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On October 23, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a consumer’s putative class action lawsuit alleging that a collection agency violated the FDCPA by sharing the consumer’s debt information with a third-party vendor. The court ruled that the consumer lacked standing because she did not sustain an injury from the sharing of her information.
To collect a defaulted credit-card debt, the defendant collection agency used a third-party vendor to print and mail a collection letter to the consumer. The consumer alleged that the collection agency violated the FDCPA by disclosing to the vendor the consumer’s personal information, and the disclosure was analogous to the tort of invasion of privacy. The appeals court disagreed, reasoning that the sharing of a debtor’s data with a third-party mail vendor to populate and send a form collection letter that caused no cognizable harm, legally speaking. The court also noted that the U.S. Courts of Appeal for the Tenth and Eleventh Circuits have reached similar conclusions. “The transmission of information to a single ministerial intermediary does not remotely resemble the publicity element of the only possibly relevant variant of the privacy tort.”
On October 26, the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of Texas entered an order granting intervenors’ motions for preliminary injunction against the CFPB and its small business loan rule.
As previously covered by InfoBytes, the district court entered an order in August enjoining enforcement of the rule pending the Supreme Court’s decision in Consumer Financial Protection Bureau v. Community Fin. Serv. of Am. and extending the rule’s compliance date to account for the tine the stay remained in place. The court, however, limited that relief to the plaintiffs at that time—a bank and two bank trade associations—and their members. In the wake of this ruling, separate trade associations representing small business lenders asked the CFPB to take administrative action to ensure that the compliance date for other lenders would be adjusted commensurately. The CFPB declined their request.
In response, separate groups of intervenor plaintiffs, including trade associations representing other types of small business lenders, intervened in the action and filed motions seeking to expand the scope of the preliminary injunction to all affected lenders (or at least their members), claiming the court’s decision to spare some from the rule put them at a competitive disadvantage. The CFPB opposed those motions (covered by InfoBytes here).
In its most recent order, the court reasoned that the preliminary injunction should extend to intervenors because the CFPB lacked evidence supporting its argument that that greater harm would result from a stay on its 1071 rule and “its intended benefits for small businesses failed to tip the balance in their favor.” The court reasoned that the purpose of the statute underlying the Bureau’s final rule is the equal application of lending laws to all credit applications to avoid disparate outcomes, presuming uniform application to covered financial institutions. Therefore, to exempt plaintiffs and not all other covered financial institutions would undermine the statute, leaving “non-exempted lenders subject to the discretion of an agency whose very ability to act is a matter of constitutional concern pending resolution on a nationwide scale.” Under that reasoning, the district court granted plaintiffs’ motions for preliminary injunction, enjoining the CFPB from implementing its 1071 Rule for small business lending.
The Utah Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court’s ruling against a debt buyer that acquired a portfolio of bad debts from borrowers all over the country, including residents of Utah. The debt buyer collected on the portfolio of debts by retaining third-party debt collectors or, in some instances, attorneys to recover such debts by filing lawsuits. The debt buyer was not licensed under the Utah Collection Agency Act (UCAA). As such, the plaintiffs argued that the debt buyer’s collection efforts were “deceptive” and “unconscionable” under the Utah Consumer Sales Practices Act.
The lower court ruled for the debt buyer on the grounds that failure to obtain a license, without more, did not rise to the level of “deceptive” or “unconscionable” conduct. Further, the UCAA does not have a private right of action.
Utah recently repealed the collection agency’s license, effective May 3, 2023 (covered by InfoBytes here).
Fifth Circuit affirms dismissal of Fannie, Freddie shareholders’ claims related to FHFA removal restriction and funding
On October 12, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed dismissal of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac shareholders’ claims that the FHFA’s unconstitutional removal restriction caused them harm and that the FHFA’s funding mechanism is inconsistent with the Appropriations Clause. After the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) placed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac into conservatorship, it entered into several preferred stock purchase agreements with the U.S. Treasury. As a result of these agreements, any value the companies generated would go to the Treasury and not to junior preferred and common stockholders such as plaintiffs.
The plaintiff shareholders sued in 2016, arguing that the “for cause” removal protection for the director of the FHFA was unconstitutional. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of FHFA, but a panel of the 5th Circuit reversed. Sitting en banc, the 5th Circuit then determined that the removal provision violated the separation of powers, and held that the proper remedy was to sever the removal restriction from the rest of the authorizing statute. On further appeal, the Supreme Court held that for-cause restriction on the President’s removal authority violates the separation of powers, but it refused to hold that the relevant preferred stock purchase agreement must be undone.
