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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.
On December 22, the Conference of State Bank Supervisors (CSBS) filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia opposing the OCC’s impending approval of a national bank charter for a financial services provider (company), arguing that the OCC is exceeding its chartering authority. According to the complaint, the company’s charter is close to being formally approved by the OCC after being “solicited, vetted and in November 2020 accepted as complete” by the agency. The complaint asserts the company will continue its lending and payment activities (which are currently state-regulated) without obtaining deposit insurance from the FDIC. The complaint alleges that the company is applying for the OCC’s nonbank charter, which was invalidated by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in October 2019 (which concluded that the OCC’s Special Purpose National Bank Charter (SPNB) should be “set aside with respect to all fintech applicants seeking a national bank charter that do not accept deposits,” covered by InfoBytes here). CSBS argues that “by accepting and imminently approving” the company’s application, the “OCC has gone far beyond the limited chartering authority granted to it by Congress under the National Bank Act (the “NBA”) and other federal banking laws,” as the company is not engaged in the “business of banking.” CSBS seeks to, among other things, have the court declare the agency’s nonbank charter program unlawful and prohibit the approval of the company’s charter under the NBA without obtaining FDIC insurance.
On December 18, the OCC released a letter clarifying the agency’s interpretation of preemption standards and requirements codified by Dodd-Frank in 12 U.S.C. § 25b. The letter notes that section 25b codifies three standards pursuant to which federal law may preempt state consumer financial law, focusing on the procedural requirements for OCC “preemption determinations,” which are “affirmative conclusion[s] by the OCC that federal law preempts a state consumer financial law” made under the Barnett standard in section 25b. The letter explains that a “preemption determination” is “limited to a regulation or order issued by the OCC that concludes that a state consumer financial law is preempted pursuant to the Barnett standard,” and does not include “[a]n OCC action that has only indirect or incidental effects on a state consumer financial law,” or when the OCC “concludes that (1) a state consumer financial law is preempted pursuant to the discriminatory effect or other federal law standards or (2) a state law other than a state consumer financial law is preempted.” The letter addresses the OCC’s authority to make preemption determinations by regulation or on a “case-by-case basis,” including the circumstances under which CFPB consultation is required, the substantial evidence standard, and the requirement to publish preemption determinations. It clarifies that the section 25b periodic review requirement applies to any OCC conclusion that a state consumer law is preempted, which is not limited to determinations made under the Barnett standard. The interpretive letter also confirms that section 25b does not affect OCC interpretations of the authority to charge interest under 12 U.S.C. § 85, addresses the level of deference the OCC is afforded with respect to its interpretations, and describes the agency’s framework for complying with the standards and requirements for preemption determinations.
On October 8, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maine granted a trade association’s motion for declaratory judgment against the Maine attorney general and the superintendent of Maine’s Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection (collectively, “defendants”) after it sued the state for enacting amendments to the Maine Fair Credit Reporting Act. The trade association—whose members include the three nationwide consumer credit reporting agencies (CRAs)—filed the lawsuit concerning the 2019 amendments, which, among other things, place restrictions on how medical debts can be reported by the CRAs and govern how CRAs must investigate debt that is allegedly a “product of ‘economic abuse.’” The trade association argued that the amendments, which attempt to regulate the contents of an individual’s consumer report, are preempted by the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). The parties’ main contention was over how broadly the language under FCRA Section 1681t(b)(1)(E) concerning “subject matter regulated under . . . [15 U.S. C. § 1681c] relating to information contained in consumer reports” should be understood. Plaintiffs argued that the language should be read to encompass all claims relating to information contained in consumer reports. The defendants, on the other hand, claimed that § 1681c should be read “as an itemized list of narrowly delineated subject matters, some of which relate to information contained in consumer reports, and only find preemption where a state imposes a requirement or prohibition that spills into one of those limited domains,” which in this case, the defendants countered, the amendments do not.
