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  • En banc 5th Circuit declares FHFA structure unconstitutional, allows net worth sweep claims to proceed

    Courts

    On September 6, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit reaffirmed, in an en banc rehearing, that the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) structure violates constitutional separation of powers requirements and allowed “net worth sweep” claims brought by a group of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (government-sponsored entities or GSEs) shareholders to proceed. As previously covered by InfoBytes, GSE shareholders brought an action against the U.S. Department of Treasury and FHFA arguing that (i) the FHFA acted outside its statutory authority when it adopted a dividend agreement that requires the GSEs to pay quarterly dividends equal to their entire net worth to the Treasury Department (known as “net worth sweep”); and (ii) the structure of the FHFA is unconstitutional because it violates separation of powers principles. The district court dismissed the shareholder’s statutory claims and granted summary judgment in favor of the Treasury Department and the FHFA on the separation of powers claim. On appeal, the 5th Circuit agreed with the lower court on the first claim, concluding that the net worth sweep payments were acceptable under the FHFA’s statutory authority and that the FHFA was lawfully established by Congress through the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 (HERA), which places restraints on judicial review. However, the appellate court reversed the lower court’s decision on the separation of powers claim, concluding that Congress went too far in insulating the FHFA’s single director from removal by the president for anything other than cause, ruling that the agency’s structure violates Article II of the Constitution. 

    After an en banc rehearing, the appellate court issued two separate majority opinions. Both opinions concluded that (i) the GSE shareholders plausibly alleged that the net worth sweep exceed the powers of the FHFA when acting as a conservator under HERA; and (ii) the FHFA’s structure—which provides the director with “for cause” removal protection—violates the Constitution’s separation of powers requirements. However, the opinions differed on the appropriate remedy, with nine judges concluding that the remedy should be severance of the for-cause provision, not prospective relief invalidating the net worth sweep, stating that “the Shareholders’ ongoing injury, if indeed there is one, is remedied by a declaration that the “for cause” restriction is declared removed. We go no further.”

    Various dissenting opinions were issued, including one signed by seven judges concluding that the FHFA acted within its statutory powers under HERA when it adopted the net worth sweep, stating “the FHFA’s ‘powers are many and mostly discretionary.’” In another dissenting opinion, four judges argued that the majority opinions wrongly concluded that the FHFA’s structure is unconstitutional, arguing that there are “only reasons for caution and skepticism, and none for action” in the constitutional claim. “Neither the Constitution’s text, nor the Supreme Court’s constructions thereof, nor the adversary process in this litigation has given us much ground on which to declare the FHFA’s design unconstitutional,” the judges argued.

    Given the similarities of the FHFA’s single director structure with that of the CFPB, this case warrants close attention as it has the potential to create a vehicle for consideration by the Supreme Court of the constitutionality of single director agencies.

    Courts Appellate Fifth Circuit En Banc FHFA Fannie Mae Freddie Mac GSE Single-Director Structure HERA Congress

  • Democratic members ask FSOC to deem cloud providers as "systemically important"

    Privacy, Cyber Risk & Data Security

    On August 22, two members of the U.S. House of Representatives, Katie Porter (D-Calif.) and Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.), sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Treasury requesting that the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) consider designating the three leading providers of cloud-based storage systems for the financial industry as systemically important financial market utilities. The letter is in response to the recent data breach announcement by a national bank (covered by InfoBytes here), where an alleged former employee of the bank’s cloud-based storage system gained unauthorized access to the personal information of credit card customers and people who had applied for credit card products. According to the Congresswomen, 57 percent of the cloud services market is “cornered by” three main providers, and “a lack of substitutability for the services provided by these very few firms creates systemic risk.” The letter argues that cloud services are not currently subject to an enforced regulatory regime and, “[w]ithout a dedicated regulatory regime proportional and tailored to their very unique structure and risks, cloud comparing companies will continue to evade supervision.”

    Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security Data Breach Credit Cards FSOC Congress

  • 4th Circuit: No waiver of sovereign immunity for lawsuits under the FCRA

    Courts

    On March 6, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit held that Congress did not waive sovereign immunity for lawsuits under the FCRA, affirming the lower court’s dismissal of a consumer action. According to the opinion, a consumer filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education (the Department), a student loan company, and the three major credit reporting agencies, alleging numerous claims, including violations of the FCRA for failing to properly investigate disputes that federal student loans were fraudulently opened in his name. The Department filed a motion to dismiss to the FCRA claims against it arguing the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction based upon a claim of sovereign immunity. The lower court agreed, holding Congress had not affirmatively waived sovereign immunity for suits under the FCRA.

