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On October 12, Rohit Chopra was sworn in as Director of the CFPB. Chopra issued a message to Bureau staff, the Federal Reserve Board, FDIC Board of Directors, and members of the Financial Stability Oversight Council, applauding former acting Director Dave Uejio’s service and stressing the importance of safeguarding household financial stability. Chopra explained that promoting competition, shifting market power toward consumers and law-abiding businesses, and anticipating emerging risks remain critically important to the CFPB’s mission. Noting that this is an “extremely fragile moment for our economy and our country,” Chopra explained that the Covid-19 pandemic has “put into clearer focus the longstanding systemic and structural barriers we must overcome to build a more inclusive economy.” He added that he intends to “build on” the work Uejio has already started to address racial equality and the pandemic, and said Uejio will remain at the Bureau until he is confirmed as assistant secretary for Fair Housing & Equal Opportunity.
The CFPB also announced several leadership changes within the Bureau. Newly appointed Deputy Director Zixta Q. Martinez, whose roles at the Bureau previously included senior advisor for Supervision, Enforcement and Fair Lending, will oversee the Bureau’s Operations Division. Karen Andre, who most recently served as special assistant to the president for Economic Agency Personnel within the Executive Office of the President will serve as associate director for Consumer Education and External Affairs. Returning to the CFPB are Jan Singelmann who will serve as chief of staff. Singelmann previously served as senior litigation counsel in the Bureau’s Office of Enforcement and most recently served as counsel for Senator Sherrod Brown, whose work covers consumer finance and data privacy issues. Erie Meyer, who returns to serve as chief technologist, was previously on the implementation team that launched the Bureau and was a founding team member of the Bureau’s Office of Technology and Innovation.
On October 7, the CFPB filed a petition for panel or en banc rehearing with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, asking the appellate court to reconsider its recent determination “that practicing attorneys are categorically exempt from Regulation O,” as it strips the CFPB “of the authority given it by Congress to hold attorneys to account for violations not just of Regulation O, but of a host of other federal laws as well.” (Covered by InfoBytes here.) In 2014, the CFPB, FTC, and 15 state authorities took action against several foreclosure relief companies and associated individuals, alleging that they made misrepresentations about their services, failed to make mandatory disclosures, and collected unlawful advance fees (covered by InfoBytes here). A ruling issued by the district court in 2019 (covered by InfoBytes here) ordered nearly $59 million in penalties and restitution against several of the defendants for violations of Regulation O, but was later vacated by the 7th Circuit based on the application of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Liu v. SEC, which held that a disgorgement award cannot exceed a firm’s net profits—a ruling that is “applicable to all categories of equitable relief, including restitution.” (Covered by InfoBytes here.)
In its appeal, the Bureau did not challenge the vacated restitution award, but rather argued that a rehearing is necessary to ensure that the agency can bring enforcement actions against attorneys who violate federal consumer laws, including Regulation O. “The panel’s conclusion. . .threatens to disrupt the existing federal regulatory scheme for multiple consumer laws and expose ordinary people across the country to an increased risk of harm from illegal practices,” the Bureau stated, adding that 12 U.S.C. § 5517(e) does not limit the Bureau’s ability to pursue a civil enforcement action against practicing attorneys who are subject to Regulation O. According to the Bureau, Paragraph 3 of § 5517(e) states that the limitation on the Bureau’s authority “‘shall not be construed’ to limit the Bureau’s authority with respect to an attorney ‘to the extent that such attorney is otherwise subject’ to an enumerated consumer law or transferred authority.” The Bureau asked the 7th Circuit to reconsider its decision on this issue or, in the alternative, withdraw that portion as unnecessary to the outcome.
On October 8, counsel for the appellant in CFPB v. Seila Law LLC sent a letter to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit stating that, after further consideration, the law firm has decided not to seek further review from the U.S. Supreme Court in its long-running challenge with the Bureau. Seila Law’s last trip to the Court resulted in a decision that declared the director’s for-cause removal provision was unconstitutional but was severable from the statute establishing the Bureau (covered by a Buckley Special Alert). October 11 was the deadline for Seila Law to file a certiorari petition with the Court after the 9th Circuit granted the law firm’s request to stay a mandate ordering compliance with a 2017 civil investigative demand (CID) issued by the Bureau. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the order stayed the appellate court’s mandate (covered by InfoBytes here) for 150 days, or until final disposition by the Court if the law firm had filed its petition of certiorari. The letter did not explain Seila Law’s reasoning.
