Subscribe to our InfoBytes Blog weekly newsletter and other publications for news affecting the financial services industry.
On April 12, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Massachusetts entered judgment in favor of a national bank, determining that the plaintiff failed to, among other things, “carry his burden to prove that he incurred injury” concerning economic or emotional distress damages as a result of the original lender’s violations. During the plaintiff’s chapter 13 bankruptcy proceeding, he initiated an adversary proceeding against the bank and a loan servicer for violations of Massachusetts law related to the origination, underwriting, and closing of his mortgage loan. According to the memorandum, the plaintiff contended he was approved for a loan modification after he struggled to stay current on his loan. While the loan modification did not forgive any of the plaintiff’s outstanding debt, the plaintiff agreed to the terms, entered into a modification agreement with the bank (who was the successor by assignment of the original lender), and eventually filed a chapter 13 petition. The bankruptcy court was ultimately called to review the plaintiff’s objection to the bank’s proof of claim filed in his chapter 13 case, in which the plaintiff invoked the doctrine of recoupment, bringing a claim against the bank for damages under Chapter 93A of Massachusetts’ consumer protection law.
Upon review, the court determined, among other things, that the plaintiff’s loan was “presumptively unfair and also unfair in the specific circumstances in which it was made” and that “[n]o reasonably diligent lender would have approved the loan to [the plaintiff] without taking steps to independently verify critical financial information.” Moreover, the court determined that the original lender’s conduct was “unfair and deceptive” under Chapter 93A. The court further noted that Massachusetts law states that while “an assignee ordinarily cannot be held liable for damages based upon the acts of its assignor,” under “the common law principle that an assignee stands in the assignor’s shoes, ‘assignees may be liable under [Chapter] 93A for equitable remedies such as cancellation of a debt or rescission of a contract’”—a context under which the plaintiff sought to have the bank’s claim “reduced by recoupment in the amount of his damages caused by [the original lender’s] unfair and deceptive acts.” However, the court noted that because the borrower failed to “carry his burden to prove that he incurred injury as a result of [the original lender’s] violation,” he “failed to prove an amount for recoupment in reduction” of the proof of claim the bank asserted against him.
On April 19, FHA issued an update to Section III of the Single Family Housing Policy Handbook 4000.1, which streamlines many standard mortgage servicing operational requirements. The updates also incorporate FHA actions taken to support borrowers experiencing Covid-19-related financial hardships. The changes/updates include:
- A revised loss mitigation home retention “waterfall” to help servicers quickly review borrowers in danger of foreclosure for a permanent FHA Home Affordable Modification Program option without a lengthy forbearance. FHA noted in its announcement that this process “has been proven to be highly effective at helping borrowers avoid redefault and foreclosure.”
- Streamlined documentation requirements designed “to avoid unnecessary delays” and be more closely aligned “with standard industry servicing practices.” One example includes removing signature requirements on trial payment plans.
- A revised structure for certain allowable costs and fees corresponding with other industry participants’ fee structures.
The changes take effect August 17.
On April 13, the Maryland governor signed SB 251, which amends provisions related to licensing requirements for nondepository institutions. Among other things, the act (i) eliminates certain paper licenses for collection agencies, credit services, lenders, installment lenders, mortgage lenders, mortgage loan originators, sales finance companies, check cashing services, money transmission businesses, and debt management services; (ii) provides for the licensing of certain persons for certain activities through NMLS; (iii) outlines specific information to be included on NMLS-provided licenses; (iv) requires certain licensing information be conspicuously posted (with certain exceptions) at a licensee’s licensed location and on websites and software applications; (v) allows for the surrender of a license through NMLS in accordance with a process established by the state Commissioner of Financial Regulation; and (vi) requires notification to the Commissioner of certain licensee actions. The act takes effect October 1.
On April 14, the CFPB issued its annual fair lending report to Congress, which outlines the Bureau’s efforts in 2020 to fulfill its fair lending mandate, while protecting consumers against the resulting economic consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic. According to the report, the Bureau continued to focus on promoting fair, equitable, and nondiscriminatory access to credit, highlighting several fair lending priorities that continued from years past such as mortgage origination, small business lending, and student loan origination. The report also discusses new policy areas and programs for fair lending examinations or investigations, including (i) the Fair Lending Help Desks; (ii) amendments concerning Regulation C, which will increase the permanent threshold for collecting, recording, and reporting data about open-end lines of credit from 100 to 200; and (iii) two HMDA data point articles. Additionally, the report discusses the Bureau’s efforts in expanding access to credit for underserved or underbanked populations, including: (i) hosting the first “Tech Sprint” (covered by InfoBytes here) to encourage regulatory innovation and stakeholder collaboration; (ii) continuing to examine and investigate institutions for compliance with HMDA and ECOA; (iii) engaging with stakeholders to discuss fair lending compliance, issues related to credit access, and policy decisions; and (iv) issuing Supervisory Recommendations relating to weak or nonexistent fair lending policies and procedures, risk assessments, and fair lending training. The report also provides information related to regulation, supervision, enforcement, and education efforts.
