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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations


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  • SEC settles with U.S. affiliate of Japanese financial institution for mortgage-backed securities failures


    On July 15, the SEC announced an approximately $25 million settlement with the U.S. affiliate of a Japanese financial holding company, resolving allegations that the company failed to adequately supervise mortgage-backed securities traders. According to the orders, covering commercial mortgage-backed securities (CMBS) and residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS), from approximately January 2010 through April 2014 several traders allegedly made false or misleading statements while negotiating the sales of CMBS and RMBS, including information about (i) the company’s purchase price of the securities; (ii) the compensation the company would receive on the trades; and (iii) the current ownership of the securities. The SEC alleges the company failed to reasonably supervise traders to prevent the alleged violations of federal antifraud provisions. The orders acknowledge the company’s significant cooperation in the matter and require the company to reimburse customers the full amount of profits earned from the identified trades, totaling over $4.2 million to CMBS customers and over $20.7 million to RMBS customers. Additionally, the orders penalize the company $500,000 related to the CMBS trades and $1 million related to the RMBS trades.

    Securities SEC RMBS CMBS Settlement Of Interest to Non-US Persons

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  • FTC reportedly approves $5 billion privacy settlement with social media company

    Privacy, Cyber Risk & Data Security

    On July 12, it was reported that the FTC has approved a $5 billion penalty against the world’s largest social media company for allegedly mishandling its users’ personal information. The reported settlement would be the largest privacy penalty ever levied by the agency. According to reports, the settlement, which was approved in a 3-2 vote, resolves allegations that the company allowed a British consulting firm access to 87 million users’ personal data for political consulting purposes in violation of a 2011 privacy settlement with the FTC. Neither the FTC nor the social media company have commented on the reported settlement, which is still pending approval from the Department of Justice.

    Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security FTC Settlement

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  • District Court dismisses most of trust insurer’s settlement suit, allows breach of contract claim to proceed


    On July 16, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York dismissed the majority of the claims brought by the insurer of a trust against a national bank acting as trustee of the securitization trust. The claims accused the bank of breaching its responsibilities as trustee for residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) that were allegedly backed by bad loans, and the court’s dismissal left only a claim for breach of contract against the bank “for failing to correctly account for recoveries” to proceed. The insurer commenced the action against the bank asserting, among other claims, that the “unreasonably low settlement” the bank agreed to in a separate action the bank had taken against the mortgage lender seeking damages for the lender’s alleged breach of representations and warranties with respect to 87 percent of liquidated loans, would breach the bank’s obligations to the trust’s beneficiaries. According to the insurer, the bank initiated a “wasteful” trust instruction proceeding in Minnesota state court and agreed to stay an ongoing New York state lawsuit against the mortgage lender for over a year and a half.

    The court noted, however, that the insurer’s complaint “does not allege any non-speculative ‘concrete or imminent’ injury sufficient to confer standing with respect to the breach of contract and breach of fiduciary claims based on [the bank’s] acceptance of the settlement,” and subsequently dismissed the insurer’s claims that the bank’s acceptance of an “unreasonably low settlement” violated contractual and fiduciary duties owed to the trust as trustee, noting that any harm depends on whether the Minnesota court approves the settlement agreement. Moreover, the court stated that “[i]t is too speculative to assume that [the bank] would have obtained a favorable outcome in the New York action or that rejecting the stay would have strengthened [the bank’s] bargaining position.” Additionally, the court dismissed the insurer’s request for declaratory judgment that the bank must account for and distribute recoveries—“amounts received from defaulted mortgage loans that have already been liquidated”—under the pooling agreement, finding that the issue as it relates to past recoveries is addressed in the breach of contract claim, and all other instances are conditioned on the Minnesota court’s approval of the settlement agreement and are therefore hypothetical. However, the court did find that the insurer adequately pled a claim for breach of contract against the bank pertaining to its accounting of recoveries. The court noted that the insurer’s complaint sufficiently alleged damages and outlined the bank’s alleged failure to correctly “write up” the recoveries as laid out in the pooling agreement, and how this affected the timing and amount of payouts the insurer was required to make.

    Courts Mortgages RMBS

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  • FTC seeks comment on COPPA Rule

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

    On July 17, the FTC released a notice seeking comment on a wide range of issues related to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule (COPPA Rule). The FTC last amended COPPA in 2013, and while the FTC usually reviews its rules every 10 years, the FTC notes that “[r]apid changes in technology, including the expanded use of education technology, reinforce the need to re-examine the COPPA Rule at this time.” The notice seeks comment on all major provisions of the COPPA Rule, including definitions, notice and parental consent requirements, exceptions to verifiable parental consent, and the safe harbor provision. Additionally, the notice seeks responses to specific questions, including (i) has the Rule affected the availability of websites or online services directed to children?; (ii) does the Rule correctly articulate the factors to consider in determining whether a website or online service is directed to children, or should additional factors be considered?; and (iii) what are the implications for COPPA enforcement raised by technologies such as interactive television, interactive gaming, or other similar interactive media? Comments must be received within 90 days after publication in the Federal Register.

