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On August 10, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California agreed to reconsider a prior decision, which granted a bank’s motion to compel arbitration in connection with a lawsuit concerning the bank’s assessment of two types of fees. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the court compelled arbitration of a plaintiff’s lawsuit asserting claims for breach of contract and violation of California’s Unfair Competition Law due to the bank’s alleged practice of charging fees for out-of-network ATM use and overdraft fees related to debit card transaction timing. The court concluded that even if the California Supreme Court case McGill v. Citibank rule— which held that an arbitration agreement is unenforceable if it constitutes a waiver of the plaintiff’s substantive right to seek public injunctive relief (covered by a Buckley Special Alert here)—was applicable to a contract, it would not survive preemption as the U.S. Supreme Court has “consistently held that the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) preempts states’ attempts to limit the scope of arbitration agreements,” and “the McGill rule is merely the latest ‘device or formula’ intended to achieve the result of rendering an arbitration agreement against public policy.”
The plaintiff moved for the court’s reconsideration after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued opinions in Blair v. Rent-ACenter, Inc. et al and McArdle v. AT&T Mobility LLC). In Blair (and similarly in McArdle), the 9th Circuit concluded that McGill was not preempted by the FAA. The appellate court found that McGill does not interfere with the bilateral nature of a typical arbitration, stating “[t]he McGill rule leaves undisturbed an agreement that both requires bilateral arbitration and permits public injunctive claims.” (Covered by InfoBytes here.)
The court granted the plaintiff’s motion, concluding that the public injunction waiver in the account agreement is “encompassed by McGill” and therefore, the arbitration agreement is “invalid and unenforceable,” and because the arbitration agreement includes a non-severability clause, the “clause plainly invalidates the entire arbitration agreement section as a result of the invalidity and unenforceability of the public injunction waiver provision therein.”
On July 9, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland denied a national bank’s request for interlocutory appeal of the court’s February decision denying the bank’s motion to dismiss an action, which alleged that the bank violated Maryland law by not paying interest on escrow sums for residential mortgages. As previously covered by InfoBytes, after the bank allegedly failed to pay interest on a consumer’s mortgage escrow account, the consumer filed suit against the bank alleging, among other things, a violation of Section 12-109 of the Maryland Consumer Protection Act (MCPA), which “requires lenders to pay interest on funds maintained in escrow on behalf of borrowers.” The court rejected the bank’s assertion that the state law is preempted by the National Bank Act (NBA) and by the OCC’s 2004 preemption regulations. The court concluded that under the Dodd-Frank Act, national banks are required to pay interest on escrow accounts when mandated by applicable state or federal law.
The bank subsequently moved for an interlocutory appeal. In denying the bank’s request, the court explained that there was not a difference of opinion among courts as to whether the NBA preempts Maryland’s interest on escrow law. Specifically, the court noted that its “conclusion aligns with the only other two courts that have examined [the] particular question,” citing to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit’s decision in Lusnak v Bank of America and the Eastern District of New York’s decision in Hymes v. Bank of America (covered by InfoBytes here and here, respectively). After finding there is no “difference of opinion as to any ‘controlling legal issue,’” the court concluded the motion failed to satisfy the requisite elements for an interlocutory appeal.
On June 24, the Director of Regulatory Policy & Policy Counsel at CSBS, Mike Townsley, wrote a blog post in response to the OCC’s Bulletin on Covid-19 preemption, arguing that the bulletin does not have the force and effect of law. As previously covered by InfoBytes, on June 17, the OCC issued a Bulletin stating that banks are governed primarily by federal standards and generally are not subject to state law limitations. The OCC acknowledged states’ efforts to respond to the economic disruptions as “well-intended,” but noted that the competing requirements could risk banks’ safety and soundness. The Bulletin also provided specific examples of the types of state laws that do not apply to banks’ lending and deposit activities.
