Kudos to MSNBC’s Red Tape Chronicles for reporting again on a quiet but important consumer issue. As the good people at Public Justice explain, the U.S. Court of Appeals reversed a federal court’s dismissal of a claim brought against a who’s who of credit card companies, claiming that they colluded to require subscribers to take to arbitration any dispute with each company. (Public Justice posted a copy of the case, Ross v. B of A in pdf; you’ll find it in the linked post.)
As I’ve noted before, the problem with arbitration clauses isn’t arbitration, as much as the limitations on claims and rights that consumers face in that forum. In credit card cases, for example, a common feature of the arbitration clause is that it prohibits class actions. When a class action ban is enforced in a credit card case, it gives free license to banks to rip off small amounts from millions of consumers. When a credit card company dings you five dollars illegally, you simply can’t afford to do anything about it by yourself. And if you’re one of five million card holders, congratulations, the bank pulled in $25 million illegally and did so simply by making it impossible for consumers to enforce their rights.
So this case–which is in the early stages–may lead to a re-balancing. After all, if the banks got together to collude in a way that prevented consumers from opting out of arbitration clauses, they should be held to answer.