An industry group's analysis of arbitration data provided by National Arbitration Forum Inc. has yielded wildly different conclusions from one conducted by the consumer advocacy group that first crunched the numbers.
National Arbitration Forum, which consumer advocates have accused of being biased toward lenders and debt collectors, defended its practices Tuesday by praising a study the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for Legal Reform released July 15.
That study, conducted by Navigant Consulting Inc., was based on the same data analyzed in September by the Washington consumer group Public Citizen. Both reports examined the 34,000 cases referred to National Arbitration Forum in California between 2003 and 2007.
Public Citizen said businesses won arbitration cases handled by the company 94% of the time, but the Institute for Legal Reform said consumers prevailed in 32.1% of the cases.
Taylor Lincoln, the research director for Public Citizen, who edited its report, said: "I don't think they got any different conclusions. I think they just tried furiously to spin the data."
Christina Doucet, a spokeswoman for the National Arbitration Forum, said the Minneapolis company had not been involved "with the methodology or the process" of the institute's report. However, it was "valuable to clear the record," she said. The report shows that "arbitration is in fact beneficial for the consumer."
Many card issuers and other consumer lenders include mandatory arbitration clauses in their contracts. Last week a bill to prohibit such clauses in consumer contracts was referred from a subcommittee to the House Judiciary Committee.
In March, the San Francisco city attorney sued National Arbitration Forum and one of its clients, Bank of America Corp.'s card unit, claiming the arbitration firm decides "in favor of the business entity and against the consumer 100% of the time." A hearing on the case is scheduled for July 31.
Public Citizen said in its report, "In the more than 19,000 cases in which an NAF-appointed arbitrator was involved, 94% of decisions were for business."
All but 118 of the 34,000 cases were brought by lenders or collection firms; after settlements and dismissals, about 19,000 cases were assigned to arbitrators. Of those, businesses won about 16,000 cases by default, because consumers did not show up for the hearings, and in almost 2,000 other cases the arbitrator ruled in favor of the business, Mr. Lincoln said.
The Institute for Legal Reform report discounted settled cases, and it counted a dismissal as a victory for the consumer. The dismissals constituted the overwhelming majority of the consumer victories, according to the report; only 30 rulings were made in favor of consumers, and those were only in cases where the consumer brought the complaint.
"When a prevailing party could be identified (26,665 cases), the consumer is named the prevailing party in 8,558 cases (30 as claimants and 8,528 dismissals), or 32.1% of the time," the report said.
Robert M. Lawless, the Galowich-Huzienga Faculty Scholar at the University of Illinois College of Law, criticized the focus on dismissals.
"These cases are being dismissed for many reasons, and the fact that the consumer's getting put as the prevailing party doesn't tell us very much," he said. "In the adjudicated arbitration, there's an overwhelming number of victories for the businesses, and that's where the concern is."
Mark Szymanski, a spokesman for the Institute for Legal Reform, which has no affiliation with National Arbitration Forum, said, "We feel that as the respondent, a dismissal is a win. That's why it's coded as the respondent is the prevailing party" for dismissals.