Subscribe to our InfoBytes Blog weekly newsletter and other publications for news affecting the financial services industry.
On November 27, the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, affirmed an order requiring arbitration between a consumer and the buyer of the consumer’s debt (debt collector) in a lawsuit filed by the consumer claiming that the debt collector was not licensed to collect debts in New Jersey. According to the decision, the consumer had opened a credit card account with a bank, which included an arbitration agreement, then defaulted on the account. The debt collector then bought the debt and collected the consumer’s debt. The consumer subsequently sued the debt collector for its purported unlicensed collection of debts, but the trial court dismissed the complaint and compelled arbitration between the parties. The consumer appealed, arguing in part that the trial court erred by allowing an arbitrator to decide the validity of the assignment to the debt collector, and, therefore, the enforceability of the arbitration agreement. The appellate division court sided with the trial court that the arbitration clause “clearly and expressly stated claims relating to the ‘application, enforceability or interpretation of this Agreement, including this arbitration provision’ are subject to arbitration.” Moreover, the court concurred that the agreement did not violate the state’s plain language statute. However, the appellate division remanded the case to the trial court for issuance of an order to stay—rather than dismiss—the matter pending arbitration.
On November 21, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit vacated the dismissal of a relator’s qui tam action, concluding that allegedly fraudulent loan requests made to one or more of the Federal Reserve Banks (FRBs) qualify as claims within the meaning of the False Claims Act (FCA). In the case, two qui tam relators brought an action under the FCA against a national bank and its predecessors-in-interest (defendants), alleging the defendants presented false information to FRBs in connection with their applications for loans. However the district court dismissed the action, holding that allegations of false or fraudulent claims being presented to the FRBs cannot form the basis of an FCA action because the FRBs cannot be characterized as the federal government for purposes of the FCA. In addition, the district court agreed with the defendants’ argument that the bank’s loan requests did not create FCA liability for claims, because the relators did not, and could not, “allege that the [g]overnment either provided any portion of the money loaned to the defendants, or reimbursed FRBs for making the loans.” (Previously covered by InfoBytes here.)
On appeal, the 2nd Circuit concluded that although the FRBs are not a “part of any executive department or agency,” the FRBs still act as agents of the U.S. because the U.S. “created the FRBs to act on its behalf in extending emergency credit to banks; the FRBs extend such credit; and the FRBs do so in compliance with the strictures enacted by Congress and the regulations promulgated by the [Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System], an independent agency within the executive branch.” The 2nd Circuit also held that the loan requests qualified as claims under the FCA because the money requested by the defendants is provided from the Federal Reserve System’s (Fed’s) emergency lending facilities and “is to be spent to advance a [g]overnment program or interest.” In supporting its conclusion, the appellate court stated that the U.S. “is the source of the purchasing power conferred on the banks when they borrow from the Fed’s emergency lending facilities.” The 2nd Circuit also referred to a U.S. Supreme Court holding in Rainwater v. United States, which stated that “the objective of Congress was broadly to protect the funds and property of the government from fraudulent claims, regardless of the particular form or function, of the government instrumentality upon which such claims were made.”
On November 22, the CFPB announced a settlement with an employment background screening company resolving allegations that the company violated the FCRA. In the complaint, the Bureau asserts that the company failed to “employ reasonable procedures to assure maximum possible accuracy” in the consumer reports it prepared. Specifically, the Bureau claims that until October 2014, the company matched criminal records with applicants based on only two personal identifiers, which created a “heightened risk of false positives” in commonly named individuals. The company also had a practice of including “high-risk indicators,” sourced from a third party, in its consumer reports and did not follow procedures to verify the accuracy of the designations. Additionally, the Bureau asserts that the company failed to maintain procedures to ensure that adverse public record information was complete and up to date, resulting in reporting outdated adverse information in violation of the FCRA. Under the stipulated judgment, in addition to injunctive relief, the company will be required to pay $6 million in monetary relief to affected consumers and a $2.5 million civil money penalty.
On November 18, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York denied an investment company’s request to use “sampling-related expert discovery” in its action against a trustee of five residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS), concluding that the proposal was not proportional to the needs of the case. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the investment company filed suit against the trustee alleging the trustee “failed to fulfil certain contractual duties triggered by the discovery of breaches of ‘representations and warranties’” when the underlying mortgages allegedly were found not to be of the promised quality. The investment company also alleged that the trustee failed to exercise its rights to require the companies that sold the mortgages in question “to cure, substitute, or repurchase the breaching loans.” After being denied class certification by the court in February, the investment company preemptively moved for an order from the court allowing it to use sampling-related expert discovery—a process which “engage[s] experts to select samples of mortgage loans from each of the five trusts and to perform analyses on those samples of loans to extrapolate information about the quality of all of the loans in the trusts.”
The court denied the request, calling the proposed sampling a “blind corner.” The court noted that the “breach rate evidence” that would be discovered by the sampling “only provides substantial probative value for [the investment company’s] claims if [the investment company] can demonstrate that [the trustee] was under an obligation to conduct an investigation of the loans in each of the trusts,” which the investment company has failed to do. Because “the probative value of that discovery hinges upon a factual theory that [the investment company] has yet to demonstrate is viable,” the court could not justify allowing the parties to expend hundreds of thousands of dollars on the proposed sampling.
