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On October 28, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California issued an order granting preliminary approval of a putative class action settlement concerning allegations that an online bank’s service disruption prevented customers from accessing their account, including through card purchases and ATM withdrawals. The plaintiffs also claimed that after the service disruption, “some customers reported incorrect account balances and unauthorized charges.” The plaintiffs alleged, among other things, claims for negligence, unjust enrichment, breaches of contract and fiduciary duty, conversion, and violations of several state laws. Following a series of settlement negotiations, the parties entered into an amended settlement identifying the settlement class as “[a]ll consumers who attempted to and were unable to access or utilize the functions of their accounts with [the defendant], as confirmed by a failed transaction or locked card as recorded in [the defendant]’s business records, beginning on October 16, 2019 through October 19, 2019, as a result of the Service Disruption.” Under the settlement, tier one customers who are unable or choose not to provide documentation substantiating their alleged losses can receive up to $25 for verified claims. Tier two customers who can show “‘reasonable documentation’ to substantiate their loss” can receive their verified loss, up to $750. The defendant has agreed to set aside $4 million to cover tier one claims and $1.5 million to cover tier two claims. The defendant is also required to make a minimum payment of $1.5 million in addition to the nearly $6 million it already paid to active customers in connection with the service disruption in the form of $10 “courtesy” payments, as well as credits the defendant issued to customers “who incurred ‘certain transaction fees’” during the service disruption.
Parties file unopposed settlement requiring credit union to pay $16 million to resolve insufficient funds fee lawsuit
On October 21, class members filed an unopposed motion for preliminary approval of a class action settlement in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, which would—if approved—require a national credit union to establish a $16 million common fund, pay all settlement administration costs, and modify its account agreement policy to clarify how it assesses insufficient funds fees. The named plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the credit union alleging that its fee-assessment practices for insufficient funds violated her agreement with the credit union. According to the named plaintiff, the credit union charged multiple $29 insufficient funds fees (NSF fees) per transaction, even though she argued her contract only permitted the credit union to charge one NSF fee per transaction, “regardless of how many times the merchant re-presents the debit item or check for payment.” The credit union, however, denied that its NSF fee assessment practices violated the law or were in breach of member contracts. While the court originally dismissed the suit for failure to state a claim, on appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit stayed further proceedings to allow the parties to mediate an agreement. If approved, class members will not be required to file claims to receive settlement benefits.
On October 1, the Federal Reserve Board extended certain temporary actions that are designed to increase the availability of intraday credit to mitigate the impact of Covid-19. The temporary actions were previously announced on April 23 (previously covered here), and include: (1) suspending uncollateralized intraday credit limits and waiving overdraft fees for eligible institutions; (2) permitting a streamlined procedure to request collateralized intraday credit; and (3) suspending two collections of information that are used to calculate net debit caps. The actions are extended to March 31, 2021.
On August 20, the CFPB announced a settlement with a national bank, resolving allegations that the bank violated the EFTA, CFPA, and FCRA through the marketing and sale of its optional overdraft service. According to the consent order, the bank violated the EFTA and Regulation E by enrolling customers who orally consented to the bank’s optional overdraft program without first providing the customers with written notice, and subsequently charged those customers overdraft fees. The bank also allegedly engaged in abusive practices by, among other things, (i) requiring new customers to sign its optional overdraft notice with the “enrolled” option pre-checked without first providing written notice or, in certain instances, without mentioning the optional overdraft service to the customer at all; (ii) enrolling new customers in the optional overdraft service without requesting their oral enrollment decision; and (iii) deliberately obscuring, or attempting to obscure, the overdraft notice “to prevent a new customer’s review of their pre-marked ‘enrolled’ status” in the optional overdraft service. The CFPB also asserted the bank engaged in deceptive practices by marketing the optional overdraft service as a “free” service or benefit, downplaying the associated fees and disclosures, and by suggesting that the overdraft service was a “‘feature’ or ‘package’ that ‘comes with’ all new consumer-checking accounts, rather than as an option that new customers must opt in to.” However, the bank actually charged customers $35 for each overdraft transaction paid through the service, the CFPB alleged.
With respect to the alleged FCRA and Regulation V furnishing violations, the CFPB claimed the bank failed to establish and implement policies and procedures concerning the accuracy and integrity of the consumer-account information it furnished to two nationwide specialty consumer reporting agencies (NSCRAs). The bank also allegedly failed to implement policies or procedures for investigating customer disputes related to the furnished information, failed to timely investigate certain indirect customer disputes concerning its furnishing to one of the NSCRAs, and instructed customers who called to dispute furnished information to contact the NSCRA instead of submitting a direct dispute to the bank.
