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On October 23, defendants in an FTC lawsuit filed a reply brief in support of their motion to dismiss allegations claiming they misrepresented the terms of their merchant cash advances (MCA), used unfair collection practices, made unauthorized withdrawals from consumer accounts, and misrepresented collateral and personal guarantee requirements in advertisements. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the FTC filed a complaint in August against the defendants—two New York-based merchant cash advance providers and two company executives—alleging deceptive and unfair conduct in violation of Section 5 of the FTC Act. Earlier in October, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss, arguing, among other things, that the FTC “lack[ed] the statutory authority to bring its claims in federal court” under Section 13(b) of the FTC Act because “none of the challenged conduct, to the extent it even occurred or was actionable, is plausibly alleged to be ongoing or ‘about to’ occur.” The FTC countered that it “need only allege” that it had “reason to believe Defendants are violating or are about to violate” Section 5 in order to file suit in federal district court. The FTC further contended that it had also alleged facts sufficient for individual liability.
The defendants responded to the FTC’s opposition to dismissal, arguing, among other things, that even if the FTC invoked the statutory authority under Section 13(b) to have the court hear its claims, the claims fail for other reasons, including that the complaint fails to state a claim under Section 5 by (i) only providing “fragments of advertisements without necessary context”; (ii) ignoring “the express fee disclosures in the MCA agreement” that outline the fees to be paid by a merchant; and (iii) ignoring the fact that “so-called ‘unauthorized’ ACH withdrawals were “explicitly authorized under the MCA agreement.” The defendants further argued that the individual liability claims should also be dismissed because the FTC failed to sufficiently allege that the individual defendants directly participated in or had authority over the alleged conduct.
On October 28, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, in a 7-3 en banc decision, vacated a $6.3 million Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA) class action settlement, concluding the plaintiffs lacked standing because they did not allege any concrete harm. According to the opinion, the named plaintiff filed a FACTA class action against a chocolate retailer, alleging that the retailer printed too many credit card digits on receipts over several years. The complaint only pursued statutory damages and explicitly stated it did “not intend to request any recovery for personal injury.” The parties agreed to settle the litigation for $6.3 million prior to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins (holding that a plaintiff must allege a concrete injury, not just a statutory violation, to establish standing). After Spokeo, the district court approved the class action, and class objectors appealed, with one objector arguing that the district court lacked jurisdiction to approve the settlement because the named plaintiff did not allege an injury in fact. On appeal, the 11th Circuit issued multiple opinions, with the first two affirming the settlement approval. The full panel ordered a rehearing en banc, vacating the last opinion.
The en banc panel vacated the district court order approving the settlement, concluding that the named plaintiff lacked standing under Spokeo. Specifically, the panel rejected the named plaintiff’s argument that “receipt of a noncompliant receipt itself is a concrete injury,” noting that “nothing in FACTA suggests some kind of intrinsic worth in a compliant receipt.” Moreover, the panel disagreed with the named plaintiff’s distinction that his claim was a “substantive” violation and not just a “procedural” one, reasoning that “no matter what label you hang on a statutory violation, it must be accompanied by a concrete injury.” Because the complaint did not allege a concrete injury, the panel vacated the order.
In dissent, one judge argued that the named plaintiff plausibly alleged concrete harm by establishing that the retailer’s FACTA violation elevated his risk of identity theft. In the second dissent, another judge asserted that both common law and congressional intent support the conclusion that the plaintiff’s complaint constitutes a concrete injury in fact. And lastly, the third dissent argued that the order should not be dismissed outright because the majority made “assumptions about the risks of identity theft without the benefit of a factual record, expert reports, or adversarial testing of the issue in the district court.”
On October 25, the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts issued an order granting a preliminary injunction and stay of effective date of HUD’s disparate impact regulation under the Fair Housing Act (Final Rule). As previously covered by a Buckley Special Alert, in September, HUD issued the Final Rule, which is intended to align its disparate impact regulation, adopted in 2013 (2013 Rule), with the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. Among other things, the Final Rule includes a modification of the three-step burden-shifting framework in its 2013 Rule, several new elements that plaintiffs must show to establish that a policy or practice has a “discriminatory effect,” and specific defenses that defendants can assert to refute disparate impact claims.
According to the order, two fair housing organizations (collectively, “plaintiffs”) filed the action against HUD seeking to vacate the Final Rule under the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) and subsequently filed for a preliminary injunction and stay, arguing, among other things, that the changes to the 2013 Rule are “arbitrary and capricious.” The court noted that the Final Rule “constitutes a significant overhaul to HUD’s interpretation of disparate impact standards,” and that the alterations to the 2013 Rule “appear inadequately justified.” The court further explained that the Final Rule’s “massive changes pose a real and substantial threat of imminent harm” to the plaintiffs by increasing “the burdens, costs, and effectiveness of disparate impact liability.” Lastly, the court noted that HUD did not identify any “particularized” harm to the government or public should the injunction be granted. Thus, the court granted the preliminary injunction and stayed the implementation date until further order.