On November 15, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit vacated the district court’s certification order of a class action alleging a national satellite TV company violated the TCPA by contacting individuals who had previously asked to not be contacted. According to the opinion, a consumer filed a class action against the company alleging that the company failed to maintain an “internal do-not-call list,” which allowed the company and its telemarketing service provider to contact him eighteen times after he repeatedly asked to not be contacted. The consumer sought certification “of all persons who received more than one telemarketing call from [the telemarketing service provider] on behalf of [the company] while it failed to maintain an internal do-not-call list.” The district court certified the class and the company appealed.
On appeal, the 11th Circuit disagreed with the district court, concluding the court incorrectly determined that issues common to the class predominated over issues individual to each member. Specifically, the appellate court noted that the class consisted of unnamed class members who may not have asked the company to stop calling and therefore, would never have been on an internal do-not-call list, had one been properly maintained. Thus, these members were not injured by the company’s failure to comply and their injuries are then “not fairly traceable to [the company’s] alleged wrongful conduct,” resulting in a lack of Article III standing to sue. The appellate court emphasized that recertification is still possible, but the district court would need to determine which of the class members made the request to not be contacted. However, if “few made [the] request, or if it will be extraordinarily difficult to identify those who did, then the class would be overbroad” and individualized issues may “overwhelm issues common to the class.”
On November 15, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia entered a stipulated final judgment and order to resolve allegations concerning one of the defendants cited in a 2015 action taken against an allegedly illegal debt collection operation. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the CFPB claimed that several individuals and the companies they formed attempted to collect debt that consumers did not owe or that the collectors were not authorized to collect. The complaint further alleged uses of harassing and deceptive techniques in violation of the CFPA and FDCPA, and named certain payment processors used by the collectors to process payments from consumers. While the claims against the payment processors were dismissed in 2017 (covered by InfoBytes here), the allegations against the outstanding defendants remained open. The November 15 stipulated final judgment and order is issued against one of the defendants who—as an officer and sole owner of the debt collection company that allegedly engaged in the prohibited conduct—was found liable in March for violations of the FDCPA, as well as deceptive and unfair practices and substantial assistance under CFPA.
Among other things, the defendant, who neither admitted nor denied the allegations except as stated in the order, is (i) banned from engaging in debt collection activities; (ii) permanently restrained and enjoined from making misrepresentations or engaging in unfair practices concerning consumer financial products or services; and (iii) prohibited from engaging in business ventures with the other defendants; using, disclosing or benefitting from certain consumer information; or allowing third parties to use merchant processing accounts owned or controlled by the defendant to collect consumer payments. The stipulated order requires the defendant to pay a $1 civil money penalty and more than $5.2 million in redress, although full payment of the judgment is suspended upon satisfaction of specified obligations and the defendant’s limited ability to pay.
On November 12, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit issued an order reversing in part and affirming in part a district court’s dismissal of claims brought by a consumer who claimed a bank violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and the FDCPA when it allegedly provided debt information using a “false name” to a credit reporting agency and requested the consumer’s credit report without a proper purpose. In 2016, the consumer filed a lawsuit asserting the bank (i) violated the FDCPA by using a name other than its true name in connection with the collection of debt; and (ii) violated the FCRA when it failed to investigate the accuracy of the information provide to the credit reporting agency, and requested his credit report without a permissible purpose. The district court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim.
On appeal, the 11th Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the FDCPA claim, concluding that, while the false-name exception stipulates that the FDCPA applies to a creditor that uses any name other than its own when collecting its own debts (which may indicate a third party was collecting or attempting to collect the debt), the exception does not apply in this instance because “even the least sophisticated consumer” would understand that the bank and the entity named in the consumer report were related. However, the appellate court held that the district court erred in dismissing the FCRA claims. According to the opinion, the consumer stated three plausible claims for relief, including that the bank failed to investigate the accuracy of the information it sent, as required when a dispute arises, and that it unlawfully obtained his credit report. The 11th Circuit noted that while it has never addressed the meaning of “false pretenses” under the FCRA, it now joins other courts in holding that “intentionally obtaining a credit report under the guise of a permissible purpose while intending to use the report for an impermissible purpose can constitute false pretenses.” Moreover, the appellate court noted that while the bank may have obtained the consumer’s credit report for proper purposes, or that it may have disclosed the true purpose to the credit reporting agency, “this fact question cannot be resolved on a motion to dismiss.”
