Ninth Circuit Holds That a Change-of-Terms Provision Cannot Bind Parties To a New Browse-Wrap Agreement

Carlton Fields
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Carlton Fields

The Ninth Circuit recently concluded that a consumer was not bound by updated terms merely because she accessed a website that contained new terms in a “browse-wrap” agreement on the website. The court also concluded that an arbitration clause in the original “click-wrap” terms that did apply did not preclude arbitration under a California rule invalidating arbitration clauses that preclude public injunctive relief actions under the California Unfair Competition Law.

In 2014, Rachel Stover purchased a credit monitoring product called Experian Credit Score. In so doing, she assented to certain terms and conditions, including an arbitration clause requiring arbitration of any claims arising out of the transaction “to the fullest extent permitted by law” and a change-of-terms provision stating that “[e]ach time” she “accessed . . . the . . . Product Website,” she manifested to “the then-current” terms of the agreement.

Stover cancelled her subscription in 2014, but accessed the website again in 2018. The following day, she filed a putative class action in California federal court alleging violations of, inter alia, the Fair Credit Reporting Act and California’s Unfair Competition Law.

Experian moved to compel arbitration. The District Court granted that motion. It concluded that (1) the dispute was governed by Experian’s 2018 terms because the change-of-terms clause in the 2014 terms made the 2018 operative as soon as Stover logged onto the website in 2018, (2) a carve out for Fair Credit Reporting Act claims in the 2018 terms did not apply, and (3) Stover’s claims were not exempt from arbitration under the California Supreme Court’s decision in McGill v. Citibank, N.A., 393 P.3d 85, 94 (Cal. 2017), which held that “a provision in any contract . . . that purports to waive, in all fora, the statutory right to seek public injunctive relief under the [California Unfair Competition Law (UCL)] is invalid . . . .”

The Ninth Circuit affirmed on appeal, albeit on different grounds.

The court held that “[i]n order to bind parties to new terms pursuant to a change-of-terms provision, consistent with basic principles of contract law, both parties must have notice that the terms have changed and an opportunity to review the changes.” In this case, “[b]ecause Stover ha[d] not alleged that she had such an opportunity, the 2018 terms did not form a valid contract.” The court also explained “that mere inquiry notice of changed terms is [not] enough to bind the parties to them” and that “Stover had no obligation to investigate whether Experian issued new terms without providing notice to her that it had done so.” The 2014 terms applied.

The court then concluded that arbitration was not precluded by McGill. The arbitration clause in the 2014 terms provided for arbitration “to the fullest extent allowed by law.” That phrase “presumably exclude[d] claims for public injunctive relief in California.” Stover’s claims, the court explained, did not meet the Article III standing requirement for seeking public injunctive relief. As a result, “the McGill rule d[id] not excuse Stover from binding arbitration.”

Rachel Stover v. Experian Holdings, Inc., No. 19-55204 (9th Cir. Oct. 21, 2020).

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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