The court disagreed, concluding that, as a matter of law, the amendments are preempted by § 1681t(b)(1)(E). According to the court, Congress’ language and amendments to the FCRA’s structure “reflect an affirmative choice by Congress to set ‘uniform federal standards’ regarding the information contained in consumer credit reports,” and that “[b]y seeking to exclude additional types of information” from consumer reports, the amendments “intrude upon a subject matter that Congress has recently sought to expressly preempt from state regulation.”
On September 29, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York granted a national bank’s request for interlocutory appeal of the court’s September 2019 decision denying the dismissal of a pair of actions, which alleged that the bank violated New York law by not paying interest on escrow amounts for residential mortgages. As previously covered by InfoBytes, last September, the district court concluded that the National Bank Act (NBA) does not preempt a New York law requiring interest on mortgage escrow accounts, because 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 bank moved to amend the prior order and certify the preemption question for interlocutory appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. The court granted the motion stating that the case “presents one of the rare instances in which there would be system-wide benefits to granting an interlocutory appeal.” The court noted that certifying the question for appeal would foster an “effective and efficient judiciary” by saving the defendants and jurists “considerable time and effort” by not having to re-litigate the issue. Moreover, certifying for appeal would “materially advance the ultimate disposition of [the] litigation.”
On September 28, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York dismissed a putative class action alleging a national bank’s subsidiaries and trustee (collectively, “defendants”) violated New York usury and banking laws by charging and receiving payments at interest rates above the state’s 16 percent limits. The defendants moved to dismiss the action, arguing that the claims are preempted by the National Bank Act (NBA) because the national bank parent company, which is located in a state that does not impose interest rate limits so long as the rate is disclosed to the borrower, owned the credit card accounts underlying the securitization, and would therefore not be subject to New York’s limitations. The court agreed with the defendants, concluding that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit’s decision in Madden v. Midland Funding LLC (covered by a Buckley Special Alert) supported the premise that the NBA preempts the usury claims. Specifically, the court noted that the case is distinguishable from Madden in that the national bank retained ownership of the credit card accounts throughout securitization and thus, “maintains a continuous relationship with the customer accounts that goes beyond its designation as originator of those accounts.” The court also rejected the plaintiffs’ unjust enrichment claim, because it was duplicative of the usury claim and therefore was also preempted. Thus, the court dismissed the action in its entirety with prejudice, noting that “any pleading amendment would be futile.”
On September 22, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in a split decision, reversed the denial of a national bank’s motion to dismiss, holding that state law claims involving interest on escrow accounts were preempted by the Home Owners Loan Act (HOLA). As previously covered by InfoBytes, three plaintiffs filed suit against the bank, arguing that it must comply with a California law that requires mortgage lenders to pay interest on funds held in a consumer’s escrow account, following the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit’s decision in Lusnak v. Bank of America (covered by InfoBytes here). The bank moved to dismiss the action, arguing, among other things, that the claims were preempted by HOLA. The court acknowledged that HOLA preempted the state interest law as to the originator of the mortgages, a now-defunct federal thrift, but disagreed with the bank’s assertion that the preemption attached throughout the life of the loan, including after the loan was transferred to a bank whose own lending is not covered by HOLA. The district court granted the bank’s motion for interlocutory appeal.
On appeal, the 9th Circuit disagreed with the district court. Specifically, the appellate court applied the plain meaning of the Office of Thrift Supervision’s preemption regulation, concluding that it “extend[ed] to all state laws affecting a federal savings association, without reference to whether the conduct giving rise to a state law claim is that of a federal savings association or of a national bank.” The appellate court distinguished the case from Lusnak, noting that HOLA preemption is “triggered at a much lower threshold” than National Bank Act. Finally, the appellate court rejected the premise that applying preemption would “run afoul” of HOLA’s purpose of consumer protection, concluding that “HOLA field preemption is so broad that the traditional presumption against preemption does not apply.”
In dissent, a judge argued that the statutory and regulatory text does not support the majority’s conclusion and therefore, HOLA’s application does not excuse the national bank from California’s law requiring interest on escrow accounts.
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.