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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

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  • 1st Circuit rejects dismissal of a Massachusetts foreclosure notice action

    Courts

    On February 8, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit reversed the district court’s dismissal of a Massachusetts homeowners’ action alleging that the mortgage holder failed to comply with the notice requirement in their mortgage before foreclosing on their property. The district court dismissed the action after concluding that the mortgage holder’s notice satisfied the notice requirements by including the default amount, a cure date, and the fact that failure to cure could result in acceleration. The homeowners appealed, arguing that the mortgage holder failed to strictly comply with the provision’s requirements because the notice provided did not include the conditions and time limitations associated with reinstatement after acceleration that were required by a separate provision in the mortgage.

    On appeal, the 1st Circuit reviewed the notice under Massachusetts law, which requires mortgage holders to strictly comply with two types of mortgage terms: (i) ones “directly concerned with the foreclosure sale. . .” and (ii) ones “prescribing actions the mortgagee must take in connection with the foreclosure sale—whether before or after the sale takes place.” In overturning the District Court’s dismissal, the 1st Circuit noted that, because the notice did not contain the additional conditions and time limitations associated with reinstatement from the separate provision, dismissal was inappropriate. 

    Courts Mortgages Foreclosure Notice State Issues

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  • D.C. act provides eviction and foreclosure relief to federal employees and contractors impacted by shutdown

    State Issues

    On February 6, the Mayor of the District of Columbia signed Act 23-5 (B23-0080) to protect federal workers, contractors, and employees of the District of Columbia Courts from eviction and foreclosure during federal government shutdowns. Among other things, the D.C. Superior Court will have the ability to grant motions to stay foreclosure and eviction proceedings for eligible impacted workers or their household members. The temporary stay would run until the earlier of “(i) 30 days after the effective date of an appropriations act or continuing resolution that funds a federal worker’s government agency; or (ii) 90 days after the date of the federal worker’s first unpaid payday” for government employees, with analogous terms for contractors. The act is effective immediately and expires on May 7.

    State Issues State Legislation Shutdown Relief Consumer Finance Foreclosure Mortgages

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  • DOJ settles with mortgage company for alleged SCRA violations

    Federal Issues

    On February 7, the DOJ announced a $750,000 settlement with a New Jersey-based mortgage company resolving allegations that the company violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) by foreclosing on homes owned by servicemembers without first obtaining the required court orders. The complaint, which was filed on the same day as the settlement, alleges that between 2010 and 2012 the company foreclosed on six homes of SCRA-protected servicemembers. Under the SCRA, lenders must obtain a court order before foreclosing on a servicemember’s home during, or within one year after, active military service, provided that the mortgage originated before the servicemember’s period of military service. The settlement requires the company to, among other things, (i) pay $125,000 to each affected servicemember; (ii) provide staff training to prevent unlawful foreclosures in the future; and (iii) notify the DOJ of future SCRA complaints.

    Federal Issues DOJ Foreclosure Mortgages Servicemembers Settlement SCRA

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  • Delaware law provides financial relief to federal employees impacted by shutdown

    State Issues

    On January 23, the Delaware Governor signed HB 2, effective immediately, to provide federal workers residing in the state a “temporary suspension of judicial and administrative proceedings in Delaware” if the worker’s ability to pay certain obligations are affected by a government shutdown. Under the act, furloughed federal workers may apply to a court or administrative agency “for a temporary stay, postponement, or suspension regarding any payment of rent, mortgage, tax, fine, penalty, insurance premium, judgment, or other civil obligation or liability.” The length of the temporary stay may be for the covered period (defined as the period that begins on the date the shutdown started and ends on the date 30 days after the date on which the shutdown ended) and 90 days thereafter, or for any part of that period. The court may also set installment payment terms and amounts “as is considered reasonable.”

    Among other things, HB 2 also (i) prohibits the lapse, termination or forfeiture of the health, life, disability, or motor vehicle insurance policy of a federal worker without a court order; (ii) places limits on the maximum interest rate that can be imposed on debts incurred before the shutdown to six percent, and states that the interest rate limit applies to debts related to “a mortgage, trust deed, or other security in the nature of a mortgage” during the covered period and 90 days thereafter, but only applies during the covered period for all other obligations or liabilities; and (iii) provides the Attorney General with the power to enforce the act’s provisions, and allows courts to impose civil penalties of up to $10,000 per violation, with wilful violations to be assessed daily.

