Midland Funding, a subsidiary of Encore Capital Group, is the world’s largest debt buyer and one of the most prolific users of Maryland’s District Court. It has filed tens of thousands of suits against Marylanders. But when one of those consumers, Mr. Cain, sued Midland Funding, Midland convinced the trial court and the intermediate appellate court to throw his case out of court and into forced arbitration on an individual basis, rather than as a class action. In a March, 2017 watershed opinion, Maryland’s highest court overruled the lower court and held that when it originally sued Mr. Cain in a collection action, Midland waived its right to compel arbitration. The Court of Appeals said:
Because Midland’s 2009 collection action is related to Cain’s claims, Midland waived its right to arbitrate the current claims hen it chose to litigate the collection action. In addition, Cain does not have to demonstrate that he suffered prejudice to establish that Midland waived the arbitration provision.
The Colorado Court of Appeals has addressed this issue in an unpublished opinion in LVNV Funding v. Ramsdale. The Colorado Court of Appeals is an “intermediate” court, meaning that, like the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, it hears appeals from trial courts, but it is not the highest court in Colorado – that is the Colorado Supreme Court.
The debt buyer in Ramsdale, LVNV, showed that it bought a portfolio of debts from Bank of America, providing bills of sale showing the assignment. However, the only evidence showing that the defendant’s account was part of that portfolio was an affidavit produced by LVNV. The affidavit was said to be based on “business records” but LVNV failed to provide those business. The Colorado Court of Appeals found that the affidavit was not enough: the records had to be produced.
The two largest debt buyers in the US, Encore Capital Group (owner of Midland Funding, LLC) and Portfolio Recovery Associates spoke with officials at the CFPB for over a year, a fact repeatedly mentioned by Encore and PRA in calls with their investors. In September, the results of those talks were announced by the CFPB.
Forced arbitration is a widespread problem for American consumers. Corporations bury complex terms in fine print, and then argue that consumers “agree” to arbitration in everyday contracts. But in general consumers have little understanding of what forced arbitration is or what rights they are “agreeing” to give up. Put simply, forced arbitration means: NO JUDGE, NO JURY, NO RIGHT OF APPEAL. Further, the arbitrator is not even required to follow the law. Forced arbitration has been called a “silver bullet” used to kill consumer lawsuits. It provides what Adam Levitin calls “bargain basement justice.”