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On April 9, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit held that a consumer’s insurance repayment plan on her reverse mortgage did not qualify as an escrow account under RESPA’s Regulation X. According to the opinion, a consumer’s reverse mortgage required her to maintain hazard insurance on her property, which she elected to pay herself, and did not establish an escrow account with the mortgage servicer to pay her insurance and property taxes. After her insurance lapsed, the mortgage servicer advanced her over $5,000 in funds paid directly to her insurance carrier to ensure the property was covered, subject to a repayment agreement. After the consumer failed to make any payments under the agreement, the servicer initiated a foreclosure action against the consumer and obtained a forced-placed insurance policy when the insurance lapsed for a second time. Ultimately, a state-run forgivable loan program brought the consumer’s past due balance current and excess funds were placed in a trust to cover future insurance payments on the property. The consumer filed an action against the mortgage servicer alleging the servicer violated RESPA’s implementing Regulation X when it initiated forced-placed insurance, because the repayment agreement purportedly established an escrow account, which required the servicer to advance the funds for insurance. The district court entered judgment in favor of the servicer.
On appeal, the 11th Circuit agreed with the district court, concluding that no escrow account existed between the consumer and the servicer, emphasizing that nothing in the repayment agreement set aside funds for the servicer to pay insurance or taxes on the property in the future. The 11th Circuit rejected the consumer’s characterization of the repayment agreement as an arrangement under Regulation X “where the servicer adds a portion of the borrower’s payment to principal and subsequently deducts from principal the disbursements for escrow account items.” The 11th Circuit reasoned that not only did the consumer never make a principal payment to the servicer, the consumer’s characterization is “entirely inconsistent” with the reverse mortgage security instrument. Because the servicer never deducted anything from the principal when it disbursed funds to pay the insurance, the repayment agreement did not qualify as an escrow agreement under Regulation X.
On April 5, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit reversed in part and affirmed in part a district court’s order dismissing a plaintiff’s action alleging a debt collector violated the FDCPA when attempting to collect on a time-barred debt. According to the opinion, the plaintiff brought a lawsuit asserting a debt collector (i) violated the FDCPA’s prohibition on “false, deceptive or misleading” practices under section 1692e; (ii) violated the FDCPA’s prohibition on “unfair or unconscionable” practices under section 1692f by attempting to collect on a time-barred debt; and (iii) violated Florida state collection laws. The district court dismissed the FDCPA claims, concluding that the law allows for collectors to seek “voluntary repayment of…time-barred debt so long as the debt collector does not initiate or threaten legal action,” and declined to exercise jurisdiction over the state law claims once it dismissed the FDCPA claims.
On appeal, the 11th Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the section 1692f claim, rejecting the argument that attempts to collect on time-barred debt are generally unconscionable or unfair under the law. As for the claim under section 1692e, the 11th Circuit concluded the collection letter could plausibly be misleading or deceptive to the “least sophisticated consumer.” Specifically, the 11th Circuit noted that, “as a general matter, a creditor can seek voluntary payment of a time-barred debt,” but the “right to seek repayment does not confer a right to mislead” and one must only “reasonably infer an implicit threat” of litigation to state a claim under section 1692e. The 11th Circuit concluded that the letter’s offer to “resolve” the debt at a discount—“combined with a deadline” to accept the offer—is a “warning” that the offer may not be renewed, and that a lack of disclosure that the debt is time barred could “plausibly deceive or mislead an unsophisticated consumer as to the legal status of the debt, even in the absence of an express threat of litigation.” In reversing the dismissal of the claim under section 1692e, the appellate court also reinstated the state law claim and remanded the case back to district court.
On March 11, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit affirmed a lower court’s dismissal of a consumer’s FDCPA action. The consumer alleged that his mortgage servicer violated the FDCPA by attempting to collect overdue payments beyond Florida’s five-year statute of limitations for foreclosure actions. According to the opinion, the consumer “stopped paying his mortgage in 2008 and has not made payments since then.” In 2009, the servicer invoked an acceleration clause and attempted to foreclose on the property, but the foreclosure action was dismissed in 2011. In 2015, the servicer sent another notice of default, accelerated the debt once again, and filed a second foreclosure action seeking the entire debt, including all delinquent payments since 2008. The consumer filed suit, arguing that the servicer, by seeking pre-2010 debt in 2015, violated the FDCPA’s prohibition on the collection of time-barred debts. The lower court dismissed the action.