This announcement follows the Court’s recent decision not to hear a petition filed by a New Jersey-based finance company accused by the CFPB and the New York attorney general of misleading consumers about high-cost loans allegedly mischaracterized as assignments of future payment rights (covered by InfoBytes here), and may mark the beginning of the end of litigation over former Director Kraninger’s July 2020 ratifications of the Bureau’s private actions (covered by InfoBytes here). Since the Court’s decision in Seila, several courts have heard challenges from companies claiming the Bureau could not use ratification to avoid dismissal of their lawsuits.
On October 8, the CFPB issued its semi-annual report to Congress covering the Bureau’s work from October 1, 2020 to March 31, 2021. The report, which is required by Dodd-Frank, addresses, among other things, the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on consumer credit, significant rules and orders adopted by the Bureau, consumer complaints, and various supervisory and enforcement actions taken by the Bureau. In his opening letter, Director Dave Uejio discusses the Bureau’s efforts to increase racial equity in the marketplace and to mitigate the financial effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on consumers, including measures such as reinstituted regular public reporting, developing Prioritized Assessments to protect consumers from elevated risks of harm related to the pandemic, and numerous enforcement actions with claims or findings of various violations. Uejio also notes that communities of color, particularly Black and Hispanic communities, have disproportionately experienced the health and economic effects of the pandemic, and states that the Bureau is utilizing “all [of its] tools to ensure that all communities, of all races and economic backgrounds, can participate in and benefit from the nation’s economic recovery.”
Among other topics, the report highlights two publications by the Bureau: one focusing on the TRID Integrated Disclosure Rule (covered by InfoBytes here), and another focusing on credit record trends for young enlisted servicemembers during the first year after separation (covered by InfoBytes here). The effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on consumer credit are also discussed, as are the results from the Bureau’s Making Ends Meet Survey. In addition to these areas of focus, the report notes the issuance of several significant notices of proposed rulemaking related to remittance transfers, debt collection practices, the transition from LIBOR, and qualified mortgage definitions under TILA. Multiple final rules were also issued concerning Truth in Lending Act (Regulation Z); remittance transfers; and payday, vehicle, title, and certain high-cost installment loans. Several other rules and initiatives undertaken during the reporting period are also highlighted.
On October 4, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a petition filed by a New Jersey-based finance company accused by the CFPB and the New York attorney general of misleading first responders to the World Trade Center attack and NFL retirees about high-cost loans mischaracterized as assignments of future payment rights (see entry #20-1758). In 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit vacated a 2018 district court order, which had previously dismissed the case on the grounds that the Bureau’s single-director structure was unconstitutional, and that, as such, the agency lacked authority to bring claims alleging deceptive and abusive conduct by the company (covered by InfoBytes here). At the time, the district court also rejected an attempt by then-acting Director Mulvaney to salvage the Bureau’s claims, concluding that the “ratification of the CFPB’s enforcement action against defendants failed to cure the constitutional deficiencies in the CFPB’s structure or otherwise render defendants’ arguments moot.” The 2nd Circuit remanded the case to the district court, determining that the Court’s ruling in Seila Law LLC v. CPFB (which held that the director’s for-cause removal provision was unconstitutional but was severable from the statute establishing the Bureau, as covered by a Buckley Special Alert) superseded the 2018 ruling. The appellate court further noted that following Seila, former Director Kathy Kraninger ratified several prior regulatory actions (covered by InfoBytes here), including the enforcement action brought against the defendants, and as such, remanded the case to the district court to consider the validity of the ratification of the enforcement action.
In its June petition for writ of certiorari, the company argued that the Bureau could not use ratification to avoid dismissal of the lawsuit. The company noted that while several courts, including the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (covered by InfoBytes here) have “appl[ied] ratification to cure the structural problem,” other courts have rejected the Bureau’s ratification efforts, finding them to be untimely (see a dismissal by the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware, as covered by InfoBytes here). As such, the company had asked the Supreme Court to clarify this contradictory “hopeless muddle” by clarifying the appropriate remedy for structural constitutional violations and addressing whether ratification is still effective if it comes after the statute of limitations has expired.
