Illinois Federal Court Orders Samsung To Defend 806 Individual BIPA Claims In Arbitration And Pay $311,000 In Arbitration Filing Fees

By Eden E. Anderson, Rebecca Bjork, and Gerald L. Maatman, Jr.

Duane Morris Takeaways: On February 15, 2024, the Judge Harry Leinenweber of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois granted a motion to compel arbitration in Hoeg et al. v. Samsung Electronics of America, Inc., Case No. 23-CV-1951 (N.D. Ill. Feb. 15, 2024),  and sent 806 individual privacy claims to arbitration and ordered Samsung to pay $311,000 to cover its share of arbitration filing fees in those matters.  The decision highlights the potential downsides of class action waivers in arbitration agreements, as well as the importance of coupling a class action waiver with a well-crafted mass arbitration provision designed to streamline arbitration proceedings and, hopefully, limit exposure and litigation costs. 

Case Background

Samsung required customers to execute agreements to binding arbitration and those agreements waive the right to pursue class claims.  The arbitration agreements provided that electronic acceptance, opening product packaging, product usage, or product retention amounted to acceptance of the arbitration agreement.

In 2022, 806 customers, all of whom alleged they had purchased and used Samsung products, filed individual arbitration actions against Samsung alleging violations of the Illinois Biometric Privacy Act (“BIPA”).  After Samsung failed to pay $311,000 in arbitration filing fees due in the matters, AAA administratively closed the cases in January 2023.  The plaintiffs then moved to compel arbitration.

The Court’s Decision

The Court granted the motion to compel arbitration and, in doing so, was highly critical of Samsung’s tactics in seeking to stall the prosecution of the claims.  The Court found that the plaintiffs alleged they purchased and used Samsung products, and thereby assented to arbitration.  While Samsung argued those allegations were conclusory and did not show the existence of agreements to arbitrate, the Court noted that Samsung’s approach “flips the evidentiary burden on its head” because, as the party opposing arbitration, it was Samsung’s burden to dispute the existence of an agreement to arbitrate. Id. at 9.

As to its failure to pay the arbitration filing fees, the Court expressed great displeasure with Samsung, noting that its “repeated failure to pay after multiple deadlines, without any showing of hardship, is a classic refusal to pay scheme in violation of Section 4” of the Federal Arbitration Act.  Id. at 15. The Court also highlighted that Samsung’s tactics had delayed plaintiffs’ prosecution of their claims for two years.  The Court further denied Samsung’s request that the matters be stayed so that it could pursue an appeal and ordered Samsung to pay the outstanding arbitration fees.

Implications Of The Decision

The Hoeg decision highlights the potential downsides of class action waivers, which have spurred the plaintiffs’ bar to pursue hundreds or even thousands of individual arbitrations all at once.  The decision also underscores the importance of adding a mass arbitration provision to an arbitration agreement.  Such a provision, if well-crafted, may serve to streamline those proceedings, facilitate resolution, and limit exposure.  Some jurisdictions have enacted laws aimed at punishing a retailer’s or employer’s failure to pay arbitration fees.  For example, in California, if arbitration fees are not timely paid, it results in a material breach of the arbitration agreement and could lead to the imposition of sanctions including “the reasonable expenses, including attorney’s fees and costs, incurred by the employee or consumer as a result of the material breach.”  (Cal. Civil Code § 1281.99.)

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The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the author and are not to be construed as legal advice.

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