Subscribe to our InfoBytes Blog weekly newsletter and other publications for news affecting the financial services industry.
On October 7, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California denied a national bank’s motion for partial summary judgment in a class action alleging the bank wrongfully charged ATM fees in violation of the bank’s standardized account agreement. According to the opinion, the plaintiffs filed the action asserting that the bank charges its customers two out-of-network (OON) fees when an account holder conducts a balance inquiry and then obtains a cash withdrawal at an OON ATM. The bank moved for summary judgment on the breach of contract claim, arguing that the terms and conditions of the contract provide for the charge of a fee “for each balance inquiry, cash withdrawal, or funds transfer undertaken at a non-[bank] branded ATM.” After conducting a limited discovery on the breach of contract issue, the district court denied the bank’s motion, concluding there are “ambiguities regarding the contract terms.” Specifically, the court noted that contract documents describe a “Foreign ATM Fee” as “initiated at an ATM other than a [bank] ATM” and that it uses the singular term of “fee” while providing “no further explanation as to what ‘initiated’ means.” According to the court, there is “ambiguity in the term ‘initiate’ that is ‘susceptible to at least two reasonable alternative interpretations.’” Moreover, the court also concluded that certain onscreen warnings about the right to cancel caused “uncertainty and ambiguity” regarding the assessment of fees, and because there are ambiguities regarding the fee terms, the court could not conclude that the plaintiffs failed to prove a breach of contract.
On October 7, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a whistleblower’s reverse-false-claims action because it was barred by the False Claims Act’s (FCA) public-disclosure provision and the alleged scheme was not plead with sufficient detail. The relator, a former fraud investigator for the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of the Inspector General, alleged that the 15 financial institution defendants “avoided their regulatory obligation to return government-benefit payments they received for beneficiaries they knew to be deceased.” According to the relator, the defendants must have known of the beneficiary deaths because the Social Security Administration sends death notification entries to all receiving depository financial institutions. However, the district court determined that defendants provided documents showing the information had already been publicly disclosed and the relator was not the original source of the information (which would have been required to maintain a claim with respect to information that has already been publicly disclosed) because he obtained the information through his employment as a fraud investigator. As such, the court permanently dismissed the complaint on the grounds that the relator relied on public disclosures, and that the complaint failed to plead the allegations with sufficient detail.
On appeal, the 5th Circuit agreed that the complaint could not survive the FCA’s public disclosure bar, explaining that the public-disclosure bar is met if the following elements apply: (i) the disclosure is public; (ii) the disclosure contains “‘substantially the same allegations’” as in the complaint; and (ii) the relator is not the “‘original source’” of the information. In addition, the appellate court agreed that the complaint lacked sufficient factual matter to satisfy federal rules of civil procedure, and concluded that further amendments would be futile because there are no claims left to amend.
On October 10, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions pursuant to Executive Order 13818 against four members of a corruption network in South Africa for alleged corruption violations of the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act. According to OFAC, the four individuals “leveraged [their] political connections to engage in widespread corruption and bribery, capture government contracts, and misappropriate state assets.” As a result of the sanctions, all property and interests in property of the designated persons within U.S. jurisdiction must be blocked and reported to OFAC. OFAC notes that its regulations “generally prohibit” U.S. persons from participating in transactions with these individuals and entities.
On October 9, NYDFS announced the creation of the Student Debt Advisory Board, which will advise on consumer protection, student financial products and services, as well as issues facing communities significantly impacted by student debt. The new advisory board is a part of NYDFS’s “Step Up for Students” initiative intended to “safeguard student loan borrowers from discriminatory or predatory practices by student loan servicers.” The announcement comes the same day legislation to protect student borrowers takes effect in the state. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the law requires student loan servicers to comply with requirements set forth in amendments to the state’s banking law and be licensed by NYDFS in order to service student loans owned by residents of New York. Additionally, servicers must adhere to standards similar to regulations that govern mortgages and other lending products.
On October 8, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois granted a defendant’s motion to compel arbitration in a putative class action suit alleging that he threatened to charge unauthorized late fees on defaulted consumer debt. The suit claimed that the defendant, who was an attorney hired to collect the debt, violated the FDCPA when he sent a letter attempting to collect on a delinquent account containing the language: “Because of interest, late charges, attorneys fees, if any, and other charges that my vary from day to day, the amount due on the day you pay may be greater.” According to the borrower, the statement was false and misleading because late fees could not accrue on her debt anymore since the debt had already been “fully accelerated” under the provisions of consumer loan agreement signed with the company that owned her consumer loan account. The attorney moved to compel arbitration based on an arbitration provision in the borrower’s loan agreement. While the borrower did not dispute that the arbitration provision was valid, she argued that the attorney does not fall within the provision’s scope. Among other things, the borrower asserted that (i) the attorney was not a party to the loan agreement and, thus, could not invoke its arbitration provision; and (ii) FDCPA claims can only be brought against a debt collector and not against the creditor, and that, because the company (not the attorney) was her creditor, the arbitration provision would not cover her FDCPA claims.
