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On December 7, in a speech before the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) meeting, CFPB Director Rohit Chopra discussed the importance state partnerships play in enforcing consumer financial protection laws. In addressing the dangers of federal preemption over state consumer protection measures, Chopra highlighted data covering the 2007-2009 mortgage crisis, in which a 2010 study from the University of North Carolina claimed that “the OCC’s 2004 preemption in markets directly contributed to the sub-prime mortgage crises” and “resulted in deterioration in the quality of, and increase in the default risk for, mortgages originated by OCC lenders in states with strong anti-predatory lending laws.” Chopra warned that while Congress has limited the OCC’s ability to impact state consumer protection enforcement, actions that attempt to preempt stronger state consumer protection laws are “fundamentally wrong.”
To combat this, Chopra said he is considering changes that would expand state attorney general authority to enforce many federal consumer protection laws, including the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA), which prohibits unfair, deceptive, and abusive practices, particularly in situations where “federal protections are stronger than state statutes.” These changes would allow states to pursue action, provided notice is given to the Bureau before filing a complaint. Chopra said he is also exploring ways to provide states more access to remedies available under the CFPA, such as civil money penalties that states could “use to bolster deterrence” in addition to access of the Bureau’s victim relief fund to provide compensation to affected consumers in state enforcement actions (the fund is currently only available in actions involving the Bureau). In the meantime, Chopra stated the Bureau is reviewing notifications from states so the agency can join actions as appropriate.
Chopra also repeated his warning about reining in repeat offenders and reiterated the need for “exploring all possible remedies,” including those directed at senior management and executive levels, to address recidivism and reshape behavior and incentives. Chopra cautioned that companies cannot be allowed “to weave in and out of state and federal regulatory oversight” and that the Bureau and the states need to “look after one another’s orders.” He stated that the Bureau intends to alert states when it “find[s] their orders are being flouted.”
On October 5, a federal judge for the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania remanded a case back to state court, holding that the Federal Reserve’s regulation governing Fedwire transfers does not completely preempt state law claims. The elderly plaintiff alleged that bank employees helped her execute wire transfers totaling $4.3 million to an unknown scam artist, but never questioned whether she “intended, or knew, that the wire transfers were being made through a crypto currency bank to a crypto currency trust company.” The plaintiff sued the bank, claiming that it was negligent in not protecting her from the scheme, and that its advertising claims about keeping client information safe from scams were misleading and violated Pennsylvania’s Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law. While recognizing that the plaintiff only asserted state law claims, the bank removed the case to federal court on the ground that the Fedwire system used to make the transfers was governed by the Fed’s Regulation J, and thus state law was preempted.
The court ruled that, while the bank could invoke Regulation J as a defense, the regulation does not expressly provide a private right to seek redress in federal court, nor does the regulation itself allow the bank to remove the case to federal court. “[T]he court concludes that the more persuasive case law reflects that only Congress (not a federal agency in a regulation) can completely preempt a state law cause of action to create removal jurisdiction.” The plaintiff did not assert federal claims, and so “[t]he mere fact that [the bank] intends to assert Regulation J as a preemption defense does not create removal jurisdiction.” Furthermore, the court cited the Fed’s commentary to Regulation J, which said regulations “may pre-empt inconsistent provisions of state law” but do not affect state law where there was no conflict. Since there was no conflict between Regulation J and the Pennsylvania law, the federal regulation does not provide the exclusive cause of action, the court said.
