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On December 7, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California denied a bank’s motion to dismiss a putative class action alleging the bank violated the California Unfair Competition Law (UCL) by not paying interest to residential mortgagors on funds held in escrow accounts, as required by California law. The three plaintiffs filed the complaint against the bank after the March decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in Lusnak v. Bank of America, which held that a national bank must comply with a California law that requires mortgage lenders to pay interest on the funds held in a consumer’s escrow account. (Previously covered by InfoBytes here.) The plaintiffs argued that the 9th Circuit decision requires the bank to comply with the California law requiring interest on funds held in escrow.
In response, the bank filed a motion to dismiss, or in the alternative to stay the case, on the basis that the plaintiffs failed to provide the bank with notice and an opportunity to cure alleged misconduct prior to judicial action as required by the mortgage deed, and that the plaintiff’s claims were preempted by the Home Owners Loan Act (HOLA). The court rejected these arguments, finding that the plaintiff’s failure to comply with the ambiguous provisions in the mortgage deed do not foreclosure their claims, concluding “[t]o deprive Plaintiffs of recourse to their statutory rights based on an ambiguous contractual provision would also frustrate the consumer protection purposes of those statutes.” As to the HOLA argument, the court acknowledged that HOLA preempted the state interest law as to the originator of the mortgages, a now-defunct federal thrift, but disagreed with the bank’s assertion that the preemption attached throughout the life of the loan, including after the loan is transferred to a bank whose own lending is not covered by HOLA. Specifically, the court looked to the legislative intent of HOLA and noted it was unclear if Congress intended for preemption to attach through the life of the loan, but found a clear goal of consumer protection. Therefore, the court concluded that “[a]llowing preemption may run contrary to HOLA's purpose and could result in a gross miscarriage of justice” by depriving homeowners of state law protections.
Additionally, the court rejected as moot the alternative request to stay the case pending the Supreme Court’s resolution of Lusnak, because the Supreme Court denied the petition of writ in that case in November (covered by InfoBytes here).
On November 19, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit’s March decision, which held that a California law requiring banks to pay interest on mortgage escrow funds is not preempted by federal law. As previously covered by InfoBytes, a national bank petitioned for writ of certiorari in August, arguing the 9th Circuit’s decision—holding that the Dodd-Frank Act of 2011 codified the existing National Bank Act preemption standard from the 1996 Supreme Court decision in Barnett Bank of Marion County v. Nelson—warranted further review “because it creates significant uncertainty about whether national banks must comply with similar laws in other states” and whether other state banking laws also apply to national banks. Additionally, the petition argued the uncertainty is exacerbated by the fact that the appellate court “disregarded and refused to enforce longstanding OCC regulations” and that the court interpreted the Barnett decision incorrectly.
CSBS files lawsuit over OCC’s fintech charter decision, arguing agency exceeds it authority under the National Bank Act
On October 25, the Conference of State Bank Supervisors (CSBS) filed a lawsuit against the OCC arguing that the agency exceeded its authority under the National Bank Act (NBA) and other federal banking laws when it allowed non-bank institutions, including fintech companies, to apply for a Special Purpose National Bank Charter (SPNB). As previously covered by InfoBytes, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia dismissed CSBS’s challenge last April on ripeness grounds because the OCC had not yet issued a fintech charter to any firm. But CSBS renewed its challenge in light of the OCC’s July announcement welcoming non-depository fintech companies engaging in one or more core-banking functions to apply for a SPNB (previously covered by Buckley Sandler Special Alert here), and statements indicating the OCC is currently vetting several companies and expects to make charter decisions mid-2019.
Among other things, the complaint argues that the SPNB program (i) exceeds the OCC’s statutory authority because the OCC may not “redefine the business of banking” to include non-depository institutions; (ii) is “arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion” because it inadequately addresses, without explanation, “the myriad policy implications and concerns raised by the public” and the “cost-benefit” tradeoffs; (iii) did not include the proper notice and comment period for preemption interpretations under the NBA; and (iv) is an improper invasion of “state sovereign interests.”
