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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

CFPB sends letters of support for New York’s pending unfair and abusive conduct prohibition

State Issues CFPB Unfair Deceptive Abusive State Legislation New York

State Issues

On March 19, the CFPB published a blog post providing input on New York State’s proposed prohibition on unfair and abusive acts, urging passage of A 7138 and S 795, companion bills that are titled the “Consumer and Small business Protection Act” (the “Acts”). The blog post followed the CFPB’s delivery of letters in support of the Act to Governor Hochul, state senators, and state assembly members.

The Acts would expand Section 349 of New York’s general business law to prohibit unfair or abusive acts or practices, in addition to the existing prohibition on deceptive acts or practices. The Acts would also give the New York attorney general authority to bring an action for unfair, unlawful, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices, “regardless of whether or not the underlying violation is directed at individuals or businesses, is consumer-oriented, or involves the offering of goods, services, or property for personal, family or household purposes,” and would give “any person who has been injured by reason of any violation of this section” authority to bring “an action to recover one thousand dollars and his or her actual damages, if any, or both such actions, … regardless of whether or not the underlying violation is consumer-oriented, has a public impact or involves the offering of goods, services or property for personal, family or household purposes.”

The Acts defined an act or practice as unfair “when it causes or is likely to cause substantial injury, the injury is not reasonably avoidable, and the injury is not outweighed by countervailing benefits.” They provided that an “act or practice is deceptive when the act or practice misleads or is likely to mislead a person and the person’s interpretation is reasonable under the circumstances,” and that an act or practice is abusive when “it materially interferes with the ability of a person to understand a term or condition of a product or service,” or “takes unreasonable advantage of: (A) a person’s lack of understanding of the material risks, costs, or conditions of a product or service; (B) a person’s inability to protect his or her interests in selecting or using a product or service; or (C) a person’s reasonable reliance on a person covered by this section to act in his or her interests.” The Bureau’s letters to the state governor and legislature noted that the “reasonable reliance” component of the Acts is “critical,” and like the federal prohibition that “recognizes that people often reasonably expect that certain businesses will help them make difficult financial decisions, and there is potential for betrayal or exploitation of that trust.” The CFPB also mentioned that it has brought numerous actions based on that particular component.

The Acts provided that “standing to bring an action under this section, including but not limited to organizational standing and third-party standing, shall be liberally construed and shall be available to the fullest extent otherwise permitted by law.” Further, “[a]ny individual or non-profit organization entitled to bring an action” under the Acts “may, if the prohibited act or practice has caused damage to others similarly situated, bring an action on behalf of himself or herself and such others to recover actual, statutory and/or punitive damages or obtain other relief as provided for in” the Acts. A nonprofit also may bring an action on behalf of itself, its members, or members of the public that have been injured by a violation of the Acts. Nonprofits may seek the same remedies and damages as individuals.