National Arbitration Forum
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The National Arbitration Forum (NAF), founded in 1986, provides arbitration and mediation services to businesses, based at its Minneapolis, Minnesota headquarters and offices in New Jersey. In 2009, the National Arbitration Forum ceased administration of new consumer arbitrations as part of a consent decree with Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson concerning the NAF's ties with debt collection firms. The company maintains a panel of over 1,600 arbitrators and mediators who are attorneys and former judges located across the United States and in 35 countries around the world. Panelists arbitrate and mediate the disputes.
The NAF was founded in 1986 as a subsidiary of another company, Equilaw, which subsequently went bankrupt in 1994. NAF survived the bankruptcy and appears to have grown rapidly in recent years. The NAF and Lawyers Associated Worldwide (LAW) work together on an international level. The National Arbitration Forum is located in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Domain name disputes
An approved domain name dispute program provider for ICANN, the NAF has administered over 10,000 domain name disputes since 1999. The number of domain name disputes administered is on the rise, up 143 cases from 2006 to 2007. The NAF deals predominantly with registered domain names that are abused by parties who have no legitimate rights to them. Some of the famous trademarks involved in NAF domain name dispute resolutions include Los Angeles Angels, Disney, Hershey's Kisses, Jimmy Buffett, and Univision.
Consumer advocacy groups and attorneys frequently claim that the National Arbitration Forum is the most biased against consumers of the major arbitration organizations.
In its June 16, 2008 cover story, Business Week published an in-depth look at credit collection arbitrations at NAF. The story describes how NAF markets itself to collection lawyers and then works with them in ways that raise questions about its impartiality.
Public Citizen study
In 2007, non-profit consumer advocacy group Public Citizen announced the results of an eight-month examination into the credit card industry's use of pre-dispute binding mandatory arbitration based on 33,948 cases in the National Arbitration Forum’s California records. The study focused on California because its public disclosure laws made such evaluation possible.
In its report, Public Citizen found that 99.6% of the cases brought before the National Arbitration Forum in California were initiated by businesses—either credit card companies or debt collectors—with only 118 cases initiated by consumers. Public Citizen wrote that arbitrators, who routinely earn $400 an hour and may earn as much as $1 million a year, have "a strong financial incentive to rule in favor of companies...because those companies are their most loyal customers." In 94% of the cases they evaluated, the business won.
Public Citizen indicated that the NAF itself selected arbitrators to serve and noted that the 28 arbitrators selected to address 90% of NAF cases in California ruled for businesses 94% of the time. A less active group of 120 arbitrators found for businesses 86%, consumers 10%. Public Citizen cited a Harvard law professor who had resigned as an arbitrator from the NAF due to what she described as an "apparent systematic bias in favor of the financial services industry" after she had been blackballed for ruling for the consumer in a business-initiated case.
Public Citizen identified two other issues of concern to the agency about NAF proceedings, that fees and advance notice were required to obtain written explained decisions and that the procedure limits the ability of parties to discover information as they could in court or to appeal the outcome.
According to a July 2008 Navigant analysis of the Public Citizen data, 26,665 arbitrations out of a total of 33,948 arbitrations were either heard or dismissed (i.e. excluding settlements). According to the analysis, of these 26,665 arbitrations, consumer parties were reported to have prevailed outright or had the case against them dismissed in 8,558 cases (32.1%). In an additional 4,376 cases (16.4%), the arbitrator did not award the full amount demanded by the business.
In March 2010, a study of the National Arbitration Forum's record of panelist appointments for domain name disputes was published. It raised concern that a small handful of the NAF's roster panelists were appointed to hear disproportionately many cases. In one instance, a single panelist was appointed to hear 949 cases, or about 10% of all NAF domain name dispute cases ever heard. In August 2012, the study was updated and it showed a continued concentration of panellists appointments wherein seven NAF-selected panelists were appointed to hear nearly half of all cases.
Legislation and lawsuits against NAF
City of San Francisco lawsuit
In March 2008, the City of San Francisco filed a lawsuit against the National Arbitration Forum on behalf of its citizens, accusing the arbitrator of unfairly favoring credit card companies in disputes with their customers. The city alleged that the NAF was practicing unethically and wrongly with such specific concerns as ignoring evidence, inflating awards and declining hearing requests by consumers. The lawsuit said that between January 2003 and March 2007, consumers won 0.2% of the 18,075 arbitration cases in California that were not dropped, settled or otherwise dismissed.