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance FTC COPPA Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security

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  • Agencies again defer action against foreign funds under Volcker Rule

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

    On July 17, the FDIC, the Federal Reserve Board, and the OCC (collectively, the “agencies”) announced that they will not take action against foreign banks for qualifying foreign excluded funds, subject to certain conditions, under the Volcker Rule for an additional two years. The announcement notes that the agencies consulted with the SEC and the CFTC on the decision. Since 2017, the agencies have deferred action on qualifying foreign funds that might be covered under the Volcker Rule (covered by InfoBytes here and here). In a joint statement, the agencies note that they have not finalized revisions to regulations implementing Section 13 of the Bank Holding Company Act, and in order to “provide interested parties greater certainty about the treatment of qualifying foreign excluded funds in the near term,” the agencies are proposing not to take action through July 21, 2021.

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance Volcker Rule FDIC Bank Compliance Of Interest to Non-US Persons Federal Reserve SEC CFTC

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  • Rhode Island requires virtual currency business activity to be licensed

    On July 15, the Rhode Island governor signed HB 5847, which adds virtual currency to the existing electronic money transmission and sale of check license law and adds additional provisions clarifying the licensing process. Specifically, the bill renames Chapter 19-14.3 of Rhode Island’s General Laws titled, “Sale of Checks and Electronic Money Transfers” to “Currency Transmission” and includes within the definition of currency transmission, virtual currency. The bill defines virtual currency as a, “digital representation of value that: (A) [i]s used as a medium of exchange, unit of account, or store of value; and (B) [i]s not legal tender, whether or not denominated in legal tender.” Among other things, the bill excludes from the definition of virtual currency a “[n]ative digital token used in a proprietary blockchain service platform.” Subject to certain exceptions, the bill requires a person engaging in currency transmission business activity to be licensed with the state. Additionally, the bill, among other things, (i) requires virtual currency licensees to provide resident users of their services specified disclosures; (ii) subjects applicants and licensees to mandatory compliance programs and monitoring; and (iii) prohibits licensees from engaging in unfair, deceptive, or fraudulent practices. The act is effective January 1, 2020.

    Licensing State Issues State Legislation Virtual Currency Fintech

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  • 9th Circuit: Law firm owner liable for restitution from mortgage relief scheme


    On July 16, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the FTC in an action alleging two attorneys controlled or participated in a mortgage relief scheme, which falsely told consumers they could join “mass joinder” lawsuits that would save them from foreclosure and provide additional financial awards. In September 2017, the district court granted summary judgment against both defendants, concluding that the defendants knowingly deceived consumers when they falsely marketed that consumers could expect to receive $75,000 in damages or “a judicial determination that the mortgage lien alleged to exist against their particular property is null and void ab initio” if they agreed to join mass joinder lawsuits against their mortgagors. The operation resulted in over $18 million in revenue from the participating consumers.

    On appeal from one defendant, the 9th Circuit agreed with the district court, determining the FTC provided “sufficient undisputed facts to hold [the defendant] individually liable for injunctive relief at summary judgment.” Specifically, the appellate court agreed that the FTC sufficiently proved three separate legal entities, one of which the defendant was the co-owner and corporate officer, “operate[d] together as a common enterprise,” which violated the FTC Act and Mortgage Assistance Relief Services Rule with their mortgage relief operation. Moreover, the appellate court determined that the defendant was “at least recklessly indifferent to [the other entities’] misrepresentations,” based on his knowledge of previous schemes operated by the other owners and reliance on a non-lawyer’s assurance that the marketing materials had been “legally approved,” making him “jointly and severally liable for restitution for the corporation’s unjust gains in violation of the FTC Act.”

    Courts Ninth Circuit Appellate FTC Act Mortgages FTC

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  • FDIC proposes to relax disclosure requirements under Securitization Safe Harbor Rule

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

    On July 16, the FDIC approved a proposal revising certain provisions of the Securitization Safe Harbor Rule (rule). The current rule mandates that documents governing a securitization must disclose information regarding the securitized financial assets on a financial asset or pool level and on a security level that, at minimum, complies with Regulation AB, whether or not the transaction is an issuance covered by the regulation. The proposal would eliminate the requirement that securitization documents comply with Regulation AB, where Regulation AB by its terms would not apply to the issuing transaction. According to a statement by Chairwoman, Jelena McWilliams, the proposal “would remove one potential obstacle that [insured depository institutions] face in providing mortgage credit to homeowners.” FDIC Director Gruenberg dissented from the approval of the proposal.

