District Court: Defendants cannot use CFPB funding argument to dismiss deceptive marketing lawsuit
On November 18, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois ruled that the CFPB can proceed in its lawsuit against a credit reporting agency, two of its subsidiaries (collectively, “corporate defendants”), and a former senior executive accused of allegedly violating a 2017 enforcement order in connection with alleged deceptive practices related to their marketing and sale of credit scores, credit reports, and credit-monitoring products to consumers. According to the court, a recent decision issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which found that the Bureau’s funding structure violates the Appropriations Clause of the Constitution (covered by a Buckley Special Alert), is a persuasive basis to have the lawsuit dismissed.
As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Bureau sued the defendants in April claiming the corporate defendants, under the individual defendant’s direction, allegedly violated the 2017 consent order from the day it went into effect instead of implementing agreed-upon policy changes intended to stop consumers from unknowingly signing up for credit monitoring services that charge monthly payments. The Bureau further claimed that the corporate defendants’ practices continued even after examiners raised concerns several times, and that the individual defendant had both the “authority and obligation” to ensure compliance with the 2017 consent order but did not do so.
The defendants sought to have the lawsuit dismissed for several reasons, including on constitutional grounds. The court disagreed with defendants’ constitutional argument, stating that, other than the 5th Circuit, courts around the country have “uniformly” found that Congress’ choice to provide independent funding for the Bureau conformed with the Constitution. “Courts are ill-equipped to second guess exactly how Congress chooses to structure the funding of financial regulators like the Bureau, so long as the funding remains tethered to a law passed by Congress,” the court wrote. The court also overruled defendants’ other objections to the lawsuit. “[T]his case is only at the pleading stage, and all the Bureau must do is plausibly allege that [the individual defendant] was recklessly indifferent to the wrongfulness of [the corporate defendants’] actions over which he had authority,” the court said, adding that the Bureau “has done so because it alleges that because of financial implications, [the individual defendant] actively ‘created a plan to delay or avoid’ implementing the consent order.”
The Bureau is currently seeking Supreme Court review of the 5th Circuit’s decision during its current term. (Covered by InfoBytes here.)