    On appeal, the 4th Circuit agreed with the lower court. The appellate court noted that, although the FCRA includes a “government or governmental subdivision or agency” as part of the definition of “person” in the statute, there is a “longstanding interpretive presumption that ‘person’ does not include the sovereign,” and that waivers of sovereign immunity need to be “unambiguous and unequivocal.” The appellate court noted that Congress waived immunity in other sections of the FCRA, which were not at issue in this case and, had Congress waived immunity for enforcement purposes under the FCRA, it would raise a new host of “befuddling” and “bizarre” issues, such as the prospect of the government bringing criminal charges against itself. Therefore, the appellate court concluded that the federal government may be a “person” under the substantive provisions, but that without a clear waiver from Congress, the federal government is still immune from lawsuits under the FCRA’s enforcement provisions.

    Courts FCRA Congress Sovereign Immunity Student Lending Appellate Fourth Circuit Department of Education

  • President Trump signs National Flood Insurance Program extension

    Federal Issues

    On July 31, President Trump signed the “National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) Extension Act of 2018” into law (see Public Law 115-225/S. 1182). The NFIP was set to expire that day. The short-term extension, which the Senate passed earlier that day, reauthorizes the NFIP through November 30, and provides Congress additional time to establish a long-term financial solution.

    Visit here for continuing InfoBytes coverage on the NFIP.

    Federal Issues Trump Congress Flood Insurance National Flood Insurance Program

  • 5th Circuit rules FHFA structure violates Constitution’s separation of powers

    Courts

    On July 16, in a divided opinion, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part a lower court’s decision that addressed two claims brought by a group of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (government-sponsored entities or GSEs) shareholders: (i) whether the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) acted within its statutory authority when it adopted a dividend agreement, which requires the GSEs to turn over every quarter “dividends equal to their entire net worth” to the Treasury Department; and (ii) whether the structure of the FHFA is unconstitutional and in violation of the separation of powers. The lower court previously dismissed the shareholder’s statutory claims and granted summary judgment in favor of the Treasury Department and the FHFA on the constitutional claim. In addressing the first claim, the appellate court agreed with the lower court and found the government-sponsored entities’ payments acceptable under the agency’s statutory authority and that the FHFA was lawfully established by Congress through the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008, which places restrains on judicial review. However, the appellate court reversed the lower court’s decision as to the second claim and agreed with shareholders that Congress went too far in insulating the FHFA’s single director from removal by the president for anything other than cause, ruling that the agency’s structure violates Article II of the Constitution. “We hold that Congress insulated the FHFA to the point where the Executive Branch cannot control the FHFA or hold it accountable,” the opinion stated. The divided appellate panel remanded to the lower court for further proceedings.

    Earlier this year, in response to a challenge to the CFPB's single-director structure, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit en banc upheld the CFPB’s constitutionality in a 7-3 decision (see Buckley Sandler Special Alert). The 5th Circuit is also scheduled to hear a challenge by two Mississippi-based payday loan and check cashing companies to the constitutionality of the CFPB’s single-director structure, in which 14 state Attorney General filed an amici curiae brief encouraging the appellate court to disagree with the en banc decision of the D.C. Circuit. (See previous InfoBytes coverage here and here.)

    Courts Appellate Fifth Circuit FHFA Fannie Mae Freddie Mac Congress CFPB Single-Director Structure

  • Federal Reserve submits annual report to Congress on credit card profitability of depository institutions

    Federal Issues

    In July, the Federal Reserve Board submitted its annual report to Congress on the profitability of credit cards as required by Section 8 of the Fair Credit and Charge Card Disclosure Act of 1988. The Report to Congress on the Profitability of Credit Card Operations of Depository Institutions (the Report) focuses on credit card banks with assets exceeding $200 million meeting the following criteria: (i) more than 50 percent of assets are loans made to individual consumers; and (ii) 90 percent or more of consumer lending involves credit cards or related plans. As of December 31, 2017, the 12 banks that met this criteria accounted for almost 50 percent of outstanding credit card balances on the books of depository institutions. According to the Report, credit card loans have replaced other methods of borrowing, such as closed-end installment loans and personal lines of credit. In the aggregate, “consumers carried slightly over $1 trillion in outstanding balances on their revolving accounts as of the end of 2017, about 6.1 percent higher than the level at the end of 2016.” While the Report notes the difficulty with tracking credit card profitability due to revisions in accounting rules and other factors, it indicates that delinquency rates and charge-off rates for credit card loans saw a modest increase in 2017 across all banks but remained below their historical averages.

