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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

CFPB urges Supreme Court review of 5th Circuit decision

Courts CFPB U.S. Supreme Court Appellate Fifth Circuit Payday Lending Payday Rule Constitution Enforcement Funding Structure

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The CFPB recently filed a reply brief in its petition for a writ of certiorari asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review whether the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit erred in holding that the Bureau’s funding structure violates the Appropriations Clause of the Constitution, and to consider the appellate court’s decision to vacate the agency’s 2017 final rule covering “Payday, Vehicle Title, and Certain High-Cost Installment Loans” (Payday Lending Rule or Rule) on the premise that it was promulgated at a time when the Bureau was receiving unconstitutional funding. (Covered by InfoBytes here.)

Last month, the respondents filed an opposition brief urging the Supreme Court to deny the Bureau’s petition on the premise that the 5th Circuit’s decision does not warrant review—“let alone in the expedited and limited manner that the Bureau proposes”—because the appellate court correctly vacated the Payday Lending Rule, which, according to the respondents, has “multiple legal defects, including but not limited to the Appropriations Clause issue.” (Covered by InfoBytes here.) The respondents also maintained that the case “is neither cleanly presented . . . nor ripe for definitive resolution at this time,” and argued that the Supreme Court could address the validity of the Payday Lending Rule without addressing the Bureau’s funding issue. Explaining that the 5th Circuit’s decision “simply vacated a single regulation that has never been in effect,” the respondents claimed that the appellate court should have addressed questions about the Rule’s validity before deciding on the Appropriations Clause question. The respondents filed a cross-petition for writ of certiorari arguing that if the Supreme Court decides to hear the case, it should vacate the rule based on the unconstitutional removal restriction, and because it exceeds the Bureau’s statutory authority since “the prohibited conduct falls outside the statutory definition of unfair or abusive conduct.”

In its reply brief, the Bureau challenged the respondents’ assertion that the agency’s funding was “unprecedented,” noting that the respondents “cannot meaningfully distinguish the CFPB’s funding from Congress’s longstanding and concededly valid practice of funding agencies from standing sources outside annual spending bills.” The Bureau also argued that the respondents failed to rehabilitate the appellate court’s disruptive remedy and could not justify the district court’s failure to conduct a severability analysis. Even if any unconstitutional features could be severed, that would not justify the “extraordinarily disruptive remedy of automatic vacatur” of the Payday Lending Rule, the Bureau said. Furthermore, the Bureau contended that the respondents offered no sound basis for declining to review the appellate court’s decision in the current Supreme Court term.

According to the Bureau, the decision “carries immense legal and practical consequences that override any interest in ‘further percolation’” and “has already affected more than half of the Bureau’s 22 active enforcement actions” where five have been stayed and motions for relief are pending in seven other courts. Emphasizing that the 5th Circuit’s decision “threatens the validity of virtually all past CFPB actions, including numerous regulations that are critical to consumers and the financial industry,” the Bureau stressed that the proper course would be to grant its petition, set the case for argument in April, and add the additional questions raised by respondent in their cross-petition.