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On January 8, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois denied a bank’s motion to dismiss claims that it had obtained a credit report without a permissible purpose, ruling that the allegations rise above a mere procedural violation of the FCRA. According to the opinion, the consumer alleged that the bank accessed her credit report and obtained personal information, including current and past addresses, birth date, employment history, and telephone numbers, without having a personal business relationship, information to suggest the consumer owed the debt, or receiving consent for the release of the report. The bank argued that the consumer’s claim was only a “bare procedural violation” and not a concrete injury in fact as required under the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2016 ruling in Spokeo v. Robins (covered by a Buckley Sandler Special Alert). However, the court determined that the consumer’s allegation that the invasion of privacy, which occurred when the bank accessed her credit report from a consumer reporting agency without receiving consent and with no legitimate business reason to do so, “adequately alleges a concrete injury sufficient to confer standing.”
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.”
On December 27, the OCC released Bulletin 2018-48, which announces an update to the “Student Lending” booklet of the Comptroller’s Handbook to include information about the rehabilitation programs for private education loans authorized under Section 602 of the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act (the Act), signed into law in May 2018. Section 602 amends the Fair Credit Reporting Act to give student loan borrowers the option to request the removal of student loan default information from their credit report, if, among other things, (i) the lender offers a Section 602 rehabilitation program that has been approved by the bank’s appropriate federal regulator; (ii) the borrower meets the bank’s program criteria, including a demonstrated willingness and ability to repay the loan; and (iii) the borrower has not previously removed a default on the same loan. Although the Act does not require lenders to offer a Section 602 rehabilitation program, those that do are entitled to a safe harbor from claims of inaccurate reporting for removing a default.
The Bulletin also details the process for obtaining regulatory approval for a Section 602 rehabilitation program. The Bulletin notes that banks intending to establish a Section 602 program must seek written approval from their supervisory office concerning the proposed program, and that the office will review the program to ensure it is consistent with the Act’s minimum requirements, other applicable laws and regulations, and safe and sound banking principles. The OCC will provide feedback or notify the bank of its decision within 120 days of the request.
CFPB releases annual adjustments to HMDA, TILA, and FCRA; agencies release CRA asset-size threshold adjustments
On December 31, the CFPB published final rules adjusting both the asset-size thresholds under HMDA (Regulation C) and TILA (Regulation Z), and the maximum amount consumer reporting agencies may charge consumers for providing the consumer the consumer’s credit file under FCRA. All rules take effect on January 1, 2019.
Under HMDA, institutions with assets below certain dollar thresholds are exempt from the collection and reporting requirements. The final rule increases the asset-size exemption threshold for banks, savings associations, and credit unions from $45 million to $46 million, thereby exempting institutions with assets of $46 million or less as of December 31, 2018, from collecting and reporting HMDA data in 2019.
TILA exempts certain entities from the requirement to establish escrow accounts when originating higher-priced mortgage loans (HPMLs), including entities with assets below the asset-size threshold established by the CFPB. The final rule increases this asset-size exemption threshold from $2.112 billion to $2.167 billion, thereby exempting creditors with assets of $2.167 billion or less as of December 31, 2018, from the requirement to establish escrow accounts for HPMLs in 2019.
Lastly, the FCRA permits consumer reporting agencies to impose a reasonable charge on a consumer when disclosing the consumer’s credit file in certain circumstances. Where the annual adjustment to this maximum charge had historically been announced via regulatory notice, the Bureau is now codifying the maximum charge in Regulation V. For 2019, the Bureau increased the maximum amount consumer reporting agencies may charge for making a file disclosure to a consumer from $12.00 to $12.50.
Separately, on December 20, the Federal Reserve Board, the OCC, and the FDIC (collectively, the “Agencies”) jointly announced the adjusted asset-size thresholds used to define “small” and “intermediate small” banks and savings associations under the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA). Effective January 1, 2019, a “small” bank or savings association will be defined as an institution that, as of December 31 of either of the past two calendar years, had assets of less than $1.284 billion. An “intermediate small” bank or savings association will be defined as an institution with assets of at least $321 million as of December 31 of both of the past two calendar years, but less than $1.284 billion in assets as of December 31 of either of the past two calendar years. The Agencies published the annual adjustments in the Federal Register on December 27.
