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  • FTC halts the operation of alleged credit repair scheme

    Federal Issues

    On June 21, the FTC announced that the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut temporarily halted the operation of an alleged credit repair scheme based on allegations the company charged illegal upfront fees and falsely claimed to substantially improve consumers’ credit scores in violation of the FTC Act, the Credit Repair Organizations Act, the Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR), the Consumer Review Fairness Act, TILA, and the EFTA. According to the complaint, since 2014, the company, among other things, (i) claims they can improve consumers’ credit scores by removing negative items and hard inquiries from credit reports; (ii) charges advance fees for their services; (iii) does not provide the required disclosures for its services, including credit transaction disclosures related to the financing of the service fees; (iv) engages in electronic funds transfers from consumers’ bank accounts without proper authorization; and (v) threatens consumers with legal action after consumers complain about the lack of results. The court order requires the company to temporarily cease its operations and ensures the company’s assets are frozen.

    Federal Issues FTC Credit Repair Credit Scores Courts TILA EFTA FTC Act Telemarketing Sales Rule

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  • 3rd Circuit: Each premium payment could violate RESPA’s prohibition on kickbacks

    Courts

    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.

     

    Courts RESPA Appellate Third Circuit Statute of Limitations Kickback Class Action

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  • CFTC charges U.K. company with fraudulent bitcoin scheme

    Securities

    On June 18, the CFTC announced it filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York against a United Kingdom-based bitcoin trading and investment company and its principal (collectively, “defendants”) for allegedly fraudulently obtaining and misappropriating almost 23,000 bitcoin from more than 1,000 customers. The CFTC alleges the defendants violated the Commodity Exchange Act by fraudulently soliciting customers to purchase bitcoin with cash and then deposit the bitcoin in accounts controlled by the defendants. The CFTC alleges that the defendants misrepresented that they “employed expert virtual currency traders who earned guaranteed daily trading profits on customers’ Bitcoin deposits.” Additionally, the CFTC alleges the defendants also fabricated weekly trade reports and “manufactured an aura of profitability” by depositing new customer bitcoin purchases to other customer accounts. The scheme, according to the CFTC, obtained almost 23,000 bitcoins “from more than 1,000 members of the public,” “which reached valuation of at least $147 million.” The CFTC is seeking civil monetary penalties, restitution, rescission, disgorgement, trading and registration bans, and injunctive relief against further violations of the federal commodity laws.

     

    Securities CFTC Virtual Currency Courts Bitcoin

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  • 9th Circuit: FTC does not need to show irreparable harm to get injunctive relief

    Courts

    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.  

     

    Courts Appellate FTC FTC Act Preliminary Injunction Ninth Circuit

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  • 9th Circuit reverses dismissal of TCPA class action against social media company

    Courts

    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.

     

    Courts Appellate Ninth Circuit ACA International TCPA

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  • CFPB settles with defunct schools’ student loan management company

    Federal Issues

    On June 14, the CFPB announced a proposed settlement, subject to approval by a federal district court, with a company that manages student loans for a defunct for-profit educational institution resolving allegations it provided substantial assistance to the institution in engaging in unfair acts and practices in violation of the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA). As previously reported by InfoBytes, the Bureau filed suit against the now-defunct for-profit institution in February 2014.  The Bureau’s complaint against the institution alleged that the institution offered first-year students no-interest short-term loans to cover the difference between the costs of attendance and federal loans obtained by students. The complaint asserts that the institution then forced borrowers into “high-interest, high-fee” private student loans without providing borrowers an adequate opportunity to understand their loan obligations, when their short-term loans became due. In the complaint in the current matter, filed the same day as the proposed stipulated judgment, the Bureau alleges that the management company: (i) was substantially involved in the creation and operation of the loan program, including raising money and overseeing the origination and servicing of the loans; and (ii) knew, or was reckless in not knowing, the risks associated with the loan program. The proposed stipulated judgment requires the company to (i) cease enforcement and collection efforts on all outstanding loans associated with the program; (ii) discharge all outstanding loans associated with the program; and (iii) direct credit reporting agencies to delete consumers’ trade lines associated with the loan program. The company must also provide notice of these actions to affected consumers. The proposed judgment does not include a monetary penalty or require refunds to consumers.

     

    Federal Issues Courts Settlement CFPA Unfair UDAAP For-Profit College Lending Student Lending

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  • District Court denies summary judgment for auto financing company in TCPA action

    Courts

    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.

    Courts Ninth Circuit TCPA Autodialer ACA International

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  • 11th Circuit: Motion to reschedule foreclosure does not violate RESPA

    Courts

    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.

     

    Courts Appellate Eleventh Circuit RESPA Regulation X Foreclosure Loss Mitigation Mortgage Modification Mortgages

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  • California District Court says payday lender’s arbitration provision is unconscionable

    Courts

    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.

     

    Courts Arbitration Federal Arbitration Act State Issues Ninth Circuit Preemption

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  • 6th Circuit: Merchant indemnified against card breach costs

    Courts

    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.

    Courts Sixth Circuit Appellate Payment Processors Credit Cards Data Breach Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security Indemnification

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