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On March 31, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia granted the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control’s (OFAC) motion to dismiss and denied two Iranian corporations’ (plaintiffs) cross-motion for summary judgment. According to the opinion, the plaintiffs requested to be delisted from OFAC’s Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List (SDN List) following the Court of Justice of the European Union’s decision in 2013 to lift its own sanctions, which were, according to the plaintiffs, “the basis for OFAC including [the plaintiffs] in its SDN list in the first place.” The plaintiffs were added to the SDN List in 2011 after OFAC allegedly determined that they had assisted certain U.S. and United Nations-sanctioned Iranian companies in procuring goods for uranium enrichment activities. OFAC denied the plaintiffs’ request to be delisted in 2018, causing the plaintiffs to file a complaint seeking to remove the sanctions or “cause OFAC to request the information needed to remove [the plaintiffs] from the SDN List,” citing violations of their rights under the U.S. Constitution and the Administrative Procedure Act. Among other things, the plaintiffs argued that OFAC’s decision to reject the request for delisting was based on “undisclosed/secret information,” and further, OFAC “never provided any evidence to substantiate the allegations” that the plaintiffs had worked with other OFAC-sanctioned Iranian firms. Moreover, the plaintiffs contended that OFAC violated their “procedural and substantive due process rights because it failed to provide [the plaintiffs] notice and opportunity to be heard before designating [them] as an SDN.”
The court, however, found among other things that OFAC’s actions were not “arbitrary or capricious,” stating that while OFAC considered classified evidence of the plaintiffs’ involvement, it also provided unclassified summaries to the plaintiffs. “In denying [the plaintiffs’] request for removal, OFAC requested and reviewed information provided by [the plaintiffs], and it responded to [the plaintiffs’] arguments for reconsideration,” the court stated, noting that OFAC ultimately concluded that the plaintiffs failed to submit credible arguments or evidence “establishing that an insufficient basis exists for the company’s designation.” In addition, the court rejected the plaintiffs’ Fifth Amendment argument, stating that the constitutional claims fail because the “Supreme Court has long held that non-resident aliens without substantial connections to the United States are not entitled to Fifth Amendment protections.”
On March 31, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit partially affirmed a district court’s dismissal of federal and state law claims against a loan servicer, concluding that while a 1099-A form sent to the plaintiff was not an attempt to collect a debt under the FDCPA, the district court erred in determining that the claim was time-barred. The plaintiff filed suit alleging violations of the FDCPA, the Florida Consumer Collection Practices Act, the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act, and the Florida Mortgage Brokerage and Lending Laws (MBBL). After the district court dismissed her initial and amended complaints, the plaintiff appealed, arguing, among other things, that the district court erred when it (i) determined that the defendant’s mailing of IRS form 1099-A was not an attempt to collect a debt under the FDCPA; (ii) dismissed her FDCPA claim as time-barred because the statute of limitations had expired; (iii) found that the defendant was not involved in the original loan transaction and therefore could not be liable for damages under the MBLL; and (iv) declined “to exercise supplemental jurisdiction” over the other state law claims after dismissing the FDCPA claims with prejudice.
On appeal, the 11th Circuit agreed that the form 1099-A “was not a communication in connection with debt collection” because it did “not demand payment, state that it was an attempt to collect a debt, or state to whom or how to make a payment of the debt.” The appellate court also agreed that the district court properly dismissed the plaintiff’s MBLL claim because she failed to plead that the defendant made her mortgage loan as required under the MBLL. The district court’s decision to dismiss the remainder of the state-law claims was also affirmed. However, the 11th Circuit disagreed with whether the plaintiff’s FDCPA claim was time-barred, concluding that while the one-year statute of limitations under the FDCPA begins to run on the date the communication is mailed, the appellate court has “never held that, when the date of mailing is in dispute and a plaintiff alleges receipt of a letter on a certain date, a court could presume a mailing date based on the date of receipt and the parties’ addresses.” (Emphasis in the original.) According to the 11th Circuit, “the district court erred in dismissing [the plaintiff’s] FDCPA claims as untimely when her complaint did not allege a date of mailing of the February mortgage statement, and it was not apparent from the face of her complaint whether her claim was time-barred.”