The court disagreed. “The fact that an FDCPA claim against [the company] would be a clear loser does not mean that the arbitration provision does not cover FDCPA claims—which have been brought, and will continue to be brought, against creditors,” the court stated. “Arbitration provisions cover weak and strong claims alike, so long as the claim falls within the provision’s defined scope.” According to the court, the claims fell comfortably within the provision’s broad agreement to arbitrate “any dispute, claim or controversy” related to a borrower’s account, loan agreement or relationship with the company. Concerning the borrower’s argument that the attorney cannot invoke the arbitration provision because he is not a party to the loan agreement, the court agreed that, “as a general rule, ‘[o]nly signatories to an arbitration agreement can file a motion to compel arbitration.’” However, it ruled that Illinois law allows an exception to the general rule where the signatory’s agent seeks to compel arbitration. Moreover, the court further ruled that the attorney has not waived his right to arbitration by litigating the case for nine months before moving to compel arbitration.
On October 4, the U.S. House of Representatives filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court arguing that the CFPB’s structure is constitutional. The brief was filed in response to a petition for writ of certiorari by a law firm, contesting a May decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which held that, among other things, the Bureau’s single-director structure is constitutional (previously covered by InfoBytes here). The House filed its brief after the amicus deadline, but requested its motion to file be granted because it only received notice that the Bureau changed its position on the constitutionality of the CFPB’s structure the day before the filing deadline. As previously covered by InfoBytes, on September 17, the DOJ and the CFPB filed a brief with the Court arguing that the for-cause restriction on the president’s authority to remove the Bureau’s single Director violates the Constitution’s separation of powers; and on the same day, Director Kraninger sent letters (see here and here) to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) supporting the same argument.
The brief, which was submitted by the Office of General Counsel for the House, argues that the case “presents an issue of significant important to the House” and, because the Solicitor General “has decided not to defend” Congress’ enactment of the for-cause removal protection through the Dodd-Frank Act, the “House should be allowed to do so.” The brief asserts that the 9th Circuit correctly held that the Bureau’s structure is constitutional based on the D.C. Circuit’s majority in the 2018 en banc decision in PHH v. CFPB (covered by a Buckley Special Alert). Moreover, the brief argues that when an agency is “headed by a single individual, the lines of Executive accountability—and Presidential control—are even more direct than in a multi-member agency,” as the President has the authority to remove the individual should they be failing in their duty. Such a removal will “‘transform the entire CFPB and the execution of the consumer protection laws it enforces.’”
On October 10, the CFPB issued a final rule extending the current temporary threshold of 500 open-end lines of credit under the HMDA rules for reporting data to January 1, 2022. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the CFPB temporarily increased the threshold for open-end lines of credit from 100 loans to 500 loans for calendar years 2018 and 2019. In May 2019, the Bureau proposed to extend that temporary threshold to January 1, 2022 and then permanently lower the threshold to 200 open-end lines of credit after that date (covered by InfoBytes here). The Bureau then reopened the comment period for the May 2019 proposed rule with respect to the permanent open-end and closed-end coverage thresholds (covered by InfoBytes here) and now intends to issue a final rule addressing the permanent threshold at a later date. The Bureau also intends to address the other closed-end aspects of the May 2019 proposed rule at a later date.
The final rule adopts the temporary extension of the 500 open-end lines of credit until January 1, 2022, and incorporates, with minor adjustments, the interpretive and procedural rule issued in August 2018 (2018 Rule), which implemented and clarified that the HMDA amendments included in Section 104(a) of the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act (previously covered by InfoBytes here). The final rule is effective January 1, 2022.
On October 8, the Federal Reserve Board announced that all five federal financial regulators have signed off on final revisions to the Volker Rule (the Rule) to simplify and tailor compliance with Section 13 of the Bank Holding Company Act’s restrictions on a bank’s ability to engage in proprietary trading and own certain funds. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the other four regulators approved the revisions last month. The revisions, which take full effect on January 1, 2021, clarify prohibited activities and simplify compliance burdens by tailoring compliance obligations to reflect the size and scope of a bank’s trading activities, with more stringent requirements imposed on entities with greater activity. The Fed noted that community banks are generally exempt from the Rule by statute, and stressed that the “revisions continue to prohibit proprietary trading, while providing greater clarity and certainty for activities allowed under the law,” and that the regulators “expect that the universe of trades that are considered prohibited proprietary trading will remain generally the same as under the agencies’ 2013 rule.” However, Federal Reserve Governor Lael Brainard issued a dissenting statement, stressing that the revised Rule “weakens the core protections against speculative trading within the banking federal safety net,” and that the elimination without replacement of the “‘short-term intent’ test for firms engaged in higher levels of trading activities… materially narrows the scope of covered activities.” Brainard also expressed concern about “examiners’ ability to assess compliance with the final rule because it relies on firms’ internal self-policing to set limits to distinguish permissible market making from illegal proprietary trading, no longer requires firms to promptly report limit breaches and increases, and narrows the scope of the CEO attestation requirement.”