As is customary when denying a petition for certiorari, the Supreme Court did not explain its reasoning.
On September 30, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas denied a request made by two trade groups to stay the implementation of the payment provisions of the CFPB’s 2017 final rule covering “Payday, Vehicle Title, and Certain High-Cost Installment Loans” (2017 Rule) while they appeal an earlier decision allowing the provisions to take effect. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the court upheld the 2017 Rule’s payment provisions, finding that the Bureau’s ratification “was valid and cured the constitutional injury caused by the 2017 Rule’s approval by an improperly appointed official.” The court also concluded that the payment provisions, as a matter of law, “are consistent with the Bureau’s statutory authority and are not arbitrary and capricious,” and that the Bureau properly considered the costs and benefits of such payment provisions. The court’s order, however, granted the plaintiffs’ request to stay the compliance date, which had been set as August 19, 2019, until 286 days after final judgment.
The plaintiffs appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and asked the district court to stay the running of the 286-day stay pending appeal, such that compliance would not be required until 286 days after the appeal is resolved. The court rejected that request, stating that the plaintiffs “failed to make a sufficient showing to warrant a stay pending resolution of the appeal” and that “the equities do not support extending the stay of the compliance date beyond the court's 286-day stay from August 30, 2021.”
On October 1, the CFPB released a set of FAQs discussing limited-content messages and the call frequency provisions under the Debt Collection Rule in Regulation F. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in October 2020 the CFPB issued its final rule amending Regulation F, which implements the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, addressing debt collection communications and prohibitions on harassment or abuse, false or misleading representations, and unfair practices. Among other things, the FAQs clarify: (i) the qualifications of a “limited-content message”; (ii) that debt collectors can utilize a pre-recorded voice message for limited-content messages; (iii) that the final rule “establishes a presumption of a violation of, and a presumption of compliance with, the prohibition against harassing, oppressive, or abusive conduct, based on the frequency of a debt collector’s telephone calls and conversations”; (iii) that the final rule “does not preempt a state law that affords greater protection to consumers, including, for example, by imposing limits or more restrictive presumptions related to telephone call frequency”; (iv) that seven days is the maximum time a consumer’s direct prior consent applies to additional telephone calls; and (v) the factors that may rebut the presumption of a violation.
On September 30, the CFPB released a Data Point report, titled Subprime Auto Loan Outcomes by Lender Type, which examines interest rate and default risk trends across different types of subprime lenders, including how much of the variation of interest rates charged among subprime lenders can be explained by differences in default rates and how much is left to be explained. The report found notable average differences across lender types in the borrowers they serve and the types of vehicles they finance. Banks and credit unions offering subprime auto loans typically lend to borrowers with higher credit scores compared to finance companies and buy-here-pay-here dealerships, the report noted, adding that different lenders also charge very different interest rates on average. According to the report’s sample, a bank’s average subprime loan interest rate is approximately 10 percent, compared to 15 to 20 percent at finance companies and buy-here-pay-here dealerships. The report found that higher default rates were found at lenders that charged higher interest rates, and that “the likelihood of a subprime auto loan becoming at least 60 days delinquent within three years is approximately 15 percent for bank borrowers and between 25 percent and 40 percent for finance company and buy-here-pay-here borrowers.”
However, the report presented statistical analysis that called into question whether differences in default rates fully explained the average differences in interest rates across subprime lender types. As an example, an average borrower with a 560 credit score or higher would have the same default risk whether the borrower obtained a loan from a bank or a small buy-here-pay-here lender, but the estimated interest rate would be nine percent with a bank loan versus 13 percent from a small buy-here-pay-here lender. The report noted that there are other variables, not observed in the data collected, that may explain differences in interest rates charged by different types of auto lenders, such as down payments, vehicle values, variations in borrowers’ access to information, borrowers’ financial sophistication, and variations within lenders’ business practices and incentives.
