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On May 1, the CFPB announced a $3.9 million settlement with a student loan servicing company. The settlement resolves allegations that the company engaged in unfair practices by failing to make adjustments to loans made under the Federal Family Education Loan Program to account for circumstances such as deferment, forbearance, or entrance into the Income-Based Repayment (IBR) program. According to the consent order, between 2005 and 2015, certain accounts requiring manual adjustments to principal loan balances based on program participation were allegedly placed in “queues” to process the adjustments, which took, in some cases, years to process. The servicer allegedly did not inform affected borrowers that it did not complete the processing of their principal balances associated with the deferment, forbearance, or IBR participation. The queues allegedly resulted in some borrowers paying off incorrect loan amounts and other borrowers experiencing delays in loan consolidation while waiting for the servicer to adjust principal balances. In addition to the $3.9 million civil money penalty, the consent order requires the servicer to make the proper adjustments to the principal balances of the affected accounts or pay restitution to borrowers who paid off loans with inaccurate loan balances. The servicer is also required to comply with certain compliance monitoring, reporting, and recordkeeping requirements.
On April 17, Kathy Kraninger, Director of the CFPB, spoke before the Bipartisan Policy Center where she reiterated the Bureau’s focus on prevention of harm and announced a symposium that will explore the meaning of “abusive acts or practices” under Section 1031 of the Dodd-Frank Act. In her remarks, Kraninger touched on the four “tools” the Bureau has at its disposal to execute its mission: education, rulemaking, supervision, and enforcement.
- Education. The Bureau wants to help consumers protect their own interests and choose the right products and service to help themselves. Specifically, the Bureau is focusing on ensuring that American consumers learn to save to be able to absorb a financial shock.
- Rulemaking. The Bureau will comply with Congressional mandates to promulgate rules or address specific issues through rulemaking, but when the Bureau has discretion, it will focus on “preventing consumer harm by maximizing informed consumer choice, and prohibiting acts or practices which undermine the ability of consumers to choose the products and services that are best for them.” In the coming weeks, the Bureau will release its proposed rules to implement the FDCPA, which will include (i) bright line limits on the number of calls consumers can receive from debt collectors on a weekly basis; (ii) clarity on how collectors may communicate through new technology such as, email and text messages; and (iii) requiring more information at the outset of collection to help consumers better identify debts and understand payment and dispute options. Kraninger stated, “the CFPB must acknowledge that the costs imposed on regulated entities absolutely affect access to, and the availability of, credit to consumers.”
- Supervision. This tool is the “heart of the agency,” according to Kraninger, as it helps to prevent violations of laws and regulations from happening in the first place. The Bureau will keep in mind that it is not the only regulator examining most entities and will focus on coordination and collaboration with the other regulators so as not to impose unmanageable burdens in examinations.
- Enforcement. The Bureau will continue to enforce against bad actors that do not comply with the law, as enforcement is “an essential tool that Congress gave the Bureau.” The Bureau will have a “purposeful enforcement regime” to foster compliance and help prevent consumer wrongs. Kraninger is “committed to ensuring that enforcement investigations proceed carefully and purposefully to ensure a fair and thorough evaluation of the facts and law… [and ensuring they] move as expeditiously as possible to resolve enforcement matters, whether through public action or a determination that a particular investigation should be closed.”
Kraninger also touched on how the Bureau plans to measure success going forward. Kraninger noted that in the past, the Bureau touted its outgoing statistics as a measurement, such as amount of consumer redress and number of complaints handled. However, according to Kraninger, if the Bureau succeeds in fostering a goal of prevention of harm, certain outputs like meritorious complaints would actually be lower. Therefore, the Bureau’s success should be based on how it uses all of its tools. Lastly, Kraninger announced a symposia series that would convene to discuss consumer protections in “today’s dynamic financial services marketplace.” The first will explore the meaning of “abusive acts or practices” under Section 1031 of the Dodd-Frank Act, specifically, to address issues with the “reasonableness” standard. There are no additional details on the date for the symposium but Kraninger noted that this would be the next step in exploring future rulemaking on the issue. The series will also have future events discussing behavioral law and economics, small business loan data collection, disparate impact and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, cost-benefit analysis, and consumer authorized financial data sharing.
Additionally, on April 9, acting Deputy Director, Brian Johnson, spoke at the George Mason University Law & Economics Center's Ninth Annual Financial Services Symposium. In his prepared remarks, Johnson emphasized that regulatory rules should be “as simple as possible” when dealing with complex markets as they are easier for a greater portion of actors to understand and adapt to and also promote compliance, “which has the ancillary benefit of making it easier for consumers (not to mention regulators) to distinguish between good and bad actors.” Johnson argued that regulators should not try and dictate specific outcomes in rulemaking. Instead, Johnson stated that “financial regulators should recognize that complex market systems are not a means to accomplish their specific goals” and should “narrowly-tailor rules to address a discrete market failure.” Johnson also touched on the Bureau’s new Office of Innovation, noting that the Bureau’s proposed No Action Letter Program and Product Sandbox will offer firms “the opportunity to expand credit while still preserving important consumer protections,” while assisting the Bureau in learning about new technologies and potential consumer risks. As for the Bureau’s cost-benefit analysis, Johnson said that this activity will not be limited to future actions, but will also be used for “periodic retrospective analysis” because financial markets are “constantly changing, requiring constant reappraisal and verification of the rules that govern the system.”
