Non-profit files FOIA request for CFPB arbitration rule records

The Cause of Action Institute (“CoA Institute”) has filed an action against the CFPB under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) seeking access to records the CFPB has maintained relating to the Bureau’s arbitration study and rulemaking that is designed to prohibit the use of mandatory binding pre-dispute arbitration clauses in financial services contracts.

In the complaint, CoA Institute described itself as “a non-profit strategic oversight group committed to ensuring that government decision-making is open, honest, and fair.” CoA Institute further explains that the purpose for filing the FOIA request is “to educate the public about how CFPB formulated its proposed anti-arbitration rule and conducted the Arbitration Study.”

On April 13, 2016, CoA Institute sent a multi-item FOIA request to the CFPB requesting “All records by or between CFPB employees regarding the Arbitration Study and/or the Proposed Ban.” On May 25, 2016, the Bureau responded that their records search located “a voluminous amount of records (over 20,000).” To ease the Bureau’s burden, CoA Institute filed a new FOIA request on June 17, 2016 that narrowed the scope of the request to records that contained specific search terms.

On September 15, 2016, the CFPB issued a final determination indicating that it located a total of 3,554 pages of responsive records. The Bureau stated that it would produce, in whole or in part, roughly half of those records but would withhold the remaining 1,877 pages in full. In its determination, the CFPB specified the FOIA exemptions on which it was relying to withhold responsive records. On October 12, 2016, CoA Institute appealed the Bureau’s final determination. On November 9, 2016, the Bureau denied CoA Institute’s appeal in full.

In the complaint, CoA Institute alleges that the CFPB violated FOIA because under the FOIA, “agencies are required to produce all responsive records” and that the Bureau improperly applied various FOIA exemptions in order to withhold records and information.

The comment period on the CFPB’s proposed arbitration rule closed on August 22, 2016. The CFPB’s Fall 2016 Agenda estimates that the final rule will be issued in February 2017.

Tags: Arbitration, CFPB Rulemaking, FOIA

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