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On August 4, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) recommended that a Delaware-based online payday lender and its CEO be held liable for violations of TILA, CFPA, and the EFTA and pay restitution of $38 million and $12.5 million in civil penalties in a CFPB administrative action. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in November 2015, the Bureau filed an administrative suit against the lender and its CEO alleging violations of TILA and the EFTA, and for engaging in unfair or deceptive acts or practices. Specifically, the CFPB argued that, from May 2008 through December 2012, the online lender (i) continued to debit borrowers’ accounts using remotely created checks after consumers revoked the lender’s authorization to do so; (ii) required consumers to repay loans via pre-authorized electronic fund transfers; and (iii) deceived consumers about the cost of short-term loans by providing them with contracts that contained disclosures based on repaying the loan in one payment, while the default terms called for multiple rollovers and additional finance charges. In 2016, an ALJ agreed with the Bureau’s contentions, and the defendants appealed the decision. In May 2019, CFPB Director Kraninger remanded the case to a new ALJ.
After a new hearing, the ALJ concluded that the lender violated (i) TILA (and the CFPA by virtue of its TILA violation) by failing to clearly and conspicuously disclose consumers’ legal obligations; and (ii) the EFTA (and the CFPA by virtue of its EFTA violation) by “conditioning extensions of credit on repayment by preauthorized electronic fund transfers.” Moreover, the ALJ concluded that the lender and the lender’s owner engaged in deceptive acts or practices by misleading consumers into “believing that their APR, Finance Charges, and Total of Payments were much lower than they actually were.” Lastly, the ALJ concluded the lender and its owner engaged in unfair acts or practices by (i) failing to clearly disclose automatic rollover costs; (ii) misleading consumers about their repayment obligations; and (iii) obtaining authorization for remote checks in a “confusing manner” and using the remote checks to “withdraw money from consumers’ bank accounts after consumers attempted to block electronic access to their bank accounts.” The ALJ recommends that both the lender and its owner pay over $38 million in restitution, and orders the lender to pay $7.5 million in civil money penalties and the owner to pay $5 million in civil money penalties.
On August 10, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida granted final approval of a $7.5 million settlement, resolving a decade-long multidistrict litigation concerning overdraft fees. The settlement covers allegations that a U.S.-based affiliate of an international bank charged improper assessment and collection of overdraft fees due to “high-to-low posting.” In 2012, the bank was purchased by a U.S. national bank and the national bank inherited the litigation as the successor in interest. The settlement involves over 148,000 class members, “who, from October 10, 2007 through and including March 1, 2012, incurred one or more Overdraft Fees as a result of [the bank]’s High-to-Low Posting.” The $7.5 million settlement includes $10,000 to the sole class representative and over $2.6 million to the class attorneys (representing 35% of the settlement fund).
Pennsylvania reaches settlement with third-party financing company, requires nearly $200k in debt cancellation
On August 4, the Pennsylvania attorney general announced it had entered into an Assurance of Voluntary Compliance with a third-party financing company, which permanently shuts down the company’s operations in the state and requires the company to cancel nearly $200,000 in debt for its former customers. According to the AG, the company entered into agreements with various debt relief companies to provide third-party financing to student loan borrowers so they could be enrolled in certain federal student loan repayment programs offered by the Department of Education. However, the company allegedly violated provisions of the Pennsylvania Consumer Protection Law and TILA related to closed end credit transaction by, among other things, (i) misrepresenting that the finance plan was a revolving credit plan, when it was actually a closed end transaction; (ii) misrepresenting that it retained a security interest as a result of its financing agreements when in in fact it did not; (iii) financing consumers’ student loan debt relief services when it knew, or should have known, that consumers were not receiving the services as advertised; and (iv) failing to provide Regulation Z-required disclosures for closed end credit transactions, including the amount financed, finance charges, total of payments, and the number and amount of payments necessary to repay the total payments. In addition, the AG claimed that the company charged consumers unacceptably high interest rates. Under the terms of the settlement, the company is banned from financing or assisting others in financing student loan debt relief services and from collecting debt from Pennsylvania borrowers. The company must also request that credit reporting agencies delete the reported debts from consumers’ credit reporting files. Monetary relief in the amount of $930,000 is suspended unless a court determines the company has violated the terms of the settlement.
