Court of Appeals’ decision threatens access to courts

Update on September 8, 2015: The Supreme Court of Georgia accepted certification in Bickerstaff v. SunTrust Bank.

Georgia Watch and the National Consumer Law Center submitted a “friend-of-the-court” brief for consideration by the Supreme Court of Georgia in support of a challenge to the Georgia Court of Appeals’ ruling in Bickerstaff v. SunTrust Bank. The appellate court held that the named plaintiff, Jeff Bickerstaff Jr., could not exercise on behalf of putative class members an arbitration-rejection option contained in a standard form contract. This decision poses a risk to Georgia consumers by departing from long-standing class action law in Georgia and diminishing Georgia citizens’ access to the courts via class action suits.

The general rule in Georgia has always been to allow the named plaintiffs in the suit (Bickerstaff in this case at hand) to satisfy any pre-litigation requirements on behalf of the entire class or potential class. If let stand, the Court of Appeals’ decision would allow companies, insurance carriers, and banks to immunize themselves from class actions that assert claims arising under form agreements simply by inserting a pre-litigation condition or pre-suit demand requirement into those contracts.