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On January 15, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California granted final approval of a class action settlement between homeowners and a mortgage company to resolve allegations that the company violated the Internal Revenue Code by failing to report deferred mortgage interest from certain consumers with adjustable rate mortgages (ARM), which allegedly prevented consumers from fully benefiting from the mortgage tax credit. According to the approval order, the plaintiffs contended that “even though the accrued interest is added back to principal, the negative amortization is still interest that should have been reported” to the IRS. However, the order notes that the court previously rejected this theory in part, finding that 26 U.S.C. § 6050H “is ambiguous as to ‘how, whether and when’ such interest must be reported.” Furthermore, the order notes that in 2016 the company began investigating and reporting the negative amortization on loans received via transfer from other companies that allegedly failed to include the negative amortization in their data. These transferred loans, the company asserted, were the only instances where it failed to report negative amortization. Under the terms of the settlement, the company is required to provide amended mortgage interest statements to homeowners whose capitalized interest was incorrectly reported to the IRS for the 2016 through 2018 tax years.
On January 16, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan denied a publishing company’s motion to dismiss putative class allegations that it disclosed subscribers’ personal information to third parties, ruling that the subscribers did not need to live in Michigan in order to bring claims under the state’s Personal Privacy Protection Act (PPPA). According to the plaintiff, the company allegedly disclosed magazine subscribers’ personal reading information (PRI) to data aggregators that would then supplement it with additional information (including age, gender, income, and employer names) in order to create detailed customer profiles. The company then allowed “almost any organization to rent a customer list containing numerous categories of detailed customer information,” the plaintiff alleged. The company argued, however, that the plaintiff, who resides in Virginia, lacked standing to bring claims under the PPPA because the law protects only Michigan residents. The company also contended that the plaintiff failed to demonstrate concrete injury suffered as a result of the company’s alleged disclosure of PRI to third parties without consent.
The court disagreed with both arguments, stating that the company’s argument “rests solely on the fact that a non-Michigan resident has never brought suit under the PPPA,” which is “unpersuasive and contravened by the language of the statute and case law.” The PPPA does not impose a residency requirement in order for customers to qualify for protections under the statute, the court stated, noting that “[i]f the Michigan legislature intended to limit the statute to Michigan residents, it could have done so explicitly.” Among other things, the court also concluded that the plaintiff satisfied the injury-in-fact element for Article III standing because “the alleged economic harm caused by the disclosure of PRI provides support to conclude [the plaintiff] suffered a concrete injury.”
On January 15, Paul Clement, the lawyer selected by the U.S. Supreme Court to defend the leadership structure of the CFPB, filed a brief in Seila Law LLC v. CFPB arguing that Seila Law’s constitutionality arguments are “remarkably weak” and that “a contested removal is the proper context to address a dispute over the President’s removal authority.” First, Clement stated that “there is no ‘removal clause’ in the Constitution,” and that because the “constitutional text is simply silent on the removal of executive officers” it does not mean there is a “promising basis for invalidating an Act of Congress.” Moreover, the Constitution leaves it to Congress to decide “all manner of questions about the organization and structure of executive-branch departments and officers,” Clement wrote. Second, Clement disagreed with the argument that Congress cannot impose modest restrictions on the President’s ability to remove executive officers, so long as the President is the one exercising the removal powers. Third, Clement noted that in the past, the Court has repeatedly upheld the ability to place permissible restrictions on a President’s removal authority.
Clement further contended, among other things, that the dispute in Seila is “not just unripe, but entirely theoretical.” He referenced the Bureau’s brief filed last September (covered by InfoBytes here), in which the CFPB argued that the for-cause restriction on the President’s authority to remove the Bureau’s single director violates the Constitution’s separation of powers, and noted that “[w]hatever was true when this suit was first filed, the theory of the unitary executive appears alive and well in the Director’s office.” Rather, Clement stated, the Court should wait for an instance where a CFPB director has been fired for something short of the “inefficiency, neglect of duty, or malfeasance in office” threshold that Congress set for dismissing a CFPB director in Dodd-Frank before ruling on the question. Clement also emphasized that “text, first principles and precedent” all “strongly support” upholding the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit’s decision from last May, which deemed the CFPB to be constitutionally structured and upheld a district court’s ruling enforcing Seila Law’s compliance with a 2017 civil investigative demand.