On September 29, the CFPB released its fifth biennial report on the state of the credit card market as required by Section 502 of the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act. The 2021 report covers the credit card market for the 2019-2020 period, and revisits similar baseline indicators and in-depth topics to examine market changes and track market developments and trends. Specifically, the report updates the deferred interest analysis last conducted in the 2017 Report. The report also analyzes the latest research on consumer card use, cost, and availability, among other things, finding that “[f]rom a 2019 peak of $926 billion, credit card debt fell to $811 billion by the second quarter of 2020, the largest six-month decline on record, before reaching $825 billion by the end of the year.” The report also highlights indicators related to consumer credit card activity during the pandemic, including (i) more than 25 million consumer credit card accounts represented approximately $68 billion in outstanding credit card debt entered relief programs in 2020; (ii) application volume for credit cards sharply declined in 2020 from its peak in 2019; (iii) late payment and default rates were at a historic low; (iv) consumers with below prime scores saw the greatest constriction in available credit card line; and (v) digital engagement is increasing across all age groups.
On September 23, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California entered a judgment in favor of the CFPB against an individual defendant in an action taken by the Bureau against a lender and several related individuals and companies (collectively, “defendants”) for alleged violations of the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA), Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR), and Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). As previously covered by InfoBytes, the CFPB filed a complaint in 2020 claiming the defendants violated the FCRA by, among other things, illegally obtaining consumer reports from a credit reporting agency for millions of consumers with student loans by representing that the reports would be used to “make firm offers of credit for mortgage loans” and to market mortgage products. However, the Bureau alleged that the defendants instead resold or provided the reports to numerous companies, including companies engaged in marketing student loan debt relief services. The defendants also allegedly violated the TSR by charging and collecting advance fees for their debt relief services, and violated both the TSR and CFPA by placing telemarketing sales calls and sending direct mail to encourage consumers to consolidate their loans, while falsely representing that consolidation could lower student loan interest rates, improve borrowers’ credit scores, and allow borrowers to change their servicer to the Department of Education. Settlements have already been reached with certain defendants (covered by InfoBytes here, here, and here).
In August the court granted the Bureau’s motion for summary judgment against the individual defendant after determining that undisputed evidence showed that the individual defendant, among other things, “obtained and later used prescreened lists from [a consumer reporting agency] without a permissible purpose” in order to send direct mail solicitations from the businesses that he controlled to consumers on the lists as opposed to firm offers of credit or insurance. (Covered by InfoBytes here.) At the time, the court found that injunctive relief, restitution, and a civil money penalty were appropriate remedies. While the individual defendant objected to the proposed judgment, the court ultimately ordered that the Bureau is entitled to a judgment for monetary relief of over $19 million as redress for fees paid by affected consumers. This restitution is owed jointly and severally with the student loan debt relief company defendants in the amounts imposed in default judgments entered against each of them (covered by InfoBytes here). Additionally, the court determined that the individual defendant “recklessly” violated the CFPA, TSR, and FCRA, warranting a $20 million civil money penalty. The individual defendant is also permanently banned from participating in telemarketing activities or from using or obtaining prescreened consumer reports.
- Daniel R. Alonso to moderate an interactive roundtable at the Latin Lawyer and GIR Connect: Anti-Corruption & Investigations Conference
- APPROVED Checkpoint Webcast: You have license renewal questions, we have answers
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Fintech trends” at the BIHC Network Elevating Black Excellence Regional Summit
- Jeffrey P. Naimon to discuss "Truth in lending” at the American Bar Association National Institute on Consumer Financial Services Basics
- Daniel R. Alonso to discuss anti-money-laundering at FELABAN Spanish-language webinar “Perspective for banks: LAFT, FINCEN, OFAC, Cryptocurrency”
- Daniel R. Alonso to discuss "What’s new in BSA/AML compliance?" at the Institute of International Bankers Regulatory Compliance Seminar
- Jon David D. Langlois to discuss "Regulatory update: What you need to know under the new boss; It won’t be the same as the old boss" at the IMN Residential Mortgage Service Rights Forum (East)
- Benjamin B. Klubes to discuss “Creating a Fantastic Workplace Culture”
- John R. Coleman and Amanda R. Lawrence to discuss “Consumer financial services government enforcement actions – The CFPB and beyond” at the Government Investigations & Civil Litigation Institute Annual Meeting
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Consumer financial services" at the Practising Law Institute Banking Law Institute
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Regulators always ring twice: Responding to a government request” at ALM Legalweek