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  • 9th Circuit affirms judgment for defendant in TCPA autodialer suit

    Courts

    On January 19, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of a defendant accused of violating the TCPA after allegedly using an automatic telephone dialing system (autodialer). The plaintiff claimed that the defendant’s platform qualifies as an autodialer since it “stores telephone numbers using a sequential number generator because it uploads a customer’s list of numbers and produces them to be dialed in the same order they were provided, i.e., sequentially.” According to the 9th Circuit, the plaintiff’s interpretation would mean that “virtually any system” with the capability to store a pre-produced list of telephone numbers would qualify as an autodialer if it could also autodial the stored numbers. The court noted that this interpretation was rejected in the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2021 decision in Facebook Inc. v. Duguid, which narrowed the definition of what type of equipment qualifies as an autodialer under the TCPA and held that an autodialer “must have the capacity either to store a telephone number using a random or sequential generator or to produce a telephone number using a using a random or sequential number generator.” (Covered by a Buckley Special Alert here.)

    The plaintiff attempted to rely on a footnote in the Court’s ruling, which endeavored to explain why the terms “produce” and “store” were used in the definition of an autodialer, but the 9th Circuit concluded that the footnote discussion was not central to the Court’s analysis in Duguid and therefore did not require it to adopt the plaintiff’s interpretation. After finding that the defendant’s system does not qualify as an autodialer “merely because it stores pre-produced lists of telephone numbers in the order in which they are uploaded,” the appellate court concluded that the plaintiff’s TCPA claims failed. It further determined that even if Duguid did not foreclose the plaintiff’s argument, the district court was correct to conclude that the system at issue “does not have the capacity to automatically dial telephone numbers.”

    Courts Appellate Ninth Circuit U.S. Supreme Court TCPA Autodialer

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  • District Court dismisses data breach class action

    Courts

    On January 19, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York dismissed a class action against a menswear company (defendant) accused of exposing personal information in a December 2020 data breach. According to the opinion, the plaintiff bought items on the defendant’s website in 2013, and more than six years later, hackers allegedly accessed the defendant’s backup cloud database and stole the personal information of the defendant’s online customers, including customers’ addresses, telephone numbers, email addresses, order history, Internet Protocol addresses, encrypted passwords, and partial credit card numbers. The defendant sent notices to affected customers, disclosing that “an unauthorized third party may have been able to view some of your account details, including your contact information and encrypted password.” The notice further explained that users’ encrypted passwords were protected so the actual passwords were not visible, and that users’ payment card information was not affected by the breach. The notice advised that the company was resetting the passwords and had logged users out of their accounts. In response to the message, the plaintiff allegedly changed his password, placed a security freeze on his credit, purchased credit repair and protection services, and purchased a robocall-blocking subscription. The plaintiff alleged that he “spent time dealing with the increased and unwanted spam, text[s], telephone calls, and emails” that he received after the data breach. In dismissing the lawsuit, the court explained that the plaintiff did not show he faced a “substantial” risk of identity theft or fraud. In addition, the court held that “given the nature and age of the data, the likelihood that its exposure would result in harm to [the plaintiff] is too remote to support standing.”

    Courts Class Action Data Breach Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security

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  • District Court says letter’s disclosure did not violate FDCPA

    Courts

    On January 14, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania entered judgment in favor of a defendant debt collector accused of violating the FDCPA in a consolidated action concerning disclosure language used in a letter sent to the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs, who had previously been sued by the defendant, hired an attorney who sent a letter to the defendant requesting additional information about the plaintiffs’ debts. The defendant responded and included in its letter a disclosure that stated, “This communication is from a debt collector but is not an attempt to collect a debt. Notice: See Reverse Side for Important Information.” The plaintiffs sued, claiming that the disclosure was a “‘false representation or deceptive means’ used to collect a debt in violation of 15 U.S.C. § 1692e(10)” because “the letter was, indeed, an attempt to collect a debt.” The court disagreed. The court held that “[t]he letters do not demand payment, offer alternatives to default, or request financial information,” and noted that “[i]n fact, the letters make no request of any kind from the debtors,” and that“[t]he letters contain contact information, but do not offer any means of making payment on the alleged debt and expressly disclaim that the letter is an ‘attempt to collect a debt.’” Moreover, the court found that because the defendant’s letter was sent in response to a request from the plaintiffs’ attorney, it could not be considered an attempt to collect a debt. In addition, the court ruled that two new theories put forward in plaintiffs’ summary judgment were procedurally barred.

