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On November 22, a federal judge in Texas issued a nationwide preliminary injunction blocking the enactment of the Department of Labor's (DOL’s) new overtime salary threshold under the Fair Labor Standards Act. In his order—issued in response to a lawsuit brought by 21 states and several business groups—Judge Amos L. Mazzant, III noted that the DOL does not have the authority to utilize a salary-level test or an automatic updating mechanism. By granting the preliminary injunction, the judge has delayed the rule (which was set to take effect on December 1) from becoming effective until further legal proceedings may occur. Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment, which seeks to invalidate the final rule, has already been briefed.
In an order released November 10 in LabMD, Inc. v. FTC, the Eleventh Circuit stayed the execution of an FTC data security enforcement order against LabMD Inc. pending the appellate court’s own ruling on whether the agency acted on an unreasonable interpretation of what security companies must provide. LabMD, Inc. v. FTC, No. 16-16270-D, Order Granting Stay (11th Cir. Nov. 10, 2016).
The FTC had ruled in July that LabMD’s data security practices violated the FTC Act, clarifying and expanding upon the FTC’s authority to regulate corporate data security practices. After an FTC administrative law judge denied LabMD’s request to stay enforcement until the medical company had exhausted its remedies on appeal, LabMD appealed to the Eleventh Circuit, which granted the stay in a unanimous decision.
Noting that the case turns upon whether the FTC’s interpretation of the FTC Act is reasonable, the Appellate cCourt granted the stay based on its finding that (i) “there are compelling reasons why the FTC’s interpretation may not be reasonable”; (ii) complying with the FTC’s Order would cause LabMD irreparable harm given its financial situation, (iii) there would be no substantial injury to other parties given that LabMD is no longer operating, and (iv) the public interest factor was neutral. The appeal will now proceed on the merits of LabMD’s arguments for reversal of the FTC’s enforcement order.
On November 8, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Bank of America Corp. v. City of Miami, addressing whether the Fair Housing Act permits Miami to sue mortgage lenders as an “aggrieved person” for alleged racial discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of housing. The questions presented to the Court for decision are whether (i) the language in the Fair Housing Act that limits standing to sue to “aggrieved person[s]” means that Congress meant to impose a more narrow standing requirement than that in Article III of the Constitution; and (ii) the proximate cause standard in the Fair Housing Act requires that the plaintiffs show more than the possibility that the defendants could have foreseen the harm that occurred through a chain of consequences.
Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments On Whether Federal Jurisdiction Exists Based on Presence of Fannie Mae as a Party
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Lightfoot v Cendant Mortgage Corp., the latest in a line of cases assessing the boundaries of the jurisdiction of the federal courts over Federal agencies and instrumentalities. In Lightfoot, the questions before the Court are whether (i) the phrase "to sue and be sued, and to complain and to defend, in any court of competent jurisdiction, State or Federal" in Fannie Mae's charter confers original jurisdiction on the federal courts over every case brought by or against Fannie Mae, pursuant to 12 U.S.C. § 1723a(a); and (ii) the majority’s decision in Am. Nat'l Red Cross v. S.G., 505 U.S. 247 (1992) (5-4 decision), should be reversed.
On November 2, the CFPB, in partnership with the New York Attorney General, filed a lawsuit in a federal district court against the leaders of a debt collection operation based out of Buffalo. The lawsuit alleges that defendants operate a network of companies that harass and/or deceive consumers into paying inflated debts or amounts they may not owe. The Bureau is seeking to shut down the operation and to obtain compensation for victims and a civil penalty against the companies and partners.
On November 3, the CFPB filed a lawsuit in federal district court against a Virginia pawnbroker for deceiving consumers about the actual annual cost of its loans. In its Complaint, the CFPB alleges both TILA violations and unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices under Dodd-Frank and the CPA. The complaint seeks monetary relief, injunctive relief, and penalties. The CFPB coordinated its investigation with the Virginia Attorney General’s office – which filed its own lawsuit against the same pawnbrokers back in July 2015 for violations of the Virginia Consumer Protection Act.
On October 19, the Ninth Circuit, in an opinion by Judge Kozinski, held that merely enforcing a security interest is not “debt collection” under the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”). Ho v. ReconTrust Co., Case: 10-56884 (Oct. 20, 2016). In so holding, the Ninth Circuit disagreed with earlier decisions by the Fourth and Sixth Circuits, creating a split that might eventually be resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court. See e.g. Piper v. Portnoff Law Associates Ltd., 396 F.3d 227, 235-36 (3d Cir. 2005); Wilson v. Draper & Goldberg PLLC, 443 F.3d 373, 378-79 (4th Cir. 2006); Glazer v. Chase Home Finance LLC, 704 F.3d 453, 461 (6th Cir. 2013).
