CFPB obtains $15 million judgment against student financial aid operation
On January 21, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California issued an order granting in part and denying in part the CFPB’s motion for partial summary judgment and granting the agency’s motion for default judgment in a 2015 case against a now defunct California-based student financial aid operation and its owner (defendants). As previously covered by InfoBytes, the defendants allegedly engaged in deceptive practices when they, among other things, represented that by paying a fee and sending in an application, consumers were applying for financial aid or the defendants would apply for aid on behalf the students. However, according to the Bureau, the consumers did not receive the promised services in exchange for their payment. The case was stayed in 2016 while the owner defendant faced a pending criminal investigation, until the court lifted the stay in 2019 after finding the possibility of the civil proceedings affecting the owner defendant’s ability to defend himself in the criminal proceeding “speculative and unripe.”
In issuing the order, the court determined, among other things, that the Bureau had established the owner defendant’s liability for deceptive practices under the CFPA, rejecting the owner defendant’s argument that booklets sent to consumers did not qualify as a “consumer financial product or service” within the scope of the Bureau’s enforcement authority. The court further ruled that the owner defendant had made material representations to consumers that were “likely to mislead” them into thinking, among other things, that they would receive individually tailored products, when in reality their individual information never mattered and no specific financial aid advice was ever provided. However, the court denied the CFPB’s motion for summary judgment with respect to solicitation packets sent by the defendants in 2016, ruling that an included FAQ creates “a genuine issue of disputed fact as to whether the 2016 solicitation packets misrepresented that [the company’s] program permitted consumers to apply for financial aid or to apply through [the company].”
The order requires the defendants to pay a $10 million civil money penalty and more than $4.7 million in restitution. The court will also issue an injunction to prevent the defendants “from committing any future fraud” once the Bureau submits a proposed order. Additionally, default judgment was entered against the defendants on the merits of the Bureau’s claims, which included allegations that the defendants failed to provide privacy notices to consumers as required by Regulation P.