    Courts FDCPA Debt Collection

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  • District Court approves $1.8 million overdraft settlement

    Courts

    On January 14, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California granted final approval to a $1.8 million class action settlement to resolve allegations that a credit union (defendant) improperly charged members overdraft and insufficient fund fees (NSF). The class members alleged they had wrongfully incurred more than one NSF fee on the same transaction when it was reprocessed again after initially being returned for insufficient funds. The class also alleged that the defendant’s contracts did not authorize such charges. The settlement allocated $715,500 to class members who were charged certain fees between May 2016 and October 2020, and $874,500 to class members who were charged certain fees between May 2016 and February 2020. The amount allocated to each class member is based on the former fees assessed against them. As part of the nearly $1.8 million settlement, the defendant must pay $1.59 million in cash, and must waive roughly $176,000 in uncollected at-issue fees.

    Courts Class Action Overdraft Settlement Consumer Finance

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  • CFPB settles FACA dispute over taskforce

    Federal Issues

    On January 14, the CFPB announced publicly that it settled a lawsuit filed by several consumer advocacy groups against the CFPB, which claimed that the Bureau’s Taskforce on Federal Consumer Financial Law established under former Director Kathy Kraninger was “illegally chartered” and violated the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA). The consumer advocacy groups alleged that the taskforce—established by the Bureau in 2019 to provide recommendations to improve consumer financial laws and regulations—lacks balance, and that the appointed members who “uniformly represent industry views” have worked on behalf of several large financial institutions or work as industry consultants or lawyers. (Covered by InfoBytes here.) Last November, the parties entered a stipulated settlement in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, in which the parties agreed that the Bureau failed to comply with FACA in its establishment and operation of the taskforce. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the stipulated settlement required the Bureau to, among other things, (i) release all taskforce records; (ii) amend the final report to include a disclaimer that the report was produced in violation of FACA; (iii) relocate the taskforce webpage and remove the current version of the report from its website; (iv) issue a press release by January 17, 2022, notifying the public of the settlement agreement; and (v) provide status reports until the Bureau has come into full compliance. In its January 14 press release, in addition to publicly announcing the settlement agreement, the CFPB also reported that all Taskforce records would be made available on the CFPB’s website and that the Bureau had amended the Taskforce’s report to include the requirement disclaimer.

    Federal Issues Courts CFPB Taskforce Federal Advisory Committee Act

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  • CSBS drops suit against OCC fintech charter after revised application

    State Issues

    On January 13, the Conference of State Bank Supervisors (CSBS) announced that it has withdrawn its complaint challenging the OCC’s Special Purpose National Bank (SPNB) Charters and a financial services provider’s application for an OCC nonbank charter. CSBS filed a notice of voluntary dismissal without prejudice in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia asking the court to close the case. According to its press release, CSBS voluntarily took this action after the company, which had previously filed an application for an OCC SPNB charter, “amended its application to include seeking FDIC deposit insurance, thus complying with the legal requirement that national banks obtain federal deposit insurance before operating as a bank.”

    As previously covered by InfoBytes, CSBS filed a complaint in December 2020, to oppose the OCC’s potential approval of the company’s SPNB charter application. CSBS argued that the company was applying for the OCC’s nonbank charter, which was invalidated by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in October 2019 (the court concluded that the OCC’s SPNB charter should be “set aside with respect to all fintech applicants seeking a national bank charter that do not accept deposits,” covered by InfoBytes here). At the time, CSBS argued that “by accepting and imminently approving” the company’s application, the “OCC has gone far beyond the limited chartering authority granted to it by Congress under the National Bank Act (NBA) and other federal banking laws,” as the company is not engaged in the “business of banking.” CSBS sought to, among other things, have the court declare the agency’s nonbank charter program unlawful and prohibit the approval of the company’s charter under the NBA without obtaining FDIC insurance.

    OCC acting Comptroller of the Currency Michael J. Hsu issued a statement following the withdrawal of the legal challenge. “We must modernize the regulatory perimeter as a prerequisite to conducting business as usual with firms interested in novel activities. Modernizing the bank regulatory perimeter cannot be accomplished by simply defining the activities that constitute ‘doing banking,’ but will also require determining what is acceptable activity to be conducted in a bank. Consolidated supervision will help ensure risks do not build outside of the sight and reach of federal regulators.”

