Arbitrator Was a Conspirator, Classes Claim

     MINNEAPOLIS (CN) – Two RICO antitrust class actions accuse the National Arbitration Forum of conspiring with American Express, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and other major credit card companies to make it difficult or impossible for consumers to get fair resolutions of disputes.

     The classes claim the banks steered customers to the Forum, and the defendants’ intimate relationship made the arbitration process biased against consumers and “heavily in favor of creditors.”
     Plaintiffs cite a California lawsuit against the Forum that claimed that less than 0.2 percent of the disputes it arbitrated in a 4-year period ruled in favor of the consumer.
     The state of Minnesota sued the Forum this month in Hennepin County Court, making similar allegations. The class claims that “In less than a week, the Forum settled with the Minnesota AG, agreeing to stop arbitrating, taking part in processing, or administering any new consumer arbitrations anywhere in the United States, including any arbitration involving consumer debt, such as credit cards, consumer loans, utilities, telecommunications, health care and consumer leases. …
     “This immediate capitulation by the Forum speaks volumes, no matter what the Forum says were its reasons for this decision,” the class claims. “The Forum’s arbitration business was extremely lucrative, bringing in millions of dollars a year. The Forum would never have agreed to cease that business if it thought it had a reasonable chance of its business being found lawful.”
     Defendants include MBNA, Wachovia, Capital One, J.P. MorganChase, Citigroup and Discover Card. Also sued are Accretive LLC, a hedge fund affiliated with the Forum; Agora, a private equity fund owned by Accretive; and Axiant LLC, a debt collection agency formed by Accretive.
     The class demands damages for breach of contract, tortious interference, consumer fraud, antitrust conspiracy and other claims. Both classes are represented by Daniel Gustafson with Gustafson Gluek.

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