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On June 19, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a RESPA class action against a national bank, concluding the suit was not timely filed. According to the opinion, two consumers took out mortgages with the bank in 2005 and 2006. In 2011, the consumers were part of the putative class in a separate class action, alleging the bank violated RESPA by referring homeowners to mortgage insurers that then obtained reinsurance from a subsidiary of the bank, which the consumers claimed amounted to a kickback. After the class action was dismissed as untimely in 2013 and while it was pending appeal, the consumers filed a new class action as the named plaintiffs, which alleged the same violation of RESPA. The consumers argued that, while RESPA has a one-year statute of limitations, (i) RESPA makes each kickback a separately accruing wrong and that the insurers paid a kickback for each insurance premium payment, therefore, the suit is timely up to one year after the last premium payment and kickback; and (ii) the filing of the first class action tolled the limitation period for their claims and because the class action continued until November 2013, tolling extended their limitations period until then.
The appeals court upheld the district court’s dismissal of the action, agreeing with the consumers’ separate-accrual theory, but noting that the consumers paid no premiums in the year before they filed their complaint, so the limitations period had expired before the consumers filed the new action. Specifically, the appellate court rejected the bank’s argument that RESPA’s statute of limitations runs only from the mortgage closing, not from each later premium payment, holding that under RESPA the limitations period accrues separately for each kickback, stating “[s]o a party violates the Act anew each time it takes the discrete act of giving or receiving a kickback under an agreement to make referrals.”
As for whether the 2011 class action tolled the consumers’ claims, the appellate court cited the Supreme Court’s 2018 opinion in China Agritech, Inc. v. Resh, noting that the Court in that case held that such tolling is only available for individual claims, not class claims. The appellate court rejected the consumers’ arguments that China Agritech does not apply to new class claims filed before the first action has officially ended, stating, “[t]olling new class actions filed while the first one was pending would encourage more plaintiffs to seek second bites at the apple.” Because the consumers’ action was not timely filed, the appellate court affirmed the district court’s dismissal.
On June 17, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit held that no showing of irreparable harm is required for the FTC to obtain injunctive relief when the relief is sought in conjunction with a statutory enforcement action where the applicable statute authorizes such relief. According to the opinion, the FTC brought an action against an entity and related individuals (collectively, “defendants”) operating a mortgage loan modification scheme for allegedly violating the FTC Act and Regulation O by making false promises to consumers for services designed to prevent foreclosures or reduce interest rates or monthly mortgage payments. (Previously covered by InfoBytes here.) The FTC brought the action under the second proviso of Section 13(b) of the FTC Act, which allows the agency to pursue injunctive relief without initiating administrative action. The district court granted the motion for preliminary injunction without requiring the FTC to make a showing of irreparable harm.
On appeal, the 9th Circuit rejected the defendants’ argument that the FTC was still required to demonstrate the likelihood of irreparable harm in a Section 13(b) action. The appellate court noted that the FTC’s position is supported by the court’s precedent, quoting “‘[w]here an injunction is authorized by statute, and the statutory conditions are satisfied . . ., the agency to whom the enforcement of the right has been entrusted is not required to show irreparable injury.’” The appellate court concluded that its precedent is not irreconcilable with the 2008 Supreme Court decision in Winter v. Natural Resource Defense Council, Inc, noting that Winter did not address injunctive relief in the context of statutory enforcement. Therefore, the appellate court concluded that although irreparable harm is required to obtain injunctive relief in an ordinary case, the district court did not error in granting injunctive relief, without the showing of irreparable harm, in conjunction with a statutory enforcement action.
On June 13, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit overturned the dismissal of a TCPA putative class action against a social media company, concluding the plaintiff adequately alleged the company sent text messages using an automated telephone dialing system (autodialer) in violation of the TCPA and holding that the “debt-collection exception” excluding calls “made solely to collect a debt owed to or guaranteed by the United States” from TCPA coverage is an unconstitutional restriction on speech. The consumer alleged that he that he had received a text message indicating that his account was accessed from an unrecognized device, although he allegedly was not a user of the social media site and never consented to the alerts.