2nd Circuit: Furnisher’s duty to investigate triggered only after it receives notice of dispute from CRA
On August 10, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the dismissal with prejudice of FCRA and related state law allegations against a state bank and trust company, concluding that the bank’s duty to investigate is triggered only after it receive a notice of dispute from a consumer reporting agency (CRA). According to the opinion, the plaintiffs obtained a mortgage from the bank but later defaulted on their payments. The bank initiated foreclosure proceedings, and in 2014 both parties agreed to a deficiency judgment. In February 2016, one of the plaintiffs notified the bank that his credit report “inaccurately indicated ‘that the mortgage. . .was still open and payments had not been made in more than two years.’” The bank acknowledged the error in March, said a correction had been made to report the loan as closed, and indicated that “information [would] be supplied to the credit reporting agencies.” However, the plaintiff claimed the bank did not correct the information until November 2016. In their amended complaint, the plaintiffs alleged the bank violated the FCRA by (i) “negligently and willfully fail[ing] to perform a reasonable reinvestigation and correction of inaccurate information”; and (ii) “engag[ing] in behavior prohibited by [the] FCRA by failing to correct errors in the information that it provided to credit reporting agencies.” The bank countered that its “duty of investigation is only triggered after a furnisher of information receives notice of a dispute from a consumer reporting agency” and that the plaintiffs failed to allege that the bank “‘ever received notice of a dispute from a consumer reporting agency.’” The district court granted the bank’s motion to dismiss with prejudice for failure to state a claim.
On appeal, the 2nd Circuit agreed with district court, concluding, among other things, that the plaintiffs “do not allege that a CRA notified [the bank] of their dispute concerning the information in the [r]eport.” According to the appellate court, the plaintiffs “do not even allege that they notified a CRA of the discrepancy. The [a]mended [c]omplaint alleges only that, after receiving the [r]eport, [the plaintiff] directly notified [the bank] of the [r]eport’s inaccuracy. This alone is insufficient to state a claim under Section 1681s–2(b).”
On August 10, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California agreed to reconsider a prior decision, which granted a bank’s motion to compel arbitration in connection with a lawsuit concerning the bank’s assessment of two types of fees. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the court compelled arbitration of a plaintiff’s lawsuit asserting claims for breach of contract and violation of California’s Unfair Competition Law due to the bank’s alleged practice of charging fees for out-of-network ATM use and overdraft fees related to debit card transaction timing. The court concluded that even if the California Supreme Court case McGill v. Citibank rule— which held that an arbitration agreement is unenforceable if it constitutes a waiver of the plaintiff’s substantive right to seek public injunctive relief (covered by a Buckley Special Alert here)—was applicable to a contract, it would not survive preemption as the U.S. Supreme Court has “consistently held that the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) preempts states’ attempts to limit the scope of arbitration agreements,” and “the McGill rule is merely the latest ‘device or formula’ intended to achieve the result of rendering an arbitration agreement against public policy.”
The plaintiff moved for the court’s reconsideration after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued opinions in Blair v. Rent-ACenter, Inc. et al and McArdle v. AT&T Mobility LLC). In Blair (and similarly in McArdle), the 9th Circuit concluded that McGill was not preempted by the FAA. The appellate court found that McGill does not interfere with the bilateral nature of a typical arbitration, stating “[t]he McGill rule leaves undisturbed an agreement that both requires bilateral arbitration and permits public injunctive claims.” (Covered by InfoBytes here.)
The court granted the plaintiff’s motion, concluding that the public injunction waiver in the account agreement is “encompassed by McGill” and therefore, the arbitration agreement is “invalid and unenforceable,” and because the arbitration agreement includes a non-severability clause, the “clause plainly invalidates the entire arbitration agreement section as a result of the invalidity and unenforceability of the public injunction waiver provision therein.”