Massachusetts Appeals Court: Plaintiffs’ counterclaim under PHLPA filed after foreclosure sale is untimely
On April 7, the Massachusetts Appeals Court held that plaintiffs could not assert a violation of the Massachusetts Predatory Home Loan Practices Act (PHLPA) in connection with a foreclosure proceeding. In 2005, the plaintiffs obtained a loan to purchase a home but later defaulted on their mortgage. In 2016, the defendant loan servicer began foreclosure proceedings, and sent plaintiffs a right to cure letter followed by an acceleration notice more than 90 days later. Approximately a year later, the servicer sent the plaintiffs a notice of the foreclosure sale, purchased the property, and ultimately filed a summary process eviction action and motion for summary judgment, which the state housing court granted. The plaintiffs then filed a counterclaim alleging the servicer violated PHLPA § 15(b)(2). The servicer maintained, however, that it is “entitled to judgment as a matter of law because more than five years had passed between the time the [plaintiffs] closed on the loan and the time they brought their counterclaim for violation of the PHLPA,” and that, as such, “the five-year statute of limitations in § 15(b)(1) bars their counterclaim.”
On appeal, the Appeals Court majority determined that while the five-year statute of limitations under § 15(b)(1) did not apply to the borrowers’ counterclaim, § 15(b)(2)—under which the plaintiffs brought their counterclaim—“provides that a borrower may employ a defense, claim, or counterclaim ‘during the term of a high-cost home mortgage loan.’” However, because a foreclosure sale following acceleration of a note and mortgage “concludes the term of a mortgage loan,” the Appeals Court deemed the plaintiffs’ counterclaim was untimely.
On April 8, Fannie Mae issued Lender Letter LL-2021-09 announcing updates to eligibility for loans subject to the CFPB’s revised General Qualified Mortgage (QM) Rule (covered by InfoBytes here). Among other things, Fannie notes that because its preferred stock purchase agreement (PSPA) with the U.S. Department of Treasury requires that acquired loans meet the General QM Rule’s loan definition that became effective March 1, it will no longer, in accordance with the dates below, acquire GSE Patch loans that fail to meet to the revised General QM Rule. Specifically, in order to be eligible for purchase by Fannie (certain exceptions are provided for government loans), such loans “must have application dates on or before June 30, 2021” and must “be purchased as whole loans on or before August. 31, 2021, or in MBS pools with an issue date on or before August 1, 2021.” Fannie further notes that it continues to assess the impact of the revised General QM Rule and PSPA on its policies and operations and anticipates further eligibility and underwriting requirement changes. The same day Freddie Mac also issued Bulletin 2021-13, which provides similar updates for loans with application received dates on or after July 1, 2021, and all mortgages with settlement dates after August 31, 2021.
On April 1, the Arkansas governor signed SB 149, which amends provisions related to licensing requirements under the state’s Fair Mortgage Lending Act (FMLA). Among other things, the act (i) modifies certain definitions, including expanding the definition of a mortgage servicer to include a person that makes a payment to a borrower in the case of a home equity conversion mortgage or a reverse mortgage; (ii) clarifies the qualifications for licensure under the FMLA and outlines licensing renewal requirements; (iii) provides a process for the Arkansas Securities Commissioner to allow loan officers to work from a location that is not licensed as the principal place of business or branch office; (iv) modifies the process concerning notice of a change in name or address; and (v) requires licensees to establish and enforce written cybersecurity policies and procedures that comply with the FMLA and any regulations or orders promulgated thereunder. The act takes effect 90 days after adjournment of the legislature.
On April 6, the CFPB announced a consent order against a California-based debt collector and its former owner for allegedly harassing consumers and threatening to take legal action if they did not pay their debts. According to the CFPB, the respondents violated the FDCPA and the CFPA’s prohibition against deceptive acts or practices by mailing letters to consumers printed with “Litigation Notice” that threatened recipients with legal action if they did not repay their debts. However, the Bureau stated that the respondents did not file lawsuits against the consumers, nor did they hire law firms or lawyers to obtain any judgments or collect on any such judgments. Under the terms of the consent order, the respondents are permanently banned from the debt collection industry and are ordered to pay $860,000 in redress to its victims, which has been suspended due to an inability to pay, as well as a $2,200 civil money penalty. This is the CFPB’s latest action taken against debt collectors that have used false threats to collect debts. As previously covered in InfoBytes, in 2019 the CFPB and New York attorney general announced proposed settlements with a network of New York-based debt collectors to resolve allegations that the defendants engaged in improper debt collection tactics in violation of the CFPA, the FDCPA, and various New York laws. Also, in 2018, the CFPB announced a settlement with a Kansas-based company and its former CEO and part-owner that allegedly engaged in improper debt collection tactics in violation of the CFPB’s prohibitions on engaging in unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices (covered by InfoBytes here).
