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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

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  • District Court orders ATM and overdraft fee case to arbitration

    Courts

    On January 25, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California granted a bank’s motion to compel arbitration in connection with a lawsuit concerning the bank’s assessment of two types of fees. According to the order, the plaintiff filed a lawsuit asserting claims for breach of contract and violation of California’s Unfair Competition Law due to the bank’s alleged practice of charging fees for out-of-network ATM use and overdraft fees related to debit card transaction timing. The bank moved to compel arbitration pursuant to the arbitration provision in the deposit account agreement executed between the bank and the plaintiff. The plaintiff argued against arbitration, citing a California Supreme Court case, McGill v. Citibank, which held that “waivers of the right to seek public injunctive relief in any forum are unenforceable.” In response, the bank argued that (i) McGill does not apply because the plaintiff is not seeking public injunctive relief; and (ii) McGill is preempted by the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA). The court agreed with the bank, determining that the relief sought by the plaintiff would primarily benefit her, stating “any public injunctive relief sought by [plaintiff] is merely incidental to her primary aim of gaining compensation for injury.” As for preemption, the court noted that even if the McGill rule was applicable to a contract, it would not survive preemption as the U.S. Supreme Court has “consistently held that the FAA preempts states’ attempts to limit the scope of arbitration agreements,” and “the McGill rule is merely the latest ‘device or formula’ intended to achieve the result of rendering an arbitration agreement against public policy.” 

    Courts State Issues Fees Arbitration Preemption U.S. Supreme Court Federal Arbitration Act

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  • Illinois authorizes higher verification fee under Payday Loan Reform Act

    State Issues

    On January 4, the Illinois governor signed HB 4873, which amends the state’s Payday Loan Reform Act (the Act) to increase from $1 to $3 the maximum verification fee that a certified consumer reporting service may charge a lender—and that the lender may pass on to the borrower—for verifying an installment payday loan as required by the Act. The increased verification fees may be charged beginning July 1, 2010. The verification fee paid by the borrower cannot exceed the fee paid by the lender.

    State Issues Payday Lending Fees Consumer Reporting Agency Lending

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  • Court approves final class action settlement; previously ruled that extended overdrawn balance charge fees are “interest” under National Bank Act

    Courts

    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.

    Courts Overdraft Settlement Class Action National Bank Act Fees Consumer Finance

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  • New Jersey amends mortgage statute, includes “transitional mortgage loan originator license”

    State Issues

    On August 24, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed AB 2035, which amends the New Jersey Residential Mortgage Lending Act and certain related statutes. Among other technical and clarifying changes, the amendments create a framework for the issuance of a “transitional mortgage loan originator license,” which would allow an “out-of-state mortgage loan originator” or a “registered mortgage loan originator” to obtain temporary authority to engage in the business of mortgage loan origination in New Jersey for 120 days before obtaining a New Jersey mortgage loan originator license. The amendments provide specific definitions for what constitutes a “registered mortgage loan originator” and what constitutes an “out-of-state mortgage loan originator.” Specifically, the amendments define an “out-of-state mortgage loan originator” as an individual who is registered with Nationwide Mortgage Licensing System and currently holds a valid mortgage loan originator license issued under the law of any other state or jurisdiction in the country. And the law amends the definition of “registered mortgage loan originator” to include a requirement that such a person must be validly registered as a mortgage loan originator with a depository institution employer for at least the one-year period prior to applying for licensure under the act. 

    The amendments revise the types of fees that residential mortgage lenders have the right to charge related to the origination, processing, and closing of a mortgage loan: (i) application fee; (ii) origination fee; (iii) lock-in fee; (iv) commitment fee; (v) warehouse fee; (vi) discount points; and (vii) fees necessary to reimburse the lender for charges imposed by third parties, such as appraisal and credit report fees. The amendments also create a different list of fees a mortgage broker may charge in connection with the brokering of any mortgage loan transaction.

    The amendments take effect 90 days after the bill’s enactment.

     

    State Issues Mortgages Mortgage Licensing Mortgage Origination Fees Mortgage Broker Licensing

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  • Georgia Attorney General reaches settlement with mortgage company to resolve allegations concerning unauthorized third-party fees

    State Issues

    On August 1, the Georgia Attorney General announced a settlement with a New Jersey-based mortgage company to resolve allegations that it charged unauthorized fees to Georgia consumers in violation of the state’s Fair Business Practices Act. According to the Attorney General’s office, the company allegedly marketed various third-party products and services, such as insurance products and home warranty programs, for certain mortgages it serviced and added the charges for these products and services to consumers’ monthly mortgage bills without their knowledge. Under the settlement terms, the company is required to (i) comply with the Fair Business Practices Act; (ii) refrain from soliciting third-party products and/or services to Georgia consumers; (iii) cease all billing for the alleged third-party products and services; (iv) notify consumers currently being billed for the alleged third-party products and services that the remainder of their contracts may be cancelled without penalty; (v) pay $25,000 in restitution; and (vi) pay $50,000 to the Attorney General’s office to go towards fees, penalties, investigation and litigation costs, and future consumer protection and education costs.