Utah Supreme Court reverses foreclosure ruling, states OCC interpretation of “located” is reasonable
On October 5, the Utah Supreme Court revisited a 2013 decision in which it held that federal law does not preempt Utah state law that limits the ability of national banks to foreclose on real property in the state. In a unanimous opinion, the court wrote that it was overruling its “clearly erroneous” decision in a case stemming from a borrower’s challenge to the validity of a nonjudicial foreclosure sale of her Utah home by a Texas-based national bank. According to the opinion, the borrower argued that the sale of her home at auction was invalid because Utah state law “does not permit a bank to act as a trustee on a trust need.” Fannie Mae, which won the auction, secured an eviction order and argued that under the National Bank Act (NBA), the bank had the authority to conduct the sale. The court, however, reversed the eviction order after deciding that the bank did not have the authority under Utah law to act as a trustee under a deed of trust.
In overruling its 2013 decision, the court held that whether a national bank has the authority to act as a trustee to foreclose on property in Utah depends on the OCC’s regulation implementing the NBA, not on Utah state law. According to the OCC’s interpretation of Section 92a of the NBA, a bank is located in the state where it “accepts the fiduciary appointment, executes the documents that create the fiduciary relationship, and makes discretionary decisions regarding the investment or distribution of fiduciary assets.” Previously, the court had found this interpretation to be unreasonable and not entitled to Chevron deference. However, when reconsidering the issue, the court determined that the OCC had the authority to implement the NBA and that the agency’s interpretation of the word “located” was reasonable. “Whatever located means, Congress has instructed that a state has to permit a national bank to act as a fiduciary if institutions that compete with the national bank in the state where it is located can act as a fiduciary,” the court wrote. “This expresses a federal intent to clomp into an area of traditional state concern.” The question, however, remained whether the bank performed its actions in a fiduciary capacity in Texas—a point on which the two parties to the litigation disagreed. “Because the district court has not had the opportunity to address this issue and because of the potential need for factual findings, we remand for the district court to consider this argument,” the opinion stated.
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 August 14, a national bank filed a petition for writ of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court requesting review of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit’s March decision, which held that a California law that requires the bank to pay interest on mortgage escrow funds is not preempted by federal law. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the 9th Circuit held that the Dodd-Frank Act of 2011 essentially codified the existing National Bank Act preemption standard from the 1996 Supreme Court decision in Barnett Bank of Marion County v. Nelson. In May, a panel of three judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit denied the petition for an en banc rehearing. In its petition, the bank argues that the appeals court decision warrants further review “because it creates significant uncertainty about whether national banks must comply with similar laws in other states” and whether other state banking laws also apply to national banks. The petition argues the uncertainty is exacerbated by the fact that the appellate court “disregarded and refused to enforce longstanding OCC regulations.” The bank contends that the 9th circuit interpreted the decision in Barnett incorrectly, and when a state law limits “a national bank’s federal authority to set the terms for their products and services, it is preempted by the National Bank Act.”
On June 27, the Colorado and New York Attorneys General led a coalition of 21 state Attorneys General in a letter to congressional leaders opposing HR 3299 (“Protecting Consumers’ Access to Credit Act of 2017”) and HR 4439 (“Modernizing Credit Opportunities Act”), which would effectively overturn the 2015 decision in Madden v. Midland Funding, LLC. Specifically, H.R. 3299 and H.R. 4439 would codify the “valid-when-made” doctrine and ensure that a bank loan that was valid as to its maximum rate of interest in accordance with federal law at the time the loan was made shall remain valid with respect to that rate, regardless of whether the bank subsequently sells or assigns the loan to a third party.