On March 31, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois dismissed proposed class action overdraft fee claims brought against a national bank and the national bank’s parent company. The plaintiff argued that the bank unfairly charged him overdraft fees for debit transactions he made using two separate merchant debit cards (known as “decoupled debit cards”) that linked to his bank account. The plaintiff contended that because the bank’s contract language stated it would not charge overdraft fees on “non-recurring” debit transactions, this language should control despite the fact that the decoupled debit cards were not issued by the bank. The plaintiff brought multiple claims against the bank, including “breach of contract, breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, unconscionability, conversion, and unjust enrichment.” The bank moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim.
The court first dismissed all claims brought against the national bank’s parent company, saying that the plaintiff combined and conflated the two entities. The court then dismissed with prejudice the plaintiff’s claims against the national bank for breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, conversion, and unjust enrichment. The court also dismissed, but without prejudice, the claims against the national bank for breach of contract and unconscionability, although the court noted that the bank’s contract language “only applies to debit cards or access devices that were issued by [the bank], unlike the decoupled debit cards at issue here.”
On March 30, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit overturned previous precedent set in Graziano v. Harrison, holding that there is no written dispute requirement under Section 1692g(a)(3) of the FDCPA. In affirming a district court’s judgment on the pleadings in favor of a debt collector (defendant), the en banc panel joined several other appellate courts in concluding that disputes under Section 1692g(a)(3) can be made orally, as well as in writing. According to the opinion, the plaintiff filed suit against the defendant alleging violations of Section 1692g(a)(3) after she received a letter in which she was provided multiple options for contacting the defendant, instead of an explicit requirement that any dispute be done in writing. The district court granted the defendant’s motion for judgment on the pleadings.
On appeal, the 3rd Circuit considered the question of whether a collection letter “must require all disputes to be in writing, or whether [Section] 1692g(a)(3) permits oral disputes.” According to the appellate court, while other sections of 1692g specifically include the word “written,” Section 1692g(a)(3) “refers only to ‘disputes,’ without specifying oral or written.” The en banc court reversed its prior holding in Graziano v. Harrison, in which a panel of the 3rd Circuit held that Section 1692g(a)(3) “must be read to require that a dispute, to be effective, must be in writing.” It determined that after “reading the statutory text with fresh eyes”—as well as considering “the past three decades of Supreme Court statutory-interpretation caselaw”—it now believes Section 1692g(a)(3) allows for oral disputes. According to the appellate court, because Congress did not write Section 1692g(a)(3) to include a written dispute requirement, it must rely on the language Congress chose. “By expressing our view today, we put an end to a circuit split and restore national uniformity to the meaning of §1692g,” the 3rd Circuit wrote.
District court approves $2.3 million class settlement resolving violations of Massachusetts debt collection laws
On March 23, the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts issued an order granting final approval to a nearly $2.3 million class action settlement, reached through mediation, to resolve allegations that a subsidiary of a large U.S. retailer (defendant) made excessive debt collection calls to Massachusetts consumers. The named plaintiff claimed that the defendant violated the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act and state debt collection regulations by calling consumers more often than twice in a seven-day period. The order also lowered the plaintiff’s attorneys’ fees because, according to the court, the case was not as risky as the attorneys claimed and not complex enough to warrant taking approximately one-third of the settlement fund.
On March 20, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit partially affirmed a district court’s order granting summary judgment in favor of one of two defendants on plaintiff’s Electronic Funds Transfer Act (EFTA) claims, holding that the defendant satisfied its EFTA obligations by providing the plaintiff a confirmation email containing the material terms and conditions authorizing a recurring monthly charge to the plaintiff’s debit card. However, the appellate court vacated the district court’s dismissal of the plaintiff’s Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act (CUTPA) claims against the defendants for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and remanded for further proceedings. The plaintiff contended that one of the defendants—a discount club operator—failed to provide him with a written copy of the authorized electronic fund transfer after he joined the defendant’s fee-based monthly discount club. The plaintiff filed a putative class action lawsuit against the defendant club operator, as well as the retailer from whom he purchased a video game online, alleging, among other things, that the defendant violated the EFTA, and that both defendants engaged in “unfair or deceptive trade practices in violation of CUTPA.” The district could granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants on both claims.