    State Issues Courts CSBS OCC Fintech Bank Regulatory Bank Charter National Bank Act Nonbank FDIC

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  • District Court tosses challenge to CFPB’s payday rule

    Courts

    On January 14, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia granted two motions to dismiss a challenge to the Bureau’s 2020 final rule revoking certain underwriting provisions of the agency’s 2017 final rule covering “Payday, Vehicle Title, and Certain High-Cost Installment Loans” (Payday Lending Rule). As previously covered by InfoBytes, the final rule revokes, among other things (i) the provision that makes it an unfair and abusive practice for a lender to make covered high-interest rate, short-term loans or covered longer-term balloon payment loans without reasonably determining that the consumer has the ability to repay the loans according to their terms; (ii) the prescribed mandatory underwriting requirements for making the ability-to-repay determination; (iii) the “principal step-down exemption” provision for certain covered short-term loans; and (iv) related definitions, reporting, and recordkeeping requirements. The plaintiff (a national association of organizations serving Latino communities) filed suit alleging the Bureau’s 2020 final rule violated federal rulemaking requirements and arguing that the 2020 final rule rested on an “unreasonable” new evidentiary standard and advanced statutory definitions that “appear custom-designed to repeal the ability-to-repay protections” of the Payday Lending Rule. The plaintiff asked the court to overturn the repeal and order the Bureau to implement the 2017 Payday Lending Rule. Motions to dismiss for lack of standing were filed by the Bureau as well as an intervenor-defendant association.

    In dismissing the action, the court determined that the plaintiff failed to establish a “concrete and demonstrable injury to its activities” attributable to the 2020 final rule’s impact. The plaintiff contended that it suffered injury because the 2020 final rule made its work more difficult due to member organizations needing more assistance and resources from the plaintiff in order to “help families avoid or address unaffordable payday and title loans.” The court reasoned, however, that “[e]xpenditure of resources in response to agency action alone is not enough to establish a cognizable injury because it leaves step one of the inquiry unanswered.” Rather, “there must be a separate perceptible impairment of the organization's ability to provide services—something that makes it more difficult for the organization to conduct its activities”—an impairment, the court stated, for which the plaintiff has not plausibly alleged.

    Courts CFPB Payday Lending Payday Rule Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

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  • District Court grants preliminary approval of class action settlement against national bank

    Courts

    On January 10, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland granted preliminary approval of a settlement in a class action against a national bank (defendant) for allegedly participating in a kickback scheme with a title company (company). According to the memorandum in support of plaintiffs’ unopposed motion for preliminary approval of the settlement, the class action complaint alleged that over a six year period the company paid the defendant for the referral of residential mortgage loans, refinances, and reverse mortgages for title and settlement services in violation of RESPA. Further, the plaintiffs alleged that the company and defendant falsified borrowers’ HUD-1 settlement statements and other documents, and misrepresented the defendant’s efforts to “choose a qualified attorney, title agent or title insurance company to search title and conduct [the borrower's] closing.” While agreeing to the class action settlement, the defendant disputes plaintiffs’ allegations and denies that it is liable for any of the claims in the complaint. Under the terms of the preliminarily approved settlement agreement, the defendant will pay approximately $1.2 million in settlement benefits to class members, a $1,500 service award to both lead plaintiffs, and up to $325,000 in attorneys’ fees and $17,500 in expenses to class counsel.

    Courts Maryland Mortgages Class Action RESPA Kickback Settlement

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  • Agencies file amicus brief on “hybrid” loan MLA protections

    Courts

    On January 6, the CFPB, DOJ, and DOD filed an amicus brief on behalf of the United States in support of a consumer servicemember plaintiff’s appeal in Jerry Davidson v. United Auto Credit Corp, arguing that the hybrid loan at issue in the case, which was used for both an MLA-exempt and non-exempt purpose, must comply with the MLA. The loan included an amount used to purchase Guaranteed Auto Protection (GAP) insurance coverage, and the plaintiff alleged that, among other things, the auto lender (defendant) violated the MLA by forcing the plaintiff to waive important legal rights as a condition of accepting the loan and by requiring him to agree to mandatory arbitration should any dispute arise related to the loan. The plaintiff also alleged that the defendant failed to accurately communicate his repayment obligations by failing to disclose the correct annual percentage rate. The case is before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit after a district court held that the plaintiff’s GAP insurance fell within the car-loan exception to the MLA as “inextricably tied to” and “directly related” to the vehicle purchase.

