District Court orders college operator to comply with CFPB CID
On September 13, the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah ordered the operator of several defunct colleges to cooperate with a CFPB civil investigative demand (CID) for potential violations of the Consumer Financial Protection Act. In 2019, the Bureau issued a CID to the operator seeking information on its private student loan financing program, as well as litigation concerning the loan program dating back to 2012, to aid its investigation into whether the program constituted unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices. The operator argued that the CID was unenforceable for several reasons, including that it was “unreasonably oppressive” and that the legality of its program had already been litigated in state action. The operator also argued that because the Bureau’s leadership structure rendered it unconstitutional, it lacked authority to enforce the CID. A magistrate judge’s recommendation narrowed the scope of the CID, but the operator continued to object, stating that a severe reduction in staff created a loss of “significant institutional knowledge” about the loan program. After the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling in Seila Law LLC v. CFPB (holding that the director’s for-cause removal provision was unconstitutional but severable from the statute establishing the Bureau, as covered by a Buckley Special Alert ), the Bureau’s director ratified the CID. The operator then raised new objections claiming the Bureau’s funding structure violates the U.S. Constitution’s separation of powers, and therefore the agency lacks valid authority to enforce the CID.
The court rejected the operator’s argument, writing that dicta in the Supreme Court’s decision in Seila Law “suggests the Bureau’s funding structure is not an unconstitutional delegation of power from Congress to the Executive Branch.” According to the court, while the majority opinion in Seila Law made note of the CFPB’s funding structure, it treated it “merely as an aggravator” of the for-cause removal protection issues and “went as far as saying the Bureau’s constitutional infirmity would ‘disappear’ if ‘the Director were removable at will by the President.’”
With respect to burdensomeness, the court said the operator has failed to show evidence establishing an unreasonable burden in its objections, and that, moreover, it “has had more than three years’ notice to preserve any information it thought may be relevant to the Bureau’s investigation.” The court further stressed that the CID does not become overly burdensome simply because the operator shuttered its campuses thereby allegedly relinquishing “institutional knowledge” concerning its own education loan program prior to complying with the CID. The court granted the operator a 90-day extension to comply with the CID.