ACSBlog

  • August 26, 2014
    Guest Post

    By Archis A. Parasharami, litigation partner at Mayer Brown, and James Tierney, litigation associate at Mayer Brown

    *This post originally appeared on Class Defense

    In the three years since AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, courts have largely been rejecting substantive attacks on arbitration agreements that waive class actions. By contrast, in some cases plaintiffs have succeeded in avoiding arbitration by arguing that they never agreed to it in the first place.

    The latest case to address such questions of contract formation comes from the Ninth Circuit, which held last week in Nguyen v. Barnes & Noble, Inc. that  plaintiff Kevin Nguyen had not agreed to arbitration because he and similarly situated consumers lacked sufficient notice of the company’s online “browsewrap” terms of use. Because the Ninth Circuit applied New York law governing contract formation—and because the court indicated that it would have come to the same conclusion under California law—the decision is an important one for all businesses that engage in online commerce in the United States.

    In the opinion, the Ninth Circuit distinguished between the familiar “clickwrap” process—in which a user affirmatively accepts terms by, for example, clicking “I agree” after receiving notice of the terms—and “browsewrap,” in which a company makes the relevant terms available to users on the web site (usually by providing a hyperlink), but does not require a customer to record his or her assent to the terms.

    In Nguyen, each page on Barnes and Noble’s web site included a link to the applicable terms of use. If followed, the link would direct a user to the terms, which provided that a user accepts the terms by “visiting any area in the Barnes & Noble.com Site, creating an account, [or] making a purchase.” The terms, among other things, provided that parties would resolve their disputes by arbitration on an individual basis.

    In determining whether Nguyen had agreed to those terms, the court of appeals focused on whether he had received “reasonable notice” of them. The court pointed out that Nguyen was not “required to affirmatively acknowledge the Terms of Use before completing his online purchase” —the “clickwrap” model.  Nor was there “any evidence in the record that Nguyen had actual notice of the Terms of Use.” The court said, however, that if there had been “actual notice”—presumably meaning proof that the plaintiff had in fact read (or at minimum was aware of) the terms—“the outcome of this case might be different,” because “courts have consistently enforced browsewrap agreements where the user had actual notice of the agreement.”

    But in the absence of “actual notice,” the Ninth Circuit  held, “the validity of the browsewrap agreement turns on whether the website puts a reasonably prudent user on inquiry notice of the terms of the contract.” The answer to that question depends on website “design and content,” including the “conspicuousness and placement of the ‘Terms of Use’ hyperlink” and other design characteristics. Browsewrap agreements will not be enforceable, according to the court of appeals, when the hyperlink is “buried at the bottom of the page or tucked away in obscure corners of the website where users are unlikely to see it.” In the court’s view, “consumers cannot be expected to ferret out hyperlinks to terms and conditions to which they have no reason to suspect they will be bound.”

    Certainly not every court would agree with the Ninth Circuit’s approach to “browsewrap” agreements. As the court itself admitted, Barnes & Noble’s web site provided a “conspicuous hyperlink” to the terms of use “on every page of the website”—and in some places, the “link appears either directly below the relevant button a user must click on to proceed in the checkout process or just a few inches away.” While the Ninth Circuit held that even this degree of notice is insufficient under California and New York law, the decisions of other courts suggest that they would take a different approach.

    Nonetheless, Nguyen is likely to have a significant impact on the enforceability of online contracts, both in the Ninth Circuit and elsewhere. Accordingly, businesses may wish to consider reviewing their online contracting processes; in many cases, it may be relatively straightforward to adopt changes that satisfy the Nguyen court’s concerns.

  • August 26, 2014

    by Caroline Cox

    Matt Ford writes in The Atlantic on a new lawsuit in Oklahoma that seeks to require the state to record every death sentence it carries out.

    Allie Grasgreen raises questions in Politico on the influx of military-grade weapons given to university police.

    Katrina vanden Heuvel argues in The Washington Post against the threats to freedom of the press seen in Ferguson and Justice Department actions.

