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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

10th Circuit: Payday lender must pay $38.4 million restitution order

Courts Appellate Tenth Circuit CFPB TILA EFTA Disclosures CFPA UDAAP Enforcement U.S. Supreme Court Payday Lending

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On September 15, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed the CFPB’s administrative ruling against a Delaware-based online payday lender and its founder and CEO (respondents/petitioners) regarding a 2015 administrative enforcement action that alleged violations of the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA), TILA, and EFTA. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in 2015, the CFPB announced an action against the respondents for alleged violations of TILA and the EFTA, and for engaging in unfair or deceptive acts or practices. Specifically, the CFPB alleged that, from May 2008 through December 2012, the online lender (i) continued to debit borrowers’ accounts using remotely created checks after consumers revoked the lender’s authorization to do so; (ii) required consumers to repay loans via pre-authorized electronic fund transfers; and (iii) deceived consumers about the cost of short-term loans by providing them with contracts that contained disclosures based on repaying the loan in one payment, while the default terms called for multiple rollovers and additional finance charges. The order required the respondents to pay $38.4 million as both legal and equitable restitution, along with $8.1 million in penalties for the company and $5.4 million in penalties for the CEO.

According to the opinion, between 2018 and 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court issued four decisions, Lucia v. SEC (covered by InfoBytes here), Seila Law v. CFPB (covered by a Buckley Special Alert here), Liu v. SEC (covered by InfoBytes here), and Collins v. Yellen (covered by InfoBytes here), which “bore on the Bureau’s enforcement activity in this case,” by “decid[ing] fundamental issues such as the Bureau’s constitutional authority to act and the appointment of its administrative law judges (‘ALJ’).” The decisions led to intermittent delays and restarts in the Bureau’s case against the petitioners. For instance, the opinion noted that two different ALJs decided the present case years apart, with their recommendations separately appealed to the Bureau’s director. The CFPB’s director upheld the decision by the second ALJ and ordered the lender and its owner to pay the restitution, and a district court issued a final order upholding the award. The petitioners appealed.

On appeal, the petitioners made three substantive arguments for dismissing the director’s final order. The petitioners argued that under Seila, the CFPB’s structure was unconstitutional and therefore the agency did not have authority to issue the order. The appellate court disagreed, stating that it is “to use a ‘scalpel rather than a bulldozer’ in remedying a constitutional defect,” and that “because the Director’s actions weren’t unconstitutional, we reject Petitioners’ argument to set aside the Bureau’s enforcement action in its entirety.”

The petitioners also argued that the enforcement action violated their due-process rights by denying the CEO additional discovery concerning the statute of limitations. The petitioners claimed that they were entitled to a “new hearing” under Lucia, and that the second administrative hearing did not rise to the level of due process prescribed in that case. The appellate court determined that there was “no support for a bright-line rule against de novo review of a previous administrative hearing," nor did it see a reason for a more extensive hearing.” Moreover, the petitioners “had a full opportunity to present their case in the first proceeding,” the 10th Circuit wrote. The appellate court further rejected the company’s argument regarding various evidentiary rulings, including permitting evidence about the company’s operational expenses, among other things. The appellate court also concluded that the CFPA’s statute of limitations commences when the Bureau either knows of a violation or, through reasonable diligence, would have discovered the violation. Therefore, the appellate court rejected the argument “that the receipt of consumer complaints triggered the statute of limitations.”

The petitioners also challenged the remedies order, claiming they were not allowed “to present evidence of their good-faith reliance on counsel (as to restitution and civil penalties) and evidence of their expenses (as to the Director’s residual disgorgement order).” The appellate court rejected that challenge, holding that the director properly considered all factors, including good faith, and rejected the petitioners’ challenge to the ALJ’s recommended civil penalties.

The 10th Circuit affirmed the district court’s order of a $38.4 million restitution award, rejecting the petitioners’ various challenges and affirming the director’s order.

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