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  • Third Circuit finds Pennsylvania lending law does not regulate collection of charged-off debt

    Courts

    On February 7, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed a lower court’s decision to grant a debt collector’s (the defendant) motion for judgment. The defendant argued that its efforts to collect plaintiff’s charged-off debt via a proof of claim in a bankruptcy proceeding was not limited by, or in violation of, the Pennsylvania Consumer Discount Company Act (CDCA).   The plaintiff, who obtained a loan from a third-party small-dollar lender licensed under the CDCA, defaulted on the loan and the licensed lender subsequently charged off and sold plaintiff’s debt to a company that was not licensed under the CDCA. 

    After filing for bankruptcy, the plaintiff sued the defendant and alleged a FDCPA violation when the defendant filed a proof of claim during the bankruptcy proceeding to collect the outstanding balance on the charged-off loan. The plaintiff’s argument was premised on claims that the defendant could not lawfully collect the debt because the CDCA dictates that a licensee may not sell CDCA-authorized contracts to an unlicensed person or entity. As such, the plaintiff argued the proof of claim violated the FDCPA’s prohibition against “false, deceptive, or misleading” representations in connection with the collection of a debt. The 3rd Circuit disagreed.   

    Relying in part on a letter from the Pennsylvania Department of Banking and Securities confirming that the CDCA does not apply to an unlicensed entity that purchases or attempts to collect on charged-off consumer loan accounts of debtors in bankruptcy, the appellate court held that “[t]he CDCA is a loan statute, not a debt collection statute,” and that “entities in the business of purchasing and collecting charged-off consumer debt are not subject to the CDCA’s regulatory scheme.” The 3rd Circuit held that selling charged-off obligations is not the same as selling the defaulted loan contract. Rather, it is selling unsecured debt, which falls outside of the CDCA’s scope. The court concluded that the CDCA’s prohibitions were inapplicable and could not be the basis for the FDCPA violation.

    Courts Third Circuit Appellate Pennsylvania FDCPA

  • California appeals court vacates a ruling on enjoining enforcement of CPRA regulations

    State Issues

    On February 9, California’s Third District Court of Appeal vacated a lower court’s decision to enjoin the California Privacy Protection Agency (CPPA) from enforcing regulations implementing the California Privacy Rights Act (CPRA).  The decision reverses the trial court’s ruling delaying enforcement of the regulations until March 2024, which would have given businesses a one-year implementation period from the date final regulations were promulgated (covered by InfoBytes here).

    The CPRA mandated the CPPA to finalize regulations on specific elements of the act by July 1, 2022, and provided that “the Agency’s enforcement authority would take effect on July 1, 2023,” a one-year gap between promulgation and enforcement. The CPPA did not issue final regulations until March of 2023, but sought to enforce the rules starting on the July 1, 2023, statutory date.  In response, in March 2023, the Chamber of Commerce filed a lawsuit in state court seeking a one-year delay of enforcement for the new regulations.  The trial court held that a delay was warranted because “voters intended there to be a gap between the passing of final regulations and enforcement of those regulations.” On appeal, the court emphasized that there is no explicit and unambiguous language in the law prohibiting the agency from enforcing the CPRA until at least one year after final regulations are approved, and that and found that while the mandatory dates included in the CPRA “amounts to a one-year delay,” such a delay was not mandated by the statutory language. The court further found that there is no indication from the ballot materials available to voters in passing the statute that the voters intended such a one-year delay. The court explained that the one-year gap between regulations could have been interpreted to give businesses time to comply, or as a period for the agency to prepare for enforcing the new rules, or there may also be other reasons for the gap.

    Accordingly, the appellate court held that Chamber of Commerce “was simply not entitled to the relief granted by the trial court.” As a result of the court’s decision, businesses are now required to commence implementing the privacy regulations established by the agency. 

    State Issues Privacy Courts California Appellate CPPA CPRA

  • CFPB secures $12 million after decade-old complaint against foreclosure relief scam company

    Federal Issues

    On February 8, the CFPB announced the resolution of an enforcement action, begun in 2014, against a foreclosure relief operation that allegedly violated Regulation O. After a decade of court orders, opinions, and appeals, on February 5, 2024, the defendants and the CFPB jointly agreed to the dismissal of their respective appeals and on February 7, 2024, the Seventh Circuit dismissed the parties’ appeals. The final settlement required the defendants to pay $10.9 million in consumer redress and a $1.1 million penalty. The enforcement action notes that the defendants remain “subject to the bans” under the district court’s 2022 order. 