Court orders judgement in favor of defendants in FCRA action based on limitations of Wisconsin “alternative-to-bankruptcy” statute
On October 26, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin denied a plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment and instead entered judgement in favor of two creditors and two consumer reporting agencies (collectively, “defendants”), holding that the debtor failed to show a factual inaccuracy in the credit reporting of a debt. According to the opinion, the debtor successfully completed an amortization plan under Section 128.21 of the Wisconsin Statues, an “alternative to bankruptcy” law that allows debtors to file an action that establishes “a personal receivership wherein, much like in a federal Chapter 13 ‘wage earners’ bankruptcy, a person may amortize problem debts through a deliberate and scheduled repayment plan.” Subsequently, the debtor submitted disputes to two consumer reporting agencies that still showed balances due on the credit lines for both creditors. In response, the creditors argued that the debtor understated the balances owed to them during the Section 128.21 proceeding and as a result, a balance still existed. The debtor filed suit against the defendants alleging multiple violations of the FCRA. In response, the defendants argued that the state court order dismissing the debtor’s Section 128.21 action only covers the amount of the debt submitted by the debtor in the Section 128.21 proceeding and does not cover the interest and late charges the debtor failed to include in the claim. The district court agreed and dismissed the action, determining that the Wisconsin statute applies only to claims included in the plan and does not dismiss debts in their entirety. The court concluded, “as a result, unless and until a proper tribunal concludes the [Section 128.21] proceeding eliminated the debts in their entirety or that the plan precludes the accrual of post-filing interest and other penalties, [debtor] cannot establish the reported information is factually inaccurate,” and therefore, the debtor’s FCRA claims failed as a matter of law.
On October 16, the FTC announced that it reached a settlement with a Texas-based company over allegations that it violated the FCRA by failing to take reasonable steps to ensure the accuracy of tenant-screening information furnished to landlords and property managers. The FTC alleges that the company compiled screening reports through an automated system using broad criteria that incorrectly matched applicants to criminal records. Additionally, the company allegedly lacked policies or procedures to assess the accuracy of those results, which led to some renters being turned down for housing. The settlement requires the company to pay $3 million—the largest civil penalty ever assessed by the FTC against a background screening company. In addition, the company must maintain reasonable procedures to ensure consumer reports contain the maximum possible accuracy of information and is subject to compliance, recordkeeping, and reporting requirements.
On October 17, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs released the CFPB’s fall 2018 rulemaking agenda. According to the Bureau’s preamble, the information presented is current as of August 30 and represents regulatory matters it “reasonably anticipates” having under consideration during the period of October 1, 2018, to September 30, 2019. The Bureau also states it plans on “reexamining the requirements of [ECOA] in light of recent Supreme Court case law and the Congressional disapproval of a prior Bureau bulletin concerning indirect auto lender compliance with ECOA and its implementing regulations.”
Key rulemaking initiatives include:
- Property Assessed Clean Energy Loans (PACE): The Bureau is planning to complete an assessment of its 2013 rules for assessing consumers’ ability to repay mortgage loans by January 2019, which will inform the drafting of a request for information or advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPR) on PACE issues to facilitate the Bureau’s rulemaking process.
- HMDA/Regulation C: The Bureau plans to follow-up on its action in August 2017 to amend Regulation C to increase the threshold for collecting and reporting data with respect to open-end lines of credit for a period of two years so that financial institutions originating fewer than 500 open-end lines of credit in either of the preceding two years would not be required to begin collecting such data until January 1, 2020.
- Debt Collection: The Bureau states it plans to issue an ANPR addressing issues such as communication practices and consumer disclosures by March 2019, and has received support from industry and consumer groups to engage in rulemaking to explore ways to apply the FDCPA to modern collection practices.
- Small Dollar Lending: The Bureau anticipates it will issue a proposed rule on small dollar lending in January 2019.
- Payday Rule: The Bureau estimates it will issue an ANPR in January 2019 to reconsider the merits and compliance date for its final payday/vehicle title/high-cost installment loan rule.