Under the terms of the consent order, the bank is required to provide approximately $97 million in restitution to roughly 1.42 million consumers and pay a $25 million civil money penalty. The bank has also agreed to (i) correct its optional overdraft service enrollment practices; (ii) stop using pre-marked overdraft notices to obtain affirmative consent from customers; (iii) provide current customers who have remained enrolled in the optional overdraft service with enrollment status details and instructions on how to unenroll from the service; and (iv) establish policies and procedures designed to ensure its furnishing practices comply with the FCRA.
On August 10, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida granted final approval of a $7.5 million settlement, resolving a decade-long multidistrict litigation concerning overdraft fees. The settlement covers allegations that a U.S.-based affiliate of an international bank charged improper assessment and collection of overdraft fees due to “high-to-low posting.” In 2012, the bank was purchased by a U.S. national bank and the national bank inherited the litigation as the successor in interest. The settlement involves over 148,000 class members, “who, from October 10, 2007 through and including March 1, 2012, incurred one or more Overdraft Fees as a result of [the bank]’s High-to-Low Posting.” The $7.5 million settlement includes $10,000 to the sole class representative and over $2.6 million to the class attorneys (representing 35% of the settlement fund).
North Carolina Attorney General announces joint relief effort for North Carolinians facing Covid-19 financial hardship
On June 4, the North Carolina attorney general announced the Carolina Relief Plan, a voluntary agreement whereby participating financial institutions will offer certain financial relief to customers facing Covid-19 financial hardships. Relief includes, among other things, allowing eligible customers to request a forbearance on residential mortgage payments not otherwise covered by the CARES Act, assistance for payment extensions of auto loan accounts, and relief from monthly maintenance fees, overdraft fees, and CD early withdrawal penalties. Under the agreement, any participating financial institution also must: (1) offer to place a moratorium on residential mortgage foreclosures and consumer auto repossessions through at least June 30, 2020; (2) refrain from reporting loans subject to Covid-19 accommodations; and (3) inform customers about the assistance they are being offered and of the heightened risk of scams. One financial institution has signed onto the relief plan as of the time of the announcement.
On May 15, the Colorado Banking and Financial Services commissioners provided additional guidance on the Safer at Home orders. The commissioners continue to encourage Colorado state-chartered financial institutions to work with affected borrowers and customers, and provide payment relief to consumers impacted by Covid-19. For example, financial institutions are encouraged to waive fees for services (e.g., overdraft fees, ATM fees) and provide accommodations such as eliminating minimum balance requirements on accounts and increasing daily withdrawal limits on ATMs.
Michigan regulator encourages financial institutions to avoid offsetting CARES Act stimulus payments
On May 14, the Michigan Department of Insurance and Financial Services issued a bulletin “strongly” urging Michigan financial institutions not to access CARES Act stimulus payments to satisfy overdrafts or to exercise any right of offset against the funds without the agreement of the customer or member. The regulator also “strongly” urged financial institutions not to use CARES Act stimulus payments for ATM, late payment, overdraft, or other fees.
On April 16, the Connecticut Department of Banking issued a letter to all Connecticut financial institutions, “strongly” urging them not to use stimulus payments to satisfy overdrafts and not to exercise any right of offset against other debts for 30 days after the payment is received without express consumer consent. If an institution’s systems automatically use the payment to satisfy an overdraft, the department urged reversing the transaction as soon as possible.
On March 31, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois dismissed proposed class action overdraft fee claims brought against a national bank and the national bank’s parent company. The plaintiff argued that the bank unfairly charged him overdraft fees for debit transactions he made using two separate merchant debit cards (known as “decoupled debit cards”) that linked to his bank account. The plaintiff contended that because the bank’s contract language stated it would not charge overdraft fees on “non-recurring” debit transactions, this language should control despite the fact that the decoupled debit cards were not issued by the bank. The plaintiff brought multiple claims against the bank, including “breach of contract, breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, unconscionability, conversion, and unjust enrichment.” The bank moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim.
The court first dismissed all claims brought against the national bank’s parent company, saying that the plaintiff combined and conflated the two entities. The court then dismissed with prejudice the plaintiff’s claims against the national bank for breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, conversion, and unjust enrichment. The court also dismissed, but without prejudice, the claims against the national bank for breach of contract and unconscionability, although the court noted that the bank’s contract language “only applies to debit cards or access devices that were issued by [the bank], unlike the decoupled debit cards at issue here.”
- Hank Asbill to discuss "The federal fraud sentencing guidelines: It's time to stop the madness" at a New York Criminal Bar Association webinar
- Daniel P Stipano to moderate "Digital identity: The next gen of CIP" at the American Bankers Association/American Bar Association Financial Crimes Enforcement Conference