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On April 8, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit affirmed a lower court’s dismissal of a consumer’s suit arising out of overdraft fees charged by an Arkansas-based bank. The consumer alleged, among other things, that the bank breached its Electronic Fund Transfer Agreement (EFT Agreement) by failing to provide accurate, real-time account balance information online, which caused her to “incur unexpected overdraft fees.” According to the opinion, the consumer claimed that she frequently relied on her online account balance when making purchases, and that the bank’s alleged debiting practices—such as “batching by transaction type,” processing transactions out of chronological order, and “failing to show real-time balance information online [or] intra-bank transfers instantaneously”—sometimes caused her to pay insufficient funds and overdraft fees. The consumer filed suit asserting claims for “actual fraud; constructive fraud; false representation/deceit; breach of fiduciary duty; breach of contract (namely, the EFT Agreement) . . . breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing; and unjust enrichment.” The consumer appealed following a dismissal of all claims by the district court. In 2017, the 10th Circuit reversed and remanded the dismissal of the breach of contract claim, and affirmed the dismissal of the other claims. The district court granted summary judgment to the bank, determining that the EFT Agreement promised accuracy only to posted amounts and not to pending or unprocessed transactions.
On appeal, the 10th Circuit agreed with the district court, holding that the plain language of the EFT Agreement only promised accuracy of posted amounts, and authorized the bank to collect overdraft fees on insufficient funds items even if an ATM card or check card transaction “was preauthorized based on sufficient funds in the account at the time of withdrawal, transfer or purchase.” Moreover, the court noted that the EFT Agreement specifically stated that there was a 7:00 p.m. cut-off for transfers to be posted. Therefore, it was clear that the bank was not “contractually obligated to make intra-bank transfers instantaneously.” Furthermore, the court pointed out that the consumer failed to provide evidence demonstrating that the bank provided inaccurate balances.
On March 26, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit affirmed a district court’s decision to dismiss putative class action allegations that a bank charged usurious interest rates on its overdraft products, finding that the bank’s “Sustained Overdraft Fees” are not interest under the National Bank Act (NBA). The plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the bank in 2017, alleging that sustained overdraft fees should be considered interest charges subject to Rhode Island’s interest rate cap of 21 percent, and that because the alleged annual interest rates exceeded the cap, the fees violated the NBA. The district court, however, dismissed the case, ruling that the sustained overdraft fees were service charges, not interest charges.
On appeal, the split three-judge panel held that, because the sustained overdraft fees did not constitute interest payments under the NBA and the OCC’s regulations interpreting the NBA, the class challenges cannot move forward. The panel stated that the agency’s interpretation in its 2007 Interpretive Letter is due “a measure of deference.” The panel found the agency’s interpretation persuasive because “[f]lat excess overdraft fees (1) arise from the terms of a bank’s deposit account agreement with its customers, (2) are connected to deposit account services, (3) lack the hallmarks of an extension of credit, and (4) do not operate like conventional interest charges.”
In dissent, Judge Lipez noted that, while the OCC interpretive letter laid out a clear case for overdraft fees as service, not interest charges, it was silent on the question of “Sustained Overdraft Fees.” He wrote that “[s]ilence, however, is not guidance, and we would thus need to infer a ruling on a debated issue from between the lines of the Letter.” Furthermore, he could “not see how we can defer to an interpretation that the OCC never clearly made on an issue that it previously described as complex and fact-specific.”
On January 31, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York granted final approval and class certification to a $22 million settlement resolving class action allegations that a national bank improperly charged overdraft fees on “one-time, non-recurring” transactions made with a ride-sharing company. The court found that the bank mischaracterized these one-time charges as recurring transactions, which allowed the bank to charge overdraft fees of $35. Prior to the court’s approval of the settlement, 12 state Attorneys General sent a letter to the court arguing that the agreement’s release of liability to the ride-sharing company was inequitable. The court found, however, that the release “does not compromise the fairness, reasonableness, and adequacy of the settlement,” where, among other things, plaintiffs’ counsel investigated the viability of claims against the ride-sharing company and concluded that litigation against the company could present problems for the proposed class and for individual recovery. The $22 million settlement constitutes 80 percent of all revenues charged by the bank as a result of the overdraft fees. The court also approved $5.5 million in attorneys’ fees and $50,000 in costs.
On November 8, the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts granted in part and denied in part a credit union’s motion to dismiss a putative class action challenging the institution’s overdraft practices. As summarized in the order, the plaintiff alleged the credit union improperly charged overdraft fees when the “available balance” of her account, which was calculated by deducting pending debits and deposit holds, was insufficient to cover a transaction, even though the “actual” or ledger balance would have covered the transaction. The plaintiff brought multiple claims against the credit union, including breach of contract and Electronic Funds Transfers Act (EFTA) claims.
The credit union moved to dismiss arguing, in part, that the relevant account agreements referenced the “available balance” method for overdraft purposes and that the term is a “well-known bank term that has long been understood to mean the money in an account minus holds placed on funds to account for uncollected deposits and for pending debit transaction.”