On October 23, a coalition of 38 state attorneys general filed an amici curiae brief with the U.S. Supreme Court, urging the court to accept the broad definition of an autodialer under the TCPA, which would cover all devices with the capacity to automatically dial numbers that are stored in a list. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Court agreed to review the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit’s decision in Duguid v. Facebook, Inc. (covered by InfoBytes here), which concluded the plaintiff plausibly alleged the social media company’s text message system fell within the definition of autodialer under the TCPA. The 9th Circuit applied the definition from their 2018 decision in Marks v. Crunch San Diego, LLC (covered by InfoBytes here), which broadened the definition of an autodialer to cover all devices with the capacity to automatically dial numbers that are stored in a list.
The attorneys general argue that the 9th Circuit’s definition of autodialer is “the only reading of the autodialer definition that is consistent with the ordinary meaning of the definition’s two key verbs: ‘store’ and ‘produce.’” Moreover, they assert the broad definition is within the original 1991 meaning of the TCPA when it was enacted by Congress as a way to address the gaps state consumer protection laws may have in preventing interstate telephone fraud and abuse. According to the attorneys general, every state statute that defined an autodialer in 1991, “understood that term to reach devices with the capacity to store and dial numbers from a predetermined list, regardless of whether a random or sequential number generator was used.” Therefore, when Congress enacted the TCPA with the intention to “supplement—not to shrink—preexisting state laws,” it would follow that Congress would not intentionally adopt a narrower definition than existed at the time among the states.
On October 23, the CFPB filed a cross-motion for summary judgment in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas in ongoing litigation involving two payday loan trade groups (plaintiffs) concerning the Bureau’s 2017 final rule covering payday loans, vehicle title loans, and certain other installment loans (Rule). As previously covered by InfoBytes, in August the plaintiffs asked the court to set aside the Rule and the Bureau’s ratification of the payment provisions of the Rule as unconstitutional and in violation of the Administrative Procedures Act. Earlier in July, the Bureau issued a final rule revoking the Rule’s underwriting provisions and ratified the Rule’s payment provisions (covered by InfoBytes here) in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Seila Law LLC v CPFB (covered by a Buckley Special Alert, holding that the director’s for-cause removal provision was unconstitutional but was severable from the statute establishing the Bureau). A motion for summary judgment filed by the plaintiffs last month requested the court to hold the Bureau’s payment provisions as unlawful and set them aside so a new notice-and-comment rulemaking process could be conducted, since the provisions “were part of a rule issued by an invalidly constituted agency.” The plaintiffs further argued that “[a]s binding precedent makes clear, an invalid agency cannot take lawful action. So the provisions were void from the start. Nor can the Bureau cure this problem by waving the magic wand of ratification.”
The Bureau, however, urged the court in its cross-motion to reject the plaintiffs’ challenge to the Rule’s payment provisions because while “they were initially promulgated by a Bureau whose Director was unconstitutionally insulated from removal by the President[,] . . . that problem has been fixed.” Moreover, “[a]s case after case confirms, such a ratification by an official unaffected by a separation-of-powers violation remedies an earlier constitutional problem—and Plaintiffs cite no authority suggesting otherwise,” the Bureau challenged, stating that “[w]hile Plaintiffs may want a more drastic remedy—wholesale invalidation of a rule they do not like—they can no longer complain that the Payment Provisions were adopted without adequate presidential oversight.”
On October 23, a Chicago-based nonbank mortgage company moved to dismiss a CFPB redlining action on the grounds that the Bureau’s complaint “improperly seek[s]” to expand ECOA to “prospective applicants.” As previously covered by a Buckley Special Alert, in July, the Bureau filed a complaint against the mortgage company alleging the mortgage company engaged in redlining in violation of ECOA and the Consumer Financial Protection Act. The Bureau argued, among other things, that the company redlined African American neighborhoods in the Chicago area by discouraging their residents from applying for mortgage loans from the company and by discouraging nonresidents from applying for loans from the company for homes in these neighborhoods. To support its arguments, the Bureau cited to (i) a number of racially disparaging comments allegedly made by the owner and employees on the company’s broadcasts; (ii) the company’s comparatively low application volume from African American neighborhoods and applicants; (iii) its lack of specific marketing targeting the African American community in Chicago; (iv) and its failure to employ African American mortgage loan officers.
In support of its motion to dismiss, the mortgage company argued that the Bureau’s complaint is “flawed” by seeking to expand the reach of ECOA to “prospective applicants” and regulate the company’s behavior before a credit transaction begins. In addition to expanding the application of ECOA, the company argued that the Bureau is attempting to impose—through Regulation B’s “discouragement” definition—(i) “affirmative requirements to target advertising to specific racial or ethnic groups”; (ii) “a demographic hiring quota”; and (iii) “a requirement to have business success with specific racial or ethnic groups.” Moreover, the company argued the Bureau’s interpretation of ECOA and Regulation B violates the company’s First Amendment rights by attempting to regulate “the content and viewpoint of protected speech . . . in a way that is unconstitutionally overbroad and vague.” Lastly, the company argued the Bureau similarly violated the Fifth Amendment’s due process clause by seeking to enforce Regulation B’s definition of “discouragement,” because it is unconstitutionally vague.