As previously covered by InfoBytes, the 9th Circuit held that the for-cause removal restriction of the CFPB’s single director is constitutionally permissible based on existing Supreme Court precedent. The panel agreed with the conclusion reached by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit majority in the 2018 en banc decision in PHH v. CFPB (covered by a Buckley Special Alert) stating, “if an agency’s leadership is protected by a for-cause removal restriction, the President can arguably exert more effective control over the agency if it is headed by a single individual rather an a multi-member body.”
The parties in Seila filed briefs last December. While both parties are in agreement on the CFPB’s single-director leadership structure, they differ on how the matter should be resolved. Seila Law argued that the Court should invalidate all of Title X of Dodd-Frank, whereas the Bureau contended that the for-cause removal provision should be severed from the rest of the law in accordance with Dodd-Frank’s express severability clause. Oral arguments are scheduled for March 3. (Previous InfoBytes coverage here.)
On January 12, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California dismissed one of plaintiffs’ causes of action and concluded that only two of the 67 public statements the plaintiffs identified in support of their securities fraud causes of action against a large bank and its former CEO (defendants) related to the defendants “collateral protection insurance (CPI) … practices for auto loan customers” were actionable. The plaintiffs alleged that while, in July 2016, the defendants learned of irregularities with respect to the CPI and, by September 2016, discontinued the program, the defendants did not disclose information on the CPI program’s issues until July 2017, after which time, the defendants’ stock price dropped. The plaintiffs then filed suit based on 67 public statements made by the defendants prior to that time, which the plaintiffs alleged the defendants knew were “false or misleading” and resulted in the bank’s stockholders losing money.
Upon review, the court found that 65 of the 67 public statements, on which the plaintiffs’ causes of action were based were not actionable. The two statements that the court found may support the plaintiffs’ causes of action were those made by the defendants when they were specifically asked whether they knew about “potential misconduct outside of the already disclosed improper retail banking sales practices” and, each time, “failed to disclose the CPI issue….” With respect to the two statements, the court found that the plaintiffs had “met [their] burden under the PSLRA (private securities litigation reform act)” to show a “strong inference that the defendant acted with the required state of mind,” and that the plaintiffs “adequately pleaded loss causation.” According to the opinion, the defendants did not challenge the plaintiffs’ contentions about the two alleged misstatements’ connection to the purchase or sale of the defendants’ securities, or that the plaintiffs relied on the misstatements or omissions and experienced economic losses as a result.
On January 10, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it had granted a petition for a writ of certiorari filed by the U.S. government in Barr v. American Association of Political Consultants Inc.—a Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) case concerning an exemption that allows debt collectors to use an autodialer to contact individuals on their cell phones without obtaining prior consent to do so when collecting debts guaranteed by the federal government. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the 4th Circuit agreed with the plaintiffs (a group of several political consultants) that the government-debt exemption contravenes the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause, and found that the challenged exemption was a content-based restriction on free speech that did not hold up to strict scrutiny review. “Under the debt-collection exemption, the relationship between the federal government and the debtor is only relevant to the subject matter of the call. In other words, the debt-collection exemption applies to a phone call made to the debtor because the call is about the debt, not because of any relationship between the federal government and the debtor,” the appellate court opined. However, the panel sided with the FCC to sever the debt collection exemption from the automated call ban instead of rendering the entire ban unconstitutional, as requested by the plaintiffs. “First and foremost, the explicit directives of the Supreme Court and Congress strongly support a severance of the debt-collection exemption from the automated call ban,” the panel stated. “Furthermore, the ban can operate effectively in the absence of the debt-collection exemption, which is clearly an outlier among the statutory exemptions.” The petitioners—Attorney General William Barr and the FCC—now ask the Court to review whether the government-debt exception to the TCPA’s automated-call restriction is a violation of the First Amendment.