    In FiveThirtyEight, Ben Casselman profiles Ferguson, arguing that its economic and racial conditions are the norm rather than an outlier.

    Lyle Denniston provides a reading of the Supreme Court’s signals on same-sex marriage for SCOTUSblog

  • August 25, 2014

    by Caroline Cox

    In 2013, the Supreme Court severely weakened the Voting Rights Act of 1965 with its  decision in Shelby County v. Holder. In a discussion of the post-Shelby era at the 2014 ACS National Convention, Gilda Daniels, Associate Professor of Law at the University of Baltimore School of Law, offered both hope for and a realistic take on the challenges facing those who are working to protect voting rights.

    Daniels has made her career as a voting rights expert with over a decade of experience bringing cases on provisions of the Voting Rights Amendment and other statutes. As a former deputy chief in the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, Voting Section, Daniels recognizes Shelby’s immense impact on voting laws in the United States. More restrictive voting laws have already appeared throughout the country, and the legal means to challenge discrimination in voting are too costly both in terms of time and money to be the solution. “It’s very similar to what happened during Reconstruction,” Daniels remarked. “You pulled the protections, and you got massive voter suppression, and I am afraid that can happen in this generation.”

    Daniels argued that powerful advocates are the key to protecting voting rights. While the Voting Rights Act Amendment is a good start, “it still leaves a gulf between what is needed and what’s being proposed,” according to Daniels. The new landscape of voting offers new opportunities to speak to the importance of this right and challenge discrimination. “We have to be more creative about how we fashion the narrative, how we talk about voting rights, how we put our cases together, where we file our cases so we can start regaining ground we have lost,” Daniels explained. Even reminders that voter registration matters, Daniels argued, can be an important step to tipping the scales in favor of voting rights again.

    Watch the brief interview with Gilda Daniels below or here. For information about the VRAA see this ACS Issue Brief

  • August 25, 2014

    by Caroline Cox

    Sean McElwee writes for Salon on the evidence outside of Ferguson that shows the United States is far from a post-racial society.

    In Vox, Julia Belluz and Steven Hoffman discuss how race is a major factor even in healthcare quality in the United States. 

    Jon Healey explains in the Los Angeles Times the means by which the Obama administration is trying to save the contraception mandate. 

    Jamelle Bouie writes for Slate on the different goals of the white and black communities in Ferguson.

    ThinkProgress’s Ian Millhiser explains how Florida will stay gerrymandered despite challenges to the state’s congressional maps.

  • August 22, 2014

    by Jeremy Leaming

    In a class society burdened by festering economic inequality and too many lawmakers bent on cutting funding for civil legal aid, the struggle for an accessible justice system can appear insurmountable.

    But some new research emerging from Voices for Civil Justice and the Public Welfare Foundation, indicates that a growing number in the legal profession do care about a justice system that is inclusive -- not one that caters solely to the well-off.

    The groups commissioned polling work by Lake Research Partners and The Tarrance Group, and among the information they are making public now shows that a “strong majority of lawyers – 59 percent – indicate a previous or current involvement with civil legal aid as donors or volunteers.”

    The research, which will be released in its entirety in September, also reveals that 65 percent of lawyers “express initial support for increasing government funding for civil legal aid.”

    Beyond the debilitating effects of the Great Recession, a rapidly growing number of unaccompanied children arriving, many along the U.S.-Mexico border, are facing deportation with no legal representation – or very little. As Voices for Civil Justice and Public Welfare Foundation note there are groups within the legal community that see the injustice of the situation and are striving to do something about it.

    Reporting on the uptick of unaccompanied migrants, Rick Jervis of USA Today notes that the Obama administration is urging Congress to authorize “$3.7 billion in emergency funding, which includes $45 million for new judges plus funding for legal aid for children ….” Jervis continues, however, that conservative lawmakers “have balked at the proposal. They want to make it easier to send the youths back.”

    But Jonathan Ryan, head of the Texas-based Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, highlights the injustice of denying legal aid to unaccompanied children.