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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.
On October 21, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York entered a final judgment in NYDFS’s lawsuit against the OCC challenging the agency’s Special Purpose National Bank Charter (SPNB), concluding that the regulation should be “set aside with respect to all fintech applicants seeking a national bank charter that do not accept deposits.” As previously covered by InfoBytes, in May the district court denied the OCC’s motion to dismiss the complaint by NYDFS, which argued that the agency’s decision to allow fintech companies to apply for a SPNB is a move that will destabilize financial markets more effectively regulated by the state. The court stated that because the OCC failed to rebut NYDFS’s claims that the proposed national fintech charter posed a threat to the state’s ability to establish its own laws and regulations, the challenge “is ripe for adjudication.” After the May decision, the OCC informed the court that it would be seeking final judgment in the case, and on October 7, each party submitted proposed final orders (available here and here). The proposals were “nearly identical,” according to the court, as both (i) “direct the Clerk of Court to enter final judgment in favor of plaintiff [NYDFS] and close the case,” and (ii) “provide that each party shall bear its own fees and costs.” However, NYDFS proposed “that the regulation be ‘set aside with respect to all fintech applicants seeking a national bank charter that do not accept deposits,’” while the OCC suggested the regulation only be set aside “‘with respect to all fintech applicants seeking a national bank charter that do not accept deposits, and that have a nexus to New York State…in a manner that would subject them to regulation by [NYDFS].’” The court agreed with NYDFS, concluding that the OCC “failed to identify a persuasive reason to deviate from ordinary administrative law procedure,” which requires “vacatur” of the regulation.
On September 30, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York held that the National Bank Act (NBA) does not preempt a New York law requiring interest on mortgage escrow accounts. According to the opinion, plaintiffs brought a pair of putative class actions against a national bank seeking interest on funds deposited into their mortgage escrow accounts, as required by New York General Obligation Law § 5-601. The bank moved to dismiss both complaints, arguing that the NBA preempts the state law. The district court disagreed, concluding that the plaintiffs’ claims for breach of contract can proceed, while dismissing the others. The court concluded 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.” As for the OCC’s 2004 preemption regulation, the court determined that 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). Lastly, the court 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 banks’ power to administer mortgage escrow accounts, noting that it only “requires the Bank 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.”
On June 10, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California denied a national payday lender’s motion to compel arbitration, agreeing with plaintiffs that the arbitration provision in their loan agreement was unenforceable because it was procedurally and substantively unconscionable. According to the opinion, 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 asserting that the consumers’ loan agreements contain prohibitions on class actions in court or in arbitration, require arbitration of any claims arising from a dispute related to the agreement, and disallow consumers from acting as a “private attorney general.”
The court first determined that California law applied. It concluded that, while the lender was headquartered in Kansas, the consumers obtained their loans in California, and California “has a materially greater interest than Kansas in employing its laws to resolve the instant dispute,” based on its “material and fundamental interest in maintaining a pathway to public injunctive relief in unfair competition cases.”
The court then determined that the arbitration provision was procedurally unconscionable because, even though the consumers had a 30-day opt-out window, it required them to waive statutory causes of action “before they knew any such claims existed.” Finally, because the provision contained a waiver of public injunctive relief, the court determined it was substantively unconscionable based on the California Supreme Court decision in McGill v. Citibank, N.A (covered by a Buckley Special Alert here). The court rejected the lender’s arguments that McGill was preempted under the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), noting a 2015 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, “effectively controls” the dispute and the 9th Circuit reasoned that a similar state-law rule against waivers was not preempted by the FAA. Lastly, the court held that the unconscionable public injunctive relief waiver provision was not severable from the entire arbitration provision, because the agreement contained “poison pill” language that would invalidate the entirety of the arbitration provision.
On May 30, the OCC filed a letter with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York notifying the court that it intends to work with NYDFS to issue a proposed final order to the court in the action challenging the OCC’s decision to allow fintech companies to apply for a Special Purpose National Bank Charter (SPNB). As previously covered by InfoBytes, in May, the court denied the OCC’s motion to dismiss, concluding that, among other things, the OCC failed to rebut NYDFS’s claims that the proposed national fintech charter posed a threat to the state’s ability to establish its own laws and regulations, and therefore, the challenge “is ripe for adjudication.” In its letter, the OCC states that while it “disagrees with the Court’s decision, and reserves its right to appeal, it believes that the decision renders entry of final judgment in this matter appropriate.” An entry of final judgment, would allow the OCC to challenge the decision with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit.