On March 31, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed dismissal of an action for failure to state a claim against a mortgage servicer, agreeing with the district court that the consumer failed to plausibly allege a “causal link” between the alleged RESPA violation and actual damages. According to the opinion, the plaintiff alleged he never received notice of a foreclosure sale on his deceased mother’s property, although he was the administrator of her estate. He filed suit, claiming the servicer failed to respond to his qualified written requests within 30 days as required under RESPA, and that as a result of the foreclosure, he allegedly “suffered actual damages from the loss of his mother’s home, loss of her belongings, and his mental anguish.” The servicer countered that the alleged “actual damages” did not result from the servicer’s failure to respond properly to the plaintiff’s letters, but rather were a result of the estate’s failure to pay the mortgage and the resulting foreclosure. In affirming the dismissal of the plaintiff’s claims, the 11th Circuit agreed with the district court that the plaintiff never asked the servicer to rescind the foreclosure sale (noting that under RESPA, a borrower is not authorized to request rescission of a foreclosure sale), and that, moreover, the servicer’s failure to do what the plaintiff actually asked it to do—provide information about the mortgage—did not cause his damages.
5th Circuit: Oral agreement to accept past-due mortgage payments is unenforceable under statute of frauds
On March 26, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed summary judgment for a national bank, upholding its foreclosure sale in a 2-1 opinion. According to the opinion, after the borrowers missed several payments the bank foreclosed on their property. The borrowers filed suit alleging, among other things, that the bank “violated the deed of trust and the Texas Property Code” by failing to send proper notices prior to the foreclosure of their home, and also violated the Texas Debt Collection Act (TDCA). The bank argued that it had properly served notice, and the district court agreed, granting summary judgment on the foreclosure-sale claims, concluding “that there was no genuine dispute over whether [the bank] properly sent notice in compliance with both the deed of trust and the Texas Property Code.” The district court also agreed with the bank that an oral agreement between the borrowers and a bank representative to accept a $14,000 payment “to bring the loan current” was “unenforceable under the statute of frauds because it modified the terms of the loan agreement.”
On appeal, the majority opinion considered, among other things, whether the statute of frauds barred consideration of the alleged oral agreement under the TDCA. The majority concluded that alleged oral agreement “cannot alone” sustain the borrowers’ claims under the TDCA. In order for the $14,000 to be considered “an actual, enforceable acceptance” as either part of the repayment plan or to bring the loan current, the agreement would have to be in writing under Texas law, the majority held. The dissenting judge argued, however, that the bank violated the TDCA by “misrepresenting, in a March 2017 phone call, that $14,000 would be automatically deducted from the [borrowers’] account to pay off the bulk of their past-due mortgage payments.” According to the dissent, “the phone call plausibly muddled the [borrowers’] understanding of whether they had a past-due mortgage debt, how much they owed, and whether they were in default,” thus creating a false sense of security about their mortgage—the kind of conduct the TDCA is intended to guard against.
- Garylene D. Javier to discuss “How to ensure customer and workforce equality in consumer financial services” at the American Bar Association Business Law Section Spring Meeting
- Jeffrey P. Naimon to discuss “The bureau in transition” at the American Bar Association Business Law Section Spring Meeting
- Kari K. Hall to discuss “Fair lending and artificial intelligence” at the American Bar Association Business Law Section Spring Meeting
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Reading the tea leaves of President Biden’s initial financial appointees" at LendIt Fintech
- APPROVED Webcast: Staying in the know with Buckley regtech solutions
- Moorari K. Shah to discuss “CA, NY, federal licensing and disclosure” at the Equipment Leasing & Finance Association Legal Forum
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Compliance under Biden" at the WSJ Risk & Compliance Forum
- Sherry-Maria Safchuk to discuss UDAAP at an American Bar Association webinar
- Jeffrey P. Naimon to discuss "What to expect: The new administration and regulatory changes" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “The future of fair lending” at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Steven R. vonBerg to discuss "LO comp challenges" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Michelle L. Rogers to discuss "Major litigation" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Michelle L. Rogers to discuss “The False Claims Act today” at the Federal Bar Association Qui Tam Section Roundtable