In response, Townsley asserts that the Bulletin has no preemptive effect, because the OCC did not follow the “process required by the National Bank Act (NBA) to determine that these state COVID-19 relief measures are preempted.” Specifically, Townsley argues that through the enactment of the Dodd-Frank Act, Congress “amended the NBA to overturn the OCC’s preemption regulations and establish substantive procedural requirements for the determination of whether the NBA preempts a state law.” The requirements include a court or the OCC having to conclude that the law “‘prevents or significantly interferes with the exercise by the national bank of its powers,’” which determination, according to Townsley, if made by the OCC, must be on a case-by-case basis, and include a notice and comment period and the backing of “‘substantial evidence’ on the record.” Townsley also seeks to cast further doubt as to whether the preemption regulations cited by the Bulletin can serve as a guide on procedural grounds, observing that Dodd-Frank requires the OCC to review and decide, through notice and comment, whether to “continue or rescind” each preemption determination every five years, and it has been “well over five years” since the rules were adopted and no such review has ever been conducted. Townsley concludes by citing to the 19th century Supreme Court decision Nat'l Bank v. Commonwealth, stating that national banks “’are subject to the laws of the State.’”
On June 17, the OCC issued Bulletin 2020-62 discussing Covid-19-related relief programs and preemption, reminding stakeholders that banks are governed primarily by federal standards and generally are not subject to state law limitations. While the OCC recognizes the “well-intended” efforts by state and local governments to respond to the economic disruptions caused by the spread of Covid-19, the Bulletin states the agency is “concerned that the proliferation of a multitude of competing requirements will conflict with banks’ ability to operate effectively and efficiently,” which could harm consumers by risking the banks’ safety and soundness. The Bulletin cites to the 1996 Supreme Court decision in Barnett Bank of Marion County v. Nelson to remind stakeholders that federal law preempts state and local laws that prevent or largely interfere with a national bank’s ability to exercise its powers. The Bulletin provides specific examples of the types of state laws that do not apply to banks’ lending and deposit activities, including limitations on (i) terms of credit; (ii) disbursement and repayments; and (iii) processing, originating, and servicing mortgages. Additionally, the Bulletin notes that any state action that limits banks’ foreclosure activities beyond what is required by the CARES Act is preempted by OCC regulations. Lastly, the OCC reminds stakeholders of Bulletin 2020-43, which details its exclusive visitorial authority of banks (covered by InfoBytes here) and encourages banks to “consult with counsel to determine the applicability of any particular state or local law.”
On June 9, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit remanded a case against a payday lender back to district court because a newly issued California amendment took effect—which prohibits lenders from issuing loans between $2,500 and $10,000 with charges over 36 percent calculated as an annual simple interest rate (covered by InfoBytes here)—which may impact the court’s analysis. As also previously covered by InfoBytes, plaintiffs filed a putative class action suit against the payday lender alleging the lender sells loans with usurious interest rates, which are prohibited under California’s Unfair Competition Law and Consumer Legal Remedies Act. The lender moved to compel arbitration, but the district court concluded the arbitration provision was unenforceable. In addition to finding the arbitration provisions procedurally unconscionable, the court found that the provision contained a waiver of public injunctive relief, which was substantively unconscionable based on the California Supreme Court decision in McGill v. Citibank, N.A (covered by a Buckley Special Alert here).
On appeal, the 9th Circuit remanded the case back to the district court to reconsider whether the consumer’s requested injunction enjoining the payday lender from issuing loans above $10,000 would actually prevent a threat of future harm in light of the new California law and considering the operative complaint does not allege the lender issued or continues to issue loans above $10,000. Additionally, the appellate court rejected the lender’s arguments that McGill was preempted under the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) and agreed with the district court’s application of California law, because “Kansas law is contrary to California policy and  California holds a materially greater interest in this litigation.”
