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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

CSBS challenges OCC’s Covid-19 preemption bulletin

Federal Issues Covid-19 OCC CSBS State Issues Preemption National Bank Act

Federal Issues

On June 24, the Director of Regulatory Policy & Policy Counsel at CSBS, Mike Townsley, wrote a blog post in response to the OCC’s Bulletin on Covid-19 preemption, arguing that the bulletin does not have the force and effect of law. As previously covered by InfoBytes, on June 17, the OCC issued a Bulletin stating that banks are governed primarily by federal standards and generally are not subject to state law limitations. The OCC acknowledged states’ efforts to respond to the economic disruptions as “well-intended,” but noted that the competing requirements could risk banks’ safety and soundness. The Bulletin also provided specific examples of the types of state laws that do not apply to banks’ lending and deposit activities.

In response, Townsley asserts that the Bulletin has no preemptive effect, because the OCC did not follow the “process required by the National Bank Act (NBA) to determine that these state COVID-19 relief measures are preempted.” Specifically, Townsley argues that through the enactment of the Dodd-Frank Act, Congress “amended the NBA to overturn the OCC’s preemption regulations and establish substantive procedural requirements for the determination of whether the NBA preempts a state law.” The requirements include a court or the OCC having to conclude that the law “‘prevents or significantly interferes with the exercise by the national bank of its powers,’” which determination, according to Townsley, if made by the OCC, must be on a case-by-case basis, and include a notice and comment period and the backing of “‘substantial evidence’ on the record.” Townsley also seeks to cast further doubt as to whether the preemption regulations cited by the Bulletin can serve as a guide on procedural grounds, observing that Dodd-Frank requires the OCC to review and decide, through notice and comment, whether to “continue or rescind” each preemption determination every five years, and it has been “well over five years” since the rules were adopted and no such review has ever been conducted. Townsley concludes by citing to the 19th century Supreme Court decision Nat'l Bank v. Commonwealth, stating that national banks “’are subject to the laws of the State.’”

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