On August 5, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia granted a mortgage servicer’s motion for summary judgment, concluding that the servicer “maintained contact and regularly worked” with the consumer to complete her loss mitigation application and thus did not violate Regulation X. According to the opinion, after obtaining the rights to the property and assuming mortgage responsibilities pursuant to a divorce decree, the consumer stopped making mortgage payments in July 2018. The mortgage servicer confirmed the consumer as the successor in interest to the mortgage on March 7, 2019 and on March 14, 2019, the consumer sent the servicer an incomplete loss mitigation application. Between March 2019 and June 2019, the consumer submitted additional loss mitigation application materials and partial application materials for a loan assumption, with the servicer regularly contacting the consumer to obtain documents necessary to complete the applications. The consumer asserted that the servicer, in violation of §1024.41(b)(1), failed to exercise reasonable diligence in obtaining documents and information from her to complete her loss mitigation application and, in violation of §1024.41(c)(1) and §1024.41(c)(2), failed to evaluate her complete loss mitigation application for all loss mitigation options available.
The court granted summary judgment in favor of the servicer. The court reasoned that “undisputed evidence” establishes that the servicer “maintained contact and regularly worked” with the consumer to obtain the paperwork it needed. Moreover, the court noted that while Regulation X requires a servicer to “evaluate a borrower for all loss mitigation options available, that does not mean it must offer every option it considered—or any option at all.” The court rejected the consumers’ claims that the servicer should have offered a loan modification that did not require information from her ex-husband, concluding that Regulation X “required” her ex-husband’s inclusion and nonetheless, “[u]nder the regulatory framework, [the servicer] has discretion to determine which option(s), if any, it offers an applicant.” Lastly, the court disagreed that the mortgage servicer’s actions caused the consumer to incur “substantial damages,” concluding that “evidence of record is clear that her damages were not caused by or even attributable to [the servicer].”
On August 7, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit issued a split opinion vacating a district court’s decision against arbitration in a proposed class action, which accused a satellite TV provider (defendant) of violating the TCPA by allegedly making automated and prerecorded telemarketing calls to an individual even though her number was on the National Do Not Call Registry. The plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the defendant and several other entities and individuals seeking class certification as well as statutory damages and injunctive relief. The defendant moved to compel arbitration, claiming that the plaintiff’s dispute was covered by an arbitration agreement in the contract governing her cell phone service with a telecommunications company, which is an affiliate of the defendant. The district court denied the request, ruling that the allegations “did not fall within the scope of the arbitration agreement.” The plaintiff appealed, “defend[ing] the district court’s scope ruling,” but arguing that no agreement was formed.
On appeal, the majority concluded that not only did the plaintiff form an agreement to arbitrate with the defendant, the allegations fit within the broad scope of the arbitration agreement. Specifically, the appellate court determined that an arbitration agreement signed by the plaintiff with the telecommunications company in 2012 when she opened a new line of service was extended to potential TCPA allegations against the defendant when the telecommunications company acquired the defendant in 2015. Even though the acquisition happened several years after the plaintiff signed the contract, the majority stated the arbitration agreement had a “forward-looking nature” and that it seemed unlikely that the telecommunications company and its affiliates “intended to restrict the covered entities to those existing at the time the agreement was signed.” According to the majority, “[w]e need not define the outer limits of this arbitration agreement to conclude, based on the arbitration provisions and the contract as a whole, that [the plaintiff’s] TCPA claims about [the defendant’s] advertising calls fall within its scope.” As to the plaintiff’s argument that she only signed the account on behalf of her husband who was the account holder, the majority said the agreement covered “all authorized or unauthorized users,” which the plaintiff was at the time.
On August 5, the FTC Commissioners testified before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation and discussed, among other things, the agency’s continued enforcement of the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield, despite the recent Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) invalidation of the framework, and their interest in federal data privacy legislation. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in July, the CJEU determined that because the requirements of U.S. national security, public interest and law enforcement have “primacy” over the data protection principles of the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield, the data transferred under the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield would not be subject to the same level of protections prescribed by the EU General Data Protection Regulation, and thus, declared the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield invalid.
In his opening remarks, Commissioner Simons emphasized that the FTC will “continue to hold companies accountable for their privacy commitments, including privacy promises made under the Privacy Shield,” which the FTC has also noted on its website. Additionally, Simons urged Congress to enact federal privacy and data security legislation, that would be enforced by the FTC and give the agency, among other things, the “ability to seek civil penalties” and “targeted [Administrative Procedures Act] rulemaking authority to ensure that the law keeps pace with changes and technology in the market.” Moreover, Commissioner Wilson agreed with a senator’s proposition that the enactment of a preemptive federal privacy framework would make “achieving a future adequacy determination by the E.U. easier.”
