Ninth Circuit Enforces Student Loan Arbitration Agreement


On April 11, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, sitting en banc, held that a national bank could compel arbitration of a dispute involving student loans. Kilgore v. KeyBank, Nat’l Ass’n, No. 09-16703, 2013 WL 1458876 (9th Cir. Apr. 11, 2013). Former students of a failed flight-training school filed a class action in state court seeking broad injunctive relief against the bank that originated their student loans and the loan servicer. However, each of the students had executed a promissory note containing a provision requiring arbitration and prohibiting arbitration of claims on a class action basis. The bank removed the action to federal district court and moved to compel arbitration. The district court denied the motion and subsequently granted the bank’s motion to dismiss the claims. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit held that the arbitration provision was enforceable under the Federal Arbitration Act and that it was not substantively or procedurally unconscionable under state law. The court further held that the plaintiffs’ claims were not exempt from the FAA under the “public injunction” exception because the bank’s alleged statutory violations already ceased, the class affected by the alleged practices is small, and there is no real prospective benefit to the public at large from the relief sought. The court vacated the district court’s dismissal of the students’ claims, reversed the denial of the bank’s motion to compel arbitration, and remanded with instructions to the district court to compel arbitration.

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