Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Thomas v. American General Finance

March 23, 2009

KENNETH THOMAS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
AMERICAN GENERAL FINANCE, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Marvin E. Aspen, District Judge

MEMORANDUM ORDER AND OPINION

Plaintiff Kenneth Thomas ("Thomas") filed a complaint against Defendant American General Finance, Inc. ("American General"), alleging that American General violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act ("FCRA"), 15 U.S.C. §1681 et seq. (Compl. ¶ 1.) Thomas alleges that American General impermissibly accessed and examined his credit report and information. (Id. ¶ 8.) Presently before us is American General's Motion to Compel Arbitration and Stay Proceedings. For the reasons discussed below, we deny the motion.

BACKGROUND

Thomas alleges that on April 25, 2008, a representative of American General contacted Thomas' home and spoke with his wife, who expressed some interest in loan or credit products. (Id. ¶¶ 7-8.) Thomas maintains that he was never personally contacted or solicited regarding any loan or credit products by American General on that date or any date thereafter. (Id. ¶ 7.) Thomas alleges that, following the conversation with his wife, American General accessed his credit files and information without his consent or knowledge and without informing him of their activities. (Id. ¶ 8.) Thomas had two prior accounts with American General, which were paid of and closed prior to April 25, 2008. (Resp. at 4.) Thomas and his wife signed a separate loan agreement with an attached arbitration and waiver of jury trial agreement for each prior account. (Mem., Exs. A & B.) Specifically, the parties entered into a loan agreement with an attached arbitration agreement on July 11, 2006 ("July Agreement"). (Id., Ex. A.) The parties entered into a second loan agreement with an attached arbitration agreement on December 14, 2006 ("December Agreement"). (Id., Ex. B.) Here, the July Agreement and the December Agreement are collectively referred to as the "Agreements."

Thomas requests actual, statutory, and punitive damages, as well as reasonable costs and attorney's fees. (Compl. at 3.) Thomas further requests an order directing American General to cease any future access of Thomas' credit report without his permission and to delete all references on reports showing American General's access of his credit information. (Id. at 3.) American General now moves to compel arbitration and stay proceedings, including all discovery.

ANALYSIS

A. Federal Arbitration Act

The Federal Arbitration Act ("FAA"), 9 U.S.C. §§ 1-16, governs the application and interpretation of arbitration clauses in commercial contracts for both state and federal courts. Perry v. Thomas, 482 U.S. 483, 489, 107 S.Ct. 2520, 2525 (1987); Jain v. Mere, 51 F.3d 686, 688 (7th Cir. 1995); Gen. Elec. Co. v. Guiney Delivery Servs. Inc., No. 08 C 1618, 2008 WL 4790391, at *1 (N.D. Ill. Oct. 23, 2008). The FAA provides that "a party aggrieved by the alleged . . . refusal of another to arbitrate under a written agreement for arbitration may petition

[a] United States district court . . . for an order directing that such arbitration proceed in the manner provided for in such agreement." 9 U.S.C. § 4. The FAA directs federal courts to stay legal proceedings when a particular dispute is found to be subject to contractual arbitration. Id. § 3.

The FAA reflects a liberal policy in favor of arbitration as a means of settling disputes. Id. § 1; see Sweet Dreams Unlimited, Inc. v. Dial-A-Mattress Int'l, 1 F.3d 639, 641 (7th Cir. 1993). Despite strong federal public policy in favor of arbitration, courts ultimately interpret arbitration agreements based on the intent of the parties. Am. United Logistics, Inc. v. Catellus Dev. Corp., 319 F.3d 921, 929 (7th Cir. 2003); AGCO Corp. v. Anglin, 216 F.3d 589, 593 (7th Cir. 2000). A court cannot force a party to arbitrate a claim it has not previously agreed to arbitrate. Kiefer Specialty Flooring, Inc. v. Tarkett, 174 F.3d 907, 909 (7th Cir. 1999); Farrand v. Lutheran Bhd., 993 F.2d 1253, 1255 (7th Cir. 1993) (citing AT&T Techs., Inc. v. CWA, 475 U.S. 643, 649, 106 S.Ct. 1415, 1418 (1986)). A court also may not expand the application of an arbitration clause beyond its intended scope. Am. United Logistics, 319 F.3d at 929; AGCO Corp., 216 F.3d at 593; Int'l Bhd. of Teamsters, Local Union No. 371 v. Logistics Support Group, 999 F.2d 227, 230 (7th Cir. 1993).

Thus, when presented with a question of arbitrability, the court will defer to the parties' intent to determine: (1) whether a valid arbitration agreement exists; and (2) whether the scope of the parties' dispute falls within that agreement. Walton v. Experian, No. 02 C 5067, 2003 WL 22110788, at *1 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 9, 2003) (citing AT&T Techs., 475 U.S. at 649). Since there are no challenges to the validity of the Agreements (Resp. at 3), the sole issue before this court is whether the Agreements extend to Thomas' claim against American General.

B. Scope of the Arbitration Agreements

American General argues that the Agreements cover "all claims and disputes" between Thomas and American General. (Mem. at 1-2.) It points to a specific section in the Agreements that enumerates the covered claims and disputes. In the Agreements, this section states:

[Covered claims and disputes include,] but [are] not limited to, all claims and disputes arising out of, in connection with, or relating to: My loan from Lender today; any previous loan from Lender and any previous retail credit agreement ("Retail Contract") whether open or closed-end, assigned to Lender; all documents, promotions, advertising, actions, or omissions relating to this or any previous loan or Retail Contract made by or assigned to Lender . . . any product or service offered to Lender's customers with any assistance or involvement by Lender; whether the claim or dispute must be arbitrated; the validity and enforceability of this Arbitration Agreement and the Agreement, my understanding of them, or any defenses as to the validity and enforceability of the Agreement and this Arbitration Agreement; any negotiations between Lender and me . . . any allegation of fraud or misrepresentation; any claim based on or arising under any federal, state, or local law, statute, regulation, ordinance, or rule; . . . any claim or dispute based on any alleged tort (wrong), including intentional torts; and any claim for injunctive, declaratory, or equitable relief. (Id., Ex. A at 3 & Ex. B at 3). American General emphasizes that this section covers claims arising out of "any product or service offered to Lender's customers with any assistance or involvement by Lender" and "any claim based on or arising under any federal, state, or local law, statute, regulation, ordinance, or rule." (Reply at 6 (citing Agreements).) It also focuses on a provision in the Agreements that ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.