On appeal, the company challenged the adequacy of the TCPA allegations and, alternatively, argued that the TCPA violates the First Amendment. The 9th Circuit concluded the plaintiff plausibly alleged the company’s text message system fell within the definition of autodialer under the TCPA— using the definition from its September 2018 decision in Marks v. Crunch San Diego, LLC. The appellate court rejected the company’s argument that an “expansive reading” of Marks would encapsulate any smartphone within the definition of autodailer and that the definition should not apply to “purely ‘responsive messages’” such as the text messages in question. The appellate court also agreed with the company— citing to the 4th Circuit’s recent decision in AAPC v. FCC, covered by InfoBytes here— that an exclusion under the TCPA that allows debt collectors to use an autodialer to contact individuals on their cell phones when collecting debts owed to or guaranteed by the federal government violates the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause. However, the appellate court held that the debt collection exception is severable from the TCPA, and, therefore, declined to strike down the law it its entirety as the company requested.
On June 12, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois denied an auto financing company’s renewed motion for summary judgment and request for reconsideration, concluding that the company’s calling system falls within the definition of automatic telephone dialing system (autodialer) under the TCPA.
According to the opinion, two separate class actions were filed alleging that the company violated the TCPA when making calls to consumers regarding outstanding auto loans by using an autodailer. In April 2016, the company filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing, among other things, that the calling system it uses does not constitute an autodialer under the TCPA, and moved to stay the proceedings until the D.C. Circuit issued its ruling in a related case, ACA International v. FCC. The court denied the motions but stated that it would “revisit any issues affected by [the ACA International] decision as needed.” In March 2018, the D.C. Circuit issued its ruling in ACA International, concluding that the FCC’s 2015 interpretation of an autodialer was “unreasonably expansive.” (Covered by a Buckley Special Alert here.)
The company then filed the renewed motion for summary judgment and request for reconsideration of the earlier decision. The court denied the motion, concluding that the company’s calling system was an autodialer under the TCPA as a matter of law, because the system automatically dialed numbers from a set customer list. The court applied the logic of the 9th Circuit in Marks v. Crunch San Diego, LLC (covered by InfoBytes here), stating that it was not bound by the FCC’s interpretations of an autodialer based on ACA International, and “[a]s such, ‘only the statutory definition of [autodialer] as set forth by Congress in 1991 remains.’” After reviewing the legislative history of the TCPA, the court determined that “[g]iven Congress’s particular contempt for automated calls and concern for the protection of consumer privacy,” the autodialer definition “includes autodialed calls from a pre-existing list of recipients,” rejecting the company’s argument that an autodialer must have the capacity to generate telephone numbers, not just pull from a preexisting list. Additionally, the court concluded that the system “need not be completely free of all human intervention” to fall under the definition of autodialer.
On June 11, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a RESPA action against a mortgage servicer, concluding that rescheduling a foreclosure sale is not a violation of Regulation X’s prohibition on moving for an order of foreclosure sale after a borrower has submitted a complete loss-mitigation application. According to the opinion, a consumer’s home was the subject of an order of foreclosure, and the mortgage servicer subsequently approved a trial loan-modification plan for a six-month period. The servicer filed a motion to reschedule the foreclosure sale so that the sale would not occur unless the consumer failed to comply with the modification plan during the trial period. The consumer filed suit, alleging that the servicer violated Regulation X––which prohibits loan servicers from moving for an order of foreclosure sale after a borrower has submitted a complete loss-mitigation application––because the servicer rescheduled the foreclosure sale instead of cancelling it. The district court dismissed the action.
On appeal, the 11th Circuit agreed with the district court, concluding that the consumer failed to state a claim for a violation of Regulation X. The appellate court reasoned that Regulation X does not prohibit a servicer from moving to reschedule a foreclosure sale as that motion is not the same as the “order of sale,” a substantive and dispositive motion seeking authorization to conduct a sale at all, as referenced in Regulation X. Moreover, the appellate court argued that the consumer’s interpretation of the prohibition is inconsistent with the consumer protection goals of RESPA because it would disincent loan servicers from offering loss-mitigation options and helping borrowers complete loss-mitigation applications, if a foreclosure sale has already been scheduled. Lastly, the appellate court noted that the motion to reschedule is consistent with the CFPB’s commentary that, “[i]t is already standard industry practice for a servicer to suspend a foreclosure sale during any period where a borrower is making payments pursuant to the terms of a trial loan modification,” rejecting the consumer’s argument that the servicer should have cancelled the sale altogether.