Parties file unopposed settlement requiring credit union to pay $16 million to resolve insufficient funds fee lawsuit
On October 21, class members filed an unopposed motion for preliminary approval of a class action settlement in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, which would—if approved—require a national credit union to establish a $16 million common fund, pay all settlement administration costs, and modify its account agreement policy to clarify how it assesses insufficient funds fees. The named plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the credit union alleging that its fee-assessment practices for insufficient funds violated her agreement with the credit union. According to the named plaintiff, the credit union charged multiple $29 insufficient funds fees (NSF fees) per transaction, even though she argued her contract only permitted the credit union to charge one NSF fee per transaction, “regardless of how many times the merchant re-presents the debit item or check for payment.” The credit union, however, denied that its NSF fee assessment practices violated the law or were in breach of member contracts. While the court originally dismissed the suit for failure to state a claim, on appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit stayed further proceedings to allow the parties to mediate an agreement. If approved, class members will not be required to file claims to receive settlement benefits.
On appeal, the 9th Circuit concluded that the consumer was not bound to the new arbitration terms based on her 2018 visit to the website. The appellate court noted that the consumer did not allege she received notice of the new terms in effect, and therefore, she was bound to the 2014 terms to which she had previously assented. Moreover, the appellate court rejected the consumer’s argument that the arbitration agreement was unenforceable under the California Supreme Court decision in McGill v. Citibank, N.A (covered by a Buckley Special Alert here, holding that a waiver of the plaintiff’s substantive right to seek public injunctive relief is not enforceable). The appellate court held that the 2014 arbitration provision did not “flatly prohibit a plaintiff seeking public injunctive relief in court,” because it subjects disputes to arbitration “to the fullest extent of the law,” which presumably would “exclude claims for public injunctive relief in California.” Thus, the appellate court affirmed arbitration.
On October 21, the SEC announced the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York entered a final judgment against a tech company issuer that raised approximately $100 million through an unregistered initial coin offering. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the SEC filed an action alleging the issuer failed to provide required disclosures to investors and did not register the offer or sale of its digital tokens with the SEC, as required by Section 5 of the Securities Act of 1933 (the Act). The SEC argued that the issuer marketed the digital tokens as an investment opportunity and told investors that they could earn future profits from the issuer’s efforts to create, develop, and support a digital “ecosystem.”
The court granted summary judgment in favor of the SEC at the end of September, concluding, among other things, that the issuer violated Section 5 of the Act when it conducted an unregistered offering of securities that did not qualify for any exemption from registration requirements. The final judgment (i) requires the issuer to pay $5 million in a civil penalty; (ii) permanently enjoins the issuer from violating Section 5 of the Act; and (iii) requires the issuer, for a period of three years, to provide notice to the SEC before engaging in any “issuance, offer, sale or transfer” of specified assets.
On October 7, the CFPB and the FTC (collectively, “agencies”) filed an amici curiae brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in an action addressing “whether a person ceases to be an ‘applicant’ under ECOA and its implementing regulation after receiving (or being denied) an extension of credit.” According to the brief, a consumer filed suit against a national bank for allegedly violating ECOA and Regulation B’s adverse-action notice requirement when it closed his line of credit and sent an email acknowledging the closure without including (i) “‘the address of the creditor,’” and (ii) “either a ‘statement of specific reasons for the action taken’ or a disclosure of his ‘right to a statement of specific reasons.’” The district court dismissed the action after adopting the magistrate judge’s Report and Recommendation recommending that the bank’s motion be granted without prejudice to plaintiff, who had leave to brief the court on whether an amended complaint should be permitted.
The agencies disagreed with the district court and filed the amici brief on behalf of the applicant. Specifically, the agencies argue that ECOA’s protections apply to any aspect of a credit transaction, including those who have an existing arrangement with a creditor, noting there is “‘no temporal qualifier in the statute.’” According to the agencies, ECOA has provisions that cover the revocation of credit or the change in credit terms, and therefore, those provisions “would make little sense if ‘applicants’ instead included only those with pending requests for credit.” Moreover, the agencies argue that the district court’s interpretation of “applicant” would “curtail the reach of the statute,” and introduce a large loophole. Lastly, the agencies assert that the legislative history of ECOA supports their interpretation, such as the addition of amendments covering the revocation of credit, and most notably, Regulation B’s definition of “applicant,” which includes those who have received an extension of credit.
- Daniel R. Alonso to discuss "Independent monitoring in the United States" at the World Compliance Association Peru Chapter IV International Conference on Compliance and the Fight Against Corruption
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Cyber security, incident response, crisis management" at the Legal & Diversity Summit
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "The future of fair lending" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Michelle L. Rogers to discuss "Major litigation" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Kathryn L. Ryan to discuss "Pandemic fallout – Navigating practical operational challenges" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Consumer financial services" at the Practising Law Institute Banking Law Institute
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "BSA/AML - Covid impact and regulatory/guidance roundup" at an NAFCU webinar
- Daniel P Stipano to moderate "Digital identity: The next gen of CIP" at the American Bankers Association/American Bar Association Financial Crimes Enforcement Conference