The court disagreed, concluding that “available balance” is not a defined term, is ambiguous, and therefore its meaning presents a factual dispute that cannot be resolved on a motion to dismiss. The court allowed, however, the EFTA claim to proceed only for violations that occurred within one year of the complaint filing.
On November 1, the Arizona Attorney General announced the approval of two more participants in the state’s fintech sandbox program. The first company, which is based in New York, will test a savings and credit product, enabling Arizona consumers to obtain a small line of credit aimed at providing overdraft protection. If a consumer agrees to a repayment plan recommended by the company’s proprietary technology, the APR may be as low at 12 percent; if a consumer adopts a different repayment plan, the line of credit will have a standard APR of 15.99 percent. The company intends to report transactions under the payment plan to national credit bureaus to enable the building of credit histories. The second company, an Arizona-based non-profit, will test a lending product using proprietary blockchain technology, which has an APR cap of 20 percent.
As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Arizona governor signed legislation in March creating the first state sandbox program for companies to test innovative financial products or services without certain regulatory requirements. In October, the Attorney General announced the first sandbox participant, a mobile platform company (InfoBytes coverage available here).
Court approves final class action settlement; previously ruled that extended overdrawn balance charge fees are “interest” under National Bank Act
On August 31, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California granted final approval to a class action settlement, resolving a suit alleging that a national bank’s overdraft fees exceeded the maximum interest rate permitted by the National Bank Act (NBA). According to the order, the settlement ends a putative class action concerning the bank’s practice of charging a $35 “extended overdrawn balance charge” fee (EOBCs) on deposit accounts that remained overdrawn for more than five days when funds were advanced to honor an overdrawn check. Class members argued that the fee amounted to interest and—when taken into account as a percentage of an account holder’s negative balance—exceeded the NBA’s allowable interest rate. The bank countered, stating that “EOBCs were not ‘interest’ and therefore cannot trigger the NBA.” A 2016 order denying the bank’s motion to dismiss, which departed from several other district courts on this issue, found that “covering an overdraft check is an ‘extension of credit’” and therefore overdraft fees can be considered interest under the NBA. The bank appealed the decision to the 9th Circuit in April 2017, but reached a settlement last October with class members.
Under the terms of the approved settlement, the bank will refrain from charging extended overdraft fees for five years—retroactive to December 31, 2017—unless the U.S. Supreme Court “expressly holds that EOBCs or their equivalent do not constitute interest under the NBA.” The bank also will provide $37.5 million in relief to certain class members who paid at least one EOBC and were not provided a refund or a charge-off, and will provide at least $29.1 million in debt reduction for class members whose overdrawn accounts were closed by the bank while they still had an outstanding balance as a result of one or more EOBCs applied during the class period. The bank also will pay attorneys’ fees.
On July 26, the Federal Reserve Board released its inaugural Consumer Compliance Supervision Bulletin (Bulletin) to share information about the agency’s supervisory observations and other noteworthy developments related to consumer protection, and provide practical steps for banking organizations to consider when addressing consumer compliance risk. The first Bulletin focuses on fair lending issues related to the practice of redlining and outlines key risk factors the Fed considers in its review, such as (i) whether a bank’s Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) assessment areas inappropriately exclude minority census tracts; (ii) whether a bank’s Home Mortgage Disclosure Act or CRA lending data show “statistically significant disparities in majority minority census tracts when compared with similar lenders”; or (iii) whether the bank’s branches, loan production offices, or marketing strategies appear to exclude majority minority census tracts. Practical steps for mitigating redlining risk are also provided. The Bulletin also discusses fair lending risk related to mortgage pricing discrimination against minority borrowers, small dollar loan pricing that discriminates against minorities and women, disability discrimination, and maternity leave discrimination.
The Bulletin additionally addresses unfair or deceptive acts or practices risks related to overdrafts, misrepresentations made by loan officers, and the marketing of student financial products and services. The Bulletin also highlights regulatory and policy developments related to the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council’s updated Uniform Interagency Consumer Compliance Rating System along with recent changes to the Military Lending Act.
On May 10, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit held that a national bank did not waive its right to arbitration with respect to the unnamed plaintiffs in five class actions. The decision stems from multiple class action filings against that bank and over a dozen other banks in 2008 and 2009, alleging unlawful overdraft practices. In late 2009, the actions were consolidated and the bank filed answers to the five complaints, in each answer stating, “[a]bsent members of the putative classes have a contractual obligation to arbitrate any claims they have against [the bank].” The bank originally chose to not move for arbitration against the named class members, but after the Supreme Court decision in AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, the bank filed a motion to compel the named plaintiffs to arbitrate. The appellate court affirmed the district court’s denial of the motion. The bank then moved to compel arbitration against the unnamed class members, which the district court denied and the appellate court vacated, holding that the lower court lacked jurisdiction to rule on the arbitration obligations without a class certification. After the district court granted class certification, the bank moved to compel arbitration against the unnamed class members again and the district court denied the motion, holding that the bank “acted inconsistently with its arbitration rights” during the precertification litigation efforts.
In vacating the district court’s decision, the appellate court concluded that the bank had not acted inconsistently with respect to the unnamed plaintiffs and had expressly stated it wished to preserve arbitration rights against those class members when the matter became ripe. The panel vacated the district court’s order and remanded for further proceedings.