On January 3, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal for lack of standing of an FDCPA suit brought by a consumer who claimed that because collection letters sent to him by a law firm caused him anxiety, the firm had violated the FDCPA. According to the opinion, the consumer had two delinquent accounts with a bank, which the law firm attempted to recover by sending collection letters to the consumer. The consumer asserted that the letters the law firm sent caused him “an undue sense of anxiety” that he would be sued by the firm, and he subsequently filed a lawsuit against the firm for violating the FDCPA. The court held that the consumer did not have standing to sue under Article III of the U.S. Constitution, for three main reasons: (i) the debtor’s anxiety about a potential lawsuit amounted to a fear of future harm that was not “certainly impending” because the consumer had not alleged that the law firm had threatened to sue him or that he refused to pay, and, therefore, his anxiety did not satisfy the injury-in-fact element for Article III standing; (ii) the consumer was “anxious about the consequences of his decision to not pay the debts that he does not dispute he owes,” and such a “self-inflicted injury” is not a basis for standing because it was not “fairly traceable” to the law firm’s conduct, but instead reflected the consumer’s own behavior; and (iii) “even assuming [the law firm” violated the statute by misrepresenting that an attorney had reviewed [the consumer’s] debts,” that violation did not cause any injury to the consumer because the consumer gave the court “no reason to believe he did not owe the debts,” and, therefore, he could not show that the law firm’s alleged procedural violation of the FDCPA, by itself, was an “injury in fact.” Because the court held that the consumer did not have standing, it affirmed the lower court’s dismissal of the action.
On December 30, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed a district court’s decision that a collection agency was not required to explain the difference between “original creditor” and “current creditor.” After the consumer fell behind on payments owed to a bank, the debt was sold to a company that hired the agency to collect the debt. The agency sent a letter to the consumer identifying the bank as the “original creditor” and the debt buyer as the “current creditor,” listing the principal and interest balances of the debt along with the last four digits of the account number. The consumer alleged that identifying both the bank and the debt buyer without clearly explaining the difference between the companies violated the FDCPA’s requirement that a debt collector state in a written notice “the name of the creditor to whom the debt is owed.” The district court disagreed and held that the letter clearly and accurately disclosed the name of the creditor to whom the consumer owed the debt.
The 7th Circuit affirmed on appeal, calling the consumer’s claim “meritless” and holding that including the names of both companies without a detailed explanation would not be confusing even to an unsophisticated consumer, who would understand that the debt had been purchased by the current creditor. The appellate court concluded that the FDCPA required no further explanation.
On December 18, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the decision of the trial court in favor of a debt collector in an FDCPA action brought by a consumer claiming that the debt collector used false, deceptive, or misleading means in attempting to collect a debt. The consumer, in 2006, opened a credit card account with a bank, but stopped sending payments in December of 2008, without paying off the balance. The bank later sold the consumer’s unpaid account to a debt collector in 2009, after which the debt collector sent a letter to the consumer in 2017 in an effort to collect the past due balance. The consumer filed a complaint against the debt collector, claiming that the debt was “time-barred” as the six-year statute of limitations had run and that the debt collector violated the FDCPA by not disclosing this in the letter to him. The district court granted the debt collector’s summary judgment motion.
On appeal, the consumer again claimed that the debt collector’s language is “deceptive or misleading,” specifically in the debt collector’s disclosure in the letter that read, “[t]he law limits how long you can be sued on a debt and how long a debt can appear on your credit report. Due to the age of this debt, we will not sue you for it or report payment or non-payment of it to a credit bureau.” The court disagreed. According to the opinion, even though the six-year statute to sue in order to collect had expired, “nothing in the letter falsely implies that [the debt collector] could bring a legal action against [the consumer] to collect the debt.” Further, the court determined that the “least sophisticated debtor would [not] likely be misled” by the debt collector’s disclosure, because the “natural conclusion” that could be drawn from the collector’s language was that the debt was time-barred. Additionally, the court rejected the consumer’s contention that the debt collector’s letter was “deceptive or misleading” because it failed to warn the consumer that in some states, the statute of limitations to sue on a debt may be revived if the debtor promises to pay or makes a partial payment on the debt. The court stated that the FDCPA does not require a debt collector to “provide legal advice” about specific issues such as a revival provision in a state statute of limitations. The panel also pointed out that although the statute may have run for the debt collector to take legal action in order to recover the outstanding debt, as long as it complies with the law and does not use misleading, false, or deceptive means, the FDCPA allows it to continue its efforts to collect on a lawful debt.
