District court certifies another RESPA class over kickback referrals
On October 2, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland certified a class of mortgage borrowers who alleged that a Maryland bank referred them to a title firm in exchange for cash and kickbacks in violation of RESPA. The court’s decision approved a class defined as borrowers of federally-related mortgage loans originated or brokered by the bank who were referred to the title firm in connection with the closing of their loan. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the case originally was dismissed on the grounds that the plaintiffs’ RESPA claims were time-barred, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed the decision, finding that the plaintiffs were entitled to proceed because the kickback scheme was allegedly “fraudulently concealed” by the defendants. Among other things, the plaintiffs claimed that the title firm provided bank loan officers kickbacks in exchange for referrals, including cash payments, free marketing materials, credits for future marketing services, and customer referrals from other lenders. Because of these alleged kickbacks, the plaintiffs contended they were deprived of “impartial and fair competition” and “paid more for their settlement services than they otherwise would have.” The defendant argued, among other things, that the plaintiffs lacked standing because they did not suffer a concrete injury, and that the class was overboard because the plaintiffs had not proven that each loan was affected by a RESPA violation or that every loan fell outside a relevant exemption.
The court found that the plaintiffs had standing, stating that the plaintiffs have shown evidence supporting their claims that they may have been overcharged. But the court also noted that the bank may be able to continue to challenge that the plaintiffs failed to allege more than a mere procedural violation of RESPA. The court likewise rejected the bank’s objections to class certification, ruling that the plaintiffs were able to show that a majority of the loans were not subject to a RESPA exemption, and that the concern over RESPA exemptions “does not predominate over the numerous, imperative questions that are answerable on a class-wide basis.”