    Arguing that GAP coverage “is not needed to buy a car and does not advance the purchase or use of the car,” the agencies’ brief noted that GAP coverage is identified as “debt-related product that addresses a financial contingency arising from a total loss of the car” and that the coverage can be purchased as a standalone product. According to the brief, the plaintiff’s loan is a “hybrid loan—that is, a loan that finances a product bundle including both an exempt product (such as a car) and a distinct non-exempt product (such as optional GAP coverage),” and the district court erred in failing to interpret the MLA consistent with guidance issued in 2016 and 2017 by the DOD suggesting that such “hybrid loans” are consumer credit subject to the protections in the MLA. The 2017 guidance explained that “a credit transaction that includes financing for Guaranteed Auto Protection insurance … would not qualify for the exception,” and the agencies argued that although the 2017 guidance was withdrawn in 2020, the “withdrawal did not offer a substantive interpretation of the statute that would alter the conclusion” that the plaintiff’s loan was not exempt from the MLA.

    Courts CFPB Department of Defense DOJ Amicus Brief Appellate Fourth Circuit Servicemembers Military Lending Act Military Lending GAP Fees

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  • Supreme Court blocks OSHA mandate

    Courts

    On January 13, a divided U.S. Supreme Court issued an order blocking a Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rule mandating that employers with 100 or more employees require employees to be fully vaccinated or be subject to a weekly Covid-19 test at their own expense. However, in a separate order the Court allowed a separate rule issued by the Department of Health and Human Services requiring Covid-19 vaccinations for health care workers (unless exempt for medical or religious reasons) at Medicare- and Medicaid-certified providers and suppliers to take effect.

    In November, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit issued a nationwide stay on the emergency temporary standard (ETS) that included the mandate to employers, describing enforcement of the ETS illegitimate and calling the OSHA rule “unlawful” and “likely unconstitutional.” (Covered by InfoBytes here.) However, last month, the 6th Circuit lifted the stay in a 2-1 ruling, stating that “[b]ased on [OSHA’s] language, structure and Congressional approval, OSHA has long asserted its authority to protect workers against infectious diseases.” (Covered by InfoBytes here.) The applicants, seeking emergency relief from the Court to reinstate the stay, argued that the rule exceeded OSHA’s statutory authority and is otherwise unlawful.

    In agreeing that the applicants are likely to prevail, the Court majority granted the application for relief and stayed the OSHA rule pending disposition of the applicants’ petitions for review in the 6th Circuit, as well as disposition of any timely petitions for writs of certiorari. “Although Congress has indisputably given OSHA the power to regulate occupational dangers, it has not given that agency the power to regulate public health more broadly,” the majority wrote. Adding that the ETS is a “blunt instrument” that “draws no distinctions based on industry or risk of exposure to COVID-19,” the majority stated that the Occupational Safety and Health Act does not plainly authorize the rule.

    The dissenting judges argued that the majority’s decision “stymies the Federal Government’s ability to counter the unparalleled threat that COVID–19 poses to our Nation’s workers. Acting outside of its competence and without legal basis, the Court displaces the judgments of the Government officials given the responsibility to respond to workplace health emergencies.”

    With respect to the Department of Health and Human Services rule, the Government applied to stay injunctions issued by two district courts preventing the rule from taking effect. In granting the application and staying the injunctions, the majority of the Court found that one of the Department’s basic functions authorized by Congress “is to ensure that the healthcare providers who care for Medicare and Medicaid patients protect their patients’ health and safety,” concluding that “[h]ealthcare workers around the country are ordinarily required to be vaccinated for diseases” and that “addressing infection problems in Medicare and Medicaid facilities is what [the Secretary] does.” 

    In dissent, four justices argued that the efficacy or importance of Covid-19 vaccines was not at issue in assessing the injunctions, stating that the district court cases were about “whether [the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] has the statutory authority to force healthcare workers, by coercing their employers, to undergo a medical procedure they do not want and cannot undo,” and arguing that “the Government has not made a strong showing that Congress gave CMS that broad authority.”

    Courts U.S. Supreme Court Appellate Sixth Circuit OSHA Covid-19 Department of Labor Department of Health and Human Services Fifth Circuit

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