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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

FDIC resolves Operation Chokepoint lawsuit

Federal Issues FDIC OCC Payday Lending Operation Choke Point DOJ Courts

Federal Issues

On May 22, the FDIC announced it resolved a 2014 lawsuit brought by payday lenders that  alleged that the FDIC, the OCC and the Federal Reserve abused their supervisory authority during Operation Chokepoint, an Obama Administration DOJ initiative that formally ended in August 2017 (covered by InfoBytes here) and was designed to target fraud by investigating U.S. banks and certain of their clients perceived to be a higher risk for fraud and money laundering. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in 2014, payday lenders filed a lawsuit against the federal banking agencies alleging that they participated in Operation Chokepoint “to drive [the payday lenders] out of business by exerting back-room pressure on banks and other regulated financial institutions to terminate their relationships” with such lenders. The payday lenders argued, among other things, that the initiative resulted in over 80 banking institutions terminating their business relationships with law-abiding companies.

Along with the announcement of the tentative settlement between the parties, the FDIC released a statement summarizing the FDIC’s internal policies and guidance for FDIC recommendations to financial institutions to terminate customer deposit accounts. The statement also included a letter written to the plaintiffs’ counsel acknowledging that “certain employees acted in a manner inconsistent with FDIC policies with respect to payday lenders in what has been generically described as ‘Operation Choke Point,’ and that this conduct created misperceptions about the FDIC’s policies.” In the press announcement regarding the resolution of the case, the FDIC emphasized that neither the statement nor the letter represent a change in the FDIC’s policy and guidance, and that all “existing applicable regulations and guidance documents remain in full force and effect.” Further, while the May 21 joint status report filed in the case noted that FDIC senior leadership had not yet reviewed the agreement, the report noted that the FDIC does “not anticipate any objections.”

Additionally, on May 23, the OCC acknowledged it had been dismissed from the litigation as part of the lawsuit’s resolution.

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