On November 8, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reversed a district court’s dismissal of an action against a debt collector, concluding that tax consequence language in a debt collection letter may violate the FDCPA. According to the opinion, the debt collector sent a consumer four collection letters with at least one letter stating in part that “[s]ettling a debt for less than the balance owed may have tax consequences and [the creditor] may file a 1099C form.” The consumer filed an action against the debt collector alleging that the language violated the FDCPA because the creditor is not obligated to file a 1099C with the IRS unless it has forgiven at least $600 in principal. The consumer also claimed that the creditor at issue would never file a 1099C unless it was legally obligated to do so, and as applied to the consumer’s debt at issue, none of the settlement options offered in the dunning letter would have reached the $600 threshold. The district court granted the debt collector’s motion to dismiss the action and the consumer appealed.
On appeal, the 7th Circuit focused on the letter’s reference to the possible 1099C filing. The court noted that “it is impermissible for a creditor to make a ‘may’ statement about something that is illegal or impossible,” and while it is not technically illegal or impossible for the creditor to file a 1099C form for amounts less than $600, the debt collector did not dispute that the creditor “would never file a 1099C form with the IRS unless required to do so by law.” The court observed that the “language of a collection letter can be literally true and still be misleading in a way that violates the Act.” Thus, the consumer plausibly alleged that “it is, in fact, misleading to state that [the creditor] may file a Form 1099C, when it never would.” And because questions as to whether specific statements are deceptive or misleading are “almost always questions of fact,” the appellate court reversed the dismissal and remanded the case back to district court for further proceedings.
On November 6, the CFPB filed an amicus brief with the Court of Appeals of Maryland in a case challenging a private class action settlement against a structured settlement company, which purports to “release the Bureau’s claims in a pending federal action, to enjoin class members from receiving benefits from the Bureau’s lawsuit, and to assign any benefits the Bureau might obtain for class members to the class-action defendants.” As previously covered by InfoBytes, in 2017, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland allowed a UDAAP claim brought by the CFPB to move forward against the same structured settlement company, where the Bureau alleged the company employed abusive practices when purchasing structured settlements from consumers in exchange for lump-sum payments. A similar action was also brought by the Maryland attorney general against the company. In addition to the state and federal enforcement actions, the plaintiffs filed a private class action against the company, and a trial court approved a settlement. The Court of Special Appeals reversed the lower court’s approval of the settlement, concluding that it “interferes with the [state’s] and Bureau’s enforcement authority.” The company appealed.
In its brief to the Maryland Court of Appeals, the Bureau argues that the Court of Special Appeals decision should be affirmed because the settlement provisions “threaten to interfere with the Bureau’s authority under the [Consumer Financial Protection Act] in two significant ways.” Specifically, the Bureau argues that the settlement (i) could interfere with the Bureau’s statutory mandate to remediate consumers harmed through the Civil Penalty Fund; and (ii) would interfere with the Bureau’s authority to use restitution to remediate consumer harm. The Bureau states that “the risk of windfalls to such wrongdoers could force the Bureau to decline to award Fund payments to victims,” and would “threaten to offend basic principles of equity.”
On November 8, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit denied petitions from three whistleblowers seeking awards following a $55 million settlement between the SEC and a global financial institution, which the SEC previously denied. According to the opinion, multiple individuals disclosed information to the SEC during an investigation into the financial institution’s financial statements. In 2015, the SEC reached a settlement with the institution, and nine whistleblower claimants filed applications to receive awards based on the information they provided. The SEC granted the applications for two claimants and denied the rest. The three individuals involved in this action were denied the awards because the SEC concluded that the individuals “did not provide ‘original information that led to a successful enforcement action,’” as required by the Securities and Exchange Act’s whistleblower provisions. Specifically, for the two named individuals, the SEC determined that it had already received the information they provided through an individual known as “Claimant 2,” who had previously submitted an expert report prepared by the two individuals to the SEC. The appellate court agreed with the determination made by the SEC, concluding that “their  submission did not significantly contribute to the success of the  action; Claimant 2ʹs submissions did.” The appellate court noted that the individual’s expert report did not qualify for Rule 21F‐4’s “original source exception,” which was designed to treat information submitted to another federal agency as though it had been submitted to the SEC directly.
As for the third, unnamed individual, the appellate court also denied the petition, concluding that the unnamed individual’s interpretation of the whistleblower program would “disincentivise whistleblowers from curating their submissions.” Specifically, the SEC asserted that the unnamed individual “‘appeared to be very disjointed and had difficulty articulating credible and coherent information concerning any potential violation of the federal securities laws’” and “‘brought with him to the meeting a wet brown paper bag containing what he claimed to be evidence.’” The SEC further noted that the documents were “jumbled and disorganized” and ultimately used similar information brought by a subsequent whistleblower. The appellate court noted that “[a] whistleblower might still be rewarded for being the first to bring incriminating information to the SECʹs attention, but only if that information is contained in a credible, and ultimately useful submission.”
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Risk management in enforcement actions: Managing risk or micromanaging it" at an American Bar Association webinar
- Kari K. Hall and Christopher M. Walczyszyn to speak on the "Understanding updates to Regulation CC to ensure effective check processing" at a National Association of Federal Credit Unions webinar
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "ACAMS Moneylaundering.com Year-End Compliance Review and 2020 Outlook" at an ACAMS webinar
- APPROVED Webcast: Periodic reporting made easier
- 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