    State Issues State Legislation Shutdown Relief Mortgages Foreclosure

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  • District Court dismisses non-borrower action against mortgage servicer

    Courts

    On January 11, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi granted a mortgage servicer’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit with prejudice brought by a homeowner’s widow alleging violations of, among other claims, TILA, RESPA, and FDCPA, for failing to include a credit-life-insurance provision in the loan note. According to the opinion, the plaintiff sued the mortgage servicer and mortgage originator after her husband passed and the servicer initiated foreclosure proceedings. The plaintiff argued that her husband, who was the sole borrower, and the mortgage originator had an oral agreement to include a credit-life-provision in the mortgage loan note but the originator failed to include it. The mortgage servicer moved to dismiss the action arguing, among other things, that the plaintiff lacked standing to bring the action. Upon review, the court agreed with the mortgage servicer, determining that the plaintiff lacks standing under TILA, RESPA, and the FDCPA because she was neither an “obligor” nor “borrower” on the loan even though she  was identified as a “borrower” on the Deed of Trust. Moreover, the court rejected the plaintiff’s alternative claim that she is a third-party beneficiary with standing to sue under the laws, finding that no valid contract existed as to the credit-life-insurance policy and therefore, the plaintiff could not claim to be a beneficiary of a non-existent contract. The court also dismissed the plaintiff’s other state law and fraud claims, finding she failed to provide sufficient facts to make the claims plausible.

    Courts Foreclosure FDCPA TILA RESPA Mortgage Servicing

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  • 6th Circuit holds elements of Michigan foreclosure process are collection efforts under FDCPA

    Courts

    On January 11, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit held that a debt collector should not allow the essential elements of a Michigan foreclosure to proceed after receiving a dispute letter under the FDCPA. According to the opinion, in September 2016, a debt collector sent a notice to a mortgage debtor informing the homeowner it intended to foreclose on the property, and two weeks later it began the Michigan state foreclosure process. After the process began, and within 30 days of receiving the debt collection notice, the mortgage debtor sent a certified dispute letter to the collector, challenging the validity of the debt. After receiving the dispute letter, the debt collector posted a foreclosure notice on the property and published notices in the newspaper. The debt collector never sent the mortgage debtor a verification of the debt. The mortgage debtor filed suit against the debt collector alleging violations of, among other things, the FDCPA. The district court granted summary judgment for the debt collector, holding that as a matter of law, the FDCPA did not require that the debt collector verify the debt and that it had “cease[d] collection of the debt” pursuant to the statute. The mortgage debtor appealed, arguing the district court (i) erred in its decision to end discovery and consider summary judgment, and (ii) erred in its interpretation of the FDCPA and its finding that the collector ceased collection efforts.

    On appeal, the 6th Circuit rejected the mortgage debtor’s arguments that summary judgment was granted while there were outstanding discovery motions, concluding the debtor provided no evidence the debt collector failed to comply with discovery requests and noted that most of the motions were filed after discovery period expired. As for the FDCPA appeal, the court reversed the district court’s decision, concluding that, as a matter of law, the debt collector was required to intervene and stop the foreclosure actions that were put into motion prior to receiving the dispute letter. The appellate court agreed with the debtor that the newspaper advertisement and posted notice are necessary elements of the Michigan foreclosure process and therefore constituted “collection activity” under the FDCPA. Regardless of whether the debt collector personally took any actions after receiving the dispute letter, the appellate court concluded the debt collector had the responsibility to cancel any elements of the Michigan foreclosure process until it obtained sufficient verification of the debt.

    Courts Sixth Circuit Appellate FDCPA State Issues Foreclosure Debt Collection

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  • District Court approves class action settlement over threatening collection letters

    Courts

    On January 10, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia approved an $861,000 class settlement resolving allegations that a bank violated the West Virginia Consumer Credit Protection Act by falsely threating “legal action” in the collection of foreclosure fees. According to the complaint, the bank, in an attempt to collect foreclosure and attorney’s fees, sent letters to consumers stating “notice of pending litigation,” misrepresenting that a legal proceeding had been filed, when no filings had occurred. The settlement covers any West Virginia automobile or home loan consumer who received one of three specified letters since 2012 and 2013, and awards the plaintiffs’ attorneys one-third of the cash settlement. The three lead plaintiffs will each receive $5,000 “in recognition of service to the class.”