On May 2, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York denied the OCC’s motion to dismiss a complaint filed by NYDFS arguing that the agency’s decision to allow fintech companies to apply for a Special Purpose National Bank Charter (SPNB) is a move that will destabilize financial markets more effectively regulated by the state. (See previous InfoBytes coverage here.) The court, however, stated that because the OCC failed to rebut NYDFS’s claims that the proposed national fintech charter posed a threat to the state’s ability to establish its own laws and regulations, the challenge “is ripe for adjudication.” Specifically, NYDFS alleged that granting a national charter to fintech firms would limit its ability to regulate non-depository institutions and could potentially lead to a loss in revenue derived from assessments levied against state licensed institutions. The court rejected the OCC’s preemption arguments, writing that the “threats to New York's sovereignty are so clear that the OCC does not even mention, let alone contest, the state's interests. Instead, OCC focuses exclusively on constitutional and prudential ripeness.” The court further dismissed the OCC’s ripeness argument that it has yet to receive, review, or approve a SPNB application, and referred to NYDFS’ allegations that the OCC has “invited fintech companies . . . to discuss SPNB charters,” which potentially demonstrates “at least some demand for, and interest in, such charters.” While the court concedes that the potential for fintech companies to “flout” New York's laws would only occur once a fintech company has applied and been granted a SPNB charter, “those steps do not stymie [NYDFS’s] standing.”
In addressing NYDFS’s Administrative Procedures Act claim, the court found, among other things, that engaging in the “business of banking” under the National Bank Act (NBA) “unambiguously requires receiving deposits as an aspect of the business.” Furthermore, the court concluded that “absent a statutory provision to the contrary, only depository institutions are eligible to receive [a SPNB] from [the] OCC.” However, the court dismissed NYDFS’s claims that a SPNB charter conflicts with state law in violation of the Tenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. According to the court, while NYDFS has standing to raise a Tenth Amendment claim, it has failed to state such a claim “because federal law preempts state law only when ‘Congress has clearly expressed its intent,’” and in this instance, “the operative question is not whether the federal government has the power to take the action challenged in this case, but whether Congress has, in fact exercised that power.”
On February 8, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina dismissed a consumer’s state law claims under the North Carolina Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act and civil conspiracy claims because they were preempted by the FCRA. According to the opinion, which affirmed and adopted a Magistrate Judge’s recommendation, and also allowed the consumer’s FDCPA claims to proceed, the consumer alleged the furnisher improperly filed delinquencies on his credit report, wrongfully refused to remove the delinquencies, and improperly handled the investigation of his claims. The consumer had objected to the Magistrate’s conclusions with regard to the state law claims, arguing that the FCRA preemption was not applicable because the unfair and deceptive conduct occurred after the furnisher allegedly reported inaccurate information to the credit bureaus. The district court rejected this argument, concluding that the state law claims “run  into the teeth of the FCRA preemption provision” and are “squarely preempted” by the federal statute.
On January 25, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California granted a bank’s motion to compel arbitration in connection with a lawsuit concerning the bank’s assessment of two types of fees. According to the order, the plaintiff filed a 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 bank moved to compel arbitration pursuant to the arbitration provision in the deposit account agreement executed between the bank and the plaintiff. The plaintiff argued against arbitration, citing a California Supreme Court case, McGill v. Citibank, which held that “waivers of the right to seek public injunctive relief in any forum are unenforceable.” In response, the bank argued that (i) McGill does not apply because the plaintiff is not seeking public injunctive relief; and (ii) McGill is preempted by the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA). The court agreed with the bank, determining that the relief sought by the plaintiff would primarily benefit her, stating “any public injunctive relief sought by [plaintiff] is merely incidental to her primary aim of gaining compensation for injury.” As for preemption, the court noted that even if the McGill rule was applicable to a contract, it would not survive preemption as the U.S. Supreme Court has “consistently held that the 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.”
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- Jonice Gray Tucker and H Joshua Kotin to discuss regulatory compliance issues in the fintech industry at Protiviti's Risk & Compliance Innovation Roundtable
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- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Pathway of the SARs: Tracking trajectories of suspicious activity reports from alerts to prosecution" at the ACAMS International AML & Financial Crime Conference
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- Brandy A. Hood to discuss "RESPA 8 (TRID applied compliance)" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Michelle L. Rogers to discuss "Major litigation" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- John P. Kromer to discuss "Navigating the multi-state fintech regulatory regime" at the American Conference Institute Legal, Regulatory and Compliance Forum on Fintech & Emerging Payment Systems
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