On March 27, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California entered a consent judgment ending a CFPB lawsuit against a group of affiliated law firms and their managing attorneys. As previously covered by InfoBytes in 2017, the Bureau’s enforcement action alleged that the defendants violated the Telemarketing Sales Rule by, among other things, (i) collecting improper fees in advance of providing debt relief services; (ii) misrepresenting that advance fees would not be charged; and (iii) providing substantial assistance to another company it knew or should have known was engaged in acts or practices that violated the rule. Under the terms of the consent judgment, the defendants—who have neither admitted nor denied the Bureau’s allegations or the factual findings outlined in the judgment—agreed to pay approximately $35.3 million in redress to affected consumers and a $40 million civil money penalty. However, based on the defendants’ inability to pay this amount, full payment is suspended subject to the defendants’ paying $50,000 to affected consumers and $1.00 toward the CMP.
On March 6, the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s denial of an auto dealership’s motion to dismiss a proposed class action alleging the dealership violated the Indiana Deceptive Consumer Sales Act (the Consumer Act). According to the opinion, consumers filed the proposed class action alleging that the dealership charged document preparation fees that exceeded the actual costs incurred by the dealership for preparation and that the fees were not affirmatively disclosed or negotiated with the consumers. The proposed class action argued the charging of the fees was an “unfair, abusive, or deceptive act, omission, or practice in connection with a consumer transaction” under the Consumer Act and quoted a statutory provision from the Indiana Motor Vehicle Dealer Services Act (the Dealer Act). The dealership moved to dismiss the action, arguing there was no private right of action under the Dealer Act and that the consumers failed to state a claim for relief under the Consumer Act. The consumers conceded there was no private right under the Dealership Act, but noted the quoted reference was used to merely describe an unfair practice that is prohibited by the Consumer Act. The lower court denied the motion, concluding that the non-disclosure claim fell within the “catch-all” provision of the Consumer Act.
On appeal, the appellate court noted that in order to state a claim under the Consumer Act, the consumer must have alleged the dealership “committed an uncured or incurable deceptive act.” The appellate court acknowledged that the allegations that the dealership charged an unfair fee and “did not state its intention as part of the bargaining process” generally fell within the realm of the Consumer Act, and determined that, even without specifics, the complaint’s “general allegations of uncured and incurable acts are adequate to withstand dismissal.”
On February 6, the CFPB announced a settlement with an Indiana-based payday retail lender and affiliates (companies) in seven states to resolve alleged violations of the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA), Truth in Lending Act (TILA), and Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA) privacy protections. The CFPB alleges that the companies engaged in unfair acts or practices, failed to properly disclose annual percentage rates, and failed to provide consumers with required initial privacy notices.
Specifically, the Bureau alleges that the companies violated CFPA’s UDAAP provisions by, among other things, (i) failing to implement processes to prevent unauthorized charges, including those resulting from unauthorized draws on borrowers’ bank accounts; (ii) requiring loan applicants to provide contact information for their employers, supervisors, and four personal references, and then repeatedly calling employers to seek payments when borrowers became delinquent; (iii) disclosing the borrower’s financial information during those calls and, in certain instances, asking the third party to make payments on the loan; (iv) misusing personal references for marketing purposes; and (v) advertising check-cashing and telephone reconnection services they were no longer providing.
While the companies have not admitted to the allegations, they have agreed to pay a $100,000 civil money penalty and are prohibited from continuing the illegal behavior.
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.
On June 13, the CFPB ordered a South Carolina-based installment lender and its subsidiaries to pay $5 million in civil money penalties for allegedly making improper in-person and telephonic collection attempts in violation of the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA) and inaccurately furnishing information to credit reporting agencies in violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). According to the consent order, between 2011 and 2016, the company and its subsidiaries (i) initiated collection attempts at consumers’ homes and places of employment; (ii) routinely called consumers at work to collect debts, sometimes after being told they were not allowed to receive calls; and (iii) contacted third parties and disclosed or were at risk of disclosing the existence of the consumer’s debt. The CFPB also alleges that the company and its subsidiaries failed to implement reasonable credit reporting procedures and failed to correct inaccurate information furnished to credit reporting agencies. In addition to the $5 million civil money penalty, the company and its subsidiaries must (i) cease improper collection practices; (ii) correct the credit reporting errors; and (iii) develop a comprehensive compliance plan.