CFPB Succession: Bureau dismantles Office for Students; no longer plans student loan regulations; and more
On May 9, according to multiple reports, the CFPB internally announced that the Bureau would eliminate the Office of Students & Younger Consumers and move its staff into the Office of Financial Education as part of acting Director Mulvaney’s agency reorganization. The Bureau will continue to have a Student Loan Ombudsman position, which is required by the Dodd-Frank Act. It is also reported that the Bureau intends to create a new “Office of Cost Benefit Analysis” and rename certain existing offices. As previously covered by InfoBytes, acting Director Mulvaney plans to move the Office of Fair Lending and Equal Opportunity from the Division of Supervision, Enforcement and Fair Lending to the Office of the Director, in order to focus on “advocacy, coordination and education.” Day-to-day responsibility for enforcement and supervision oversight will remain in the renamed Division of Supervision and Enforcement (SE).
The Office of Management Budget (OMB) released the CFPB’s Spring 2018 rulemaking agenda, which no longer includes “Student Loan Servicing” as a Long-Term Action. In previous agendas, the Bureau described its plan for Student Loan Servicing as “The CFPB will continue to monitor the student loan servicing market for trends and developments. As this work continues, the Bureau will evaluate possible policy responses, including potential rulemaking. Possible topics for consideration might include specific acts or practices and consumer disclosures.” In addition to dropping Student Loan Servicing, the Spring 2018 agenda also no longer lists plans for Supervision of Larger Participants in Markets for Personal Loans, Overdraft Services, or Submission of Credit Card Agreements under TILA (more information on the CFPB’s previous plans for these rules can be found here).
As expected, the Spring 2018 agenda also included two new additions to the Proposed Rule Stage:
- HMDA. The Bureau has previously announced it intends to engage in a broader rulemaking to (i) re-examine the criteria determining whether institutions are required to report data; (ii) adjust the requirements related to reporting certain types of transactions; and (iii) re-evaluate the required reporting of additional information beyond the data points required by the Dodd-Frank Act (InfoBytes coverage here). The Bureau indicates it expects a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on any changes to the HMDA rule before 2019.
- Payday, Vehicle Title, and Certain High-Cost Installment Loans. In January, the Bureau announced the intention to reconsider the 2017 payday rule (covered by InfoBytes here). The OMB agenda indicates the Bureau expects a NPRM by February 2019.
Notably, the CFPB continues to include “Debt Collection Rule” in a Proposed Rule Stage, as it has in previous agenda iterations. However, the Bureau has extended the deadline for its NPRM to February 2019.
On February 28, the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina dismissed a complaint from a consolidated class action against a national bank, which alleged that the bank’s $20 overdraft fee is an interest charge on credit and therefore exceeds usury limits under the National Bank Act (NBA). The plaintiffs in the consolidated class action challenged the bank’s methods for assessing overdraft fees, posting debit transactions, and assessing “sustained” overdraft fees, claiming they violated federal law. In granting the dismissal, the court noted that it had previously rejected a materially identical usury claim in December 2015 and that no new evidence or authority had been brought to light that would change its decision. In addition, the court concluded that “the law is still clear that sustained overdraft fees are not interest, and that assessing such fees cannot violate the usury provision of the NBA.”
- Buckley Webcast: Maintaining privilege in cross-border internal investigations
- Moorari K. Shah to discuss "State regulatory and disclosures" at the Equipment Leasing and Finance Association Legal Forum
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "The state of the BSA 2019: What’s working, what’s not, and how to improve it" at the West Coast Anti Money-Laundering Forum
- Buckley Webcast: The future of the Community Reinvestment Act
- Hank Asbill to discuss "Creative character evidence in criminal and civil trials" at the Litigation Counsel of America Spring Conference & Celebration of Fellows
- Buckley Webcast: Amendments to the CFPB's proposed debt collection
- Brandy A. Hood to discuss "Flood NFIP in the age of extreme weather events" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Michelle L. Rogers to discuss "UDAAP compliance" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Kathryn L. Ryan to discuss "Major state law developments" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Leveraging big data responsibly" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Kathryn L. Ryan to discuss "State examination/enforcement trends" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Benjamin K. Olson to discuss "LO compensation" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- APPROVED Webcast: State and SAFE Act licensing requirements for banks
- John C. Redding to discuss "TCPA compliance in the era of mobile" at the Auto Finance Risk Summit
- Buckley Webcast: The next consumer litigation frontier? Assessing the consumer privacy litigation and enforcement landscape in 2019 and beyond
- Buckley Webcast: Data breach litigation and biometric legislation
- Buckley Webcast: Trends in e-discovery technology and case law
- Hank Asbill to discuss "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain: Addressing prosecutions driven by hidden actors" at the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers West Coast White Collar Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Keep off the grass: Mitigating the risks of banking marijuana-related businesses" at the ACAMS AML Risk Management Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Mid-year policy update" at the ACAMS AML Risk Management Conference
- Benjamin W. Hutten to discuss "Requirements for banking inherently high-risk relationships" at the Georgia Bankers Association BSA Experience Program