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On August 15, the USDA filed a brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit decision to reverse its FCRA lawsuit brought by a plaintiff who alleged that the consumer credit reporting agency reported two loans as past due even though he claimed both were closed with a $0 balance. In August 2022, the 3rd Circuit reversed a district court’s decision to grant a student loan servicer, consumer credit reporting agency, and the USDA’s (defendants) motion to dismiss a case finding that Congress unambiguously waived the government’s sovereign immunity in enacting FCRA (covered by InfoBytes here). The USDA argues that the district court was wrong in its decision, and that the FCRA does not waive the U.S.’s sovereign immunity for claims under 15 U.S.C. 1681n and 1681o because, among other things, (i) a waiver of sovereign immunity requires “unmistakably clear” statutory language; (ii) the FCRA does not create a cause of action that “‘expressly authorizes suits against sovereigns,’ and ‘recognizing immunity’ would ‘negate’ that express authorization”; (iii) the FCRA uses “persons” in a way that does not distinguish between sovereign and non-sovereign senses; (iv) “inexplicable incongruencies” with the term “person” within the context of §§ 1681n and 1681o includes a sovereign entity, which would not only expose the federal government but also individual states to potential lawsuits seeking monetary damages; and (v) interpreting the FCRA to permit lawsuits against the U.S. would significantly broaden the scope of liability for federal agencies, creating “overlap” already provided by the Privacy Act.
On August 24, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit vacated the dismissal of an FCRA lawsuit, holding that the federal government does not have sovereign immunity under the statute and can be held liable for reporting requirement violations. The plaintiff sued the Department of Agriculture (USDA) and a student loan servicer for allegedly reporting two loans as past due even though he claimed both were closed with a $0 balance. The plaintiff notified the relevant consumer reporting agency who in turn notified the USDA and the servicer. When neither entity took action to investigate or correct the disputed information, the plaintiff sued all three parties for damages under Section 1681n and 1681o of the FCRA. The USDA moved to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction based on sovereign immunity claims, which the district court granted on the grounds that the United States and its agencies are not subject to liability under the FCRA—a decision in line with opinions issued by the 4th and 9th Circuits.
On appeal, the 3rd Circuit disagreed, instead siding with opinions issued by the D.C. and 7th Circuits that reached the opposite conclusion. According to the 3rd Circuit, the federal government and its agencies enjoy sovereign immunity from civil suits unless Congress unambiguously waives it within a statute. The FCRA provides that any “person” who either negligently or willfully violates the statute is liable to the consumer for civil damages, the appellate court wrote, noting that the term “person” is defined to include any “government or governmental subdivision or agency.” The appellate court stressed that Congress need not express its intent in any particular way, and that courts need only look at the statutory text to discern Congress’ intent. Where Congress wanted to use a narrower definition of “person” in the FCRA, it did so, the appellate court said, pointing to where the FCRA specifically excludes the federal government from the statutory obligations for persons who make adverse employment decisions based on credit reports. “We presume, therefore, that Congress’s failure to do so in §§ 1681n and 1681o was deliberate and intended to convey the full statutory definition,” the 3rd Circuit wrote, finding that Congress unambiguously waived the government’s sovereign immunity in enacting FCRA.
On May 6, the Secretaries of HUD, Department of Veterans Affairs, Department of Agriculture, and Treasury announced that servicers of federally-backed mortgages should pause pending foreclosure proceedings while assistance is available under the Homeowner Assistance Fund (HAF). President Biden’s American Rescue Plan established HAF to provide approximately $10 billion in financial support for families affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. According to the announcement, pausing pending proceedings is considered “a vital step towards keeping families in their homes as they receive assistance through the HAF program and is consistent with Congress’s intent in putting in place the HAF program to protect vulnerable homeowners.” The Secretaries encourage homeowners and servicers to continue collaborating on loss mitigation options so that homeowners eligible for assistance can choose “the best path to staying in their homes and fully utilize available resources.” They also “strongly encourage servicers to offer these loss mitigation options to borrowers who are struggling to make their mortgage payments, including those who are eligible for HAF funding.” The announcement further noted that, among other things, Treasury is urging HAF program administrators to ensure that their programs expedite handling of applications from homeowners with pending foreclosure proceedings, and to develop expedited procedures for handling homeowners with immediate threats to housing stability, in addition to supporting homeowners who may benefit from the agencies’ loss mitigation options.