On June 1, the Conference of State Bank Supervisors (CSBS) submitted a comment letter in response to the CFPB’s Taskforce on Federal Consumer Financial Law’s request for information (RFI). As previously covered by InfoBytes, the taskforce issued the RFI in March seeking input on consumer protection areas for the taskforce to focus its research and analysis, and requesting suggestions for “harmonizing, modernizing, and updating the federal consumer financial laws.” In the letter, CSBS expresses significant concerns regarding the timing of the RFI due to the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as the content of the RFI itself. The letter conveys state regulator concerns over the RFI’s “inclusion of inquiries soliciting input on whether additional preemption of state laws and state regulatory authority is warranted” and highlights the absence of questions asking whether less federal preemption is warranted. According to the letter, “the inclusion of outcome-oriented questions focused on expanding preemption of state authority raises serious questions regarding the objectivity and mission of the Taskforce.” The letter also notes that state regulators and the CFPB have exercised “concurrent regulatory, supervisory, and enforcement authority,” while retaining independent authority, and that coordinated efforts have “fostered a more efficient and effective regulatory system.” The fact that former state regulators are not represented on the taskforce raises several concerns for the state regulators: “This spirit of coordination and collaboration does not seem to be reflected in the timing or content of the request for information, and we fear, the future work of the Taskforce,” the letter states.
California State Assembly Banking and Finance Committee issues memorandum on Covid-19 banking and finance issues
On March 20, the California State Assembly Banking and Finance Committee issued a memorandum noting that state authority over large national banks “is significantly constrained by federal law.” The memorandum provides that, under the National Bank Act and related case law, courts have widely upheld federal preemption over state laws that “interfere with the business of banking.” As such, courts “would likely stop any attempts by the state to force banks to limit rates or fees, demand forbearance or loan modifications, or require banks to make certain loans.” While state officials may urge national banks to give their borrowers relief, “these requests do not carry the force of law.” The memorandum also discusses mortgage rates and home sales, noting that in the event that mortgage rates increase and negatively affect the real estate market, “state legislators have limited tools to address such problems.”
On January 21, a bipartisan collation of attorneys general from 21 states and the District of Columbia, along with the Hawaii Office of Consumer Protection, submitted a comment letter in response to the OCC’s proposed rule to clarify that when a national bank or savings association sells, assigns, or otherwise transfers a loan, the interest permissible prior to the transfer continues to be permissible following the transfer. (See Buckley Special Alert on the proposed rule.) The coalition, led by California, Illinois, and New York, urges the OCC to withdraw the proposed rule. Among their concerns, the AGs argue that the OCC’s proposal conflicts with the National Bank Act and Dodd-Frank, exceeds the OCC’s statutory authority, and is in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act. Specifically, the AGs claim that the proposed rule conflicts with National Bank Act (NBA) provisions that grant benefits of federal preemption only to national banks and no one else. Moreover, the AGs assert that Congress explicitly stated in Dodd-Frank that “that the benefits of federal preemption provided by the NBA accrue only to [n]ational [b]anks,” (emphasis in original) and argue that the proposed rule would contravene “this important limitation” and “cloak non-banks in [the NBA’s] preemptive power.” Moreover, the NBA sections say “nothing about interest chargeable by assignees, transferees, or purchasers of bank loans,” the AGs write.
The AGs also argue that the proposed rule would facilitate predatory “rent-a-bank schemes” by allowing non-bank entities to ignore state interest rate caps and usury laws. “The OCC has not addressed, even summarily, how the [p]roposed [r]ule, if adopted, will serve to incentivize and sanction predatory rent-a-bank schemes,” the AGs state. “This failure to consider the substantial negative consequences this rule would have on consumer financial protection across the country renders the OCC’s [p]roposed [r]ule arbitrary and capricious.” Furthermore, the AGs contend that the OCC’s proposed rule contains no factual findings or reasoned analysis to support its proposal to extend NBA preemption to all non-bank entities that purchase loans from national banks. “[T]his is beyond the agency’s power,” the AGs argue, asserting that “[t]he OCC simply ‘may not rewrite clear statutory terms to suit its own sense of how the statute should operate.’”