    Comments on the proposal will be due within 60 days after publication of the proposal in the Federal Register.

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance FDIC Mortgages Securities

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  • Rhode Island creates Student Loan Bill of Rights Act

    State Issues

    On July 15, the Rhode Island governor signed HB 5936, which creates the “Student Loan Bill of Rights Act” to define responsibilities for student loan servicers and establish guidelines related to the issuance of postsecondary loans. Notably, federal or state chartered banks or credit unions, as well as their wholly owned subsidiaries, that originate student loans or act as servicers are exempt from the majority of the act’s requirements, including sections 19-33-4, 19-33-6 through 19-33-11, 19-33-12(9), and 19-33-14.

    The act requires non-exempt student loan servicers that service at least six or more postsecondary student loans within a consecutive 12 month period to comply with certain requirements, including (i) registering with the Department of Business Regulation (Department) no later than September 30 “or within 30 days of conducting student loan servicing, whichever is earlier”; (ii) maintaining loan transaction records; (iii) filing annual reports with the Department; (iv) disclosing repayment program terms and refinance options to borrowers; and (v) responding to borrower inquiries within specified time frames concerning, among other things, credit reporting disputes, application of payments, and record transfers.

    Additionally, the act prohibits student loan servicers from, among other things, (i) employing any scheme designed to defraud or mislead borrowers; (ii) engaging in unfair or deceptive practices; (iii) misapplying payments; (iv) failing to report payment histories to credit bureaus; (iv) failing to communicate with a borrower’s authorized representative; (v) making false statements or omitting material facts in connection with information filed with a government agency or provided in the course of an investigation; and (vi) failing to properly evaluate a borrower’s eligibility for public service loan forgiveness programs or income-driven repayment programs.

    The act gives the Department authority to conduct investigations and examinations of registered servicers, as well as impose fines of not more than $2,000 per violation. Furthermore, the Rhode Island attorney general may enforce violations of prohibited conduct as unlawful acts or practices. The act is effective immediately.

    The Department of Education has issued an interpretation that servicers that are servicing Direct Loans for the Department of Education would be exempt from state licensing and substantive requirements, but the act does not accommodate that interpretation.

    State Issues State Legislation Student Lending Student Loan Servicer Department of Education

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  • 8th Circuit affirms reduction in TCPA statutory damages from $1.6 billion to $32 million


    On July 16, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit affirmed a district court’s decision to reduce a $1.6 billion award in statutory damages for TCPA violations to $32.4 million after the court determined the original award violated the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause. The named plaintiffs in the class action alleged that parties involved in the financing and marketing campaign of a film with religious and political themes violated the TCPA through the use of a telephone campaign in which approximately 3.2 million prerecorded robocalls were made in the course of a week. The plaintiffs—who received two of these messages on their answering machine—filed an appeal after the district court concluded that the original award was “‘obviously unreasonable and wholly disproportionate to the offense’” and reduced the statutory damages awarded by a jury from $500 per call to $10 per call.

    On appeal, the 8th Circuit addressed several issues, including (i) whether the plaintiffs alleged a concrete injury under the TCPA; (ii) whether the district court abused its discretion concerning instructions on direct liability against one of the defendants; and (iii) whether the court erred in finding the amount of statutory damages to be unconstitutional. The appellate court first reviewed whether the plaintiffs had alleged a sufficiently concrete injury under the TCPA. According to the opinion, “[t]he harm to be remedied by the TCPA was ‘the unwanted intrusion and nuisance of unsolicited telemarketing phone calls and fax advertisements. . . .The [plaintiffs’] harm . . . was the receipt of two telemarketing messages without prior consent. These harms bear a close relationship to the types of harms traditionally remedied by tort law, particularly the law of nuisance.” However, the appellate court stated that the district court was correct to reject the plaintiffs’ direct liability instructions against the defendant who helped finance the film, writing that the plaintiffs “improperly blurred the line between direct and agency liability” and that “to be held directly liable, the defendant must be the one who ‘initiates’ the call,” which the financing defendant did not do. Finally, the appellate court agreed with the district court that the $1.6 billion award violated the Due Process Clause, and highlighted evidence that the advertiser “plausibly believed it was not violating the TCPA” and “had prior consent to call the recipients about religious liberty,” which was a predominant theme of the film being promoted. Moreover, the court noted,”[t]he call campaign was conducted for only about a week,” and recipients could only hear the message about the film if they voluntarily opted in during the call. The court further reasoned that “the harm to the recipients was not severe—only about 7% of the calls made it to the third question, the one about the film. Under these facts, $1.6 billion is ‘so severe and oppressive as to be wholly disproportioned to the offense and obviously unreasonable.’”

    Courts Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security Robocalls Eighth Circuit Appellate TCPA Class Action

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