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District Court partially dismisses student loan co-signer claims alleging violations of federal and D.C. debt-collection laws
On September 10, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia partially granted a student loan administrator’s and a law firm’s joint motion to dismiss, and granted a lender’s motion for judgment on the pleadings, in a case involving a student loan co-signer’s claims brought under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), D.C. debt collection statute, and state law. The court rejected the plaintiff’s argument that her claims were tolled and dismissed the FDCPA claims against the loan administrator and firm because they were time-barred. The court also dismissed the plaintiff’s claim that the firm and the lender violated several provisions of the D.C. debt collection statute, concluding that the plaintiff failed to allege sufficient facts to support an allegation that the defendants willfully violated the statute. However, the court found that the plaintiff included sufficient facts to support a claim under the D.C. statute against the loan administrator based on allegations that the administrator, among other things, (i) concealed its “lack of authorization to sue”; (ii) concealed the fact that it was acting as a collector without the authority to enforce the terms of the loan; and (iii) has a “long, well-documented history of filing debt collection lawsuits falsely claiming to be the lender and/or real party in interest.” Finally, the court held that plaintiff’s abuse of process and malicious prosecution actions failed to state a claim against any of the defendants.
On September 14, a Florida appeals court held that a consumer was entitled to attorney’s fees after a debt collector voluntarily dismissed its “account stated” collection lawsuit for an unpaid credit card balance. Following the debt collector’s voluntary dismissal, the consumer moved for attorney’s fees under a provision in the credit card account agreement that provides for fees to the creditor in any collection action and the reciprocity provision in Section 57.105(7), Florida Statutes (2015). The Florida reciprocity statute permits a court to grant reasonable attorney’s fees to a prevailing party, whether as plaintiff or defendant, with respect to an action to enforce the contract. The appellate court reversed the trial court’s order and found that the consumer was entitled to attorney’s fees. The court concluded that, because the consumer was the prevailing party and the collection action was to enforce the contract, the reciprocity provision in section 57.105(7) applied to the consumer’s request for attorney’s fees under the terms of the agreement. The court remanded the case to the trial court to determine the attorney’s fee award.
On September 5, the California governor signed AB 1526, which, among other things, amends state debt collection law to require certain written notices to be included in the first written communications provided to the debtor after the debt became time-barred and after the date for obsolescence under the FCRA. If the debt is not past the date of obsolescence, the debt collector is required to include specific language in the first written communication to the debtor after the debt has become time-barred that indicates the debtor will not be sued for the debt, but the debt may be reported as unpaid to credit reporting agencies as allowed by law. If the debt is past the date of obsolescence, the debt collector is required to include specific language in the first written communication to the debtor after the date for obsolescence indicating the debtor will not be sued for the debt and the debt will not be reported to credit reporting agencies. The law also incorporates a four-year statute of limitations on the collection of debt by specifically prohibiting a debt collector from initiating a lawsuit, an arbitration, or other legal proceeding to collect the debt after the four-year period in which the action must have been commenced has ended.
District court denies bank’s motion to dismiss; rules homeowner’s claims under California Rosenthal Fair Debt Collection Practices can proceed
On September 5, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California denied a national bank’s motion to dismiss certain alleged violations of both the California Rosenthal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (Rosenthal Act) and the state’s Unfair Competition Law (UCL) as cited in the homeowner’s first amended complaint. According to the order, the plaintiff alleged, among other things, that the bank engaged in debt collection activities that went “beyond the scope of an ordinary foreclosure process” under the Rosenthal Act “when it attempted to collect on the original amount due under the promissory note rather than the [loan modification] agreement.” The bank countered and argued that when it acted as the mortgage loan servicer for the homeowner in the context of foreclosure proceedings it was not subject to liability under the Rosenthal Act because “courts have held ‘that the Rosenthal Act [is] not applicable to residential mortgage loans.” However, the court rejected the bank’s argument and found, among other things, that (i) the homeowner adequately pleaded the bank engaged in debt collection activities; (ii) as determined by the 9th Circuit, “mortgage servicers may be subject to the Rosenthal Act for collection activities surrounding a loan modification agreement”; and (iii) the plaintiff’s allegations concerning the bank’s debt collection practices may be subject to the Rosenthal Act and are sufficient to withstand the bank’s motion to dismiss. Concerning the alleged UCL violation, the court determined that the plaintiff’s factual allegations supported her claims.
On September 7, the FTC announced a series of settlements with the operators of a Georgia-based debt collection business for allegedly violating the FTC Act by making false, or misleading claims and threats during debt collection. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in November 2017, the FTC filed a complaint alleging that the defendants threatened legal action, garnishment, and imprisonment if purported debts were not paid, and in other instances, attempted to collect debts after consumers provided proof that the debt was paid off. Each settlement order (available here, here, and here) imposes a $3.4 million penalty against the defendants, which, after surrendering certain assets, will be partially suspended due to the inability to pay. The settlement orders ban the defendants from the business of debt collection, and prohibit the defendants from (i) misrepresenting information related to financial products and services, and (ii) disclosing, using, or benefitting from the consumer information obtained through the course of the debt collection activities.