The Supreme Court remanded the case for lower courts to resolve whether the unconstitutional removal provision caused harm to plaintiffs as shareholders, and the 5th Circuit, again sitting en banc, remanded that question to the district court. Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint on remand, bringing claims under the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”) and directly under the Constitution. The amended complaint also alleged, for the first time, that the FHFA’s financing structure violates the Appropriations Clause. Defendants moved to dismiss, and the district court granted the motion in its entirety and dismissed all claims with prejudice.
The 5th Circuit determined that the removal claims were within the scope of the remand order, contrary to the district court’s conclusion, but that the plaintiff’s APA claim was barred by an anti-injunction clause in the authorizing statute. Turning to the Constitutional claim, the 5th Circuit concluded that judicial review was not precluded and proceeded to the merits of the claim.
To show compensable harm from the unconstitutional removal provision, plaintiffs had to allege, among other things, a “nexus between the desire to remove and the challenged actions taken by the insulated actor.” More specifically, they had to allege a connection between the Trump Administration’s desire to remove the director of the FHFA and the Administration’s failure to have FHFA exit the conservatorships and return Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to private control. The amended complaint, however, failed to plead facts demonstrating that the Trump Administration’s purported plan for re-privatization would have been completed if President Trump had been able to remove the existing FHFA director. Those allegations, the Fifth Circuit held, were insufficient.
The 5th Circuit agreed with the district court that the plaintiffs’ Appropriations Clause argument was outside the mandate of the earlier remand order. The appeals court reasoned that the remand order “[left] no opening for plaintiffs to bring a challenge under a completely different constitutional theory for the first time on remand,” nor was there an intervening change in the law such that the mandate rule would not apply.
On October 2, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled that a collection agency who was acting as a furnisher of credit reporting information could not shirk its duty to investigate a dispute by labeling the dispute “frivolous” when the complaint was referred for investigation by a credit reporting agency (CRA). The decision overturned the lower court’s ruling which had sided with the furnisher.
According the ruling, the plaintiff in this action claimed that a fraudulent account had been opened in his name with a television service provider. Plaintiff was described as having first disputed the account directly with the television service provider, but failed to provide supporting documents which the television service provider had requested. Following the plaintiff’s failure to provide the requested documentation, the television service provider referred the disputed account to the collection agency, who in turn reported the delinquent account to the CRA.
The ruling states that when the disputed account appeared on the plaintiff’s consumer report, the plaintiff made an indirect dispute of the information with the CRA, who in turn forwarded the dispute to the collection agency for investigation. The ruling notes that the collection agency undertook no further investigation in response to the dispute, and instead merely confirmed the account information and updated the plaintiff’s address, which the court noted took only 13 seconds.
The court noted that although the FCRA does allow for the recipient of disputes “to preliminarily vet the dispute for frivolousness or irrelevance before investigating,” once a CRA has referred a dispute to a furnisher, “the furnisher does not have such discretion.” Because in this case the collection agency had been referred to it by a CRA, it “had a duty to investigate [plaintiff’s] indirect dispute when it received notice thereof from [the CRA].”
On October 3, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in Community Financial Services Association of America v. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau—a case presenting the most significant challenge yet to the constitutionality of the CFPB. As previously covered by InfoBytes, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit agreed with the plaintiff industry groups that the CFPB’s funding structure violates the appropriations clause. At oral argument, the U.S. Solicitor General observed that the lower court decision was the “first time any court in our nation’s history has held that Congress violated the Appropriations Clause by enacting a statute providing funding.” She noted that Congress has approved similar “standing appropriations” for agencies including the U.S. Customs Service, the U.S. Post Office, and the U.S. Mint.
Several conservative justices pushed back against the CFPB’s and Solicitor General’s stance. For example, Chief Justice Roberts called it “very aggressive view” of Congress’ authority, and Justice Alito emphasized that the CFPB’s funding mechanism was unique in that its funding comes from the Federal Reserve, which is itself not funded through normal appropriations. However, Justice Thomas challenged counsel for the industry groups, noting that “we need a finer point” on “what the constitutional problem is,” beyond the uniqueness of the funding mechanism. Justice Barrett, too, stated she was “struggling to figure out” what standard courts might use in determining whether a cap on an agency’s appropriation is too high.
Find continuing InfoBytes coverage on Community Financial Services Association of America v. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau here.