On December 4, the Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing titled “Examining Legislative Proposals to Protect Consumer Data Privacy” to discuss how to “provide consumers with more security, transparency, choice, and control over personal information both online and offline.” Among the issues discussed at the hearing was how consumer privacy rights should be enforced. As previously covered by InfoBytes, some FTC commissioners, at a hearing earlier this year, expressed that authorization to enforce federal privacy laws should vest not only in the FTC, but also in the states’ attorneys general. At the Senate hearing, there was testimony suggesting that the FTC is spread too thin to be in charge of enforcing new privacy laws. At least one witness championed state privacy regulation, while other witnesses endorsed preemption of the state laws by the envisioned federal privacy law. Although different views were expressed regarding what the law should look like, the hearing participants generally seemed to agree that a federal privacy law may be needed now in light of recent state legislative agendas and, as one Senator raised, the growing use of artificial intelligence.
On November 21, six Democratic Senators wrote to OCC Comptroller Joseph Otting and FDIC Chairman Jelena Williams to strongly oppose recent proposed rules by the agencies (see OCC notice here and FDIC notice here). As previously covered by a Buckley Special Alert, the OCC and FDIC proposed rules reassert the “valid-when-made doctrine,” which states that loan interest that is permissible when the loan is made to a bank remains permissible after the loan is transferred to a nonbank. In the letter, the Senators suggest that the proposed rules enable non-bank lenders to avoid state interest rate limits. According to the letter, the proposed rules would encourage “payday and other non-bank lenders to launder their loans through banks so that they can charge whatever interest rate federally-regulated banks may charge.” Additionally, the letter urges both agencies to consider their past declarations against “rent-a-bank” schemes, and contends that the agencies should not attempt to address Madden v. Midland Funding, LLC, which rejected the valid-when-made doctrine, through rulemaking, but should instead leave such lawmaking to Congress.
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Driving to one-click: The new point of sale" at the American Bar Association Business Law Virtual Section Meeting
- Amanda R. Lawrence to discuss "New privacy legislation: Preparing for a major source of class action and enforcement activity going forward" at the American Conference Institute Consumer Finance Class Actions, Litigation & Government Enforcement Actions
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Making customers whole: Trends in remediation and restitution expectations" at the American Bar Association Business Law Virtual Section Meeting
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Fairness gone viral: Fair lending considerations for financial institutions amid Covid-19" at the American Bar Association Business Law Virtual Section Meeting
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "High standards: Best practices for banking marijuana-related businesses" at the ACAMS AML & Anti-Financial Crime Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Wait wait ... do tell me! Where the panelists answer to you" at the ACAMS AML & Anti-Financial Crime Conference
- Matthew P. Previn and Walter E. Zalenski to discuss "Is valid when made ... valid?" at the Women in Housing & Finance Partner Series webinar
- Warren W. Traiger and Caroline K. Eisner to discuss "CRA modernization" at CBA Live
- Daniel R. Alonso to discuss "Transnational corruption: A chat with former U.S. federal prosecutors in New York" at Marval Live Talks
- Sherry-Maria Safchuk and Lauren Frank to discuss "New CFPB interpretation on UDAAP" at a California Mortgage Bankers Association Mortgage Quality and Compliance Committee webinar
- Thomas A. Sporkin to discuss "Managing internal investigations and advanced government defense" at the Securities Enforcement Forum
- Daniel R. Alonso to discuss "Independent monitoring in the United States" at the World Compliance Association Peru Chapter IV International Conference on Compliance and the Fight Against Corruption
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "The future of fair lending" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Michelle L. Rogers to discuss "Major litigation" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Kathryn L. Ryan to discuss "Pandemic fallout – Navigating practical operational challenges" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Consumer financial services" at the Practising Law Institute Banking Law Institute