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Maryland files charges against title company for allegedly making unlicensed, usurious consumer loans
On April 11, the Maryland Attorney General announced an administrative proceeding taken against a title company, its owner, and related businesses for allegedly making unlicensed and usurious title loans secured by consumers’ motor vehicles. According to the AG’s charges, the defendants, among other things, allegedly engaged in unfair or deceptive trade practices by offering consumers high-interest, short-term title loans with typical annual interest rates of 360 percent. The AG contends that the loans offered by the defendants qualify as consumer loans under Maryland law and therefore are subject to state interest rate caps. Furthermore, the AG alleges that the defendants were never licensed by the Maryland Commissioner of Financial Regulation to make consumer loans in the state. The AG seeks an order compelling the defendants “to permanently cease and desist from making unlicensed and usurious consumer loans in Maryland, to pay restitution to all affected consumers, and to pay civil penalties.”
On April 15, the Iowa governor signed HF 260, which amends the maximum interest rate and charges permitted under Iowa Code 2019. Specifically, for interest-bearing consumer credit transactions up to $30,000 (increased from $10,000), the interest rate may not exceed the lesser of $30 or ten percent of the financed amount. The amendments also specify the minimum charge creditors are allowed to collect or retain when prepayments are made in full, and stipulate that if a service charge has been collected on an interest-bearing consumer credit transaction then a “creditor shall not collect or retain a minimum charge upon prepayment.” HF 260 takes effect July 1.
On March 1, plaintiffs filed a proposed class action settlement agreement with a debt collection firm in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, which would potentially end litigation dating back to 2011 concerning alleged violations of state usury limitations. The proposed settlement would resolve claims originally brought by the plaintiffs alleging that the defendants violated the FDCPA and New York state usury law when it attempted to collect charged-off credit card debt, purchased from a national bank, from borrowers with interest rates above the state’s 25 percent cap. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in 2015, the 2nd Circuit reversed the district court’s 2013 decision, and held that a nonbank entity taking assignment of debts originated by a national bank is not entitled to protection under the National Bank Act from state-law usury claims. This ruling contradicted the “Valid-When-Made Doctrine,” which is a longstanding principle of usury law that if a loan is not usurious when made, then it does not become usurious when assigned to another party. Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to decline to hear the case, the district court issued a ruling in 2017 (covered by InfoBytes here) holding that New York’s fundamental public policy against usury overrides a Delaware choice-of-law clause in the plaintiff’s original credit card agreement. The court granted the plaintiff’s motion for class certification, and allowed the FDCPA and related state unfair or deceptive acts or practices claims to proceed. However, the court did not allow the plaintiff’s claims for violations of New York’s usury law to proceed, as it held that New York’s civil usury statute does not apply to defaulted debts and that the plaintiff cannot directly enforce the criminal usury statute.
Under the terms of the proposed settlement, the defendants are required to, among other things, (i) provide class members with $555,000 in monetary relief; (ii) provide $9.2 million in credit balance reductions; (iii) pay $550,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs; and (iv) agree to comply with all applicable laws, regulations, and case law regarding the collection of interest, including the collection of usurious interest.
On February 7, the Ohio Court of Appeals reversed a state trial court’s decision in favor of a national bank, holding that the bank failed to prove it had the right to charge interest exceeding the statutory limit on a credit card account. At trial, the bank sought payment of the consumer’s store credit card debt it acquired in a merger. The consumer argued that the bank had no standing to sue because it failed to prove ownership of the store credit card account. The trial court denied the consumer’s motion to dismiss and granted the bank’s motion for a directed verdict after trial.
The appeals court agreed that, even though the bank was unable to establish that it acquired the consumer’s account, it had standing to bring its collection action by virtue of its own credit card agreement with the consumer and the consumer’s continued use of the card. But because the bank could only produce periodic statements that included the claimed interest rate, it failed to establish that the consumer “assented to any explicitly set forth interest rate over the statutory limit.” Thus, the trial court “erred in granting [the bank’s] motion for a directed verdict as to the precise amount of damages awarded,” and the appeals court remanded with instructions to determine whether Ohio law, as argued by the consumer, or South Dakota law, as argued by the bank, should be applied to verify the applicable statutory interest rates.