On September 29, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York granted summary judgement on all claims in favor of the defendant bank, while denying summary judgement for the New Jersey-based plaintiff. The plaintiff alleged violations of the UCC, breach of contract, and gross negligence arising from a “spoofing” fraud incident that resulted in more than $8.5 million being wired from the plaintiff’s account with the defendant. The district court reasoned that the plaintiff was not entitled to a refund because the plaintiff’s employees authorized the wires – and claims under Section 4-A of the UCC require that a payment order be both not authorized and not effective in order to refund a payment. The court rejected the plaintiff’s argument that the wires were improper because the bank’s policy prohibited bank employees from authorizing wires over $500,000 – noting that the policy was for “internal use only,” and solely for the bank’s protection. Further, the court rejected the plaintiff’s common law claims as pre-empted by Article 4-A.
On September 19, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York granted in part and denied in part a complaint filed by two pro se plaintiffs who alleged that the defendant’s debt collection efforts related a balance due from a timeshare membership program violated the FCRA, TILA, and FDCPA. In reaching its decision, the court explained that complaints filed by pro se pleadings must be construed more liberally than those drafted by lawyers. Notwithstanding this more liberal approach, however, the court still determined that plaintiffs’ TILA and FCRA claims were insufficiently pled. With respect to the TILA claim, the court stated that plaintiffs failed to specify which provisions were allegedly violated and only alleged that “Defendant has computed and imposed an internal alleged account balance on plaintiff including principal balance, interest rates, fees and terms without property consumer transparency of mode of accounting verification methods,” which was insufficient to allege a TILA violation. The court noted that to the extent it could interpret plaintiffs’ complaint to implicate specific provisions of the FCRA, plaintiffs still failed to state claim under any of the potentially relevant provisions, either because there was no private right of action or there were no facts supporting any alleged claims.
By contrast, plaintiffs did allege specific provisions of the FDCPA that defendant’s conduct purportedly breached. While the court still concluded that plaintiffs failed to state a claim with regard to most of the cited FDCPA provisions, it determined that plaintiffs had plausibly stated a claim under 15 U.S.C. § 1692g, which, among other things, requires a debt collector to cease debt collection efforts if, within 30 days of receiving a validation notice from the debt collector, a consumer disputes the debt or any portion thereof.
Although the record did not reflect whether the defendant had sent plaintiffs a validation notice, the court, in liberally construing plaintiffs’ complaint, found it reasonable to “infer” that such notice had been provided to the plaintiffs. Specifically, the court reasoned that plaintiffs’ notarized letter to defendant, titled “Validation of Debt / Claim” was likely sent in response to a validation notice from defendant, and therefore, under Section 1692g, all collection activity should have ceased following receipt of plaintiffs’ letter.
On September 19, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia denied a motion for summary judgment from the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies arguing that the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s disparate-impact rule conflicts with the limits of the Fair Housing Act as interpreted at the Supreme Court. The rule, promulgated in 2013 and reinstated under the Biden administration, a policy is unlawful if it has a “discriminatory effect” on a protected class and was not necessary to achieve a “substantial, legitimate, nondiscriminatory” interest or if there is a less discriminatory alternative. Judge Richard J. Leon held that the rule does not exceed limitations on disparate-impact liability under the FHA placed by the Supreme Court in Texas Department of Housing & Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc., 576 U.S. 519 (2015) where those limitations avoid potential constitutional issues and prevent the Act from forcing housing authorities to reorder their legitimate priorities.
On September 19, the CFPB published a recent decision and order denying the petition of one of the nation’s largest private student loan servicers to set aside the CFPB’s civil investigative demand (CID) in connection with its investigation into potential violations of the CFPA’s prohibition of unfair, deceptive, and abusive acts and practices for attempting to collect on loans that had been previously discharged in bankruptcy. The order instructs the servicer to “comply in full” with the requests for documents and information set forth in the Bureau’s June 2023 CID.
The servicer objected to the CFPB’s investigation, arguing, among other things, that the Bureau lacks authority to enforce the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. The servicer also argued that the Bankruptcy Code displaces the CFPA if the reason a debt is not owed is due to a bankruptcy discharge.
The Bureau rejected the servicer’s arguments, stating “[t]he Bureau seeks to determine whether a student loan servicer violated the prohibition on unfair, deceptive, and abusive acts and practices not just by making individual attempts to collect discharged debts from individual debtors, but also, more globally, by having no policies and procedures in place to determine whether loans in the servicer’s portfolio are dischargeable in bankruptcy via standard bankruptcy orders, a practice that could put entire populations of borrowers at risk of harmful and unlawful collection efforts.” It went on to say “[t]he bureau does not seek to investigate potential violations of the Bankruptcy Code, but rather potential violations of the CFPA.” The CFPB also noted that courts have “repeatedly held that the Bureau can bring CFPA claims based on companies’ attempts to collect debts that consumers do not owe due to the impact of some other statute.”