The Fine Print: Beating Citi in Arbitration, What It Means for You

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The following is not legal advice. Please contact Alexander Bachuwa, a New York attorney, if you have a consumer protection question or claim.

Preface 

I settled my first claim against Citi instead of going through the entire arbitration process. This time, we went all the way and won.

Background of the Dispute

The annual fee on my client’s Citi Prestige card was due. He called Citi’s retention department and was told that he would receive a $200 statement credit if he spent $4000/month for 3 months. My client did so by spending more than $4000/month for three consecutive calendar months. Citi refused to honor the credit because the spending was not done in three consecutive billing cycles.

Here were my client’s expenditures:  

August: $4187.25

September: $4,272.50

October: $9,445.90

Here is how Citi calculated his spending: 

Month One (August 8, 2016 – September 8, 2016): $8,459.75

Month Two (September 9, 2016 – October 8, 2016): ZERO

Month Three (October 9, 2018 – November 8, 2016): $9,445.90

My Client’s Efforts to Resolve the Dispute

My client went to great lengths to resolve this dispute amicably without the assistance of an attorney: First, my client communicated directly with Citibank. Citibank told my client that its team would consider his request. A few days later, the client received a letter informing him without any detail that his request had been rejected by the escalation team. Then my client forwarded the complaint to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”) asking for relief. Citibank responded to client’s CFPB complaint as follows: “We reviewed your August 8, 2016 conversation with our representative and confirmed that you were advised you were required to spend $4,000.00 each month during the three month promotional period to earn the $200.00 credit.”

From there, my client filed a claim with his state’s attorney general. That claim was denied as follows: “In reviewing the recording of the August 8, 2016 phone call, the representative advised you more than once that the spending requirement for the offer was $4,000.00 per month for three months. There was no discussion that this time frame would correspond with your billing cycles or your statements.”

The Arbitration Process

Understandably upset, my client hired me to file an arbitration on his behalf. When a consumer initiates an arbitration, the business, per the American Arbitration Association’s (AAA) Consumer Protection Rules, must pay a $1700 filing fee to the AAA and another $750 to the arbitrator for a ‘documents only’ arbitration. In addition, the business usually hires an outside law firm to handle the claim. This can easily cost thousands of dollars.

After the claim is filed, the claimant, respondent, and the arbitrator have a preliminary phone conference whereby due dates for when documents relevant to the claim must be exchanged, exhibits must be produced, a list of witnesses must be disclosed, and when written arguments must be submitted.

Because this matter was straightforward, both parties agreed that a memo outlying the claims (for my client) and defenses (on behalf of Citi) were sufficient. My argument was simple: the client met the spending requirement and was entitled to $200. Citi argued that the timing of the charges did not satisfy the offer.

The Arbitrator’s Decision

One week later, we received the decision from the arbitrator which read as follows: Clearly, Claimant met the requirement for $200.00 credit, which was denied to him. Respondent’s efforts to play a “date-game” by claiming that the spending had to occur within certain set calendar date periods within each given month, is disingenuous. A month is a month. Claimant was required to spend $4,000.00 on the Card in each of the months of August, September and October 2016; and he did. Claimant is entitled to the promised $200.00.

Victory?

Although my client won the case and received his $200, the question is whether this is a victory worth celebrating. To some extent, the answer is yes. My client and I were able to take on a corporate giant, present a reasoned argument, and receive a favorable decision. And, unlike when claims are settled, the details of this decision are not confidential.  Should he choose to do so, my client can share his experience with anyone on any forum.

At the same time, the answer to the aforementioned question is no. My client had to spend a ridiculous amount of time battling Citi on his own. That produced no results. Then he had to hire a lawyer to fight on his behalf. Meanwhile, Citi spent tens of thousands of dollars to prove a point I still cannot understand.

If big companies are willing to waste a fortune fighting their own clients instead of handling them through proper customer service channels, I will gladly oblige by filing meritorious claims. It may be wishful thinking but perhaps such a strategy can effectuate meaningful change.

 

 

 

 

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