Resolving an ambiguity in the California Finance Lender’s Law (CFLL), the California Supreme Court unanimously held that borrowers may use the unconscionability doctrine to challenge the interest rate on consumer loans of $2,500 or more, despite the fact that the CFLL has deregulated interest rates on such loans. Although unconscionability claims of this nature will be difficult to prosecute, the decision creates heightened risk for nonbank consumer lenders doing business in California, particularly when lending at high rates. Furthermore, because the decision could be followed in other states or applied in other contexts, such as small business lending, it also could impact loans made under other statutes that have deregulated interest rates, as opposed to statutes that affirmatively authorize interest rates established by contract.
In addition to copycat lawsuits by private plaintiffs alleging their interest rates are unconscionable, high-rate lenders could even face enforcement actions challenging their rates. In California, it is possible that the state’s Attorney General, local prosecutors, or the California Department of Business Oversight (which has regulatory and supervisory jurisdiction over CFLL licensees) will pile on.
On October 16, 2018, from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. ET, Ballard Spahr attorneys will hold a webinar, “The Sky is Not The Limit: California Supreme Court Re-Regulates Deregulated Interest Rates.” The webinar registration form is available here.
See our legal alert for a fuller discussion of the California Supreme Court’s decision.