A Washington federal judge has denied a bid by a fintech firm and a tribal corporation through which the firm ran a payday lending business to force into arbitration a suit over exorbitant interest rates, ruling that arbitration clauses in agreements borrowers signed are invalid. The judge said the unclear loan contract language seems to intend that the tribal law of North Dakota’s Turtle Mountain band of Chippewa Indians should apply — to the exclusion of federal and state law — but he ruled that the agreement goes against public policy and cannot be upheld because it forms a substantive waiver of federal statutory rights.
The complaint alleges that the defendants’ scheme runs a payday lending business called Spotloan, operated through the tribal corporation BlueChip Financial, without being subject to federal and state law. The plaintiff alleged that the loan’s marketing infrastructure and underwriting were provided entirely by the fintech firm even though the loans were made in the name of Spotloan and the tribal entity. The loan agreements stated they would be governed by the tribe’s laws despite the tribe having no control over their financing or underwriting, the complaint said.
The complaint accuses the defendants of violating Washington usury laws — which allow just 12 percent annual interest — consumer protection laws and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. The suit seeks a declaration that the loans are usurious and to recover damages for the proposed classes, which are estimated to each have thousands of members.
This blog is intended to provide information to the general public and to practitioners about developments that may impact Oregon class actions.