Arbitration Clause Of A Loan Agreement Containing A Class Action Waiver Was Not Void As Being In Violation Of Public Policy

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In Baldwin v. Regions Financial Corp., 98 So. 3d 1201 (Fla. 3d DCA 2012), the District Court of Appeal of the Third District of Florida held that an arbitration clause of a loan agreement, containing a class action waiver, was not void as being against public policy by being contrary to the remedies provided by the Florida Consumer Collection Practices Act (FCCPA).

This case arose from Baldwin’s appeal of a non-final order granting Regions’ amended motion to compel arbitration. Baldwin had obtained a vehicle loan from Regions that contained an arbitration clause. This clause provided that either party could choose to arbitrate any dispute between them, and if a dispute is arbitrated, then Baldwin waived his class action rights. Regions then sent Baldwin and other debtors envelopes with the words “Consumer Collections” printed on the outside. Pursuant to Florida Statutes section 559.72(16), a person attempting to collect a debt may not mail communications to a debtor in an envelope with any words on the outside that are calculated to embarrass the debtor. Baldwin filed a putative class action complaint against Regions alleging that the envelopes were meant to embarrass the debtors in violation of this section of the FCCPA. In accordance with the loan agreement, Regions moved to compel arbitration.

Baldwin claimed that the arbitration clause waiving the right to a class action was in violation of the remedies provided by Florida Statute section 559.77(2) of the FCCPA. He argued this section allowed for $2,000 of statutory damages if the claim was brought as a class action, but only $1,000 as an individual action. Baldwin also argued that for a class action claim, the allowance for punitive damages and other equitable relief under the FCCPA was greater than that for an individual claim.

The Court disagreed with both arguments and affirmed the order under review. The Court first cited section 559.77(2) to demonstrate that both the prevailing plaintiff in an individual action and the named plaintiff in a class action may recover additional statutory damages not exceeding $1,000. The Court further stated that the clause providing for the award of punitive damages and equitable relief applied equally to a class action or individual claims.