On appeal, the 11th Circuit held that the pre-2010 debt sought in the 2015 foreclosure action “was not time-barred as a matter of law” and therefore did not violate the FDCPA. The 11th Circuit found that Florida’s five-year statute of limitations does not necessarily bar the recovery of payments that were originally due more than five years prior to the filing of the foreclosure action. Instead, any time a consumer defaults and the servicer invokes an acceleration clause, the entire debt “comes due” and the five-year clock starts to run.
11th Circuit holds deaf plaintiff not required to file complaint with FCC before filing lawsuit under other federal disability rights laws
On September 28, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit vacated a district court’s decision to grant a Florida city’s (City) motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, holding that (i) the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 (CVAA) did not require the appellant to exhaust his remedies before the FCC prior to commencing a lawsuit under other federal disability statutes; and (ii) the primary-jurisdiction doctrine does not apply to this case.
According to the opinion, the appellant, a deaf individual, alleged that none of the video content stored on the City’s four webpages provided closed captioning, in violation of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. The district court dismissed the action without prejudice, holding the CVAA requires exhaustion of remedies by the FCC as a prerequisite to the filing of a lawsuit.
On appeal, the 11th Circuit rejected as “an overbroad reading of the statute” the City’s argument that the CVAA contains an exhaustion requirement for claims brought under other disability rights statutes. In support of its position that the FCC only has exclusive jurisdiction over closed captioning complaints brought under the relevant section of the CVAA, the Court cited a 9th Circuit decision, which concluded “the FCC’s exclusive jurisdiction over complaints under the CVAA does nothing to extinguish [the plaintiff’s] right to pursue broader relief for online captioning under [California state law].” In rejecting the City’s primary-jurisdiction argument, the 11th Circuit first cited instances where the FCC—in a report to Congress and in a communication to this plaintiff in an unrelated action—took the position that the CVAA does not require plaintiffs to exhaust administrative remedies as a prerequisite to bringing lawsuits under other federal statutes. The Court also applied the two-factor primary jurisdiction doctrine test, concluding that (i) the FCC has no expertise with respect to the claims under the other federal disability rights statutes before the lower court; and (ii) “this case presents no special need for uniformity.”
On September 24, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of two class actions on grounds that the “filed-rate doctrine” precludes the plaintiffs’ claims. In their complaints, the plaintiffs alleged that their loan servicers charged “inflated amounts” for lender-placed insurance by receiving “rebates” or “kickbacks” from an insurance company without passing the savings on to consumers. The district court dismissed the actions with prejudice, holding that the filed-rate doctrine barred the plaintiffs’ claims. On appeal, the 11th Circuit upheld the lower court’s decision, finding that the plaintiffs’ allegations challenged the insurance company’s filed rate. As a result, the court determined that the plaintiffs’ allegations were textbook examples of claims barred by the nonjusticiability principle, which provides that duly-empowered administrative agencies have exclusive say over the rates charged by regulated entities because agencies are more competent than the courts at the rate-making process.
On June 27, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit affirmed summary judgment for a mortgage servicer, concluding that reporting the consumer as delinquent to credit bureaus during a forbearance plan is neither inaccurate nor materially misleading under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). According to the opinion, a borrower enrolled in a forbearance plan with her mortgage servicer, which allowed for a “monthly forbearance plan payment” of $25 while the remaining payment balance accrued and became due at the end of the plan. Before the borrower agreed to the plan, a representative for the servicer explained to the borrower that because she was not paying the actual contractual payment under the note, the monthly payments would still be considered late. The mortgage servicer reported the borrower past due for the duration of the plan, and the borrower subsequently filed suit alleging violations of the FCRA. In affirming the lower court’s decision, the appeals court found that while the borrower made timely payments under the forbearance plan, the payments were not the ones she was contractually bound to make under the mortgage note. Additionally, the appeals court found that the borrower did not establish that the forbearance plan legally modified the original note and, therefore, the information the servicer reported to the credit bureaus was not inaccurate and was also not materially misleading “particularly in light of [the servicer’s] additional affirmative statement that [the borrower] was paying under a partial payment agreement.”