On October 8, the CFPB issued its Dodd-Frank mandated semi-annual report to Congress covering the Bureau’s work from October 1, 2018 to March 31, 2019. In presenting the report, Director Kathy Kraninger stressed that the Bureau will continue to use the tools provided by Congress to protect consumers, including “vigorous and even-handed enforcement” with a focus on prevention of harm. Kraninger also reiterated her commitment “to strengthening the consumer financial marketplace by providing financial institutions clear ‘rules of the road’ that allow them to offer consumers a range of high-quality, innovative financial services and products.” Among other things, the report analyzed significant problems consumers face when obtaining consumer financial products and services, assessed actions taken by state attorneys general or state regulators relating to federal consumer financial law, and provided a recap of supervisory and enforcement activities.
While the Bureau did not adopt any significant final rules or orders during the preceding year, it did issue two significant notices of proposed rulemaking relating to certain payday lending requirements under the agency’s 2017 final rule covering “Payday, Vehicle Title, and Certain High-Cost Installment Loans.” (See previous InfoBytes coverage here.) The Bureau also adopted several “less significant rules,” and engaged in significant initiatives concerning, among other things, (i) the disclosure of loan-level HMDA data; (ii) Residential Property Assessed Clean Energy proposed rulemaking; (iii) an assessment of significant rules, including the Remittance Rule, the Ability to Repay/Qualified Mortgage Rule, and the RESPA Mortgage Servicing Rule; (iv) trial disclosure programs; (v) innovation policies related to no-action letters and product sandbox and trial disclosure programs; and (vi) suspicious activity reports on elder financial exploitation.
On October 8, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced that it completed its home loan funding fee refund initiative, returning more than $400 million to VA borrowers. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in June the VA Office of the Inspector General (OIG) issued a report concluding that the VA improperly charged exempt veterans VA home loan funding fees. The OIG recommended that the VA develop a plan to, among other things, identify exempt veterans who were inappropriately charged funding fees and issue refunds. The VA reviewed nearly 20 years of loan originations, and identified 130,000 loans for potential refunds. VA notes that most fees were charged correctly, except for veterans whose exemption status changed after the closing of their loan. VA also announced changes to its program, in order to provide veterans with “the most up-to-date information possible on a Veteran’s funding fee exemption status,” including (i) enhancements to communications to veterans regarding the loan funding fee; (ii) new policy guidance directing lenders to inquire about a veteran’s disability claim status during the underwriting process; (iii) instructing lenders to obtain an updated Certificate of Eligibility for a veteran within three days of closing, if there was a disability claim pending; (iv) and procedural changes to ensure regulator internal oversight of funding fee activities.
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "MCCA's blueprint for selling & buying - A pitch workshop for outside counsel" at the Minority Corporate Counsel Association Creating Pathways to Diversity Conference
- Buckley Webcast: Get ready for CCPA
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "BSA/AML culture of compliance roundtable" at the FiSCA Annual Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Is there a better way to fight money laundering" at the FiSCA Annual Conference
- Michelle L. Rogers to discuss "What's trending in enforcement" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Annual Convention & Expo
- Kathryn L. Ryan and Moorari K. Shah to discuss "Today's regulatory environment - Are you in the know?" at the Equipment Leasing and Finance Association Annual Convention
- Buckley Webcast: Smoke and mirrors: Navigating the regulatory landscape in banking the marijuana industry
- H Joshua Kotin to discuss "CMS - Components of a successful monitoring program" at the RegList Annual Workshop
- Tim Lange to discuss "Temporary authority to operate - Are you prepared? Hear what the states are doing" at the RegList Annual Workshop
- Sherry-Maria Safchuk to discuss "Cybersecurity" at the RegList Annual Workshop
- Jeffrey P. Naimon to discuss "Hot topics in mortgage origination" at the Conference on Consumer Finance Law Annual Consumer Financial Services Conference
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Fintech regulatory developments, crypto-assets, blockchain and digital banking, and consumer issues" at the Practising Law Institute Banking Law Institute
- Amanda R. Lawrence to discuss "How to balance a successful (and stressful) career with greater personal well-being" at the American Bar Association Women in Litigation Joint CLE Conference