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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

State Supreme Court vacates and remands TILA dispute

Courts TILA Maine Consumer Finance Real Estate Lending


Recently, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court vacated a judgment in favor of a bank and remanded the decision to re-examine the nature of a loan and consider all relevant evidence to determine if the loan was for commercial purposes. The plaintiffs defaulted on a loan from the defendant, a bank, by securing the loan with a hunting cabin they owned, and a lease for the land on which they had built the cabin. The defendant successfully sued for recovery of the cabin. On appeal, the plaintiffs argued the bank failed to make the requisite disclosures under TILA and thus it was in error to decide in favor of the bank. The bank conceded that it did not make the required disclosures but countered that the credit transaction was not subject to TILA because the loan was for commercial purposes, and if the loan was secured by real property, it was not expected to be used as the principal dwelling of the consumer(s).

First, the court found that it was an error not to consider extrinsic evidence when determining the purpose of the loan because the Official Staff Interpretations of Regulation Z outline factors to be considered in such a determination, which should be given great deference. Moreover, it found that most federal courts applied a holistic approach in determining the purpose of the loan. Because the Business and Consumer Docket court in Maine did not consider any extrinsic evidence, it decided to remand. Second, the court held that the TILA exemption for “credit transactions, other than those in which a security interest is or will be acquired in real property, or in personal property used or expected to be used as the principal dwelling of the consumer . . . in which the total amount financed exceeds $50,000” was inapplicable. Although the loan was for $378,698, the loan was secured by a leasehold. According to the court, the leasehold was an interest in real property, and the language in the exemption referencing “principal dwelling” only modified “personal property” and not “real property.”