Professor Richard Frankel said in an article published in the New York Times on June 14 that a federal court ruling that barred a car owner from using California’s lemon law to pursue a complaint against Mercedes-Benz signals a serious threat to consumer protections.
The federal judge in California upheld a claim by Mercedes-Benz that a car owner must use binding arbitration to resolve claims of a defective vehicle instead of relying on the state’s lemon law.
Lemon laws were enacted in the 1970's to give consumers tools for forcing manufacturers to replace defective cars or other goods and services. Arbitration is a private process for resolving disputes that provides consumers with less leverage and manufacturers with far more.
In the California ruling, the judge cited a 2011 U.S. Supreme Court decision in the AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion case that prevented consumers from resolving disputes against companies through class-action lawsuits and required them to submit to binding arbitration instead.
The federal judge expanded the scope of the Supreme Court ruling from the realm of class action cases into lemon laws.
“If courts are willing to do that, then I think consumer claims in general are in a lot of trouble,” Frankel said.
The founder of the law school’s Appellate Litigation Clinic, Frankel has written about arbitration in Washington University Law Review and is co-author of the legal treatise, "Consumer Arbitration Agreements."