On June 4, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland issued a Memorandum to Counsel denying defendants’ dispositive motions in a UDAAP action brought by the CFPB alleging the defendants employed abusive practices when purchasing structured settlements from consumers in exchange for lump-sum payments. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in September 2017, the court allowed the CFPB to move forward with its UDAAP claim against the company, its affiliates, and its officers but dismissed claims related to an attorney, finding that he satisfied the requirements for an exemption under the Maryland Consumer Financial Protection Act (MCFPA) for attorneys engaged in the practice of law. In December 2017, the CFPB filed an amended complaint, arguing that the consumers typically did not know the defendant was an attorney or acting as their attorney. The court agreed, holding that “it is logically impossible for a ‘client’ to form an attorney-client relationship with someone she does not know is an ‘attorney,’” and allowed the CFPB to resume the actions against the attorney.
The attorney again moved to dismiss the amended complaint, or in the alternative for summary judgment on the claims. The court denied the motion to dismiss because it was based on the attorney’s disagreement with the CFPB’s allegation that the consumers were never informed he was an attorney—an inappropriate ground for such a motion. As for the motion for summary judgment, the court agreed with the CFPB that the motion was premature because discovery was ongoing.
On May 22, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland entered a default judgment, in favor of the CFPB, against two debt relief companies, their service provider, and their owners (defendants) for allegedly misleading consumers about their debt validation program. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the CFPB filed a complaint in October 2017 against the defendants for allegedly violating the Telemarketing Sales Rule and the Consumer Financial Protection Act by, among other things, purportedly claiming to be affiliated with the federal government and misrepresenting the abilities of their services. In granting the CFPB’s request for default judgment, the court held that the defendants failed to defend the action and ordered they pay almost $5 million in restitution, as well as $16 million in civil money penalties. In addition to the fines, the defendants are prohibited from engaging in telemarketing, debt relief and credit repair activities in the future.
Maryland expands scope of unfair and deceptive practices under the Maryland Consumer Protection Act, increases maximum civil penalties
On May 15, the Maryland governor signed HB1634, the Financial Consumer Protection Act of 2018, which expands the definition of “unfair and deceptive trade practices” under the Maryland Consumer Protection Act (MPCA) to include “abusive” practices, and violations of the federal Military Lending Act (MLA) and Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). The law also, among other things:
- Civil Penalties. Increases the maximum civil penalties for certain consumer financial violations to $10,000 for the initial violation and $25,000 for subsequent violations
- Debt Collection. Prohibits a person from engaging in unlicensed debt collection activity in violation of the Maryland Collection Agency Licensing Act or engaging in certain conduct in violation of the federal FDCPA.
- Enforcement Funds. Requires the governor to appropriate at least $700,000 for the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) and at least $300,000 to the Office of the Commissioner of Financial Regulation (OCFR) for certain enforcement activities.
- Student Loan Ombudsman. Creates a Student Loan Ombudsman position within the OCFR and establishes specific duties for the role, including receiving, reviewing, and attempting to resolve complaints from student loan borrowers.
- Required Studies. Requires the OCFR to conduct a study on Fintech regulation, including whether the commissioner has the statutory authority to regulate such firms. The law also requires the Maryland Financial Consumer Protection Commission (MFCPC) to conduct multiple studies, including studies on (i) cryptocurrencies and initial coin offerings and (ii) the CFPB’s arbitration rule (repealed by a Congressional Review Act measure in November 2017).
- Buckley Webcast: The next consumer litigation frontier? Assessing the consumer privacy litigation and enforcement landscape in 2019 and beyond
- Buckley Webcast: The CFPB’s proposed debt collection rule
- Buckley Webcast: Trends in e-discovery technology and case law
- Brandy A. Hood to discuss "What the flood? Don’t get washed away by a flood of changes" at the American Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Mitigating the risks of banking high risk customers" at the American Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano, Kari K. Hall, Brandy A. Hood, and H Joshua Kotin to discuss "Regulations that matter in a deregulatory environment" at the American Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference Power Hour
- Buckley Webcast: Data breach litigation and biometric legislation
- 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
- Amanda R. Lawrence to discuss "Navigating the challenges of the latest data protection regulations and proven protocols for breach prevention and response" at the ACI National Forum on Consumer Finance Class Actions and Government Enforcement
- Benjamin W. Hutten to discuss "Requirements for banking inherently high-risk relationships" at the Georgia Bankers Association BSA Experience Program
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Lessons learned from recent enforcement actions and CMPs" at the ACAMS AML & Financial Crime Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Assessing the CDD final rule: A year of transitions" at the ACAMS AML & Financial Crime Conference
- Douglas F. Gansler to discuss "Role of state AGs in consumer protection" at a George Mason University Law & Economics Center symposium