Missouri Business Headlines

Legal Foundation: Supreme Court should take up arbitration dispute

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legalfoundsquareThe Missouri Chamber Legal Foundation is asking the state’s Supreme Court to consider an important case that threatens to undermine Missouri’s arbitration system.

In a March ruling, the state’s Western District Court of Appeals ruled that H&R Block customer Manuel Lopez should be allowed to sue the company in Missouri courts over $2 and $4 compliance fees he was charged for tax return preparation services in 2011 and 2012.

H&R Block and the Missouri Chamber Legal Foundation have said that Lopez should instead be required to abide by an arbitration agreement he signed in 2011. Such agreements allow companies and individuals to settle disputes without engaging in costly litigation.

With the appeals court siding with Lopez, the legal foundation has filed a motion asking the state’s Supreme Court to take up the case. The Missouri Chamber is concerned that if the appeals ruling stands, it could threaten other arbitration agreements used in Missouri and make it more difficult for businesses to utilize this cost-saving measure.

Read the Missouri Chamber Legal Foundation's motion for leave to file suggestions.

Read the Missouri Chamber Legal Foundation’s motion for leave to file suggestions.

In his motion and suggestions to the Supreme Court, Missouri Chamber General Counsel Brian Bunten called the appeals court ruling “uniquely hostile to arbitration agreements” and said the decision “will mean that they are enforced less often.” Bunten also noted that the ruling creates more hurdles in the process, adding “expense and delay before arbitration can commence.”

He said the state’s business community, represented by the Missouri Chamber, has a valid interest in this case.

“Many of these businesses include arbitration provisions in their consumer contracts,” Bunten wrote. “These businesses rely on the speed and efficiency of arbitration to avoid the crippling costs associated with civil litigation.”

This legal battle comes as businesses in the state are already contending with an unfavorable and nationally recognized legal climate. The American Tort Reform Association calls Missouri a “Judicial Hellhole.” The U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform ranks the state’s legal climate 42 in the nation.

The Missouri General Assembly worked to address this problem during the 2016 Legislative Session, passing bills to bring greater credibility to expert witness testimony and prevent out-of-proportion injury lawsuit judgements.

Read the Missouri Chamber Legal Foundation's Suggestions of Amicus Curiae.

Read the Missouri Chamber Legal Foundation’s Suggestions of Amicus Curiae.

“The legislature made great strides this year toward moving our state forward and improving our legal climate. However, the recent appeals court ruling in Lopez v. H&R Block continues a trend of anti-business judicial decisions that threaten to push us even further back,” Bunten said. “The Missouri Chamber Legal Foundation has a compelling argument in this case to help preserve the utility of arbitration agreements. We urge the Missouri Supreme Court to take up this case and, upon considering the weight of the evidence, rule Missouri’s arbitration system must be honored.”

Watch highlights from the Lopez v. H&R Block hearing before the appeals court:

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