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On October 31, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in a split panel decision, reversed the district court’s dismissal of a consumer’s FCRA action against a national bank alleging the bank obtained her credit report for an impermissible purpose. According to the opinion, the consumer filed the complaint against the bank after reviewing her credit report and noticing the bank had submitted “numerous credit report inquiries” in violation of the FCRA because she “did not have a credit relationship with [the bank]” as specified in the FCRA and, therefore, the inquiries were not for a permissible purpose. The bank moved to dismiss the action, arguing that the consumer did not suffer any injury from the credit inquiries. The district court agreed, and dismissed her claim with prejudice for lack of standing and failure to state a claim.
On appeal, the majority disagreed with the district court, concluding that (i) a consumer suffers a concrete injury in fact when a credit report is obtained for an impermissible purpose; and (ii) a consumer only needs to allege that her credit report was obtained for an impermissible purpose to survive a motion to dismiss. The appellate majority emphasized that the consumer does not have the burden of pleading the actual purpose behind the bank’s use of her credit report; the burden is on the defendant to prove the credit report was obtained for an authorized purpose. Moreover, the majority noted that the consumer alleges she only learned about the bank’s inquiry after reviewing her credit report and, therefore, it is implied “that she never received a firm offer of credit from [the bank],” and taken together with the fact that the bank actually obtained her credit report, she stated a plausible claim for relief.
One panel judge concurred in part and dissented in part, arguing that the consumer had standing but failed to state a plausible claim. Specifically, the judge argued that “the majority characterize[d] [the] plaintiff’s claim in terms of ‘possibility,’” but “mere possibility of liability does not plead a plausible claim.” Moreover, the judge disagreed with the majority’s conclusion that the defendant bears the burden of proof in these instances, stating “the Supreme Court has expressly placed the burden of pleading a plausible claim squarely on the plaintiff rather than on the defendant.”
On November 4, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed a district court’s decision that a debt collector does not violate the FDCPA by sending notices to consumers that do not clarify that a debt is static. The plaintiff in that case alleged that the defendant violated the FDCPA’s prohibition on false, deceptive, or misleading representations in connection with the collection of a debt when it sent her a letter that contained a breakdown of interest and charges or fees accrued on the balance as separate line items, even though the amounts accrued explicitly reflect $0, along with the phrase “[a]s of the date of this letter, you owe $ [amount].” By implying that the amount owed might increase, the plaintiff argued that the least sophisticated consumer may erroneously think the debt is dynamic. The district court disagreed and granted the defendant’s motion for judgment on the pleadings.
In affirming this decision on appeal, the 2nd Circuit cited its own holding in Taylor v. Financial Recovery Services, Inc., in which it previously determined “that ‘a collection notice that fails to disclose that interest and fees are not currently accruing on a debt is not misleading within the meaning of [the FDCPA].” The appellate court was not persuaded by the plaintiff’s attempt to distinguish her case from Taylor, finding that the language in the plaintiff’s letter is “stock language. . .present in a number of collection notices, including those considered not misleading in Taylor.” The 2nd Circuit further noted that “requiring debt collectors to draw attention to the static nature of a debt could incentivize collectors to make debts dynamic instead of static.”
11th Circuit: District Court erred in denying class certification over bankruptcy preemption defense
On October 29, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit vacated a district court decision denying class certification, concluding the court erred in its determination that each FDCPA and Florida Consumer Collection Practices Act (FCCPA) claim’s individualized inquiries predominated over issues common to the proposed class. According to the opinion, two plaintiffs filed a class action against their mortgage servicer alleging the servicer violated the FDCPA and the FCCPA by sending monthly mortgage statements after the debt was discharged in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy and they moved out of the home. The servicer objected to class certification that included both consumers who vacated their homes and those who remained in their homes because the Bankruptcy Code treats the two groups differently, thus requiring an individualized review to decide how the rules would be applied. Additionally, the servicer argued that the court would be required to decide whether the Bankruptcy Code precluded or preempted the claims for only class members who chose to remain in their homes. The district court denied class certification, concluding that individualized claims predominated over common issues, because “the question of ‘whether the Bankruptcy Code precluded and/or preempted the FDCPA and FCCPA’ presented an individualized rather than a common issue.”
On appeal, the 11th Circuit disagreed. The appellate court noted that the district court erred when it concluded that the question of whether the Bankruptcy Code precluded or preempted the FDCPA only applied to those consumers who chose to remain in their homes, because the preemption defense “potentially barred every class member’s FDCPA claim,” thus requiring the court to treat it as a common issue. The appellate court made a similar determination for the FCCPA claims. The appellate court cautioned that its conclusion was not an opinion about whether the servicer’s “defense is meritorious,” but was “limited to the conclusion that [the] defense raises questions common to all class members.” The appellate court, therefore, vacated and remanded the case back to district court.
