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On February 15, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York denied class certification in an action brought by an investment company against a bank acting as trustee for five residential mortgage-backed securities trusts in which the company invested. The investment company filed a class action suit against the trustee asserting claims for breach of contract, breach of the duty of trust, and violations of the Trust Indenture Act. Among other things, the allegations concern whether the trustee “failed to fulfil certain contractual duties triggered by the discovery of breaches of ‘representations and warranties’” when the underlying mortgages allegedly were found not to be of the promised quality. The investment company also alleged that the trustee failed to exercise its rights to require the companies that sold the mortgages in question “to cure, substitute, or repurchase the breaching loans.”
In dismissing class certification, the court found that questions of law or fact common to all class members did not dominate individual issues. The court held that there was no proof that the liability claims of potential class members who held certificates in one trust would be relevant to the claims of other potential class members in one of the other trusts, and that the individualized questions “involve relatively complex legal and factual inquiries—requiring considerable resources in comparison to those questions which are capable of class-wide resolution.”
On February 13, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit vacated a lower court’s decision to rescind class certification for a group of automotive dealerships (plaintiffs), concluding the lower court did not provide a sufficiently thorough explanation of its decision for the appeals court to reach a decision. According to the opinion, the plaintiffs were granted class certification of breach of contract and RICO claims, among others, brought against an inventory financing company for allegedly improperly charging interest and fees on credit lines before the money was actually extended by the company for the automobile purchases. The company had moved the district court to reconsider the class certification, arguing the plaintiffs admitted the financing agreements were ambiguous on their face, and therefore extrinsic evidence on an individual basis would be required to establish the parties’ intent. In response, the plaintiffs had argued that patent ambiguity in the contract does not require consideration of extrinsic evidence and individualized proof. The district court had agreed with the company, concluding that “ambiguity in the contracts requires consideration of extrinsic evidence, necessitates individualized proof, and undermines the elements of commonality and predominance for class certification.”
On appeal, the 7th Circuit concluded the denial of class certification lacks “sufficient reasoning” to ascertain the basis of the decision, noting that while the original decision to grant certification was a “model of clarity and thoroughness,” the decision to withdraw certification provides only a conclusion. Moreover, the appellate court concluded that the mere need for extrinsic evidence does not in itself render class certification improper and therefore the court needed a more thorough explanation of its reasoning to decertify the class.
On January 31, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York granted final approval and class certification to a $22 million settlement resolving class action allegations that a national bank improperly charged overdraft fees on “one-time, non-recurring” transactions made with a ride-sharing company. The court found that the bank mischaracterized these one-time charges as recurring transactions, which allowed the bank to charge overdraft fees of $35. Prior to the court’s approval of the settlement, 12 state Attorneys General sent a letter to the court arguing that the agreement’s release of liability to the ride-sharing company was inequitable. The court found, however, that the release “does not compromise the fairness, reasonableness, and adequacy of the settlement,” where, among other things, plaintiffs’ counsel investigated the viability of claims against the ride-sharing company and concluded that litigation against the company could present problems for the proposed class and for individual recovery. The $22 million settlement constitutes 80 percent of all revenues charged by the bank as a result of the overdraft fees. The court also approved $5.5 million in attorneys’ fees and $50,000 in costs.
On January 28, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California denied preliminary approval of a proposed class action settlement after identifying several deficiencies with the deal. The proposed settlement was intended to resolve allegations concerning security failures by a global internet company, which led to three data breaches between 2013 and 2016 that exposed consumers’ personal information (previously covered by InfoBytes here). The proposed settlement would have required the internet company to (i) establish a $50 million settlement fund; (ii) pay additional attorneys’ fees of up to $35 million; (iii) pay costs and expenses of up to $2.5 million, as well as service awards of up to $7,500 for each class representative; (iv) provide customers with two years of credit monitoring and identity theft protection services; and (v) improve its data security. However, the court stated that the proposed settlement agreement, among other things, inadequately disclosed the sizes of the settlement fund and class, as well as the scope of non-monetary relief, and “appears likely to result in an improper reverter of attorneys’ fees.” Moreover, the court held that the proposed agreement provided insufficient detail about how much the settlement would cost the defendant in total, and did not disclose the costs of credit monitoring or how much the defendant would budget for data security, thus preventing class members from assessing the reasonableness of the settlement or the attorneys’ fee request—which the court indicated seem “unreasonably high.” The court also noted that “[t]he parties’ lack of disclosure also inhibits the court's ability to assess the reasonableness of the settlement.”
On January 25, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California granted final approval of a $30 million settlement resolving allegations that a national bank improperly collected post-payment interest on FHA-insured mortgages but did not use the FHA-approved form to provide the appropriate disclosures to consumers before doing so. The settlement covers a nationwide class of borrowers who, between June 1996 and January 2015, obtained an FHA-insured mortgage loan. Participating class members are expected to receive between $25 and $33 each. The court also approved a $7.5 million award for class counsel attorneys’ fees, of which $7,500 and $5,000 will be awarded to the named plaintiffs.