On December 27, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a TILA case brought by a consumer against his mortgage lender, citing lack of subject matter jurisdiction under the provisions of FIRREA that require claims involving a bank that is in receivership to be presented to the FDIC before the borrower files suit. In 2009 the consumer filed an adversary proceeding in bankruptcy court against his lender for rescission of his mortgage loan under TILA. The consumer claimed that the lender’s notice of right to cancel was defective when the loan was signed, resulting in an extended rescission period under TILA, but his suit was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. Once again, in 2012, the district court dismissed the consumer’s TILA suit after finding that the consumer had not exhausted his administrative remedies with the FDIC before filing suit.
On appeal, the three-judge panel rejected the consumer’s claim that his lender was not placed into receivership until after his loan was sold, and therefore he did not have to exhaust his administrative remedies before filing suit. The panel subscribed to the Fourth Circuit’s interpretation of the exhaustion requirement, stating that “even where an asset never passes through the FDIC’s receivership estate, the FDIC should assess the claim first.” According to the opinion, the FIRREA requirement that the consumer exhaust his remedies with the FDIC applied to this action because the panel determined that (i) the consumer’s claim was “susceptible of resolution under the FIRREA claims process”; (ii) the consumer’s claim was related to an act or omission of the lender; and (iii) the FDIC, which “was not required to have possessed the loan before determining a claim” had been appointed as receiver for that lender, stripping the appellate court of subject matter jurisdiction until after the FDIC determined his claim.
On December 23, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland granted a motion to stay in an action between the CFPB and parties of a structured-settlement company, pending the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in CFPB v. Seila Law. According to the court, a decision in Seila Law that the CFPB’s structure violates the Constitution’s separation of powers under Article II may render the CFPB unable prosecute the case. A determination by the Court is expected later this year (previous InfoBytes coverage here).
As previously covered by InfoBytes, the court allowed to move forward the Bureau’s UDAAP claim, which alleged the defendants employed abusive practices when purchasing structured settlements from consumers in exchange for lump-sum payments. The defendants asked the court to stay the proceedings pending the outcome of two cases: Seila Law and a case pending in the Maryland Court of Appeals involving a different structured settlement company (covered by InfoBytes here). The court determined that a stay is not appropriate based on the Maryland case since it is not known when the case may be decided. The court also disagreed with the defendants’ argument that if the Maryland Court of Appeals upholds the settlement, the Bureau would be precluded from obtaining relief from the defendants. According to the court, “the extent to which the settlement is preclusive is unclear” and the provision that would preclude action by the Bureau is being disputed on appeal. However, the court concluded that a stay pending the outcome in Seila Law is warranted because “one of the Supreme Court’s paths in Seila Law may render the CFPB unable to prosecute this action; the stay would not be lengthy; and the interests of judicial efficiency and potential harm to the movants justify the stay.”
- Andrew W. Schilling to moderate "Expectations of in-house counsel from their law firm partners" at the ACI's 7th Annual Advanced Forum on False Claims and Qui Tam
- Sasha Leonhardt to discuss "Cybersecurity basics for compliance staff" at a NAFCU webinar
- Buckley Webcast: Tips for navigating changes to the FHA recertification process
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "A 20/20 view on 2020’s legislative and regulatory outlook" at the ACAMS Anti-Financial Crime and Public Policy Conference
- Kari K. Hall and Michelle L. Rogers to discuss "Overdrafts and regulatory trends" at the CLE Alabama Banking Law Update
- Kathryn L. Ryan to discuss "Industry open forum session on NMLS usage" at the NMLS Annual Conference & Training
- Kathryn L. Ryan to discuss "Regulating innovative consumer lending products" at the NMLS Annual Conference & Training
- Daniel P. Stipano to moderate "Washington update" at the 17th Puerto Rican Symposium of Anti Money Laundering 2020 conference
- Melissa Klimkiewicz to discuss "Private flood insurance updates" at the MBA's Servicing Solutions Conference & Expo 2020
- APPROVED Checkpoint Webcast: CFL overview
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Pathway of the SARs: Tracking trajectories of suspicious activity reports from alerts to prosecution" at the ACAMS moneylaundering.com 25th Annual International AML & Financial Crime Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Which bud’s for you? A deep-dive into evolving marijuana laws" at the ACAMS moneylaundering.com 25th Annual International AML & Financial Crime Conference