On January 23, the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota denied two financing companies’ (collectively, “defendants”) motions to dismiss an action alleging the defendants violated the Consumer Leasing Act (CLA), TILA, and a Minnesota law prohibiting usurious contracts through a transaction to purchase a puppy. According to the opinion, the plaintiff financed the purchase of a puppy through the defendants, which allowed her to take possession of the puppy in exchange for 24 monthly payments through an agreement styled as a “Consumer Pet Lease.” The agreement had an APR of 120 percent. The plaintiff filed suit against the defendants alleging the companies violated (i) the CLA by failing to disclose the number of payments owed under the agreement prior to execution; (ii) TILA by failing to adequately disclose the finance charge, the APR, and the “total of payments” as required under the Act; and (iii) the state’s usury law cap of 8 percent for personal debt. The defendants moved to dismiss the action challenging the plaintiff’s standing, among other things. The court, rejected the defendants arguments, finding that the consumer adequately alleged injury by stating she “would” have, not “might” have, pursued other funding had the defendants disclosed the actual interest rate. Additionally, the court determined the consumer plausibly alleged a CLA violation because the agreement contains information the plaintiff could view as “conflicting and confusing.” With respect to the TILA claims, the plaintiff argued that, although the agreement is styled as a lease, it is actually a credit sale, and the court rejected one of the defendant’s arguments that it was not a creditor, but rather a servicer not subject to TILA. Lastly, the court held the plaintiff adequately pleaded her state usury claim, but noted the claim’s viability would be better informed by discovery. Accordingly, the court denied the defendants’ motions to dismiss.
On January 22, the California Department of Business Oversight (DBO) announced a $900,000 settlement with a California-based lender for allegedly steering borrowers into high-interest loans to avoid statutory interest rate caps. According to the DBO, the lender’s practice of overcharging interest and administrative fees violated the California Financing Law, which caps interest on small-dollar loans up to $2,499 at rates between 20 percent and 30 percent, but does not provide a cap for loans of $2,500 and higher. The DBO also asserts that the lender’s brochures, which advertised loans of “‘up to $5,000’ without stating that the minimum loan amount offered by [the lender] was $2,501,” were false, misleading, or deceptive. Moreover, the lender allegedly failed to allow certain borrowers the opportunity to make advance payments “in any amount on any loan contract at any time.”
Additionally, the DBO alleges that the lender overcharged roughly $700,000 in payday loan transactions by (i) collecting charges twice; (ii) allowing borrowers to take out a new loan before paying off the old one; and (iii) depositing some borrowers’ checks prior to the specified date in the loan agreement without their written authorization.
Under the terms of the consent order, the lender will, among other things, provide $800,000 in refunds to qualifying borrowers, pay $105,000 in penalties and other costs, and provide accurate verbal disclosures to borrowers concerning loan amounts and interest rate caps.
On January 4, the administrator of the Colorado Uniform Consumer Credit Code issued a memo providing introductory guidance on alternative charge loans in response to Proposition 111, which amends the state’s Deferred Deposit Loan Act (DDLA) and takes effect February 1. (See previous InfoBytes coverage here.) Among other things, Proposition 111 reduces the maximum annual percentage rate that may be charged on deferred deposits or payday loans to 36 percent, eliminates an alternative APR formula based on loan amount, prohibits lenders from charging origination and monthly maintenance fees, and amends the definition of an unfair or deceptive practice.