On August 24, the OCC filed a statement of recent decision in support of its motion for summary judgment in an action brought against the agency by several state attorneys general challenging the OCC’s final rule on “Permissible Interest on Loans that are Sold, Assigned, or Otherwise Transferred” (known also as the valid-when-made rule). The final rule was designed to effectively reverse the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit’s 2015 Madden v. Midland Funding decision and provide that “[i]nterest on a loan that is permissible under [12 U.S.C. § 85 for national bank or 12 U.S.C. § 1463(g)(1) for federal thrifts] shall not be affected by the sale, assignment, or other transfer of the loan.” (Covered by a Buckley Special Alert.) The states’ challenge argued that the rule “impermissibly preempts state law,” is “contrary to the plain language” of section 85 (and section 1463(g)(1)), and “contravenes the judgment of Congress,” which declined to extend preemption to non-banks. Moreover, the states contended that the OCC “failed to give meaningful consideration” to the commentary received regarding the rule, essentially enabling “‘rent-a-bank’ schemes.” (Covered by InfoBytes here.) Both parties sought summary judgment, with the OCC arguing that the final rule validly interprets the National Bank Act (NBA) and that not only does the final rule reasonably interpret the “gap” in section 85, it is consistent with section 85’s “purpose of facilitating national banks’ ability to operate their nationwide lending programs.” Moreover, the OCC asserted that 12 U.S.C. § 25b’s preemption standards do not apply to the final rule, because, among other things, the OCC “has not concluded that a state consumer financial law is being preempted.” (Covered by InfoBytes here.)
In its August 24 filing, the OCC brought to the court’s attention a recent order issued by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Wisconsin court reviewed claims under the FDCPA and the Wisconsin Consumer Act (WCA) against a debt-purchasing company and a law firm hired by the company to recover outstanding debt and purported late fees on the plaintiff’s account in a separate state-court action. Among other things, the court examined whether the state law’s notice and right-to-cure provisions were federally preempted by the NBA, as the original creditor’s rights and duties were assigned to the debt-purchasing company when the account was sold. The court ultimately concluded that the WCA provisions “are inapplicable to national banks by reason of federal preemption,” and, as such, the court found “that a debt collector assigned a debt from a national bank is likewise exempt from those requirements” and was not required to send the plaintiff a right-to-cure letter “as a precondition to accelerating his debt or filing suit against him.”
On August 9, the U.S. Department of Education published an interpretation, noting “that there is significant space for State laws and regulations relating to student loan servicing, to the extent that these laws and regulations are not preempted by the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended (HEA), and other applicable Federal laws.” The interpretation clarifies the Department’s position on the legality of state laws and regulations regarding certain aspects of federal student loan servicing, such as preventing unfair or deceptive practices, correcting misapplied payments, or addressing refusals to communicate with borrowers. According to the interpretation, though federal law preempts state laws that conflict squarely on issues such as timelines, dispute resolution procedures, and collections, the Department believes that it does not preempt state laws regarding affirmative misrepresentations or other measures meant to address improper conduct that could occur in Federal Family Education Loan Program. The Department stated that “[s]tates may consider and adopt additional measures which protect borrowers and do not conflict with Federal law,” and that “such measures can be enforced by the States and the Department can and will work with State officials to root out all forms of fraud, falsehood, and improper conduct that may occur in the Federal student aid programs.” According to the Department, “[t]his action will help states enforce borrower bills of rights or other similar laws to address issues with servicing of federal student loans.” The new interpretation revokes and supersedes the interpretation published in March 2018, “Federal Preemption and State Regulation of the Department of Education’s Federal Student Loan Programs and Federal Student Loan Servicers” (covered by InfoBytes here). Comments are due 30 days after publication in the Federal Register.