The opinion discusses the 2nd Circuit’s holding from the plaintiff’s first appeal, in which the appellate court previously held “that the district court improperly rested its decision on evidence outside the scope of [the plaintiff’s] complaint,” with respect to the claim that the defendant failed to provide “‘a copy of such authorization’” to the plaintiff, as required by the EFTA. In addressing the plaintiff’s second appeal, the 2nd Circuit considered the plaintiff’s argument that the defendant failed to satisfy the EFTA’s requirements because it did not provide him with a “duplicate or facsimile of the Enrollment Page on which he authorized recurring payments.” The appellate court determined that: (i) the EFTA does not require the defendant to provide the plaintiff “with a duplicate of the webpage on which he provided authorization for recurring fund transfers”; and (ii) the defendant’s confirmation email to the plaintiff was sufficient to satisfy its EFTA obligations. The appellate court emphasized that, despite the parties’ “dueling dictionary definitions” of “copy” and “authorization,” the “EFTA’s stated purpose of consumer protection would be served whether the term ‘copy of such authorization’ is read to mean a duplicate or a summary of material terms.” The appellate court also highlighted the CFPB’s Official Interpretation of Regulation E, which states that a person “‘that obtains the [payment] authorization must provide a copy of the terms of the authorization to the consumer either electronically or in paper form.’ 12 C.F.R. Pt. 205, supp. I, §10(b), cmt. 5 (emphasis added).”
On March 20, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit partially reversed a district court’s dismissal of a Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) action, concluding that a company’s disclosures contained “extraneous information” in violation of the FCRA’s standalone disclosure requirement. The plaintiff filed a putative class action lawsuit against his former employer (defendant) after his employment—which was contingent on passing a background check—was ultimately terminated based on the results of his credit report. According to the plaintiff, the defendant violated two sections of the FCRA: (i) that the disclosure form was not clear and conspicuous and was encumbered by extraneous information; and (ii) that the defendant failed to notify him in the pre-adverse action notice that he could discuss the consumer report directly with the defendant prior to his termination. The district court dismissed the allegations, concluding that the disclosure met the FCRA’s disclosure requirements because it was not overshadowed by extraneous information, and “that the FCRA does not require that pre-adverse action notices inform an employee how to contact and discuss a consumer report directly with the employer.”
On appeal, the 9th Circuit reversed the district court’s ruling on whether the signed disclosure form contained extraneous information, concluding that because the disclosure form also included information about plaintiff’s rights to obtain and inspect information gathered by the consumer reporting agency about the plaintiff, it went beyond the FCRA’s standalone disclosure requirement. Noting that the FRCA requires a standalone disclosure but does not define the term “disclosure,” the 9th Circuit stated that a company may “briefly describe what a ‘consumer report’ entails, how it will be ‘obtained,’ and for which type of ‘employment purposes’ it may be used.” Finding that the clear and conspicuous standard was established in a case decided after the district court had dismissed plaintiff’s case, the court remanded the case to the district court to determine whether the defendant’s disclosure form satisfied the clear and conspicuous standard. However, the appellate court affirmed the dismissal of the plaintiff’s other claim, agreeing with the district court that the FCRA only requires employers to provide “a description of the consumer’s right to dispute with a consumer reporting agency the completeness or accuracy of any item of information contained in the consumer’s file at the consumer reporting agency.”