On June 19, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit held that a plaintiff’s claims against a national restaurant chain for allegedly operating a website that was not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) are not moot despite a previous settlement with a separate plaintiff. The plaintiff sued the restaurant chain seeking declaratory and injunctive relief, requesting that the court (i) order the restaurant to alter its website and make it accessible to individuals with disabilities as required by Title III of the ADA; and (ii) order the restaurant chain to continually update and maintain that accessibility. Prior to the plaintiff’s filing, the restaurant chain reached a settlement in an earlier case with similar claims. The district court held that the plaintiff’s claims were moot because the restaurant chain had already agreed to the remedy the plaintiff sought in the previous settlement and had begun the process of its remediation plan by placing an accessibility notice on its website. On appeal, the 11th Circuit disagreed with the lower court, holding that the plaintiff’s claims are not moot, finding that the restaurant chain has not yet successfully remediated its website and the plaintiff’s request for an injunction against the restaurant chain if the website is not brought into compliance is still viable. The appellate court also noted that the current plaintiff would have no way of enforcing the settlement’s remediation plan because he was not a party to that action.
11th Circuit vacates FTC data security cease and desist order issued against medical testing laboratory
On June 6, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit vacated an FTC cease and desist order (Order) that directed a Georgia-based medical testing laboratory to overhaul its data security program, ruling that the Order was unenforceable because it lacked specifics on how the overhaul should be accomplished. In 2013, the FTC claimed that the laboratory’s violation of Section 5(a) of the FTC Act constituted an “unfair act or practice” by allegedly failing to implement and provide reasonable and appropriate data security for patient information. The now defunct laboratory argued, among other things, that the FTC did not have the authority under Section 5 to regulate how it handled its data security measures. But the three-judge panel chose not to rule on the broader question about the scope of the FTC’s Section 5 data security authority, choosing to focus its decision on the Order. As previously covered in InfoBytes, in 2016 the FTC reversed an Administrative Law Judge’s Initial Decision to dismiss the 2013 FTC complaint, ordering the laboratory to, among other things, employ reasonable security practices that complied with FTC standards.
After the Order was issued, the laboratory asked the 11th Circuit to decide whether the FTC’s Order was “unenforceable because it does not direct it to cease committing an unfair ‘act or practice’ within the meaning of Section 5(a).” The 11th Circuit agreed to stay enforcement of the Order and ultimately permanently vacated it. “In the case at hand, the cease and desist order contains no prohibitions,” the panel wrote. “It does not instruct [the laboratory] to stop committing a specific act or practice. Rather, it commands [the laboratory] to overhaul and replace its data security program to meet an indeterminable standard of reasonableness. This command is unenforceable.” The court concluded that “[t]his is a scheme that Congress could not have envisioned.”
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.
On April 23, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit upheld a district court’s decision to deny a global money services business’s motion to compel arbitration under the doctrine of equitable estoppel. According to the unpublished opinion, the plaintiff-appellee—a customer of a now defunct cryptocurrency exchange (defunct exchange)—filed a proposed class action against the money services business and the CEO of the defunct exchange, alleging that when the money services business liquidated bitcoin into cash for two accounts that the CEO opened, it aided and abetted the defunct exchange’s breach of fiduciary duty and the CEO’s theft of customer assets. The customer claimed that the money services business had a duty under the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) to monitor or investigate the CEO’s actions, detect the CEO’s theft of customer assets, and report the CEO’s suspicious activity to appropriate authorities. However, the business argued that when the CEO opened his accounts, he agreed to be bound by an arbitration clause in the user agreement, and that therefore, under the doctrine of equitable estoppel, the customer was bound by the arbitration clause because the customer’s claims were based on the user agreement. The district court rejected the business’s argument and found that the customer was not asserting any rights or benefits that arose out of the user agreement but rather on duties created under the BSA. The 11th Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision, stating that the customer’s claims were predicated on duties the defendant-appellant owed under federal statutes and regulations as well as state common law and not on enforcing the terms of the user agreement, and, therefore, the customer could not be compelled to arbitrate the claim.
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