In Perez v. Discover Bank, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a district court order denying a motion to compel arbitration of the plaintiff’s discrimination claims, finding that the mandatory arbitration provisions included in student and consolidation loan agreements signed by the plaintiff did not require arbitration. The plaintiff is a recipient of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program who applied for a student loan in 2010 from Citibank to attend graduate school. The loan agreement with Citibank included an arbitration agreement providing that the parties “could elect binding arbitration for any claims ‘arising out of or in connection with [the] loan.’” In October 2011, Citibank acquired ownership of the plaintiff’s note. In 2018, the plaintiff submitted a loan application for a Discover Bank consolidation loan, which extinguished the original student loan. The application for the consolidation loan included an arbitration provision, and a provision permitting the plaintiff to opt out of the arbitration provision within 30 days after consummation of the loan. The plaintiff did not opt out because she believed her loan application was rejected.
The plaintiff then filed a discrimination action in district court alleging that she was told by a representative of the bank that she could not refinance her loan because she was not a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident. Discover filed a motion to compel arbitration, which was initially granted by the district court when the plaintiff did not confirm she wanted to opt out of the arbitration agreement. However, after the plaintiff informed the court that she wished to opt out of the agreement and filed a motion for reconsideration, the district court reversed its order requiring the plaintiff to arbitrate her discrimination-based claims, rejecting Discover’s argument that the opt-out provision did not apply to the discrimination claims because that claim had accrued before the plaintiff elected to opt out.
On appeal to the Ninth Circuit, Discover argued that both agreements required arbitration of the plaintiff’s discrimination claims. After recognizing the de novo standard of review of a district court’s order denying a motion to compel arbitration, the court found the positions taken by Discover during the hearing in the district court and on appeal were inconsistent, and Discover was judicially estopped from arguing that the plaintiff’s opt out of the arbitration agreement did not apply to her discrimination claims. The court then found the parties “never formed an agreement to arbitrate [the plaintiff’s] discrimination claims via the Citibank agreement,” and affirmed the district court’s order denying the motion to compel arbitration.
Perez v. Discover Bank, No. 22-15322 (9th Cir. July 24, 2023).