On October 23, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed summary judgment for a debt collection law firm and attorney (collectively, “defendants”) in an action alleging the defendants violated the U.S. Bankruptcy Code and the FDCPA. According to the opinion, the plaintiffs had to make monthly payments to their condominium association as part of a special assessment to pay for an improvement project. The plaintiffs made payments until filing for bankruptcy in 2014. After the bankruptcy closed, the plaintiffs did not resume payments to the association for the improvement project. The balance continued to accrue and a lien was filed for the outstanding balance of $10,137.38. The association also created a “Certificate of Amount of Unpaid Assessments” that referenced the outstanding balance and explained over $8,000 of the total balance had been discharged in the 2014 bankruptcy. The plaintiffs sued the defendants, asserting that the bankruptcy discharged all the debt owed, including the post-discharge payments, and that the defendants’ collection efforts “were coercive and misleading.” The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants.
On appeal, the 3rd Circuit affirmed. The court concluded that the payment owed to the condominium association was a “fee or assessment” under the Bankruptcy Code that was not discharged here because the plaintiffs retained ownership interest in the property and the assessment payment became due after the bankruptcy. The court also rejected the plaintiffs’ FDCPA claims against the defendants. The court explained that the defendants were not responsible for the amount listed in the condominium association’s certificate and, in any event, the amount the defendants’ attempted to collect did not include the discharged amount. The court concluded that the plaintiffs failed to provide any evidence that would create an issue of material fact on the FDCPA claim and affirmed the district court’s summary judgment ruling.
On October 9, the OCC responded to a letter written by 26 Republican members of the House Financial Services Committee urging the agency to update its interpretation of the definition of “interest” under the National Bank Act (NBA) to limit the impact of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit’s 2015 decision in Madden v. Midland Funding, LLC (covered by a Buckley Special Alert here). The representatives’ letter (covered by InfoBytes here) argued that Madden deviated from the longstanding valid-when-made doctrine—which provides that if a contract that is valid (not usurious) when it was made, it cannot be rendered usurious by later acts, including assignment—and has “caused significant uncertainty and disruption in many types of lending programs.” The representatives urged the OCC to prioritize a rulemaking to address the issue. In response, the OCC agreed with the letter’s concerns, and stated that “administrative solutions to mitigate the consequences of the Madden decision may be available.” The OCC noted that it has filed amicus briefs in the past, reiterating the view that Madden was wrongly decided, but did not elaborate any further on potential plans for a rulemaking to address the issue.
On October 16, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of an action against a debt collector for allegedly violating the FDCPA and related state statutes when attempting to collect on unpaid debt. The plaintiffs alleged that the defendant’s attempts to collect unpaid homeowners association debt was a violation of the FDCPA’s prohibition on false, deceptive, or misleading representations or unfair or unconscionable means to collect on a debt. According to the opinion, during the process of collecting one plaintiff’s debt, the defendant requested writs of garnishment that sought post-judgment enforcement costs. The plaintiff argued that collecting costs greater than the costs actually assessed in the case violated the FDCPA because it falsely represented the amount due. The district court disagreed, ruling that the defendant abided by Maryland court rules and procedures which allow a judgment creditor to list the original amount of judgment plus any additional court costs, including a writ of garnishment. The district court then considered whether the plaintiff’s claim “that ‘continuing lien clauses,’ which state that the lien covered additional costs that may come due after the lien is recorded, violate the FDCPA.” Here, the district court ruled that the homeowners association’s governing documents authorize continuing liens to cover additional costs that may come due after the lien is recorded, and that the plaintiff was aware that a lien’s amount may change because he signed the documents. Moreover, the district court determined that Maryland law “‘does not expressly permit or prohibit’ continuing lien clauses,” and dismissed the remaining state law claims without prejudice.
On appeal, the 4th Circuit agreed with the district court that nothing the defendant did constituted a violation of the FDCPA, and concurred that a continuing lien clause does not constitute a violation of the FDCPA. Furthermore, the appellate court held that there is no requirement that the district court remand, as opposed to dismiss, the state law claims as argued in the plaintiffs’ appeal.
District Court allows NCUA to substitute plaintiff, denies dismissal of breach of contract claim in RMBS action
On October 15, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York held that the NCUA may substitute a new plaintiff to represent the agency’s claims in a residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) action against an international bank serving as an RMBS trustee. In the same order, the court dismissed certain tort claims, but allowed claims for breach of contract to move forward against the trustee.
According to the opinion, NCUA brought the action on behalf of 97 trusts for which the international bank served as the trustee, even though NCUA only had direct interest in eight of the trusts. NCUA argued it had derivative standing to pursue the claims on behalf of the other 89 trusts “on the theory that it had a latent interest in the [the 89 trusts] after they wound down and as ‘an express third-party beneficiary under the [89 trusts] Indenture Agreements.’” The trustee moved to dismiss the action and after hearing oral arguments on the motion, the court stayed the case pending the outcome of NCUA’s appeal regarding derivative standing in similar action before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. In August 2018, the 2nd Circuit held that NCUA lacked standing to bring the derivative claims because the trusts had granted the right, title, and interest to their assets, including the RMBS trusts, to the Indenture Trustee. (Previously covered by InfoBytes here.) Based on the appellate court decision in the similar action, NCUA moved to file a second amended complaint and substitute a newly appointed trustee as plaintiff for the claims made on behalf of the 89 trusts for which it did not have direct standing.