On March 16, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit partially reversed a district court’s dismissal of a lawsuit against several defendants for alleged violations of the FDCPA, the FCRA, and the TCPA, holding that the plaintiff’s third amended complaint was not filled with “shotgun pleadings.” The matter revolves around several statutory and common-law claims arising from the defendants’ allegedly-unlawful debt collection attempts, which were dismissed multiple times by the district court as “shotgun pleadings.” In her third amended complaint—which alleged 10 causes of action—the plaintiff contended, among other things, that the defendants failed to respond to letters she sent to dispute the alleged debt and failed to notify credit reporting agencies (CRA) of the dispute. The plaintiff also alleged that certain defendants called her cell phone multiple times using an automatic telephone dialing system. The district court entered final judgment in favor of all the defendants, minus the CRA defendant, stating, among other things, that the plaintiff continued to “‘lump the defendants together. . .and provide generic and general factual allegations as if they applied to all defendants.’”
On appeal, the 11th Circuit concluded that the district court erred in dismissing six of the 10 counts as shotgun pleadings. “While not at all times a model of clarity, [the third amended complaint] is reasonably concise, alleges concrete actions and omissions undertaken by specific defendants, and clarifies which defendants are responsible for those alleged acts or omissions,” the appellate court wrote. However, the appellate court agreed that the district court correctly dismissed two counts for failing to state a claim related to claims concerning one of the defendant’s alleged attempts to collect delinquent tax payments owed to the IRS. According to the appellate court, since “tax obligations do not arise from business dealings or other consumer transactions they are not ‘debts’ under the FDCPA.’”
On March 20, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit issued an opinion ordering that—“on the Court’s own motion”—it will conduct an en banc hearing on whether the CFPB’s single-director leadership structure is constitutional. The order vacates the appellate court’s March 3 opinion (covered by InfoBytes here), in which it previously determined that there was no constitutional issue with allowing the Bureau director to only be fired for cause. According to the now-vacated opinion, the majority concluded that the claim that the Bureau’s structure is unconstitutional “find[s] no support. . .in constitutional text or in Supreme Court decisions.” The 5th Circuit’s prior decision came the same day the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Seila Law LLV v. CFPB on the same issue.
On March 13, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a putative class action filed by two consumers (plaintiffs) against a real estate brokerage group (real estate defendant) and a title company (title defendant), (collectively defendants), alleging a kickback scheme in violation of RESPA. The plaintiffs bought a house in 2008 with the help of a real estate agent affiliated with the real estate defendant. The real estate agent told the plaintiffs that the title defendant would provide settlement services, after which the plaintiffs filed an acknowledgment that they understood they could use the title company of their choice for their closing, and that they were not first-time homebuyers. The plaintiffs indicated their approval to use the settlement company selected by the real estate agent. Five years later, the plaintiffs filed suit, claiming that the real estate agent’s referral to the title defendant violated RESPA. The consumers, as lead class members, alleged that a marketing agreement between the defendants provided for payments by the title defendant to the real estate defendant for settlement services referrals. The plaintiffs claimed that the illegal kickback arrangement denied class members of ‘“impartial and fair competition between settlement service[s] providers in violation of RESPA.’”
The district court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgement, holding that the plaintiffs lacked Article III standing to file suit because they were not overcharged in the settlement of their real estate transaction and did not otherwise show an injury-in-fact. In addition, the court determined that the claim was time-barred under RESPA’s one-year statute of limitations.
On appeal, the 4th Circuit agreed with the district court that the plaintiffs lacked standing, noting that “a statutory violation is not necessarily synonymous with an intangible harm that constitutes injury-in-fact.” The appellate court pointed out that the plaintiffs did not claim to have been overcharged for settlement services, and indeed, the plaintiffs agreed that the settlement service fees were reasonable. The appellate court also rejected the plaintiffs’ assertion that they suffered a concrete injury due to the lack of competition between settlement service providers.
- Buckley Webcast: Where we are now: Exploring potential risks and rewards for lenders under CARES Act’s Paycheck Protection Program
- Benjamin W. Hutten to discuss "Understanding OFAC sanctions" at a NAFCU webinar
- Garylene D. Javier to discuss "Navigating workplace culture in 2020" at the DC Bar Conference