District Court allows TCPA action to proceed, citing 9th Circuit autodialer definition as binding law
On January 17, the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona denied a cable company’s motion to stay a TCPA action, disagreeing with the company’s arguments that the court should wait until the FCC releases new guidance on what constitutes an automatic telephone dialing system (autodialer) before reviewing the case. A consumer filed a proposed class action against the company, arguing that the company violated the TCPA by autodialing wrong or reassigned telephone numbers without express consent. The company moved to stay the case, citing the FCC’s May 2018 notice (covered by InfoBytes here), which sought comments on the interpretation of the TCPA following the D.C. Circuit’s decision in ACA International v. FCC (setting aside the FCC’s 2015 interpretation of an autodialer as “unreasonably expansive”). The company argued that the FCC would “soon rule on what constitutes an [autodialer], a ‘called party,’ in terms of reassigned number liability, and a possible good faith defense pursuant to the TCPA,” all of which would affect the company’s liability in the proposed class action. The court rejected these arguments, citing as binding law Marks v. Crunch San Diego, LLC, a September 2018 decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit that broadly defined what constitutes an autodialer under the statute (covered by InfoBytes here), and therefore, determining there was nothing to inhibit the court from proceeding with the case. As for the FCC’s possible future guidance on the subject, the court concluded, “there seems little chance that any guidance from the FCC, at some unknown, speculative, future date, would affect this case.”
District Court dismisses TCPA action against ride-sharing company, allows plaintiff to correct deficiencies
On January 16, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California granted in part and denied in part a ride-sharing company’s motion to dismiss a proposed TCPA class action, holding that the plaintiff sufficiently alleged the company is vicariously liable for the sent text messages but that the plaintiff failed to sufficiently allege the use of an “automatic telephone dialing system” (autodialer). According to the opinion, the plaintiff received two unsolicited text messages from a commercial messaging system instructing him to download the ride-sharing company’s app and providing a link to download the app. The plaintiff filed suit arguing the commercial text system was acting as an agent of the company for the company’s financial benefit and that the texts were sent using an autodialer in violation of the TCPA. The company moved to dismiss the action. With regard to the use of an autodialer, the court agreed with the company, determining that the plaintiff “merely parrots [the] statutory definition of an [autodialer]” and fails to assert facts that could support a reasonable inference that the company used an autodialer to send the texts. As for vicarious liability, the court concluded that the plaintiff sufficiently alleged the company’s actual authority over the commercial messaging system by asserting the company “instructed its agent or vendor as to the content of the text messages and timing of the sending of the text messages.” The court dismissed the plaintiff’s amended complaint but allowed 30 days for the plaintiff to amend the deficiencies.
On January 11, the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota granted a motion for class certification in a case challenging a company’s payday lending practices under several Minnesota consumer protection statutes and common law. The plaintiffs filed the proposed class action alleging, among other things, that the company, which generates leads for payday lenders, failed to disclose that it was not licensed in the state, and that the loans may not be legal in Minnesota. The Minnesota Attorney General had notified the company in 2010 and 2012 that it was subject to Minnesota law restricting payday loans and that it was “aiding and abetting lenders that violate Minnesota law.” The court found that the plaintiffs identified “questions of law or fact common to the class that are capable of class-wide resolution,” which “predominate over any questions affecting only individual members.” The court noted that a class action would fairly promote the interests of the class and ensure judicial economy, and that even though the plaintiffs’ proposed method for measuring the amount of damages would require individual inquiry, “it is less consuming than issues requiring individual testimony and will not overwhelm the liability and damages issues capable of class-wide resolution.”
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.”
On December 10, the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey denied a medical laboratory’s motion to dismiss a putative TCPA class action against the company, holding the plaintiff sufficiently alleged the equipment used to make unsolicited calls qualified as an “autodialer.” According to the opinion, the plaintiff filed the class action against the company after receiving an unsolicited call to her cell phone and hearing a “momentary pause” before a representative started speaking, allegedly indicating the company was using an automatic telephone dialing system (autodialer). The plaintiff argues the company violated the TCPA by placing non-emergency calls using an autodialer without having her express consent. The company moved to dismiss the action, arguing the plaintiff did not sufficiently allege the company called her using an autodialer. The court disagreed, stating that “[d]ead air after answering the phone is indicative that the caller used a predictive dialer.” The court noted that a predictive dialer is a device considered an autodialer under binding precedent, citing to the opinion of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit in Dominguez v. Yahoo, which held that it would interpret the definition of an autodialer as it would prior to the FCC’s 2015 Declaratory Ruling, which was invalidated by the D.C. Circuit. (Previously covered by InfoBytes here.) The court acknowledged that the actual configuration of the dialing equipment should be explored in discovery, but at this stage, the plaintiff sufficiently alleged the use of an autodialer for purposes of the TCPA.
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