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On October 11, the CFPB announced the Taskforce on Federal Consumer Financial Law that will examine the existing legal and regulatory environment facing consumers and financial services providers. The Bureau is accepting applications for the task force and seeking to fill the membership with a broad range of expertise in the areas of consumer protection and consumer financial products or services. Inspired by a commission established by the Consumer Credit Protection Act in 1968, the Bureau states that the task force will report to Director Kraninger and will “produce new research and legal analysis of consumer financial laws in the United States, focusing specifically on harmonizing, modernizing, and updating the enumerated consumer credit laws—and their implementing regulations—and identifying gaps in knowledge that should be addressed through research, ways to improve consumer understanding of markets and products, and potential conflicts or inconsistencies in existing regulations and guidance.”
On September 25, the CFPB released the latest quarterly consumer credit trends report, which examines how the volume and types of bankruptcy filings have changed from 2001 to 2018. The report focuses on consumers who filed for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy during the reported timeframe. Key findings of the report include: (i) in 2005, there was a rush to file for bankruptcy before the income limits of the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act (BAPCPA) went into effect, increasing the share of Chapter 7 filings to 80 percent of all personal bankruptcy filings that year; (ii) from 2015 to 2018, with the effects of the recession fading, Chapter 7 filings appear to have stabilized at about 63 percent; (iii) Chapter 7 and 13 filers, on average, had more than twice the mortgage debt during the recession than in the periods before and after; and (iv) median credit scores increase steadily from year-to-year after consumers file a bankruptcy petition, with Chapter 7 filers’ scores increasing more quickly than Chapter 13, on average.
In September, the CFPB published documents related to an investigation into whether a national bank opened credit card accounts without customer authorization in violation of various federal laws and regulations, including the Fair Credit Reporting Act and the Consumer Financial Protection Act’s ban on unfair or abusive practices. In March 2019, the Bureau issued a civil investigative demand (CID) to the bank seeking, among other things, “a tally of specific instances of potentially unauthorized credit card accounts,” as well as a manual assessment of card accounts that were never used by the customer. The bank argued in its petition to modify or set aside the CID that it had already provided information to regulators showing that it did not have a “systemic sales misconduct issue,” and cited to the OCC’s broad review into sales practice issues at mid-size and large national banks, which has not, according to the bank, identified systemic issues with bank employees opening unauthorized accounts without consumer consent. Among other things, the bank also contended that the CID was unduly burdensome—requiring manual account-level assessments—and said the CFPB should end its investigation because the facts “refute an investigation’s initial hypothesis.” The bank further argued that the inquiry into its sales practices should be conducted by CFPB supervisory staff instead of as an enforcement investigation, which would be “the proper mechanism for resolving any remaining issues when an investigation fails to uncover evidence warranting [e]nforcement action.”
Concerning the bank’s argument that the CID was unduly burdensome, the Bureau stated in its order denying the petition that the bank had failed to “meaningfully engage” with the Bureau during the course of the investigation in a way that merited modification to the terms of the CID. Moreover, with regard to whether the investigation should be conducted by supervisory staff, the Bureau countered that “[t]his is not a request properly made in a petition to modify or set aside a CID, for the same reasons that it is not proper to use a CID petition to ask that the Bureau close an investigation because (in the recipient’s view) it has already shown that it engaged in no wrongdoing.”
On August 29, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and HUD issued disaster relief guidance related to Hurricane Dorian. Fannie Mae reminded servicers of available mortgage assistance options for homeowners impacted by the hurricane: (i) qualifying homeowners are eligible to stop making mortgage payments for up to 12 months without incurring late fees and without having delinquencies reported to the credit bureaus; (ii) servicers may immediately suspend or reduce mortgage payments for up to 90 days without any contact with homeowners believed to have been affected by a disaster; and (iii) foreclosures and other legal proceedings for homeowners believed to be impacted by a disaster are temporarily suspended. Freddie Mac similarly reminded servicers of these mortgage relief options.
The same day, HUD released Mortgagee Letter ML 2019-14 (ML 2019-14), which updates Handbook 4000.1 and expands its “Disaster Standalone Partial Claim” loss mitigation option which “allow[s] borrowers in Presidentially Declared Major Disaster Areas (PDMDAs) with delinquent FHA-insured mortgages to bring their mortgages current without increasing their interest rates or principal and interest payments.” The mitigation option, introduced last year, “covers missed mortgage payments up to 30 percent of Unpaid Principal Balance” through an interest-free second loan on the mortgage without a required trial payment plan. The second loan will become payable only when the borrower sells the home or refinances. Additionally, the loss mitigation option will streamline income documentation and other requirements to expedite relief to eligible borrowers struggling to pay their mortgages while recovering from disasters.