    State Issues State Attorney General Enforcement Fees Consumer Finance Settlement

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  • Court dismisses “convenience fee” action against bank for lack of damages

    Courts

    On June 25, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland dismissed a proposed class action alleging a national bank violated the Maryland Credit Grantor Closed End Credit (CLEC) law by charging “convenience fees” in connection with secured vehicle financing. According to the opinion, after the consumer defaulted on vehicle payments, the bank repossessed the consumer’s vehicle and demanded the consumer pay the deficiency balance. In August 2017, the consumer, on behalf of herself and others similarly situated, filed a class action against the bank for allegedly charging convenience fees in connection with over 500 retail installment sales contracts for vehicles governed under the CLEC. Upon removal to federal court, the consumer sought to amend her complaint to replace the CLEC claim with a breach of contract claim based on the same violation in her original complaint and the bank sought dismissal of the claim. The court granted the bank’s motion to dismiss, concluding that even if the bank did charge a convenience fee in violation of the CLEC, the bank (i) did not collect payments in excess of the original principle amount of the loan; and (ii) did not seek a deficiency judgment against the consumer. Additionally, the consumer did not seek injunctive or declaratory relief. Therefore, the court held that the consumer is not entitled to damages under CLEC and her corollary breach of contract claim is “futile and must be dismissed.”

    Courts Class Action Fees Auto Finance Damages

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  • District Court partially denies defendants’ time-barred claims, rules certain TSR violations may proceed

    Courts

    On May 3, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California addressed time-barred claims raised by a group of affiliated law firms and their managing attorneys (defendants) that partnered with a now-defunct entity to offer debt relief services to consumers. The court granted in part and denied in part defendants’ request for summary judgment after determining that many of the allegedly improper up-front fees charged to consumers seeking debt relief were collected within the three-year statute of limitations for enforcement actions. As previously covered in InfoBytes last January, the CFPB claimed, among other things, that the defendants violated the Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR) by allegedly assisting a different, now-defunct debt relief service company with charging up-front fees. Last May, the district court denied the defendants’ bid for dismissal but at the time “declined to resolve the parties’ dispute over the applicable statute of limitations.” While the CFPB agreed to limit its request for relief to the three years preceding the filing of the suit, the defendants filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that the entire action should be barred because the alleged violations relate to a “singular scheme” discovered by the CFPB in 2012. However, according to the court, federal consumer financial law states that “any violations of the TSR that occur within the relevant limitations period are not time-barred.” Therefore, because the CFPB provided evidence that fees were collected in 2015—well within the applicable statute of limitations—the defendants’ request as to violations of the TSR that allegedly occurred within three years of the filing is denied. Notwithstanding, the court granted part of the defendants’ request for summary judgment and barred all claims related to conduct that occurred outside the three-year window because the CFPB did not oppose the motion.

    Courts CFPB Debt Collection Fees Enforcement Telemarketing Sales Rule Consumer Finance

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  • Oklahoma law allows lenders to charge convenience fees for electronic payments

    State Issues

    On April 25, the Oklahoma governor signed into law an act that allows lenders to charge borrowers convenience fees for making payments via debit card, electronic funds transfer, electronic checks or other electronic means. SB 1151 provides that the nonrefundable fees shall not exceed the lesser of (i) the actual third party costs incurred by the lender for accepting and processing electronic payments; and (ii) four percent of the electronic payment transaction. Lenders must notify borrowers of the amount of the fee prior to completing a transaction and provide an opportunity to cancel the transaction without a fee. The law takes effect November 1.

    State Issues State Legislation Consumer Lending Electronic Payments Fees

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  • Arizona prohibits gift card fees and certain expiration dates

    Consumer Finance

    On April 17, the Arizona governor signed SB 1264, which prohibits the issuance or sale of gift cards in Arizona that are subject to fees or certain expiration dates. Arizona previously allowed gift cards to be subject to an expiration date, a fee, or both as long as the relevant information was clearly and conspicuously disclosed to the consumer before the purchase was made. SB 1264 prohibits gift cards from begin subject to a fee and prohibits the underlying money on a gift card from being subject to an expiration date. The law allows an expiration date with respect to the card, code, or device associated with a gift card, only if the gift card contains a clear and conspicuous disclosure that the underlying monies associated with the card do not expire and the consumer may obtain a replacement. The prohibition on gift card fees and expiration dates does not apply to (i) gift cards that are sold below face value or donated to nonprofit or charitable organizations; (ii) gift cards distributed pursuant to an awards, loyalty, or promotion program when the consumer has given no money or other property in exchange for the card; and (iii) cards for prepaid telecommunications services, electronic funds transfer cards, bank-issued debit or general purpose reloadable prepaid cards not marketed or labeled as gift cards or gift certificates. The law becomes effective 91 days after the end of the legislative session.

    Consumer Finance Gift Cards Fees State Legislation

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