On July 23, NYDFS filed its opening brief in the appeal of its challenge to the OCC’s decision to allow non-depository fintech companies to apply for Special Purpose National Bank charters (SPNB charter). The OCC filed its opening brief with the U.S Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in April (covered by InfoBytes here), appealing the district court’s final judgment in favor of NYDFS, which ruled that the SPNB regulation should be “set aside with respect to all fintech applicants seeking a national bank charter that do not accept deposits,” rather than only those that have a nexus to New York State.
In its brief, NYDFS argued that the district court was “correct to hold that the OCC had exceeded its statutory authority. . .in deciding to issue federal bank charters to nondepository fintech companies.” In response to the OCC’s arguments that NYDFS lacked standing and that the claims were not ripe, NYDFS first stated that “standing and ripeness exist not only when injury has already occurred, but also when it is imminent or when there is a substantial risk of harm.” Specifically, NYDFS asserted that its claims are ripe because (i) the OCC has actively solicited charter applications from the fintech industry and has indicated that companies had started the application process; and (ii) “one of the OCC’s stated objectives in the Fintech Charter Decision is to allow fintech companies that receive [an SPNB charter] to escape state regulation.” NYDFS also argued that because nondepository institutions are not engaged in the “business of banking” within the meaning of the National Bank Act (NBA), they cannot receive federal bank charters. Moreover, it contended that “when Congress did intend to extend OCC’s regulatory jurisdiction over such institutions, it expressly amended the NBA to do so.” Among other arguments, NYDFS claimed it is entitled to nationwide relief, stating that the district court merely granted the relief afforded under the Administrative Procedure Act, which specifies that the proper remedy for when an agency’s actions are contrary to law and “‘in excess of statutory jurisdiction, authority, or limitations” is to set aside the regulation.
Additionally, several parties, including the Conference of State Bank Supervisors and the Independent Community Bankers of America, filed separate amicus briefs (see here and here) in support of NYDFS, arguing that the OCC lacks the authority to grant SPNB charters.
On July 30, a group of consumer fair housing associations (collectively, “plaintiffs”) filed suit against the CFPB, challenging the Bureau’s final rule permanently raising coverage thresholds for collecting and reporting data about closed-end mortgage loans and open-end lines of credit under HMDA. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the final rule, which amends Regulation C, permanently increases the reporting threshold from the origination of at least 25 closed-end mortgage loans in each of the two preceding calendar years to 100, and permanently increases the threshold for collecting and reporting data about open-end lines of credit from the origination of 100 lines of credit in each of the two preceding calendar years to 200. In the complaint, the plaintiffs argue that the Bureau, among other things, (i) failed to provide a “reasoned explanation” for the changes to the original threshold requirements; (ii) conducted a “flawed analysis of the costs and benefits” of the final rule; and (iii) failed to “adequately consider comments” that were submitted in response to the rule’s proposal. According to the complaint, the final rule “exempts about 40 percent of depository institutions that were previously required to report.” The plaintiffs assert this result “undermines the purpose” of HMDA by allowing potential violations of fair lending laws to go undetected. The plaintiffs argue that because the CFPB allegedly violated to the Administrative Procedures Act, the final rule should be vacated and set aside.
- Buckley Webcast: Going Negative … Legal issues to consider if the U.S. follows Europe into negative-interest territory
- APPROVED Webcast: Remote examinations and complaints — The “new normal”
- Sasha Leonhardt to discuss "Privacy laws clarified" at the National Settlement Services Summit (NS3)
- Amanda R. Lawrence to discuss "New privacy legislation: Preparing for a major source of class action and enforcement activity going forward" at the American Conference Institute Consumer Finance Class Actions, Litigation & Government Enforcement Actions
- Sherry-Maria Safchuk and Lauren Frank to discuss "New CFPB interpretation on UDAAP" at a California Mortgage Bankers Association Mortgage Quality and Compliance Committee webinar
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "High standards: Best practices for banking marijuana-related businesses" at the ACAMS AML & Anti-Financial Crime Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Wait wait ... do tell me! Where the panelists answer to you" at the ACAMS AML & Anti-Financial Crime Conference
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "The future of fair lending" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Consumer financial services" at the Practising Law Institute Banking Law Institute