On June 21, Chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee Maxine Waters (D-CA) sent a letter to several federal agencies “urging them to administratively extend their moratoria on foreclosures at least until the CFPB is able to finalize and implement its pandemic recovery mortgage servicing rule.” As previously covered by a Buckley Special Alert, the Bureau issued a proposed rule in April that would broadly halt foreclosure initiations on principal residences from August 31, 2021 until 2022, and change servicing rules to promote consumer awareness and processing of Covid-relief loss mitigation options. The proposed rule also would create new and detailed obligations for communicating with borrowers to ensure they are aware of their loss mitigation options for pandemic-related hardships.
The letter, which was sent to the secretaries of HUD, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Veterans Affairs, as well as the director of FHFA and the acting director of the CFPB, stresses that many homeowners will face the risk of foreclosure when the emergency federal foreclosure mortarium expires on June 30, as the Bureau’s proposed rule is not expected to take effect until August. This gap in critical protections, Waters cautions, “could result in servicers expediting efforts to initiate foreclosures before a final rule takes effect, especially for borrowers who have not been able to access forbearance options during the pandemic[.]” The letter requests not only an extension of the current foreclosure moratoriums but also urges the Bureau to finalize the rule (or issue an interim final rule if necessary) as soon as possible to prevent unnecessary foreclosures and ensure homeowners have the opportunity to finalize affordable loan modifications. Additionally, Waters urges the Bureau to alert servicers of the consequences should they, among other things, fail to notify homeowners about their post-forbearance options, unnecessarily delay reviewing loan modification applications, engage in improper foreclosure-related activity, unlawfully discriminate against borrowers, or provide inaccurate, adverse information to credit reporting agencies.
Federal and state banking regulators confirmed in a December 3 joint statement that banks are no longer required to file a suspicious activity report on customers solely because they are “engaged in the growth or cultivation of hemp in accordance with applicable laws and regulations.”
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Click here to read the full special alert.
For questions about the alert and related issues, please visit our Bank Secrecy Act/Anti-Money Laundering practice page, or contact a Buckley attorney with whom you have worked in the past.
On March 1, the CFPB released its latest Quarterly Consumer Credit Trends report titled, “Mortgages to First-time Homebuying Servicemembers,” which analyzes mortgages made to first-time homebuying active duty servicemembers and veterans (collectively defined as “servicemembers”). The report, using data from the Bureau’s Consumer Credit Panel (CCP) supplemented with data on military service, offers information on the mortgage choices and mortgage performance outcomes of servicemembers who bought homes between 2006 and 2016. Key findings include:
- The share of first-time homebuying servicemembers using the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) guaranteed home loan program significantly increased, from 30 percent before 2007 to 63 percent in 2009. By 2016, 78 percent of servicemembers relied on a VA mortgage for their first home loan.
- Conventional mortgages, which accounted for approximately 60 percent of loans among first-time homebuying servicemembers in 2006 and 2007, declined to 13 percent by 2016. During this period, the use of conventional mortgages among non-servicemembers also decreased, as the use of FHA and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) increased.
- In 2016, the median servicemember first-time homebuyer VA loan amount was $212,000, increasing from $156,000 in 2006.
- Early delinquency rates for nonprime servicemember first-time VA-loan borrowers decreased from an average of 5 percent to 7 percent in 2006 and 2007 to slightly above 3 percent in 2016. Notably, early delinquency rates were lower for active duty VA-loan borrowers than for veteran VA-loan borrowers.
On December 9, the GAO released a report detailing the results of its audit of “permanent funding authorities”—a term it defines as “entities with authority to collect and obligate funds without further congressional action.” The report, entitled Permanent Funding Authorities: Some Selected Entities Should Review Financial Management, Oversight, and Transparency Policies: (i) describes the different types of authorities for entities funded by fines and penalties and for regulatory entities; (ii) assesses the policies and procedures related to agencies’ and other entities’ management of their permanent funding authorities; and (iii) makes recommendations to ensure efficient use of resources.
In conducting its audit, the GAO examined five case studies that illustrate the variation in permanent funding authorities: the Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS); the CFPB; the DOJ’s Crime Victims Fund (CVF); the Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund (Trust Fund); and the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB), overseen by the SEC. Based on its review, the GAO recommended that in order to “ensure efficient resource use,” APHIS, the CFPB, and the SEC—in its oversight of PCAOB—should review reserve targets. To facilitate oversight, the SEC should establish time frames for PCAOB’s annual report. According to the report, the Department of Agriculture, CFPB, PCAOB, and SEC agreed with GAO’s recommendations.