California Supreme Court’s McGill Decision Creates Confusion Over the Enforceability of Arbitration Clauses That Limit Public Injunctive Relief

In McGill v. Citibank, N.A., the California Supreme Court unanimously held that arbitration clauses that waive the right to seek public injunctive relief in any forum are contrary to public policy and therefore unenforceable under California law. The decision is significant, as it potentially limits the type of the relief that is subject to arbitration. It also raises questions regarding the Federal Arbitration Act’s (“FAA”) preemption of California’s so-called Broughton-Cruz rule, which holds that agreements to arbitrate claims for public injunctive relief under the California’s Consumers Legal Remedies Act (“CLRA”), unfair competition law (“UCL”), or the false advertising law are unenforceable in California. Overall, however, the case raises more questions regarding the enforceability of arbitration clauses than it resolves. Plaintiff Sharon McGill (“McGill”) opened a credit card account with Citibank, N.A. (“Citibank”) and purchased a “credit protector” plan (“Plan”) for a monthly premium, which deferred certain credit balances when a qualifying event, such as unemployment, occurred. Although McGill’s original credit card agreement did not contain an arbitration provision, Citibank sent McGill notices in 2001 and 2005 which stated that all claims were subject to arbitration, regardless of the remedy sought, and waived the cardholder’s right to bring any claims on...