    The Report also discusses recent trends in credit card pricing practices. Data from a survey that studied a sample of credit card issuers found that the average credit card interest rate across all accounts is about 13 percent, while the average interest rate on accounts that assessed interest was closer to 15 percent. The Report notes that, “while average interest rates paid by consumers have moved in a relatively narrow band over the past several years,” there exists is a great deal of variability across credit card plans and borrowers, reflecting various card features and the risk profile of the borrower.

    Federal Issues Federal Reserve Consumer Finance Congress Credit Cards

  • FTC reports on certain 2017 enforcement activities to the CFPB

    Federal Issues

    On May 17, in response to a request from the CFPB, the FTC transmitted a letter summarizing its 2017 enforcement activities related to Regulation Z (TILA), Regulation M (Consumer Leasing Act), and Regulation E (Electronic Fund Transfer Act) for the CFPB’s use in preparing its 2017 Annual Report to Congress. The FTC highlighted numerous activities related to the enforcement of the pertinent regulations, including:

    • Payday Lending. The FTC acknowledged the continued litigation against two Kansas-based operations and their owner for allegedly selling lists of counterfeit payday loan debt portfolios to debt collectors in violation of the FTC Act, previously covered by InfoBytes here.
    • Military Protection. The FTC identified the July 2017 military consumer financial workshop and the launch of the new Military Task Force (previously covered by InfoBytes here and here) among the activities the agency engaged in related to protecting the finances of current and former members of the military. The FTC also noted continued participation in the interagency group working with the Department of Defense on amendments to its rule implementing the Military Lending Act.
    • “Negative Option.” For actions under the Regulation E/EFTA, the FTC highlighted numerous “negative option” enforcement actions, in which the consumer agrees to receive goods or services from a company for a free trial option, but if the consumer does not cancel before the trial period ends, the consumer will incur recurring charges for continued goods or services. Among the actions highlighted is a case in which the FTC imposed a $179 million judgment (suspended upon the payment of $6.4 million) settling allegations that the online marketers’ offers of “free” and “risk free” monthly programs for certain weight loss and other products were deceptive.
    • Auto Loans. The letter highlighted, among others, the FTC action against a Southern California-based group of auto dealerships that allegedly violated a prior consent order with the FTC by misrepresenting the cost to finance or lease a vehicle, previously covered by InfoBytes here.

    Federal Issues FTC Act Payday Lending FTC Auto Finance Enforcement Military Lending Act Department of Defense CFPB TILA Consumer Leasing Act EFTA Congress

  • Federal Reserve Board to vote on national bank’s asset growth restriction

    Federal Issues

    On May 10, Federal Reserve Board (Board) Chairman Jerome H. Powell responded to Senator Elizabeth Warren’s request concerning a formal commitment by the Board to vote on whether a national bank’s remediation plans to improve its compliance and operational risk management program meet the terms set forth by the Board’s February 2 order to cease and desist (Order). (See previous InfoBytes coverage here.) According to Powell, the decision to lift the asset growth restriction placed on the bank as part of the Order will be determined by a vote of the Board of Governors. In addressing an additional request made by Sen. Warren that the third-party review of the bank’s remedial actions required by the Order be publicly released, Powell stated that when the third-party review is ready, “we will review that report to determine whether and to what extent the report can be publicly disclosed without impairing protected interests.” Powell noted that typically evaluations of that kind are not released to the public because they contain confidential supervisory information that would, if disclosed, “likely impair the effectiveness of the supervisory process,” among other things.

    Federal Issues Federal Reserve Congress Bank Compliance

  • FDIC OIG releases Special Inquiry Report to address breach response plan

    Privacy, Cyber Risk & Data Security

    On April 16, the FDIC’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) released its Special Inquiry Report—“The FDIC’s Response, Reporting, and Interactions with Congress Concerning Information Security Incidents and Breaches”—which contains findings from an examination of the FDIC’s practices and policies related to data security, incident response and reporting, and Congressional interactions. The Special Inquiry Report is the culmination of a request made by the former Chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs in 2016, and focuses on the circumstances surrounding eight information security incidents that occurred in 2015 and 2016—seven of which involved personally identifiable information and constituted data breaches. An eighth incident involved the removal of “highly sensitive components of resolution plans submitted by certain large systemically important financial institutions without authorization” by a departing FDIC employee.