Separately on August 30, the OCC issued a proclamation permitting OCC-regulated institutions, to close offices affected by Hurricane Dorian’s severe weather conditions at their discretion “for as long as deemed necessary for bank operation or public safety.” In issuing the proclamation, the OCC noted that it expects that only those bank offices directly affected by potentially unsafe conditions will close and that they should make every effort to reopen as quickly as possible to address the banking needs of their customers. The proclamation directs institutions to OCC Bulletin 2012-28 for further guidance on natural disasters and other emergency conditions.
11th Circuit reverses dismissal of EFTA action alleging inadequate overdraft notice, denies EFTA safe harbor defense
On August 27, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit reversed the dismissal of a consumer’s action against her credit union, in which the consumer alleged the credit union used the wrong balance calculation method to impose overdraft fees. According to the opinion, the consumer filed suit against the credit union for using an “available balance” calculation method to impose overdraft fees on her account when the credit union allegedly agreed to use the “ledger balance” method at the time of account opening, in violation of the Electronic Fund Transfer Act (EFTA) and various state law contract claims. The district court dismissed the action, concluding that the agreements “unambiguously permitted [the credit union] to assess overdraft fees using the available balance calculation.”
On appeal, the 11th Circuit disagreed with the district court’s interpretation of the agreements. The court noted that while the opt-in overdraft agreement used by the credit union is based on Regulation E’s (the EFTA’s implementing regulation) Model Form A-9, the model does not address which account balance calculation method is used to determine whether a transaction results in an overdraft. The language chosen by the credit union, according to the appellate court, is “ambiguous because it could describe either the available or the ledger balance calculation method for unsettled debits” and therefore, does not describe the calculation in a “clear and readily understandable way” as required by Regulation E. Because the language was ambiguous, the consumer did not have the opportunity to affirmatively consent to the overdraft service. Moreover, the appellate court concluded that the credit union was not protected under the EFTA’s safe harbor because it used the Model Form A-9 text. Specifically, the appellate court reasoned that the “safe-harbor provision insulates financial institutions from EFTA claims based on the means by which the institution has communicated its overdraft policy,” but does not provide a shield from allegations of inadequacy. Because the consumer argued that the credit union violated the EFTA due to its failure to prove enough information to allow for affirmative consent, the safe-harbor provision does not preclude liability.
On August 22, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California granted in part and denied in part a national bank’s motion to dismiss an action by the City of Sacramento (City) alleging violations of the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and California Fair Employment and Housing Act. In its complaint, the City alleged that the bank violated the FHA and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act by providing minority borrowers mortgage loans with less favorable terms than similarly situated non-minority borrowers, leading to disproportionate defaults and foreclosures causing reduced property tax revenue and increased costs for municipal services for the city. The bank moved to dismiss the action. In reviewing the motion, the court looked to the 2017 Supreme Court decision in Bank of America v. City of Miami (previously covered by a Buckley Special Alert), which held that municipal plaintiffs may be “aggrieved persons” authorized to bring suit under the FHA against lenders for injuries allegedly flowing from discriminatory lending practices. The court rejected the majority of the bank’s arguments, denying the motion as to the City’s tax revenue claims and non-economic claims. The court concluded that “there is ‘no reason to think as a general matter that the City’s [tax revenue] claims are out of step with the ‘nature of the statutory cause of action’ and the remedial scheme that Congress created’” in the FHA. Conversely, as for the claims for increased municipal services costs, such as police, fire fighting, and code enforcement, the court found that the claims “rely on conclusory allegations and a foreseeability-only theory without establishing proximate cause” and granted the bank’s motion to dismiss, but allowed the City leave to amend the complaint to establish proximate cause.
On August 22, a tribal nation issued a press release announcing a $6.5 million settlement with a national bank to resolve allegations related to the opening of deposit and credit card accounts for customers without consent. In 2018, the tribal nation’s suit was dismissed by a district court ruling (previously covered by InfoBytes here), which rejected the tribal nation’s claims under the Consumer Financial Protection Act, holding that the claims were barred by res judicata, as they had previously been litigated under the CFPB’s 2016 consent order and the tribal nation was in privity with the CFPB. (InfoBytes coverage of the CFPB action available here.) The tribal nation appealed the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, and on August 20, an order granting a stipulation to dismiss the appeal with prejudice was entered by the court. While the stipulation does not provide any details, the tribal nation’s press release notes that the “settlement compensates the Nation, as well as avoids the uncertainty and expense of continued litigation.”