    The CFPB had alleged that the defendants violated Reg. O by taking payments from consumers for (i) mortgage modifications before they signed an agreement from their lender; (ii) failing to make required disclosures; (iii) directing consumers not to contact lenders; and (iv) making deceptive statements to consumers. As previously reported by InfoBytes, the CFPB and the Florida Attorney General obtained a judgment against this group in May 2015 for parallel violations.  

    Federal Issues CFPB Enforcement Foreclosure Regulation O Seventh Circuit Appellate

  • Washington Appeals Court disagrees with appellant in a class action data breach; affirms lower court’s decision

    Courts

    On January 8, the Washington State Court of Appeals affirmed superior court rulings granting final approval to a class action settlement, denying a motion to consolidate six class action lawsuits, and approving a class notice plan. According to the opinion, in 2021, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services notified the respondent company, a nonprofit organization serving low-income individuals, of a data breach that exposed the social security numbers of 163,499 individuals. In 2022, appellant filed a class action lawsuit against the respondent company, one of six such separate class action lawsuits. The appellant filed a motion to consolidate the six pending class action lawsuits, which was denied. Subsequently, plaintiffs in one of the class action lawsuits signed a settlement agreement and release that would release, discharge, and bar all claims asserted in the other class action lawsuits and provide compensation anywhere from $100 to $25,000 to impacted individuals. The appellant plaintiff then filed the instant appeal alleging that the lower court abused its discretion by denying her motion to consolidate the six actions, that the class action plan failed to provide reasonable notice, and that the settlement was not fair, reasonable, or adequate because “the settlement is the product of collusion between the settling parties.” The appellate court disagreed and ultimately upheld the lower court’s rulings. 

    Courts Washington Appellate Data Breach Unfair DHHS Class Action

  • Massachusetts State Appeals Court orders a consumer has standing to sue in state court under the FCRA without federal standing

    Courts

    On January 11, the Massachusetts Court of Appeals ordered that an employee has standing to sue in state court, despite lacking standing to sue in a federal court. The employee (plaintiff) sued a prospective employer for allegedly conducting a background check in a manner that violated the FCRA. The defendant successfully sought to have the case moved from state court to federal court. In federal court, the defendant was granted a motion to dismiss on the grounds that plaintiff lacked standing under Article III, which requires that the plaintiff allege a “concrete” injury. Ultimately, the case was remanded to state court, where the Superior Court dismissed the FCRA claims. The plaintiff appealed, and the appellate court ruled that the plaintiff had alleged facts sufficient to support standing to sue in state court, as the applicable standard did not require a showing of “concrete” harm. 

    Courts Massachusetts FCRA Appellate Standing

  • Washington Appeals Court overturns ruling for collector

    Courts

    On December 26, 2023, the Court of Appeals of the State of Washington overturned a ruling in favor of a collection agency. In the initial action, the collection agency sued an individual over a medical debt that was assigned to the agency. The individual filed counterclaims against the collection agency alleging violations of the Washington Consumer Protection Act (CPA), the Washington Collection Agency Act (CAA), and the FDCPA. Each counterclaim centered on the legitimacy of the debt owed since the individual had not been screened for charity care as required by law. The individual was granted charity care that assisted with paying 75 percent of the owed debt and the collection agency accepted the payment. Later, the collection agency sought to enforce a supposed settlement agreement. The trial court granted the collection agency’s motion for summary judgment and dismissed the individual’s counterclaims and denied the collection agency’s motion to enforce settlement. As a result, the dismissal of the individual’s counterclaims was reversed, the denial of the collection agency’s motion to enforce the settlement agreement was upheld, and the case was sent back to the trial court for further proceedings in line with the court's findings.

    Courts FDCPA Appellate Debt Collection Consumer Finance

  • California Appellate Court overturns ruling on FDCPA

    Courts

    On December 18, a California Court of Appeal overturned a lower court’s dismissal of a case involving claims under the federal FDCPA and California’s Rosenthal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (Rosenthal Act). The appellate court found the lower court had erred in dismissing the case pursuant to California’s anti-SLAPP statute, which provides a mechanism for early dismissal of meritless lawsuits arising from protected communicative activities.

    The dismissal arises from a class action filed in 2021, alleging that the defendant debt collector – who had filed an action to collect on a defaulted student loan – lacked the documents necessary to collect or enforce the loan, and thus violated the FDCPA and the Rosenthal Act. The complaint also claimed the collector violated California’s Unfair Competition Law (UCL) by engaging in “prohibited unlawful, unfair, fraudulent, deceptive, untrue, and misleading acts and practices as part of its direct and indirect collection and attempted collection of debts that have previously been adjudicated.” The complaint referenced a 2017 CFPB consent order with the defendant, previously covered by InfoBytes here, where the consent order involved allegations that the collector had filed lawsuits against consumers for private student loan debt that it could not prove was owed or that was outside the applicable statute of limitations.

