Earlier this year, the District Court of Appeal of the Third District of Florida held that an arbitration clause of a load agreement, containing a class action waiver, was not void as being against public policy, by being contrary to the remedies provided by the Florida Consumer Collection Practices Act (FCCPA).
The issue in Baldwin v. Regions Financial Corp., 2012 WL 4094147 (Fla. 3d DCA 2012) revolved around the granting of a motion to compel arbitration, by Regions. Baldwin obtained a car loan from Regions Bank. The loan documents contained an arbitration clause, which provided that either party could choose to arbitrate any dispute between them, and if the dispute is arbitrated, then Baldwin waived his right to a join in a class action.
Baldwin’s original complaint and the dispute that all this arose around Regions sending Baldwin and other debtors envelopes with the words “Consumer Collections” printed on the outside. Under the FCCPA, a company who seeks to collect a debt may not mail communications to a debtor in an envelope with any words on the outside that are calculated to embarrass the debtor. Baldwin claimed that the words “Consumer Collections” were intended to embarrass him and filed a complaint.
Regions chose, in accordance with the loan agreement, to compel arbitration. Baldwin claimed that the arbitration clause was in violation of the remedies provided by the FCCPA. He claimed that the FCCPA allowed for $2,000 of statutory damages if the claim was brought as a class action, as opposed to an individual action, where there is a $1,000 cap on damages. Baldwin also argued that allowing such punitive damages and other equitable relief under the FCCPA was greater in a class action claim, and therefore he was entitled to choose the class action over the individual claim.
The court disagreed with these two arguments. The FCCPA provides that actions filed by individuals allow for the plaintiff to recover “additional statutory damages” not exceeding $1000. Similarly, actions filed as a class, with the class prevailing, provide the named plaintiff with “additional statutory damages up to $1,000.” and all remaining class members may receive “an aggregate award of additional statutory damages up to the lesser of $500,000 or 1% of the defendant’s net worth,” however “the aggregate award may not provide an individual class member with additional damages in excess of $1,000.”
They finally cited that the aggregate award to any individual class members may not collect “an aggregate award… with additional damages in excess of $1,000.” The court held that the statute applied uniformly to actions brought in either class action or as individual action. Basically, the court stated that regardless of whether the action is filed individually or as a class action, the “additional statutory damages” are capped at $1,000. The court also stated that the clause providing for the award of punitive damages and equitable relief also applied equally to a class action or individual claims.