    According to the report, the OIG asserts that, among other things, the FDIC failed to (i) put in place a “comprehensive incident response program and plan” to handle security incidents and breaches; (ii) clearly document risk assessments and decisions associated with data incidents; (iii) fully consider the range of impacts on bank customers whose information was compromised; (iv) promptly notify consumers when an incident occurred and did not adequately consider notifications as a separate decision from whether it would provide credit monitoring services; (v) for at least one incident, failed to convey the seriousness of the breach; and (vi) provide timely, accurate, and complete responses to Congressional requests to gather information about how the agency was handling the incidents.

    As a result of these findings, the OIG presented recommendations and timeframes for the FDIC to “address the systemic issues.” Recommendations include: (i) clearly defining roles and responsibilities within the FDIC Breach Response Plan, and establishing procedures “consistent with legal, regulatory, and/or operational requirements for records management”; (ii) establishing a separation between consumer breach notifications and the offer of credit monitoring services; (iii) adhering to established timeframes for reporting incidents to FinCEN when suspicious activity report information has been compromised; (iv) conducting an annual review of the Breach Response Plan to confirm that that the guidance has been consistently followed during the preceding year; (v) developing guidance and training to ensure that employees and contractors are fully aware of the legal consequences of removing any sensitive information from FDIC premises before they depart; (vi) ensuring that FDIC policies, procedures, and practices result in complete, accurate statements and representations to Congress, and updating and correcting prior statements and representations as necessary; (vii) clarifying “legal hold policies and processes”; and (viii) specifying that the Office of Legislative Affairs is responsible for “providing timely responses to Congressional requests and communicating with Congressional staff regarding those requests.”

    The FDIC concurred with the recommendations and has completed corrective actions for two, with plans to address the remaining recommendations between June and December of this year. The FDIC has also agreed to keep the OIG informed of the progress made to address the identified performance issues.

    Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security FDIC OIG Data Breach Congress Senate Banking Committee

  • Student loan servicer seeks declaratory and injunctive relief to resolve dispute concerning preemption of state law

    Courts

    On April 4, a Pennsylvania-based student loan servicer (servicer) that services federal student loans on behalf of the U.S. Department of Education (Department) filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against the Connecticut Department of Banking and its banking commissioner (together, the Connecticut Defendants), and the Department, seeking a judicial determination that the federal Privacy Act of 1974 (Privacy Act) preempts Connecticut law requiring the servicer to disclose certain records containing confidential information about its student loan borrowers to the state, along with data related to borrower complaints, or risk revocation of its state servicer’s license. In addition, the servicer seeks injunctive relief against the Connecticut Defendants to prevent the enforcement of state law in contravention of the Privacy Act and revocation of the servicer’s license.

    In support of the injunctive relief sought, the servicer cites several irreparable harms, including (i) the potential termination of its federal loan servicing contract; (ii) the revocation of its license to service, which would adversely affect approximately 100,000 student borrowers in the state, and (iii) the potential impact on loan servicing arrangements that the servicer has with “dozens of private lenders doing business in Connecticut.”

    As previously covered in InfoBytes, on March 12 Department Secretary Betsy DeVos published an Interpretation that asserted the position that state “regulation of the servicing of Direct Loans” is preempted because it “impedes uniquely Federal interests,” and state regulation of the servicing of loan under the Federal Family Education Loan Program “is preempted to the extent that it undermines uniform administration of the program.” However, last month—as discussed in InfoBytes—a bipartisan coalition of 30 state Attorneys General released a letter urging Congress to reject Section 493E(d) of the Higher Education Act reauthorization—H.R. 4508, known as the “PROSPER Act”—which would prohibit states from “overseeing, licensing, or addressing certain state law violations by companies that originate, service, or collect on student loans.” The states expressed a concern that, if enacted, the law would preempt state consumer protection laws for student borrowers and constitute “an all-out assault on states’ rights and basic principles of federalism.”

    Courts Department of Education Student Lending State Issues Preemption Congress Federal Legislation

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