This case involves a class action filed in a Virginia district court against Delbert Services Corporation, the servicing agent of certain loans, for which the plaintiffs claimed that Delbert’s unfair debt collection practices violated federal law. The lender was Western Sky Financial, LLC, an online lender owned by a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and located on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Delbert sought to compel arbitration in response to the plaintiffs’ claims.

The loan agreements at issue required resolution of all disputes through arbitration, but stated that the agreement was “subject solely to the exclusive laws and jurisdiction of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe” and that “[n]either this Agreement nor Lender is subject to the laws of any state of the United States of America”.

The Virginia district court upheld the arbitration clause in the loan agreements. However, although recognizing that the FAA establishes a liberal policy favoring arbitration agreements, the Fourth Circuit reversed the district court’s ruling, holding that the arbitration clause was unenforceable. The Court noted that “[t]he agreement purportedly fashions a system of alternative dispute resolution while simultaneously rendering that system all but impotent through a categorical rejection of the requirements of state and federal law. The FAA does not protect the sort of arbitration agreement that unambiguously forbids an arbitrator from even applying the applicable law.” The Fourth Circuit further noted that parties are free within bounds to select a choice of law clause, but that Delbert was seeking to use the arbitration process to avoid state and federal law.

Hayes v. Delbert Services Corp., No. 15-1170 (9th Cir. Feb. 2, 2016).