On September 6, the CFPB released its summer 2018 Supervisory Highlights, which outlines its supervisory and oversight actions in the areas of auto loan servicing, credit card account management, debt collection, mortgage servicing, payday lending, and small business lending. The findings of the report cover examinations that generally were completed between December 2017 and May 2018. Highlights of the examination findings include:
- Auto loan servicing. The Bureau determined that billing statements showing “paid-ahead” status after insurance proceeds from a total vehicle loss were applied, where consumers were treated as late if they failed to pay the next month, were deceptive. The Bureau also found that servicers unfairly repossessed vehicles after the repossession should have been canceled because the account was not coded correctly, or because an agreement with consumer was reached.
- Credit card account management. The Bureau found that companies failed to reevaluate accounts for eligibility for a rate reduction under Regulation Z or failed to appropriately reduce annual percentage rates.
- Debt collection. The Bureau found that debt collectors failed to mail debt verifications to consumers before engaging in continued debt collection, activities as required by the FDCPA.
- Mortgage servicing. The Bureau found that mortgage servicers delayed processing permanent modifications after consumers successfully completed their trial modifications, resulting in accrued interest and fees that would not otherwise have accrued, which the Bureau determined was an unfair act or practice.
- Payday lending. The Bureau found that companies threatened to repossess consumer vehicles, notwithstanding that they generally did not actually do so or have a business relationship with an entity capable of doing so, which the Bureau determined was a deceptive practice. The Bureau also found that companies did not obtain valid preauthorized EFT authorizations for debits initiated using debit card numbers or ACH credentials provided for other purposes, in violation of Regulation E.
- Small business lending. The Bureau found that some institutions collect and maintain only limited data on small business lending decisions, which it determined could impede the institution’s ability to monitor ECOA risk. The Bureau noted positive exam findings including, (i) active oversight of an entity’s CMS framework; (ii) maintaining records of policy and procedure updates; and (iii) self-conducted semi-annual ECOA risk assessments, which included small business lending.
The report notes that in response to most examination findings, the companies have already remediated or have plans to remediate affected consumers and implement corrective actions, such as new policies in procedures.
Finally, the report highlights, among other things, (i) two recent enforcement actions that were a result of supervisory activity (covered by InfoBytes here and here); (ii) recent updates to the mortgage servicing rule and TILA-RESPA integrated disclosure rule (covered by InfoBytes here and here); and (iii) HMDA implementation updates (covered by InfoBytes here).
8th Circuit holds a garnishment notice sent after receiving a “cease” letter does not violate the FDCPA
On August 27, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit affirmed summary judgment for a law firm, holding that a garnishment notice sent after a consumer requested the company cease communication did not violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). The court held that sending a notice of garnishment was permissible because a “creditor may communicate with a debtor after receiving a cease letter to notify the consumer that the debt collector or creditor may invoke specified remedies which are ordinarily invoked by such debt collector or creditor.” The court further held that the notice’s inclusion of a contact phone number did not “transform” the notice into a communication regarding the debt because, while the notice was a “communication regarding the debt in a general sense . . . it still fits within the remedy exception” and it would have been “odd” for the notice not to provide contact information. The court also rejected the claim that the law firm violated the FDCPA by discussing possible resolution of the debt in a subsequent phone call initiated by the consumer, noting that the consumer had asked about the debt, and agreeing with the district court that the phone call was “an unsubtle and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to provoke [the law firm] into committing an FDCPA violation.” The court added that prohibiting debt collectors from responding to a consumer’s inquiries after a cease letter would often force debt collectors to file suit in order to resolve debts, which is “clearly at odds with the language and purpose of the FDCPA.”
Finally, the court rejected the argument that the garnishment notice deceived consumers into contacting the law firm to discuss the legal aspects of the garnishment process, when in fact they would be subjected to debt collection efforts. Applying the unsophisticated consumer standard, the court held that the garnishment notice was not deceptive because it did not state that phone calls would be answered by attorneys prepared to answer questions solely about garnishment, and the consumer’s belief to the contrary was “the exact sort of peculiar interpretation against which debt collectors are protected by the objective element of the unsophisticated consumer standard.”
On August 22, the CFPB released the latest quarterly consumer credit trends report, which focuses on the reporting of telecommunications-debt collections to nationwide consumer reporting agencies based on a sample of approximately 5 million credit records. The report notes that during the past five years approximately 22 percent of credit records contained at least one telecommunications-related (telecom-related) item, with nearly 95 percent of these telecom-related items being reported by collection agencies. The report highlights that 37 percent of consumers who reported having been contacted about a debt in collection in the prior year were contacted about a telecommunications debt, and more than one fifth of all debt collection revenue is telecom-related debt. The report also observed that a single telecom collection may be associated with multiple tradelines in a credit record over time, suggesting that telecom collections are often reassigned. Notably, however, the report suggests that while the presence of a telecom-related collection item on a credit record is most commonly associated with consumers with lower credit scores, the change in score before and after the collection item appears on the credit record is often small, and as a result, a single telecom-related collection is unlikely to affect a credit decision for those consumers.
