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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

CFSA says CFPB funding violates Constitution

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

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On July 3, the Community Financial Services Association of America (CFSA) and the Consumer Service Alliance of Texas filed their brief with the U.S. Supreme Court, urging the high court that the CFPB’s independent funding structure is “unprecedented and must be stopped before it spreads without limit.” Respondents asked the Court to affirm the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit’s decision in Community Financial Services Association of America v. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, where the appellate court found that the Bureau’s “perpetual self-directed, double-insulated funding structure” violated the Constitution’s Appropriations Clause (covered by InfoBytes here and a firm article here). The 5th Circuit’s decision also vacated the agency’s Payday Lending Rule on the premise that it was promulgated at a time when the Bureau was receiving unconstitutional funding.

The Bureau expanded on why it believes the 5th Circuit erred in its holding in its opening brief filed with the Court in May (covered by InfoBytes here), and explained that even if there were some constitutional flaw in the statute creating the agency’s funding mechanism, the 5th Circuit should have looked for some cure to allow the remainder of the funding mechanism to stand independently instead of presuming the funding mechanism created under Section 5497(a)-(c) was entirely invalid. Vacatur of the agency’s past actions was not an appropriate remedy and is inconsistent with historical practice, the Bureau stressed.

In their brief, the respondents challenged the Bureau’s arguments, writing that the “unconstitutionality of the CFPB’s funding scheme is confirmed by both its unprecedented nature and lack of any limiting principle. Whether viewed with an eye toward the past or the future, the threat to separated powers and individual liberty is easy to see.” Disagreeing with the Bureau’s position that the Constitution gives Congress wide discretion to exempt agencies from annual appropriations and that independent funding is not uncommon for a financial regulator, the respondents stated that Congress gave up its appropriations power to the Bureau “without any temporal limit.” The respondents further took the position that the Bureau “can continue to set its own funding ‘forever’” unless both chambers agree and can persuade or override the president. Moreover, because the Federal Reserve Board is required to transfer “the amount determined by the Director to be reasonably necessary to carry out the [CFPB’s] authorities, . . . it ‘foreclose[s] the application of any meaningful judicial standard of review.’”

The respondents also argued that the Bureau’s funding structure is clearly distinguishable from other assessment-funded agencies in that these financial regulators are held to “some level of political accountability” since “they must consider the risk of losing funding if entities exit their regulatory sphere due to imprudent regulation.” Additionally, the respondents claimed that the fundamental flaws in the funding statute cannot be severed, reasoning, among other things, that courts “cannot ‘re-write Congress’s work’” and are not able to replace the Bureau’s self-funding discretion with either a specific sum or assessments from regulated parties.

With respect to the vacatur of the Payday Lending Rule and the potential for unintended consequences, the respondents urged the Court to affirm the 5th Circuit’s rejection of the rule, claiming it was unlawfully promulgated since a valid appropriation was a necessary condition to its rulemaking. “Lacking any viable legal argument, the Bureau resorts to fear-mongering about ‘significant disruption’ if all ‘the CFPB’s past actions’ are vacated,” the respondents wrote, claiming the Bureau “grossly exaggerates the effects and implications of setting aside this Rule.” According to the respondents, the Bureau does not claim that any harm would result from setting aside the rule, especially since no one has “reasonably relied” on the rule as it has been stayed and never went into effect. As to other rules issued by the agency, the respondents countered that Congress could “legislatively ratify” some or all of the agency’s existing rules and that only “‘timely’ claims can lead to relief” in past adjudications. Additionally, the respondents noted that many of the Bureau’s rules were issued outside the six-year limitations period prescribed in 28 U.S.C. § 2401(a). This includes a substantial portion of its rules related to mortgage-related disclosure. Even for challenges filed within the time limit, courts can apply equitable defenses such as “laches” to deny retrospective relief and prevent disruption or inequity, the respondents said.