- FCRA: Comments must be submitted by November 19 on the changes and underlying disclosures implemented by its interim final rule, which amended certain model forms under the FCRA and took effect September 21. (See previous InfoBytes coverage on the interim final rule here.)
Long term priorities now include rulemaking addressing (i) small business lending data collection; (ii) consumer reporting; (iii) amendments to FIRREA concerning automated valuation models; (iii) consumer access to financial records; (iv) rules to implement the the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act, concerning various mortgage requirements, student lending, and consumer reporting; and (v) clarity for the definition of abusive acts and practices.
District Court allows certain check authorization recommendation claims against consumer reporting agency to proceed
On October 2, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas granted in part and denied in part a request for judgment on the pleadings brought by a nationwide specialty consumer reporting agency (defendant) that provides check authorization recommendations used by merchants when determining whether to honor a consumer’s check. According to the order, the plaintiff’s attempts to cash checks were denied based upon guidelines for authorization established by the defendant. The plaintiff subsequently (i) complained to the defendant that consumers did not have access to the recommendation guidelines; (ii) disputed the accuracy of the recommendations; and (iii) requested that denied transactions be reinvestigated. In its second amended complaint, the plaintiff claimed the defendant violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), the Texas Consumer Credit Reporting Act (TCCRA), and the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act, asserting that the consumer file prepared by the defendant contained two inaccuracies and that the defendant failed to conduct a reasonable reinvestigation of his consumer file or did not have procedures in place to correct inaccurate information. While the court dismissed the FCRA and TCCRA §20.07 claims to the extent they were based on allegations that the defendant did not have reasonable procedures in place to correct inaccurate information, it held that the allegations regarding the defendant’s failure properly to reinvestigate the consumer’s file did state a plausible claim for relief.
On September 10, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit issued a precedential order reversing in part and affirming in part a lower court’s dismissal of claims brought by three individuals who claimed a company violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) when it failed to provide them with copies of their consumer reports. According to the opinion, the three plaintiffs applied for jobs with the company and were ultimately not hired due to information discovered in their background checks. The plaintiffs filed a putative class action asserting the company did not send them copies of their background checks before it took adverse action when deciding not to hire them, and also failed to provide them with notices of their rights under the FCRA. The district court dismissed the claims against the company, finding there was only a “bare procedural violation,” and not a concrete injury in fact as required under the Supreme Court’s 2016 ruling in Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins (covered by a Buckley Sandler Special Alert). On appeal, the 3rd Circuit reversed the lower court’s decision, concluding that the plaintiffs had standing to assert that the company violated the FCRA by taking adverse action without first providing copies of their consumer reports. Additionally, the court noted that “taking an adverse employment action without providing the required consumer report is ‘the very harm that Congress sought to prevent, arising from prototypical conduct proscribed’ by the FCRA.” However, the appellate court affirmed the lower court’s dismissal of the plaintiffs’ claim alleging the company failed to provide them with a notice of their FCRA rights, finding that the claim was a “‘bare procedural violation, divorced from any concrete harm,’” and lacked Article III standing under Spokeo. The 3rd Circuit remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with their findings.
CFPB issues updated FCRA model disclosures to implement Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act amendments
On September 12, the CFPB issued an interim final rule to comply with the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act (the “Act”) (previously Senate bill S. 2155). Section 301(a)(1) of the Act amends the FCRA to add section 605A(i), which requires consumer reporting agencies to provide national security freezes free of charge to consumers. Additionally, the new section requires that whenever a consumer is provided a “summary of rights” under section 609, the summary must include a notice regarding the right to obtain a free security freeze. The Act also amends FCRA section 605A(a)(1)(A) to extend from 90 days to one year the minimum time that a credit reporting agency must include an initial fraud alert on a consumer’s file.
The interim final rule, which is effective on September 21, amends the model forms in Regulation V to comply with the Act. The interim file rule also permits various compliance alternatives to mitigate the impact of the changes to these forms, including allowing the use of the 2012 model forms so long as a separate page provided in the same transmittal contains the new information required.
Comments on the interim final rule will be due 60 days after publication in the Federal Register. Links to the English and Spanish versions of the revised Summary of Consumer Rights and revised Summary Consumer Identity Theft Rights, covered by Section 609 of the FCRA, are available here.
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