On August 19, the Illinois governor signed SB 1332, which is designed to decrease low-income consumers’ reliance on alternative financial products and increase the accessibility to certified financial products (defined as a “financial product offered by a financial institution that meets minimum requirements as established by the Comptroller”). SB 1332 creates the Illinois Bank On Initiative Commission, chaired by the state Comptroller, which will provide an annual, publicly available report (starting October 2020) that will list: (i) authorized certified financial products and minimum requirements for qualification; (ii) financial institutions providing certified financial products; and (iii) outreach strategies for facilitating access to certified financial products. SB 1332 is effective immediately.
On August 9, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit affirmed a district court ruling that a consumer could not proceed on FDCPA or Wisconsin Consumer Act (WCA) claims because he failed to demonstrate that the incurred credit card debt in question was a “consumer debt” entitled to FDCPA and WCA protections. The consumer filed a lawsuit against a law firm acting on behalf of a debt collection agency claiming, among other things, that the firm had failed to provide written notice of his right to cure a defaulted debt before the firm commenced an action against him in Wisconsin state court. While the consumer maintained that the debt was not his, he argued that “to the extent” that he was liable for the debt, it was entered into for personal, family, or household purposes, and that by failing to provide written notice of his rights, the firm had violated the FDCPA and WCA. The district court granted summary judgment for the defendant, finding that the consumer failed to establish that the debt was a consumer debt.
On appeal, the 7th Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling. The appellate court found that the evidence put forward by the plaintiff, which included account statements and his own representations regarding the purpose of the account, was insufficient to show that the debt was incurred for personal, family, or household purposes. Specifically, the court found that the plaintiff’s representations that the debt was a consumer debt could not be reconciled with his contention that the debt was not his and that the charges on his account statement did not provide sufficient information for the court to conclusively determine that they were made for personal, and not business, purposes.
On August 5, the Florida attorney general announced a $1.2 million settlement with a Florida auto dealership and its owner (defendants) for allegedly violating the state’s Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act by failing to pay off outstanding liens on vehicle trade-ins. According to a complaint filed in the Circuit Court of the 4th Judicial Circuit, the AG initiated an investigation alleging that the defendants, among other things, accumulated unpaid obligations of more than $1.2 million to lienholders on traded-in vehicles. As a result, consumers were held accountable for the debt and received invoices from the lienholders. For consumers who did not make payments on their trade-ins, the lienholders often reported the defaults to credit bureaus, with, in some instances, the adverse credit reporting affected service members’ security clearances. The AG also noted that in certain circumstances, the lienholder attempted to repossess vehicles that were no longer owned by the consumers. Additionally, the defendants also failed to process title transfers within the statutorily required time frame, which resulted in some consumers experiencing difficulty when trying to obtain financing and insurance on their other vehicles, and others being sold traded-in vehicles without having clear title. In 2018, the dealership was purchased and the outstanding liens paid by the acquiring company. Under the terms of the settlement, the defendants have agreed to pay approximately $1.2 million in equitable consumer restitution, $235,000 in civil penalties, and $15,000 for attorney’s fees and costs. The defendants are also permanently enjoined from owning, operating, or managing an auto or truck dealership in the state at any time in the future.
- Michelle L. Rogers to discuss "What's trending in enforcement" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Annual Convention & Expo
- Kathryn L. Ryan and Moorari K. Shah to discuss "Today's regulatory environment - Are you in the know?" at the Equipment Leasing and Finance Association Annual Convention
- Buckley Webcast: Smoke and mirrors: Navigating the regulatory landscape in banking the marijuana industry
- H Joshua Kotin to discuss "CMS - Components of a successful monitoring program" at the RegList Annual Workshop
- Tim Lange to discuss "Temporary authority to operate - Are you prepared? Hear what the states are doing" at the RegList Annual Workshop
- Sherry-Maria Safchuk to discuss "Cybersecurity" at the RegList Annual Workshop
- Jonice Gray Tucker and Amanda R. Lawrence to discuss "Consumer Regulatory, Enforcement, and Litigation Trends" at the American Bankers Association General Counsel Meeting
- Jeffrey P. Naimon to discuss "Hot topics in mortgage origination" at the Conference on Consumer Finance Law Annual Consumer Financial Services Conference
- Sherry-Maria Safchuk to discuss "CCPA: Countdown to compliance – A discussion of common questions and what is next on the CA privacy horizon" at the Conference on Consumer Finance Law Annual Consumer Financial Services Conference
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Fintech regulatory developments, crypto-assets, blockchain and digital banking, and consumer issues" at the Practising Law Institute Banking Law Institute
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Adapting to the rapidly changing compliance landscape involving marijuana and marijuana-related businesses" at an ACAMS webinar
- Amanda R. Lawrence to discuss "How to balance a successful (and stressful) career with greater personal well-being" at the American Bar Association Women in Litigation Joint CLE Conference