Judge Issues Ruling that Federal Safe Harbor Provision Applies in RESPA Case
On July 13, a federal judge in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky issued an opinion holding that a safe harbor provision for affiliated business arrangements under Section 8(c)(4) of RESPA protects a Louisville law firm's relationship with a string of now-closed title insurance agencies. (See CFPB v. Borders and Borders, Plc, No. 3:13-cv-01047-CRS-DW (W.D. Ky. July 13, 2017)). In 2013, the CFPB alleged the firm violated RESPA by paying kickbacks for real estate settlement referrals through a network of joint ventures with the principals of nine title insurance companies. (See previous InfoBytes summary here.) The judge granted the firm’s motion for summary judgment on only one safe harbor question, stating that the firm’s agreements with the title insurance agencies qualified as “affiliated business arrangements” because it “disclosed the relationship…, the customers could reject the referral, and the Bureau failed to show that the [title insurance companies] received anything of value beyond their ownership interests.”
The judge rejected the firm's claim that the CFPB cannot seek disgorgement as a remedy and further declined to address the firm’s ultra vires argument that the CFPB is an unconstitutional agency and therefore lacks legal authority to bring suit, stating that the en banc decision in PHH Corp. v. CFPB has not yet been issued.
Notably, however, the judge appeared to suggest that case could be appealed because the firm’s other arguments fail to qualify for RESPA safe harbors under Sections 8(c)(1) and 8(c)(2).