On July 7, the Conference of State Bank Supervisors (CSBS) and the North American Collection Agency Regulatory Association (NACARA) sent a letter to Department of Education Secretary Miguel Cardona urging the Department to rescind recent policies “claiming preemption or otherwise impairing state regulation of federal student loan servicers and debt collectors.” The letter acknowledges steps taken by the Department to facilitate coordination and collaboration with state financial regulators but notes that additional action is required to accomplish a shared mission of protecting student borrowers. Among other things, the letter discusses several Department actions taken over the years, including the Department’s 2018 position that state regulation of servicers of loans made under the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program and the Federal Family Education Loan Program is preempted by federal law. The letter urges the Department “to rescind the 2018 preemption notice and formally recognize that state oversight and regulation is fully applicable to federal student loan servicers and debt collectors, entirely appropriate, and not in conflict with the purpose of the [Higher Education Act].” The letter also discusses revised guidance issued in May concerning the handling of outside requests for Department records and data. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the revised guidance supersedes the Department’s 2017 guidance and creates a “streamlined and expedited process” for reviewing information requests made by any state or federal authority for information pertaining to companies engaged in student loan lending or collections. However, CSBS and NACARA emphasize that the Department should “recognize that state financial regulators are independently authorized to access records in possession of the federal student loan servicers and debt collectors subject to state regulation.” Additionally, the letter requests, among other things, that the Department take additional action deemed necessary to “fully return” to a policy of collaboration for protecting student loan borrowers, pointing out that timing is important as most federal student loan repayments resume in October.
On June 17, eight state attorneys general (from California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, and the District of Columbia) filed an opposition to the FDIC’s motion for summary judgment and reply in support of their motion for summary judgment in a lawsuit challenging the FDIC’s “valid-when-made rule.” As previously covered by InfoBytes, last August the AGs filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California arguing, among other things, that the FDIC does not have the power to issue the rule, and asserting that the FDIC has the power to issue “‘regulations to carry out’ the provisions of the [Federal Deposit Insurance Act]” but not regulations that would apply to non-banks. The AGs also claimed that the rule’s extension of state law preemption would “facilitate evasion of state law by enabling ‘rent-a-bank’ schemes,” and that the FDIC failed to explain its consideration of evidence contrary to its assertions, including evidence demonstrating that “consumers and small businesses are harmed by high interest-rate loans.” The complaint asked the court to declare that the FDIC violated the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) in issuing the rule and to hold the rule unlawful. The FDIC countered in May (covered by InfoBytes here) that the AGs’ arguments “misconstrue” the rule, which “does not regulate non-banks, does not interpret state law, and does not preempt state law.” Rather, the FDIC argued that the rule clarifies the FDIA by “reasonably” filling in “two statutory gaps” surrounding banks’ interest rate authority.
In response, the AGs argued that the rule violates the APA because the FDIC’s interpretation in its “Non-Bank Interest Provision” (Provision) conflicts with the unambiguous plain-language statutory text, which preempts state interest-rate caps for federally insured, state-chartered banks and insured branches of foreign banks (FDIC Banks) alone, and “impermissibly expands the scope of § 1831d to preempt state rate caps as to non-bank loan buyers of FDIC Bank loans.” Additionally, the AGs challenged the FDIC’s claim that its Provision “does not implicate rent-a-bank schemes or the true lender doctrine because the Provision only applies ‘if a bank actually made the loan,’” emphasizing that the FDIC’s “mere statement that it does not condone rent-a-bank schemes” is insufficient and that “choosing to not address true-lender issues is an insufficient response to comments that the Provision creates significant uncertainty about those issues.” Moreover, the AGs claimed that the Provision is “arbitrary and capricious” and fails to meaningfully address valid concerns and criticisms raised by commenters, and that the rule constitutes “in substance if not form, a reversal of the FDIC’s previous stance” that the FDIC is “obligated to acknowledge and explain.”
On June 16, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia entered an order staying litigation in a lawsuit filed by the Conference of State Bank Supervisors (CSBS) challenging the OCC’s authority to issue Special Purpose National Bank Charters (SPNB). (Covered by InfoBytes here.) Earlier this year, the OCC responded to CSBS’s opposition to the agency’s alleged impending approval of an SPNB for a financial services provider (proposed bank), in which CSBS argued that the OCC was exceeding its chartering authority (covered by InfoBytes here). The OCC countered that the same fatal flaws that pervaded CSBS’s prior challenges, i.e., that its challenge is unripe and CSBS lacks standing, still remain (covered by InfoBytes here). Moreover, the agency argued, among other things, that the cited application (purportedly curing CSBS’s prior ripeness issues) is not for an SPNB (the proposed bank that has applied for the charter would conduct a full range of services, including deposit taking), but that even it if was an application for an SPNB charter, there are multiple additional steps that need to occur prior to the OCC issuing the charter, which made the challenge unripe.