On June 10, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California denied a national payday lender’s motion to compel arbitration, agreeing with plaintiffs that the arbitration provision in their loan agreement was unenforceable because it was procedurally and substantively unconscionable. According to the opinion, plaintiffs filed a putative class action suit against the payday lender alleging the lender sells loans with usurious interest rates, which are prohibited under California’s Unfair Competition Law and Consumer Legal Remedies Act. The lender moved to compel arbitration asserting that the consumers’ loan agreements contain prohibitions on class actions in court or in arbitration, require arbitration of any claims arising from a dispute related to the agreement, and disallow consumers from acting as a “private attorney general.”
The court first determined that California law applied. It concluded that, while the lender was headquartered in Kansas, the consumers obtained their loans in California, and California “has a materially greater interest than Kansas in employing its laws to resolve the instant dispute,” based on its “material and fundamental interest in maintaining a pathway to public injunctive relief in unfair competition cases.”
The court then determined that the arbitration provision was procedurally unconscionable because, even though the consumers had a 30-day opt-out window, it required them to waive statutory causes of action “before they knew any such claims existed.” Finally, because the provision contained a waiver of public injunctive relief, the court determined it was substantively unconscionable based on the California Supreme Court decision in McGill v. Citibank, N.A (covered by a Buckley Special Alert here). The court rejected the lender’s arguments that McGill was preempted under the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), noting a 2015 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, “effectively controls” the dispute and the 9th Circuit reasoned that a similar state-law rule against waivers was not preempted by the FAA. Lastly, the court held that the unconscionable public injunctive relief waiver provision was not severable from the entire arbitration provision, because the agreement contained “poison pill” language that would invalidate the entirety of the arbitration provision.
On June 7, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit affirmed a lower court’s ruling that an agreement between a Texas-based merchant and a payment processor did not require the merchant to pay millions of dollars in damage-control costs related to two card system data breaches. After the data breaches, the payment processor withheld routine payment card transaction proceeds from the merchant, asserting that the merchant was responsible for reimbursing the amount that the issuing banks paid to cardholders affected by the breaches. However, the merchant refused to pay the payment processor, relying on a “consequential damages waiver” contained in the agreement.
The payment processor argued that, under the agreement’s indemnification clause and provision covering third-party fees and charges, the merchant retained liability for assessments passed down from the card brands’ acquiring bank. The district court, however, granted summary judgment to the merchant, finding that the merchant was not liable for the card brands’ assessments. The court further ruled that the payment processor materially breached the agreement when it diverted funds to reimburse itself.
On review, the 6th Circuit agreed with the lower court that the assessments “constituted consequential damages” and that the agreement exempted consequential damages from liability under a “conspicuous limitation” to the indemnification clause. According to the 6th Circuit, the “data breaches, resulting reimbursement to cardholders, and levying of assessments, though natural results” of the merchant’s failure to comply with the Payment Card Industry's Data Security Standards, “did not necessarily follow from it.” In addition, the appellate court agreed with the district court’s holding that third-party fees and charges in the contract refer to routine charges associated with card processing services rather than liability for a data breach. The appellate court also concurred that the payment processor’s decision to withhold routine payment card transactions, constituted a material breach of the agreement.
Recently, the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas granted a plaintiff’s motion for final approval of a class action settlement resolving allegations that a national bank violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act by incorrectly repossessing vehicles owned by certain servicemembers. The bank, which denied all claims and allegations of wrongdoing, entered into the settlement agreement to avoid further uncertainties and expenses. The approximately $5.1 million settlement fund will go to affected servicemembers who have not, as of the effective date, already accepted payments in accordance with settlement agreements reached between the bank and the DOJ and OCC in 2016. (Covered by InfoBytes here.)