Businessweek's allegations of bias
In June 2008, Businessweek made broad claims of NAF's bias in favor of consumer creditors and hidden conflict of interest. According to the article, NAF markets itself to consumer credit providers, collection agencies and law firms.
In April 2009 an ex-employee filed suit against NAF "for employment discrimination, deceptive trade practices and consumer fraud." The suit said that "During the course of plaintiff’s employment at defendants, she witnessed fraudulent and corrupt practices in the administration of arbitration cases."
Minnesota Attorney General lawsuit
On July 14, 2009, the Minnesota Attorney General brought a lawsuit against the National Arbitration Forum for consumer fraud, deceptive trade and false statements in advertising. Key to their complaint was allegations that the NAF had deliberately hidden its ties to the businesses it represented and actively encouraged their naming as mandatory arbitrators in contracts. The National Arbitration Forum countered that its arbitrators were independent practitioners, which ensured that its arbitration was impartial. However, citing legal costs, the National Arbitration Forum agreed the week after the filing to stop accepting consumer debt collection cases for arbitration.
- American Arbitration Association
- Arbitration in the United States
- Alternative dispute resolution
- Dispute resolution
- National Academy of Arbitrators
- Berner, Robert (2009-07-19). "Big Arbitration Firm Pulls Out of Credit Card Business". Business Week. Retrieved 3 March 2013.
- National Arbitration Forum : Locations
- Domain Mangazine
- Lawyers world wide
- DN Forum
- Business Week
- MacLeery, Laura (October 11, 2007). "New Public Citizen Report Shows that Credit Card Companies Set an Arbitration Trap to Ensnare Consumers". Public Citizen. Retrieved 18 December 2013.
- Institute for Legal Reform
- Domain Name Dispute Stats Reveal Concern Over Panelist Appointment
- Dnattorney.com web site
- DNattorney.com Domain Name Dispute Study, August, 2012
- Berner, Robert; Grow, Brian (June 4, 2008). "Banks vs. Consumers (Guess Who Wins)". Bloomberg Businessweek. Retrieved 18 December 2013.
- "National Arbitration Forum case". San Francisco City Attorney. Retrieved 18 December 2013.
- Businessweek``, 5 June 2008, 
- Counterpunch, 20 July 2009, Judicial Apartheid: Heralded by the Supreme Court as Fair, Vast Private Judicial System Exposed as Fraud
- Swanson, Lori (July 14, 2009). "State of Minnesota v. National Arbitration Forum, et al. Complaint". State of Minnesota. Retrieved 18 December 2013.
- Weiss, Debra Cassens (July 15, 2009). "Minn. AG Sues Credit Card Arbitration Company, Claims Hidden Industry Ties". ABA Journal. Retrieved 18 December 2013.
- "Minnesota lawsuit claims credit card arbitration firm has ties to industry". USA Today. July 15, 2009. Retrieved 18 December 2013. Unknown parameter
- Abeska, Timothy J. (December 2, 2013). "Two Recent Cases Address What Happens When the Arbitral Forum Selected by the Parties is Not Available". National Law Review. Retrieved 18 December 2013.
- "State of Minnesota v. National Arbitration Forum et al., Consent Judgment". Voice of San Diego. 17 July 2009. Retrieved 18 December 2013.
- Suit accuses credit card service firm; S.F. city attorney alleges bias for debt collectors in arbitration
- TLPJ Charges National Arbitration Forum with Violating CA Disclosure Law
- Neutrality Questions Continue to Dog Arbitration Firm
- National Arbitration Forum's Wall of Secrecy Crumbling
- Public Citizen Report, The Arbitration Trap: How Credit Card Companies Ensnare Consumers
- National Arbitration Forum Website
- California Consumer Arbitration Data
- National Arbitration Forum Press Release Claims That New Study Demonstrates That Arbitration Offers Benefits for Consumers
- PPT National Arbitration Forum: California Consumer Arbitration Data
- Dnattorney.com web site