The letter argues that the legislation “would legitimize the efforts of some non-bank lenders to circumvent state usury law” and it was not Congress’ intention to authorize these arrangements with the creation of the National Bank Act. In support of their position, the Attorneys General cite to a 2002 press release by the OCC and the more recent OCC Bulletin 2018-14 on small dollar lending, which stated the agency “views unfavorably an entity that partners with a bank with the sole goal of evading a lower interest rate established under the law of the entity’s licensing state(s).” (Previously covered by InfoBytes here.) The letter also refers to an 1833 Supreme Court case, Nichols v. Fearson, which held that a “valid loan is not invalidated by a later usurious transaction involving that loan” but was not relevant to the decision in Madden because the borrower’s argument related to preemption. Ultimately, the Attorneys General conclude the legislation would erode an “important sphere of state regulation” as state usury laws have “long served an important consumer protection function in America.”
On May 16, a panel of three judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit denied the petition for an en banc rehearing of its March decision, which held that a California law that requires a bank to pay interest on escrow funds is not preempted by federal law. In addition to the national bank’s appeal for a rehearing, the OCC notably filed an amicus brief supporting the rehearing, arguing that the court “comprehensively misinterpreted” the Supreme Court’s 1996 decision Barnett Bank of Marion County v. Nelson. (Previously covered by InfoBytes here.) The panel noted that the full court had been advised of the bank’s petition for rehearing, and no judge had requested a vote on rehearing.
On April 24, the OCC filed an amicus curiae brief in support of an en banc rehearing of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit’s March decision, which held that a California law that requires the bank to pay interest on escrow funds is not preempted by federal law. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the 9th Circuit held that the Dodd-Frank Act of 2011 (Dodd-Frank) essentially codified the existing National Bank Act (NBA) preemption standard from the 1996 Supreme Court decision in Barnett Bank of Marion County v. Nelson.
In a strongly worded brief, the OCC states that the court “errs in matters of fundamental importance to the national banking system” and “comprehensively misinterpreted” Barnett Bank and the cases upon which that decision rests. The OCC specifically argues that the court misinterpreted the legal standard for preemption articulated by Barnett Bank, ignored applicable Supreme Court standards prescribing a test for reviewing preemptive regulations, improperly created a burden of proof on national banks to demonstrate Congressional intent as to preemption, and inappropriately imposed a higher bar for “large corporate banks” to show state law interference. The OCC also argues that the court’s reliance on the effective dates of the Dodd-Frank provisions relied upon by the Court pre-date the transactions that were at issue in the case, and would therefore have no application to the facts of the case.
This filing supports the national bank’s petition for en banc rehearing filed April 13 and previously covered by InfoBytes here.
Bank petitions for rehearing of 9th Circuit preemption decision; OCC to file amicus brief in support of bank
On April 13, a national bank filed a petition for an en banc rehearing of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit’s March decision, which held that a California law that requires the bank to pay interest on escrow funds is not preempted by federal law. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the 9th Circuit held that the Dodd-Frank Act of 2011 (Dodd-Frank) essentially codified the existing National Bank Act (NBA) preemption standard from the 1996 Supreme Court decision in Barnett Bank of Marion County v. Nelson. The panel cited to Section 1639d(g)(3) of Dodd-Frank, which, according to the opinion, expresses Congress’ view that the type of law at issue does not “prevent or significantly interfere with a national bank’s operations” because the law does not “prevent or significantly interfere” with the national bank’s exercise of its power. Additionally, the 9th Circuit concluded that the OCC’s 2004 preemption regulation had no effect on the preemption standard.
In its petition for rehearing, the bank argues that the 9th Circuit’s decision, if allowed to stand, “will create confusion regarding which state laws apply to national banks and restrict the terms on which they may extend credit” because the decision conflicts with previous decisions by the same court, the Supreme Court, and other circuits. The bank also acknowledges the OCC’s intent to file an amicus curiae brief in support of the petition no later than April 23.
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- Jessica L. Pollet to discuss "Law & compliance speedsmarts" at the American Financial Services Association Law & Compliance Symposium
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