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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

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  • State Law Update: Recent Changes in Maryland, Minnesota, and Mississippi

    Consumer Finance

    Maryland Adds Foreclosure Registration Requirement, Authorizes Pre-file Mediation, Amends Mortgage Licensing. On May 2, Maryland Governor O’Malley signed House Bill 1373, which establishes a state foreclosed property registry. Foreclosure purchasers are required to (i) file an initial registration and pay a $50 registration fee for each foreclosed property within 30 days after a foreclosure sale, and (ii) file a final registration, with no additional fee, within 30 days after a deed transferring the title has been recorded. The law allows local jurisdictions to (i) enact laws that impose a civil penalty for failure to register under the new state requirement and (ii) collect from the foreclosure purchaser, as a charge on the property’s property tax bill, any costs associated with abating a nuisance on a registered property. The Governor also signed on May 2, House Bill 1374, which authorizes a secured party to offer to participate in pre-file mediation with a mortgagor or grantor to whom the secured party has delivered a notice of intent to foreclose. If the mortgagor or granter elects to participate, an order to docket or complaint to foreclose cannot be filed until the completion of the mediation. The bill also establishes a process through which a person with a secured interest in residential property that is in default can seek from a local jurisdiction a certificate of vacancy. If a certificate is not challenged by the record owner or occupant of the property the secured party can expedite the foreclosure process.

    Finally, on the same date, Maryland enacted Senate Bill 546, which (i) requires a mortgage lender licensee to provide the commissioner with proof satisfying specified minimum net worth requirements within 90 days after the last day of the licensee’s most recent fiscal year and (ii) establishes a nonactive license status and process for licensees that cease to be employed by an approved financial institution.

    Minnesota Amends Debt Collector Requirements. On April 23, Minnesota enacted House Bill 2335, which amends requirements for individual debt collectors and collection agencies. The bill (i) provides individual collectors additional time to report a change of contact information, (ii) sets requirements for a personnel screening process that a debt collection agency must follow in hiring and retaining individual collectors, and (iii) revises the list of past events that disqualify a person from registration as a debt collector. The final bill did not include a proposed revision that would have allowed individual debt collectors to remedy violations of the statute.

    Mississippi Adds Protections for Bank Self-Assessments. On April 19, Mississippi enacted House Bill 1460 to grant privileged treatment to certain bank reports. The law takes effect July 1, 2012. Under the new law, reports reflecting voluntary self-assessments by banks, which are submitted to a bank regulator but not otherwise provided to third parties, will be considered privileged and not admissible in any legal or investigative action and are not subject to discovery in such actions. The law sets forth exceptions and circumstances under which the protections do not apply, including if a court determines that a report shows that a bank was not in compliance with a material provision of banking law, the bank did not initiate good-faith efforts to achieve substantial compliance within a reasonable time after the noncompliance was  discovered, and the bank's failure to comply caused material harm to a bank customer or consumer.

    Foreclosure Mortgage Licensing Mortgage Servicing Debt Collection

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  • Federal Appeals Court Finds Plaintiff States FDCPA Claim Against Servicer, Creditor When Acquiring Debt Purportedly in Default

    Consumer Finance

    On April 30, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit held that a mortgage servicer and a creditor can be sued as a debt collector under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) when acquiring a debt in default at the time of acquisition. The plaintiffs, a borrower and her non-borrower husband, alleged that the servicer and creditor violated the FDCPA in attempting to collect from the borrower and her husband, notwithstanding that the mortgage was not in default and despite plaintiffs’ repeated requests the servicer cease further communication. The servicer argued that it could not be liable under the FDCPA based upon its status as a mortgage loan servicer and because the debt was not actually in default. Similarly, the creditor argued that as the purchaser of the debt it could not be a debt collector and that it was neither a debt collector nor a creditor under the circumstances of the case. The district court, assuming plaintiff’s allegations that the servicer was not a servicer and that the creditor was not a creditor for purposes of the motion to dismiss, granted the motion on the basis that neither the servicer nor owner was a debt collector under the FDCPA. On appeal, the court, relying on congressional intent and previous decisions from the Third and Seventh Circuits, held that an entity that acquires a debt it seeks to collect must be either a creditor or a debt collector, depending on the status of the debt at the time it was acquired. Similarly, the court held the servicer may be either a servicer or debt collector when acting on behalf of the debt-acquiring entity. To hold otherwise, the court reasoned, would frustrate the purpose of the FDCPA’s broad consumer protections. Further, the court held that after years of attempting to collect on the debt and acting as a debt collector, the servicer could not now attempt to defeat the broad protections of the FDCPA by relying on the borrower’s assertion that the loan was not actually in default. Finally, the court rejected the defendants’ claims that the plaintiff-husband failed to state a claim since he was not actually obligated on the debt in light of the FDCPA’s application to debt collectors when attempting to collect a debt “owed or due or asserted to be owed or due another.” The appellate court reversed and remanded the case for further proceedings.

    FDCPA Mortgage Servicing Debt Collection

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  • Fourth Circuit Holds State Debt Collection Law Not Preempted by National Banking Act

    Consumer Finance

    On April 5, the Fourth Circuit held that the National Bank Act (NBA) did not preempt the Maryland Credit Grantor Closed End Credit Provisions (CLEC). Epps v. JP Morgan Chase Bank, No. 10-2444, 2012 WL 1134065 (4th Cir. Apr. 5, 2012). In Epps, the plaintiff purchased a car through a retail sales installment contract subject to the CLEC. The contract was later assigned to Chase which repossessed the vehicle after the plaintiff defaulted. The plaintiff brought a putative class action alleging in part that Chase’s notices regarding the sale of the vehicle failed to comply with the CLEC. Relying on OCC regulations implementing the NBA, 12 C.F.R. § 7.4008(d)-(e), the Fourth Circuit reversed the District Court for the District of Maryland and held that the CLEC was not preempted. The court explained that because the CLEC provisions at issue related exclusively to repossession and not to the extension of credit, they were not preempted by the NBA and excluded from preemption by the OCC’s regulations. The court further found that the notices required under CLEC, which only related to debt collection upon default under an existing loan, were not disclosures within the meaning of the NBA and OCC regulations.

    Auto Finance Debt Collection

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