Gingras v. Think Finance

Consumer Justice
Court Procedure, Jurisdiction, and Forum
Qualified Immunity and Sovereign Immunity
Case Description: 

The plaintiffs in this case filed suit for monetary and injunctive relief against the operators of an alleged predatory payday lending scheme in which private investors whose payday lending business had been shut down by the FTC enlisted a native American tribe to set up an entity through which they would make loans over the internet nationwide. The plaintiffs in this case are Vermont residents who claim that the payday loans violate Vermont usury and consumer protection laws as well as federal laws including the RICO statute. The defendants include tribal members who are officers of the tribal entity that nominally made the loans; the tribal defendants have claimed tribal sovereign immunity against the plaintiffs’ claims against them, which are limited to claims for injunctive relief. All the defendants also have asserted that the claims are subject to arbitration under arbitration clauses included in the loan agreements. The U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont rejected those and other arguments made by the defendants in support of the dismissal of the actions, and the defendants appealed the rulings denying immunity and denying their motion to compel arbitration. Public Citizen submitted an amicus curiae brief to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit arguing that (1) tribal immunity does not bar claims for injunctive relief against tribal officers alleged to have violated state laws outside of tribal lands; and (2) the district court was correct in not requiring the plaintiffs to arbitrate their claims that the arbitration agreements are unconscionable and unenforceable. The case is fully briefed and awaiting argument.