According to CSBS’s unopposed motion to stay litigation, a “90-day stay would conserve the [p]arties’ and the [c]ourt’s resources by avoiding potentially unnecessary briefing and oral argument.” Further, in referring to acting Comptroller Michael Hsu’s testimony to the U.S. House of Representatives—in which he stated that “the OCC is currently reviewing various regulatory standards and pending actions, including the OCC’s framework for chartering national banks”—CSBS noted that the OCC has represented that it anticipates this review period will take approximately 90 days and that it does not intend to take any action towards granting a charter to the proposed bank during this period. Following the conclusion of the 90-day stay, the parties agreed to confer and submit to the court a joint status report on or before September 27 “addressing the status of the OCC’s plans with respect to processing applications for uninsured national bank charters, including the [proposed bank’s] charter application, and the [p]arties’ proposed schedule for proceeding with or resolving the present case.”
On June 15, the OCC filed an amicus curiae brief in support of a defendant-appellant national bank in an appeal challenging a requirement under New York General Obligation Law § 5-601 that a defined interest rate be paid on mortgage escrow account balances. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the bank argued that the National Bank Act (NBA) preempts the state law, but the district court disagreed and issued a ruling in 2019 concluding that there is “clear evidence that Congress intended mortgage escrow accounts, even those administered by national banks, to be subject to some measure of consumer protection regulation.” The district court also determined that, with respect to the OCC’s 2004 real estate lending preemption regulation (2004 regulation), there is no evidence that “at this time, the agency gave any thought whatsoever to the specific question raised in this case, which is whether the NBA preempts escrow interest laws,” citing to and agreeing with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit’s decision in Lusnak v. Bank of America (which held that a national bank must comply with a California law that requires mortgage lenders to pay interest on mortgage escrow accounts, previously covered by InfoBytes here). The district court further applied the preemption standard from the 1996 Supreme Court decision in Barnett Bank of Marion County v. Nelson, and found that the law does not “significantly interfere” with the bank’s power to administer mortgage escrow accounts, noting that it only “requires the [b]ank to pay interest on the comparatively small sums” deposited into the accounts and does not “bar the creation of mortgage escrow accounts, or subject them to state visitorial control, or otherwise limit the terms of their use.”
In its amicus brief filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, the OCC wrote that it “respectfully submits that the [appellate court] should reverse the decision of the [d]istrict [c]ourt and find that application of Section 5-601 to [the bank] is preempted by federal law,” adding that the 2019 ruling “upsets…settled legal principles” and “creates uncertainty regarding national banks’ authority to fully exercise real estate lending powers under the [NBA].” In addressing the district court’s application of Barnett, the OCC argued that the district court had incorrectly concluded that state laws cannot be preempted unless they “practical[ly] abrogat[e] or nullif[y] a national bank’s exercise of a federal banking power—a “stark contrast to the preemption standard set forth in Barnett and the OCC’s—as well as many other federal courts’—interpretation of that standard.” The OCC urged the appellate court to “conclude that a state law that requires a national bank to pay even a nominal rate of interest on a particular category of account impermissibly conflicts with a national bank’s power by disincentivizing the bank from continuing to offer the product. This is sufficient to trigger preemption under Barnett.”
The OCC further stated, among other things, that the district court also incorrectly disregarded the agency’s 2004 regulation, which the OCC said “specifically authorizes national banks to exercise their powers to make real estate loans ‘without regard to state law limitations concerning…[e]scrow accounts, impound accounts, and similar accounts….’” The agency further cautioned that the district court’s determination that the OCC’s 2004 regulation was not entitled to any level of deference was done in error and warned that “[i]f the OCC’s regulation regarding escrow accounts is rendered ineffective, this result could cause disruption within the banking industry by upsetting long-settled law regarding the applicability of state laws to national bank powers.”