Supreme Court holds that creditor may be held in civil contempt for violation of bankruptcy discharge injunction
On June 3, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously held that a creditor may be held in civil contempt for violating a bankruptcy court’s discharge order “if there is no fair ground of doubt as to whether the order barred the creditor’s conduct.” At issue was Section 524(a)(2) of the Bankruptcy Code, which specifies that a discharge order triggers an automatic injunction against any creditor that attempts to collect a pre-bankruptcy discharged debt. In the case before the Court, a defendant to a lawsuit proceeding in state court filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy during the course of that litigation. After the bankruptcy court entered a discharge order, the state court ordered the debtor to pay the plaintiffs’ attorneys’ fees. While the monetary judgment would have ordinarily violated the discharge, the state court concluded that it was permissible under a lower-court doctrine holding that the discharge no longer applies when a debtor “return[s] to the fray” of litigation after filing for bankruptcy. The bankruptcy court appellate panel vacated the bankruptcy court’s decision and the 9th Circuit affirmed, concluding that a creditor may not be held in contempt for violating a discharge order if the creditor held a subjective good faith belief—even if “unreasonable”—that its actions did not violate the injunction.
Upon review, the Supreme Court reversed the 9th Circuit’s opinion, noting that the standard for civil contempt “is generally an objective one,” and nothing about a bankruptcy court discharge order should modify that principle. The Supreme Court emphasized that “a party’s subjective belief that [the party] was complying with an order ordinarily will not insulate [the party] from civil contempt if that belief was objectively unreasonable,” and that civil contempt “may be appropriate when the creditor violates a discharge order based on an objectively unreasonable understanding of the discharge order or the statutes that govern its scope.” The -debtor’s argument for a standard that would operate like a “strict-liability” standard—where creditors who are unsure of whether a debt has been discharged can obtain an advance determination from the bankruptcy court prior to attempting to collect the debt—was also rejected. The Supreme Court stated that because “there will often be at least some doubt as to the scope of such orders,” a preclearance requirement may “lead to frequent use of the advance determination procedure,” as well as additional costs and delays.
On June 6, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, in a consolidated appeal, affirmed summary judgment in favor of a debt collector in actions alleging that the debt collector violated the FDCPA by naming the “original creditor” and the “client” in its collection letters, but declining to identify the current owner of the debt. According to the opinion, two consumers received collection letters naming an online payment processor as the “client” and a bank as the “original creditor,” and stating that, “upon the debtor’s request, [the collector] will provide ‘the name and address of the original creditor, if different from the current creditor.’” The consumers filed class actions against the debt collector, alleging that it violated, among other things, Section 1692g(a)(2) of the FDCPA by failing to disclose the current creditor or owner of the debt in the initial collection letters. In both cases, the respective district court granted summary judgment for the debt collector, concluding that the letter not only includes the original creditor—the bank—but also provides additional information for the unsophisticated consumer by including the online payment processor so that the consumer could better recognize the debt.
On appeal, the 7th Circuit agreed with the lower courts and concluded that the letters did not violate the FDCPA. The appellate court noted that “the letter identifies a single ‘creditor,’ as well as the commercial name to which the debtors had been exposed, allowing the debtors to easily recognize the nature of the debt.” The appellate court rejected the consumers’ argument that calling the bank the “original creditor” instead of the “current creditor” creates confusion, because the letter contained language that notified consumers that the original and current creditors may be one and the same. Because the letter “provides a whole picture of the debt for the consumer,” the court concluded it is not abusive or unfair and does not violate Section 1692g(a)(2) of the FDCPA.
- Buckley Webcast: Hot topics in debt collection — An analysis of recent federal FDCPA litigation
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "How to succeed in law school" at the SEO Law DC Panel Discussions
- 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
- Sasha Leonhardt and John B. Williams to discuss "Privacy" at the National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions Summer Regulatory Compliance School
- Warren W. Traiger to discuss "CRA modernization" at the National Association of Industrial Bankers and the Utah Association of Financial Services Annual Convention
- Benjamin W. Hutten to discuss "Requirements for banking inherently high-risk relationships" at the Georgia Bankers Association BSA Experience Program
- Henry Asbill to discuss "Ethical guidance in conducting internal investigations – The intersection of Yates an Upjohn" at the American Bar Association Southeastern White Collar Crime Institute
- Brandy A. Hood to discuss "RESPA Section 8/referrals: How do you stay compliant?" at the New England Mortgage Bankers Conference
- 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