The memo—issued in response to creditors currently offering loans under the DDLA who have expressed an interest in offering loans imposing the alternative charges allowed by Colo. Rev. Stat. § 5-2-214—explains that such alternative charges may only be charged if (i) the financed amount is $1000 or less; (ii) the minimum loan term is at least 90 days but no more than 12 months; (iii) installment payments are scheduled in substantially equal periodic intervals; (iv) Truth-In-Lending disclosures show the loan is unsecured; (v) a creditor has not taken any collateral as security for the loan, including a post-dated check or certain ACH authorization; (vi) an ACH agreement reached with a consumer is voluntary and not required by the loan; and (vii) the loan has not been refinanced more than three times in one year.
Fifteen states urge the 4th Circuit against allowing non-tribal payday lenders to receive tribal immunity
On December 27, 2018, fifteen state Attorneys General filed an amici brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit opposing the use of structures in which non-tribal payday lenders affiliate with tribal lenders to benefit from their tribal immunity and avoid state usury caps. The brief was filed in an appeal from a district court ruling, which held that a Michigan-based payday lender could not claim tribal immunity in a consumer class action because it could not prove it was an actual tribal entity. The Attorneys General argue that granting tribal immunity to non-tribal lenders would “bar enforcement of state consumer protection laws as well as, potentially, investigations into their activities.” The brief rejects the payday lender’s arguments that the plaintiff should bear the burden of negating “arm-of-the-tribe immunity” and instead urges the court to place the burden on the entity seeking the immunity. Allowing a non-tribal entity to benefit from sovereign immunity without “rigorous demonstration”, the Attorneys General argue, “may well undermine the purpose for tribal immunity” and “would have serious consequences for States’ ability to protect consumers.”
The brief was filed by the District of Columbia and the States of Connecticut, Hawaii, Iowa, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Virginia.
On December 19, the FDIC announced an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPR) requesting comments on the agency's brokered deposit and interest rate cap regulations. (See also FDIC FIL-87-2018.) These regulations were originally implemented in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and apply to less than well-capitalized insured depository institutions. According to the FDIC, there have been “significant changes in technology, business models, the economic environment, and products since the regulations were adopted.” Currently, Section 29 of the Federal Deposit Insurance Act restricts less than well-capitalized insured depository institutions from accepting brokered deposits, and places restrictions on interest rates that these insured depository institutions can offer. The ANPR includes a series of questions seeking feedback on a number of issues, including (i) ways in which the FDIC can improve the implementation of Section 29 “while continuing to protect the safety and soundness of the banking system;” (ii) whether the definition of a brokered deposit is too narrow or too broad; (iii) whether there have been specific changes within the financial services industry since the regulations were adopted that should be considered; (iv) whether there should be changes to the agency’s national rate calculation; and (v) how rates offered by internet or electronic-based financial institutions should be calculated.
The ANPR further notes that the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act created an exception from brokered deposit consideration for some reciprocal deposits. (See previous InfoBytes coverage here.)
On December 3, the OCC released its Semiannual Risk Perspective for Fall 2018, identifying and reiterating key risk areas that pose a threat to the safety and soundness of national banks and federal savings associations. The report focuses on risks to the federal banking system based on five areas: the operating environment, bank performance, special topics in emerging risk, trends in key risks, and supervisory actions. Overall, loans and bank profitability grew in 2018 as the U.S. economy continued to grow. Moreover, recent examination findings indicate incremental improvements in banks’ general risk management practices. Specific risk areas of concern noted by the OCC include: (i) the origination quality of new loans and potential embedded risks from previously successive years of relaxed underwriting standards; (ii) an increasingly complex operating environment, including the continually evolving threat to cybersecurity; (iii) elevated money-laundering risks; and (iv) rising market interest rates, including certain risks associated with heightened competition for deposits.
The report also notes that outstanding enforcement actions continue to decline since peaking in 2010, which, according to the OCC, reflects an overall improvement in, among other things, banks’ risk management practices. The leading cause of current enforcement actions continues to be compliance or operational failures.
- 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
- Douglas F. Gansler to discuss "Role of state AGs in consumer protection" at a George Mason University Law & Economics Center symposium