On August 14, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas entered judgment in favor of a bank, mortgage loan servicer, and servicer’s law firm (defendants) on all but one Texas Debt Collection Practices Act (TDCPA) claims, among others, brought by homeowner plaintiffs, but determined the law firm was not entitled to judgment as a matter of law regarding its attempted foreclosure on the property despite an attorney exemption provision in the TDCPA. The court agreed with the defendants that the plaintiff failed to allege material facts that support the majority of the claims brought, but disagreed with the law firm as to the remaining TDCPA claim. According to the opinion, the plaintiffs alleged the law firm violated the TDCPA by operating as a third-party debt collector in Texas without the surety bond required by law. The law firm moved for judgment, arguing, among other things, that it was not subject to the TDCPA bond requirement because it simply “assisted” the mortgage servicer with the foreclosure, which is not considered debt collection absent a collection attempt on a deficiency judgment. The court rejected this argument as a matter of law. The court also rejected the law firm’s argument that it was not a “third-party debt collector,” concluding there was a genuine dispute about whether the law firm was a debt collector under the TDCPA despite the attorney exemption, due to whether the letters sent were in its capacity as attorneys for the servicer or as a debt collector.
7th Circuit holds, without written appearance by attorney, law firm did not violate FDCPA by serving debtor directly
On August 21, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit held that a law firm did not violate the FDCPA by serving a debtor a default motion because his attorney had not yet become the “attorney of record” under Illinois Supreme Court Rule 11 (Rule 11). According to the opinion, after being sued by the law firm on a creditor’s behalf, the debtor appeared pro se and later retained an attorney to represent her. The law firm moved for summary judgment and served the motion to the debtor and to the debtor’s new attorney, who had not yet filed a written appearance. The debtor alleged the law firm violated the FDCPA by contacting her while represented by counsel. The lower court entered summary judgment in favor of the debtor. Disagreeing with the lower court, the 7th Circuit reversed, finding that Rule 11 gave “‘express’ judicial ‘permission’ to serve the default motion directly on [the debtor]” from “a court of competent jurisdiction” as required by the FDCPA— which prohibits a debt collector from directly contacting a debtor who is represented by counsel absent “express permission” ." The panel noted that Illinois precedent makes it clear that under Rule 11, a lawyer can only become an attorney of record by filing a written appearance or other pleading with the court. Because a written appearance had not yet been made, the panel reasoned, Rule 11 expressly permitted the law firm to serve the debtor directly and therefore, the firm did not violate the FDCPA.
- Sasha Leonhardt and John B. Williams to discuss "Privacy" at the National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions Spring Regulatory Compliance School
- Aaron C. Mahler to discuss "Regulation B/fair lending" at the National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions Spring Regulatory Compliance School
- Heidi M. Bauer and Dan Ladd to discuss "'So you want to form a joint venture' — Licensing strategies for successful JVs" at RESPRO26
- Tim Lange to discuss "Update from 2019 NMLS Conference" at the California Mortgage Bankers Association Mortgage Quality & Compliance Committee webinar
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Small business & regulation: How fair lending has evolved & where are we heading?" at CBA Live
- Jonice Gray Tucker to to discuss "DC policy: Everything but the kitchen sink" at CBA Live
- Jon David D. Langlois to discuss "Transaction management-issues surrounding purchase & sale agreements, post acquisition integration & trailing docs" at the Investment Management Network Residential Mortgage Servicing Rights Forum
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Lessons learned from ABLV and other major cases involving inadequate compliance oversight" at the ACAMS International AML & Financial Crime Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "A year in the life of the CDD final rule: A first anniversary assessment" at the ACAMS International AML & Financial Crime Conference
- Moorari K. Shah to discuss "State regulatory and disclosures" at the Equipment Leasing and Finance Association Legal Forum
- Hank Asbill to discuss "Creative character evidence in criminal and civil trials" at the Litigation Counsel of America Spring Conference & Celebration of Fellows
- Brandy A. Hood to discuss "Flood NFIP in the age of extreme weather events" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Michelle L. Rogers to discuss "UDAAP compliance" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Kathryn L. Ryan to discuss "State examination/enforcement trends" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Benjamin K. Olson to discuss "LO compensation" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Kathryn L. Ryan to discuss "Major state law developments" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Leveraging big data responsibly" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Hank Asbill to discuss "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain: Addressing prosecutions driven by hidden actors" at the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers West Coast White Collar Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Keep off the grass: Mitigating the risks of banking marijuana-related businesses" at the ACAMS AML Risk Management Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Mid-year policy update" at the ACAMS AML Risk Management Conference
- Benjamin W. Hutten to discuss "Requirements for banking inherently high-risk relationships" at the Georgia Bankers Association BSA Experience Program