    In response to the complaint, the defendant debt collector filed a demurrer and an anti-SLAPP motion. While the lower court granted the anti-SLAPP motion, the appellate court reversed, concluding that the plaintiff’s claims were not barred by the litigation privilege. The appellate court found that the lower court had “only considered the litigation privilege in considering the probability that [the plaintiff] would prevail on her claims,” and did not consider the public interest exception to California’s anti-SLAPP law (which provides that the anti-SLAPP law does not apply to actions brought solely in the public interest or on behalf of the general public if certain conditions are met). The appellate court directed the trial court to determine whether the plaintiff met her burden of demonstrating a probability of prevailing on the merits of her claims and to consider the public interest exception.

    Courts California Appellate FDCPA Rosenthal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act

  • Supreme Court hears oral argument in case challenging SEC ALJ use

    Courts

    On November 29, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in the SEC’s request to appeal the 5th Circuit’s decision in Securities and Exchange Commission v. Jarkesy. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the 5th Circuit held that the SEC’s in-house adjudication of a petitioners’ case violated their Seventh Amendment right to a jury trial and relied on unconstitutionally delegated legislative power. At oral argument, Justice Kavanaugh stated in his questioning of Principal Deputy Solicitor General Brian Fletcher (representing the SEC) that given the severity of the potential outcome of cases, the SEC’s decision-making process fully being carried out in-house could be “problematic,” and that it “doesn’t seem like a neutral process.” Meanwhile, Fletcher mentioned that the boundaries and “outer edges” of the public rights doctrine can be “fuzzy.” Justices’ questions also centered around Atlas Roofing v. Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission—a Supreme Court case that held that “Congress does not violate the Seventh Amendment when it authorizes an agency to impose civil penalties in administrative proceedings to enforce a federal statute.”

    Courts Appellate U.S. Supreme Court ALJ Constitution Securities Exchange Act SEC Advisers Act Fifth Circuit Securities Act

  • 2nd Circuit affirms dismissal of whistleblower lawsuit alleging FCA violations

    Courts

    On October 30, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit affirmed a district court order dismissing a whistleblower lawsuit alleging violations of the False Claims Act (FCA). The three-judge panel concluded that they did not need to “address the public disclosure bar because the [second amended complaint]… fails to state a claim for a violation of the FCA.” According to the panel, the plaintiff did not allege that the defendant knowingly made a misrepresentation material to the government’s decision and that “failure to adequately plead either of these requirements is fatal to a relator's claim." 

    The original whistleblower complaint, filed in 2014, alleged that the defendant covered losses on loans that it acquired by taking advantage of a shared loss agreement with the FDIC.  The complaint also stated that the defendant knowingly reported write-downs on loans already paid off, sold, or irrelevant to the portfolio. The FDIC declined to intervene, and the case was dismissed. The plaintiff appealed and oral arguments were heard on October 12; however, the order found that the plaintiff failed to identify a false claim or false record and did not establish scienter or motive to commit fraud. 

    Courts Second Circuit Whistleblower False Claims Act / FIRREA Appellate Consumer Finance Lending FDIC

  • 2nd Circuit: Reverse and remand a buy-now-pay-later suit

    Courts

    On November 3, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed and remanded a district court’s decision to deny a buy now pay later servicer’s (defendant) motion to compel arbitration in a class action. The plaintiffs alleged the defendant violated the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act, among other things, after the defendant’s charges incurred overdraft fees on the plaintiff’s checking account. The defendant argued that the consumer agreed, on multiple occasions, to the mandatory arbitration provisions in the servicer’s terms and conditions when she used its services. The district court concluded that the plaintiff did not have “reasonably conspicuous notice of and unambiguously manifest assent to [defendant’s] terms” and therefore plaintiff was not bound by the mandatory arbitration provisions in the defendant’s terms.

    The 2nd Circuit panel of three judges identified “several factors” in its finding that the plaintiff had reasonably conspicuous notice, including that defendant’s interface was “uncluttered” adding that “[a] reasonable internet user, therefore, could not avoid noticing the hyperlink to [defendant’s] terms when the user selects ‘confirm and continue’ on the [application].” Further, the court found that the plaintiff “unambiguously manifested her assent” to the defendant’s terms and conditions.

     

    Courts Consumer Finance Buy Now Pay Later Appellate Connecticut Debt Collection

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