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On April 3, the Virginia governor signed SB 1737, which provides a 30-day stay of eviction and foreclosure proceedings for furloughed federal employees and contractors during a partial closure of the federal government. The law grants a tenant or homeowner who defaults on a housing payment after December 22, 2018, a 30-day stay on eviction or foreclosure proceedings. The tenant or homeowner must provide “written proof” that they were subject to a furlough, or were not otherwise receiving wages, as a result of the partial government shutdown that began on December 22, 2018. The tenant or homeowner must be an (i) employee of the federal government; (ii) a federal government contractor; or (iii) an employee of a contractor for the federal government. The law is effective immediately and expires on September 30.
On March 20, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously affirmed a 2018 10th Circuit decision, holding that law firms performing nonjudicial foreclosures are not “debt collectors” under the FDCPA. Justice Breyer delivered the opinion, which resolves whether FDCPA protections apply to nonjudicial foreclosures conducted by law firms. (Covered by InfoBytes here.) Three considerations led to the Court’s conclusion. First, the Court held that a business pursuing nonjudicial foreclosures would be covered by the Act’s primary definition of a debt collector. However, the Act goes on to state that for the purpose of a specific section, the definition of debt collector “also includes” a business of which the principal purpose is the enforcement of security interests. The Court determined that this phrase only makes sense if such businesses were not covered by the primary definition. Second, the Court noted that Congress appeared to have chosen to differentiate between security-interest enforcers and ordinary debt collectors in order “to avoid conflicts with state nonjudicial foreclosure schemes.” Third, the Court noted that the legislative history of the FDCPA indicated that the final result was likely a compromise between two competing versions of the bill, one of which would have excluded security-interest enforcement entirely, and another that would have treated it as ordinary debt collection.
Justice Sotomayor, in a concurring opinion, wrote that the Court’s statutory interpretation was a “close case” and urged Congress to clarify the statute if the Court has “gotten it wrong.” She noted that making clear that the FDCPA fully encompasses entities pursuing nonjudicial foreclosures “would be consistent with the FDCPA’s broad, consumer-protective purposes.” Justice Sotomayor also stated that the Court’s ruling does not give license to those pursuing nonjudicial foreclosures “to engage in abusive debt collection practices like repetitive nighttime phone calls” and that enforcing a security interest does not grant an actor blanket immunity from the Act.”
On February 26, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California granted summary judgment in favor of Fannie Mae in an action brought by a consumer alleging that Fannie Mae violated the California Consumer Credit Reporting Agencies Act (CCCRA) and the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) by prohibiting lenders from providing consumers a copy of Fannie Mae’s Desktop Underwriter (DU) report. According to the opinion, two years after completing a short sale on his previous home, a consumer sought a mortgage with three lenders. One lender used Fannie Mae’s DU program to determine if the loan would be eligible for purchase by the agency, but the DU report listed his prior mortgage loan as a foreclosure rather than a short sale. The lender ultimately denied the application, rather than manually underwrite it. Upon reviewing Fannie Mae’s motion for summary judgment, the court noted that in order for the consumer to succeed on his CCRA and FCRA claims, he must establish Fannie Mae is a credit reporting agency. The court rejected the consumer’s attempts to distinguish his case from the recent 9th Circuit decision in Zabriskie v. Fed. Nat’l Mortg. Ass’n, which held that Fannie Mae was not a credit reporting agency under the FCRA. (Covered by InfoBytes here.) The court acknowledged that even though Fannie Mae may have problems with its foreclosure recommendations in the DU system, it does not undercut the conclusion that Fannie Mae operates the DU system to assist lenders in making purchasing decisions, does not “regularly engage in . . . the practice of assembling or evaluating” consumer information, and therefore, is not a credit reporting agency.
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.
D.C. act provides eviction and foreclosure relief to federal employees and contractors impacted by shutdown
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. Notably, Act 23-9, signed by the Mayor on February 26, extends the expiration date for relief measures to October 9.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
- 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