Despite the trustee’s objections, the district court granted NCUA’s request, concluding that NCUA’s claims were timely and allowing the NCUA’s “Extender Statute”—which gives the agency the ability to bring contract claims at “the longer of” “the 6-year period beginning on the date the claim accrues” or “the period applicable under State law”—to apply to the new substitute plaintiff. Additionally, the court denied the bank’s motion to dismiss NCUA’s breach of contract claim alleging the trustee had notice of the defects in the mortgage files held in the various trusts. The court concluded that NCUA sufficiently plead that the trustee “did indeed receive notice [of the defective mortgages] and should have thus acted,” under the Pooling and Servicing Agreements.
On October 7, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a whistleblower’s reverse-false-claims action because it was barred by the False Claims Act’s (FCA) public-disclosure provision and the alleged scheme was not plead with sufficient detail. The relator, a former fraud investigator for the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of the Inspector General, alleged that the 15 financial institution defendants “avoided their regulatory obligation to return government-benefit payments they received for beneficiaries they knew to be deceased.” According to the relator, the defendants must have known of the beneficiary deaths because the Social Security Administration sends death notification entries to all receiving depository financial institutions. However, the district court determined that defendants provided documents showing the information had already been publicly disclosed and the relator was not the original source of the information (which would have been required to maintain a claim with respect to information that has already been publicly disclosed) because he obtained the information through his employment as a fraud investigator. As such, the court permanently dismissed the complaint on the grounds that the relator relied on public disclosures, and that the complaint failed to plead the allegations with sufficient detail.
On appeal, the 5th Circuit agreed that the complaint could not survive the FCA’s public disclosure bar, explaining that the public-disclosure bar is met if the following elements apply: (i) the disclosure is public; (ii) the disclosure contains “‘substantially the same allegations’” as in the complaint; and (ii) the relator is not the “‘original source’” of the information. In addition, the appellate court agreed that the complaint lacked sufficient factual matter to satisfy federal rules of civil procedure, and concluded that further amendments would be futile because there are no claims left to amend.
On October 4, the U.S. House of Representatives filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court arguing that the CFPB’s structure is constitutional. The brief was filed in response to a petition for writ of certiorari by a law firm, contesting a May decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which held that, among other things, the Bureau’s single-director structure is constitutional (previously covered by InfoBytes here). The House filed its brief after the amicus deadline, but requested its motion to file be granted because it only received notice that the Bureau changed its position on the constitutionality of the CFPB’s structure the day before the filing deadline. As previously covered by InfoBytes, on September 17, the DOJ and the CFPB filed a brief with the Court arguing that the for-cause restriction on the president’s authority to remove the Bureau’s single Director violates the Constitution’s separation of powers; and on the same day, Director Kraninger sent letters (see here and here) to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) supporting the same argument.
The brief, which was submitted by the Office of General Counsel for the House, argues that the case “presents an issue of significant important to the House” and, because the Solicitor General “has decided not to defend” Congress’ enactment of the for-cause removal protection through the Dodd-Frank Act, the “House should be allowed to do so.” The brief asserts that the 9th Circuit correctly held that the Bureau’s structure is constitutional based on the D.C. Circuit’s majority in the 2018 en banc decision in PHH v. CFPB (covered by a Buckley Special Alert). Moreover, the brief argues that when an agency is “headed by a single individual, the lines of Executive accountability—and Presidential control—are even more direct than in a multi-member agency,” as the President has the authority to remove the individual should they be failing in their duty. Such a removal will “‘transform the entire CFPB and the execution of the consumer protection laws it enforces.’”
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.”
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Fintech regulatory developments, crypto-assets, blockchain and digital banking, and consumer issues" at the Practising Law Institute Banking Law Institute
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Adapting to the rapidly changing compliance landscape involving marijuana and marijuana-related businesses" at an ACAMS webinar
- Amanda R. Lawrence to discuss "How to balance a successful (and stressful) career with greater personal well-being" at the American Bar Association Women in Litigation Joint CLE Conference
- Steven R. vonBerg to discuss "State and Federal regulatory panel-solutions to the Non-QM Patch" at the Inaugural Non-QM Forum
- Sherry-Maria Safchuk to speak on the "California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) Workshop" panel at the California Mortgage Banker's 2019 Legal Issues & Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss “Connecting the dots on your CDD program” at the ABA/ABA Financial Crimes Enforcement Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss “Beneficial Ownership: You have questions – We have quick answers” at the ABA/ABA Financial Crimes Enforcement Conference