In Ho, a borrower sued several foreclosure firms after she defaulted on her mortgage loan, alleging that the defendant-companies had violated the FDCPA by sending her default notices stating the amounts owed. The district court dismissed that claim, finding the trustee was not a debt collector engaged in debt collection under the FDCPA. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the dismissal. The Court observed that a notice of default and a notice of sale may state the amounts due, but they do not in fact demand payment. Moreover, in California, deficiency judgments are not permitted after a non-judicial foreclosure sale, so no money can be collected from the homeowner. Notably, the notices complained of in Ho are required by California law prior to exercising the right to non-judicial foreclosure.
In an opinion issued Thursday in Bartram v. U.S. Bank Nat'l Ass'n, Nos. SC14-1265, SC14-1266, SC14-1305, 2016 Fla. App. LEXIS 16236 (Dist. Ct. App. Nov. 3, 2016), the Florida Supreme Court ruled that a mortgagee is not precluded by the five-year statute of limitations for filing a subsequent foreclosure action based on payment defaults occurring subsequent to the dismissal of the first foreclosure action, as long as the alleged subsequent default occurred within five years of the subsequent foreclosure action. In so holding, the Court affirmed the lower appellate court's decision and reinstated litigation.
The dispute in Bartram began with a 2006 foreclosure lawsuit against Bartram after he stopped making payments on his mortgage. In April 2011, with Bartram's suit still pending, his ex-wife filed a declaratory judgment action to quiet title to the property, naming her ex-husband, the bank and the homeowners’ association as defendants. When the original foreclosure suit against Bartram was dismissed on procedural grounds one month later, he sought declaratory judgment that the 5-year statute of limitations had passed. Specifically, he argued that the limitations period began to run when he defaulted in January 2006 and the bank accelerated the loan. Although the trial court sided with Bartram, the Florida Fifth District Court of Appeal reversed the ruling and certified the question to the Florida Supreme Court. Florida’s high court narrowly construed the question, framing the issue as: “Does acceleration of payments due under a residential note and mortgage with a reinstatement provision in a foreclosure action that was dismissed . . . trigger application of the statute of limitations to prevent a subsequent foreclosure action by the mortgage based on payment defaults occurring subsequent to dismissal of the first foreclosure suit?” As noted above, the Florida Supreme Court held it does not.
On September 26, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled that a credit card company did not unreasonably restrain trade in violation of the Sherman Act by prohibiting merchants from directing customers to use other, less costly forms of payment. The appeals court reversed based on the lower courts definition of the market as limited to the “core enabling functions provided by networks which allow merchants to capture, authorize, and settle transactions for customers who elect to pay with their credit or charge card.” According to the decision, this definition was too limited in this case, because the credit card network derived its market share from cardholder satisfaction, providing “no reason to intervene and disturb the present functioning of the payment‐card industry.” The court noted that the outcome in this case is different than in previous credit card exclusionary rule cases because here, the payment clearing network and the card issuing function are completely integrated, meaning that the issuer and the network are the same company.
On June 16, the United States Supreme Court issued an opinion vacating a First Circuit ruling on the grounds that the appellate court’s interpretation of the False Claims Act’s (FCA) materiality requirement to include any statutory, regulatory, or contractual violation is overly broad. Universal Health Servs., Inc. v. U.S. ex rel. Escobar, No. 15-7 (U.S. June 16, 2016). In a unanimous opinion delivered by Justice Clarence Thomas, the Court held that the implied false certification theory can be a basis for liability under the FCA when (i) the defendant submits a claim for payment to the government that makes specific representations about the goods or services provided; and (ii) the defendant’s failure to disclose noncompliance with material statutory, regulatory, or contractual requirements make its representations misleading half-truths. However, the Court did not adopt the appellate court’s expansive interpretation of what constitutes a “false or fraudulent claim” under this theory, concluding:
A misrepresentation cannot be deemed material merely because the Government designates compliance with a particular statutory, regulatory, or contractual requirement as a condition of payment. Nor is it sufficient for a finding of materiality that the Government would have the option to decline to pay if it knew of the defendant’s noncompliance. Materiality, in addition, cannot be found where noncompliance is minor or insubstantial.
In Escobar, respondents filed a qui tam suit against a health services clinic, alleging that it violated Massachusetts Medicaid regulations, which were designated as express conditions of payment for the Medicaid program, by allowing unqualified staff to provide mental health counseling and knowingly misrepresenting compliance with the regulations when submitting reimbursement claims. According to respondents, a misrepresentation can be deemed material so long as the defendant “knows that the Government would be entitled to refuse payment were it aware of the violations.” The Supreme Court disagreed and held that, under 31 U.S.C. §3729(a)(1)(A), the FCA “does not adopt such an extraordinary expansive view of liability.” Rather, the Court reiterated that the materiality standard is demanding and the key determinant is whether the misrepresentation, i.e., the defendant’s failure to comply with particular statutory, regulatory or contractual requirements, is likely to influence the government’s payment decision. Because the First Circuit had not applied this standard, the Court remanded the case for the lower courts to reconsider whether the materiality threshold was met.