating illegal payday loans by processing transfers on behalf of the lenders (tribal and out-of-state). The district court denied the banks’ initial motion to enforce arbitration clauses contained in the original loan agreements because the banks failed to provide authenticating evidence. When the banks renewed their motions to cure that deficiency by providing such evidence, the district court construed the motions as reconsideration motions, and denied them.
On appeal, the court analyzed the lower court’s perfunctory reasoning in construing the renewed motions as seeking reconsideration. The court rejected the idea that the banks only had one opportunity to invoke the Federal Arbitration Act’s enforcement mechanisms. Only when the party “is in default in proceeding with” arbitration does the Act foreclose the chance of obtaining a stay under its mechanisms. The court also distinguished the underlying issues presented by the initial and renewed motions to reject the notion that the law of the case doctrine justified denial. The district court’s ruling on the initial motions spoke to whether the pleadings established arbitrability did not, as law of the case, determine the renewed motions’ issue of whether Dillon consented to arbitration in the first place. The district court was instructed to, on remand, determine whether the claims are within the scope of the original loan agreement’s arbitration clause, and whether the banks forfeited those rights because they are “in default in proceeding” with arbitration. Dillon v. BMO Harris Bank, N.A., No. 14-1728 (4th Cir. May 29, 2015).