On April 29, the OCC responded to the Conference of State Bank Supervisors’ (CSBS) most recent challenge to the OCC’s authority to issue Special Purpose National Bank Charters (SPNB). As previously covered by InfoBytes, CSBS filed a complaint last December opposing the OCC’s alleged impending approval of an SPNB for a financial services provider, arguing that the OCC is exceeding its chartering authority.
The OCC countered, however, that the same fatal flaws that pervaded CSBS’s prior challenges (covered by InfoBytes here), i.e., that its challenge is unripe and CSBS lacks standing, still remain. According to the OCC, the cited application (purportedly curing CSBS’s prior ripeness issues) is not for an SPNB—the proposed bank would conduct a full range of services, including deposit taking. Further, the OCC stated, even it if was an application for a SPNB charter, there are multiple additional steps that need to occur prior to the OCC issuing the charter, which made the challenge unripe. As to standing, the OCC asserted that any alleged injury to CSBS or its members is purely speculative. Finally, the OCC contended that CSBS’s challenge fails on the merits because the challenge relies on the premise that the company’s application must be for a SPNB, not a national bank, because the company is not going to apply for deposit insurance but there is no requirement in the National Bank Act, the Federal Deposit Insurance Act, or the Federal Reserve Act that requires all national banks to acquire FDIC insurance.
On January 14, the OCC moved for summary judgment in an action filed by the California, Illinois, and New York attorneys general (collectively, “states”) challenging the OCC’s valid-when-made rule, arguing that the challenge is without merit and that the agency “reasonably interprets the ‘gap’ in [12 U.S.C. § 85] concerning what happens when a national bank sells, assigns, or transfers a loan.” As previously covered by InfoBytes, the OCC’s final rule was designed to effectively reverse the Second Circuit’s 2015 Madden v. Midland Funding decision and provides that “[i]nterest on a loan that is permissible under [12 U.S.C. § 85 for national bank or 12 U.S.C. § 1463(g)(1) for federal thrifts] shall not be affected by the sale, assignment, or other transfer of the loan.” The states challenged the rule, arguing that it is “contrary to the plain language” of section 85 (and section 1463(g)(1)) and “contravenes the judgment of Congress,” which declined to extend preemption to non-banks. Moreover, the states contend that the OCC “failed to give meaningful consideration” to the commentary received regarding the rule, essentially enabling “‘rent-a-bank’ schemes.”
In response, the OCC argued that not only does the final rule reasonably interpret the “gap” in section 85, it is consistent with section 85’s “purpose of facilitating national banks’ ability to operate their nationwide lending programs.” Moreover, the agency asserts that 12 U.S.C. § 25b’s preemption standards do not apply to the final rule, because, among other things, the OCC “has not concluded that a state consumer financial law is being preempted.” The final rule “addresses only the ‘substantive [ ] meaning’ of § 85” and Congress “expressly exempted OCC’s interpretations of § 85 from § 25b’s requirements.” Lastly, the OCC argued that it made an “informed and reasoned decision,” including addressing issues raised during the public comment period. Thus, the court should uphold the final rule and affirm summary judgment for the agency.
- Kathryn L. Ryan to discuss "State licensing and NMLS challenges" at MBA’s Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Fair lending and equal opportunity laws” at the MBA Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Jeffrey P. Naimon to discuss “Contemplating the boundaries of UDAAP” at the MBA Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Steven vonBerg to speak at closing “super session“ on compliance topics at MBA Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Buckley Webcast: Fifth Circuit muddles CFPB’s plans to use in-house judges in enforcement proceedings
- Jeffrey P. Naimon to discuss “Understanding the ESG impact on compliance” at the ABA’s Regulatory Compliance Conference