    Courts Debt Collection State Issues Class Action Foreclosure

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  • 9th Circuit: Fannie Mae is not a consumer reporting agency under the FCRA

    Courts

    On January 9, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit held that Fannie Mae is not a “consumer reporting agency” under the FCRA and therefore is not liable under the law. According to the opinion, homeowners attempted to refinance their current mortgage loan two years after completing a short sale on their prior mortgage. While shopping for the refinance, lenders used Fannie Mae’s Desktop Underwriting (DU) program to determine if the loan would be eligible for purchase by the agency. Three of the eight DU findings showed the loan would be ineligible due to a foreclosure reported for the homeowners within the last seven years, which was not true. The homeowners sued Fannie Mae alleging the agency violated the FCRA for inaccurate reporting. On cross motions for summary judgment, the lower court determined that Fannie Mae was liable under the FCRA for furnishing inaccurate information because the agency “acts as a consumer reporting agency when it licenses DU to lenders.”

    On appeal, the 9th Circuit reviewed whether Fannie Mae was a consumer reporting agency under the FCRA and noted that the agency must “regularly engage[] in . . . the practice of assembling or evaluating” consumer information, which Fannie Mae argues it does not do. Specifically, the agency asserts that it simply provides software that allows lenders to evaluate consumer information. The appeals court agreed, concluding that Fannie Mae created the tool but the person using the tool is the person engaging in the act. The court reasoned, “[t]here is nothing in the record to suggest that Fannie Mae assembles or evaluates consumer information.” Moreover, the court noted, if Fannie Mae were found to be a consumer reporting agency, it would be subject to other FCRA duties to borrowers, which “would contradict Congress’s design for Fannie Mae to operate only in the secondary mortgage market, to deal directly with lenders, and not to deal with borrowers themselves.”

    Courts FCRA Fannie Mae Ninth Circuit Appellate Foreclosure Consumer Reporting Agency

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  • Fannie Mae updates foreclosure time frames and compensatory fee requirements

    Federal Issues

    On December 19, Fannie Mae issued SVC 2018-10, which describes policy changes to foreclosure time frames and compensatory fee requirements. Specifically, Fannie Mae has revised the maximum number of allowable days within which routine foreclosure proceedings are to be completed in twenty jurisdictions, with some increasing and some decreasing (a complete list available here). Fannie Mae is also replacing the monthly compensatory fee process with a process that focuses on identifying and resolving root causes of the failure to comply with foreclosure time frames. Under the new process, compensatory fees will be assessed if, after a chronic compliance issue is identified and a performance improvement plan is instituted, the servicer still does not meet the terms of the performance plan. The announcement includes a compensatory fee calculation chart and notes that fees will be applied based on the unpaid principal balance of the mortgage loan, the applicable pass-through rate, the length of the delay, and any additional costs that are directly attributable to the delay. The policy changes are effective January 1, 2019.

    Federal Issues Fannie Mae Servicing Guide Foreclosure Mortgages

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  • Foreclosure firm and affiliates agree to DOJ settlement resolving FCA allegations

    Federal Issues

    On December 4, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York announced that a New York foreclosure law firm and its wholly-owned affiliates—a process server and a title search company (defendants)—have agreed to pay $4.6 million to resolve False Claims Act allegations claiming that between 2009 and 2018 the defendants systematically generated false and inflated bills for foreclosure-related and eviction-related expenses and caused those expenses to be paid by Fannie Mae. The settlement also resolves claims arising from the same misconduct pertaining to eviction-related expenses that were submitted to and ultimately paid by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The DOJ alleges that the process server and title search company both added “additional charges to the costs charged by independent contractors and otherwise took actions that increased costs and expenses,” which were then submitted by the law firm for reimbursement. According to the DOJ, “[l]awyers are not above the law. For years, the [law firm] submitted bills to Fannie Mae and the VA that contained inflated and unnecessary charges. This Office will continue to hold accountable those who seek to achieve profits by fraudulent conduct.” The DOJ states that Fannie Mae’s Servicing Guide requires “all foreclosure costs and expenses be ‘actual, reasonable, and necessary,’ and that foreclosure law firms ‘must make every effort to reduce foreclosure-related costs and expenses in a manner that is consistent with all applicable laws.’”

    The DOJ further notes that the defendants agreed to pay an additional $1,518,000 to resolve separate False Claims Act claims pursued by the whistleblower.

    Federal Issues DOJ Fannie Mae Department of Veterans Affairs Foreclosure Mortgages FHFA False Claims Act / FIRREA Whistleblower

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