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  • District Court cites 9th Circuit, holds Fannie Mae is not a CRA

    Courts

    On February 26, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California granted summary judgment in favor of Fannie Mae in an action brought by a consumer alleging that Fannie Mae violated the California Consumer Credit Reporting Agencies Act (CCCRA) and the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) by prohibiting lenders from providing consumers a copy of Fannie Mae’s Desktop Underwriter (DU) report. According to the opinion, two years after completing a short sale on his previous home, a consumer sought a mortgage with three lenders. One lender used Fannie Mae’s DU program to determine if the loan would be eligible for purchase by the agency, but the DU report listed his prior mortgage loan as a foreclosure rather than a short sale. The lender ultimately denied the application, rather than manually underwrite it. Upon reviewing Fannie Mae’s motion for summary judgment, the court noted that in order for the consumer to succeed on his CCRA and FCRA claims, he must establish Fannie Mae is a credit reporting agency. The court rejected the consumer’s attempts to distinguish his case from the recent 9th Circuit decision in Zabriskie v. Fed. Nat’l Mortg. Ass’n, which held that Fannie Mae was not a credit reporting agency under the FCRA. (Covered by InfoBytes here.) The court acknowledged that even though Fannie Mae may have problems with its foreclosure recommendations in the DU system, it does not undercut the conclusion that Fannie Mae operates the DU system to assist lenders in making purchasing decisions, does not “regularly engage[] in . . . the practice of assembling or evaluating” consumer information, and therefore, is not a credit reporting agency.

    Courts Fannie Mae Credit Reporting Agency FCRA Ninth Circuit Appellate Foreclosure

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  • 9th Circuit affirms $8 million California whistleblower claim

    Courts

    On February 26, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit affirmed a former general counsel’s whistleblower retaliation claim, under California public policy, against a biopharmaceutical manufacturer and its CEO but vacated the jury’s Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) and Dodd-Frank Act verdicts. According to the opinion, the general counsel sued the company and the CEO claiming whistleblower retaliation under SOX, the Dodd-Frank Act, and California wrongful termination case law, claiming the company fired him after he alleged the company may have violated the FCPA in China. The jury awarded the general counsel $11 million, including $2.96 million in lost wages, which was doubled under the Dodd-Frank Act’s whistleblower provision, and $5 million in punitive damages. The company appealed the verdict arguing the district court erred in the instructions to the jury when it stated that statutory provisions of the FCPA constitute “rules or regulations of the SEC for purposes of whether [the general counsel] engaged in protected activity under SOX.”

    On appeal, the 9th Circuit concluded the district court’s instructional error was not harmless as to the SOX claim, finding that the statutory provisions of the FCPA are not “rules or regulations of the SEC under SOX” as instructed to the jury. While the error was not harmless, the appellate court rejected entering judgment in favor of the company and instead, remanded the case back for proper instruction. Additionally, the appellate court vacated the district court’s instructions for the jury to enter judgment in favor of the Dodd-Frank Act claim, citing to the Supreme Court decision in Digital Realty Trust Inc. v. Somers. The appellate court concluded that the whistleblower provision of the act does not apply to purely internal reports and entered judgment in favor of the company. As for the California public policy claim, the appellate court determined that the incorrect SOX jury instructions were harmless because his California claim did not depend on SOX and the jury “necessarily would have reached the same verdict under proper instruction.” The affirmation of the California claim and associated damages left the general counsel with an award of nearly $8 million.

    Courts Ninth Circuit Appellate Whistleblower FCPA Dodd-Frank Sarbanes-Oxley State Issues

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  • 3rd Circuit: Debt buyer qualifies as debt collector under FDCPA

    Courts

    On February 22, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit issued a precedential order affirming a district court’s ruling that an entity that purchases charged-off receivables and outsources the collection activity to a third party still qualifies as a debt collector and, therefore, may be bound by the dictates of the FDCPA. According to the opinion, a consumer filed a lawsuit against the debt-buying company alleging voicemail messages she received from the company’s contractor failed to identify the contractor as a collection agency. The consumer further alleged that a letter the contractor sent did not inform her how to exercise her validation rights, in violation of the FDCPA. The district court ruled that the defendant, which identifies itself as a creditor, meets the “principal purpose” definition of a debt collection under the FDCPA and therefore must comply with its provisions. On appeal, the defendant argued that debt collection and purchasing are “mutually exclusive,” and that the district court's ruling should be reversed under the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Henson v. Santander Consumer USA, which held that the FDCPA does not necessarily apply to a company collecting debts in default that it purchased for its own account. (See previous Buckley Special Alert on the decision here.)

    However, the 3rd Circuit agreed with the district court’s decision, and rejected the defendant’s arguments that the Henson decision renders it a creditor rather than a debt collector. “The Supreme Court went out of its way in Henson to say that it was not opining on whether debt buyers could also qualify as debt collectors” under certain provisions of the FDCPA, and moreover, “[a]n entity qualifies under the definition if the ‘principal purpose’ of its ‘business’ is the ‘collection of any debts,’” the panel wrote. “As long as a business’s raison d’etre is obtaining payment on the debts that it acquires, it is a debt collector. Who actually obtains the payment or how they do so is of no moment,” the 3rd Circuit wrote.

    The appellate court’s opinion, however, did not address the actual question of liability asserted against the defendant, but rather remanded the case for consideration as to whether the defendant is vicariously liable for claims related to the contractor’s actions.

    Courts Third Circuit Appellate Debt Collection FDCPA

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  • NY high court keeps one RMBS suit alive, rejects another

    Courts

    On February 19, the New York State Court of Appeals issued two rulings in cases brought by a trustee against a seller and sponsor of three residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) trusts.

    The first action involved a lawsuit filed by the trustee more than six years after the execution of the relevant Pooling and Servicing Agreement (PSA). The seller/sponsor moved to dismiss the complaint asserting that it was time-barred because the trustee failed to comply with the sole remedy provision within the six-year statute of limitations. The trustee alleged that its claim was timely because it should relate back to a similar action a certificate holder had timely filed against the seller/sponsor. The lower court granted the motion to dismiss the action with prejudice and the appellate division affirmed. On review by the state’s highest court, the Court affirmed, noting that a complaint only can relate back to a prior action where a valid pre-existing action has been filed. In this instance, the Court found that the certificate holder’s action was not valid because, as lower courts concluded, the PSA’s no action clause prevented the certificate holder from bringing an action against the seller/sponsor on behalf of itself or the trustee. Thus, there was no valid claim for which the trustee’s claim could relate back.

    The second case involved a different action brought by the same trustee against the same seller/sponsor related to a different RMBS trust. In that case, the lower court dismissed the action without prejudice, concluding the action was timely-filed, but the trustee failed to comply with the sole remedy provision of the PSA and other controlling agreements. Specifically, the lower court concluded the trustee failed to provide notice of the suspected breach, allowing the loan originator 90 days to cure or repurchase the allegedly non-compliant loans. The appellate division affirmed the dismissal without prejudice, allowing the trustee to refile. The seller/sponsor appealed, arguing the case should be dismissed with prejudice because the trustee did not comply with its obligations under the sole remedy provision within the six-year limitations period. The Court of Appeals disagreed, determining the sole remedy provision is “a procedural condition precedent that does not impact the running of the six-year statute of limitations,” and therefore, does not foreclose refiling of the action. Thus, the action was properly dismissed without prejudice as CPLR 205(a) states that if a timely-filed action that has been terminated for any reason other than those specified in the statute, a second action based on the same transactions or occurrences can be commenced within six months of dismissal of the first action.

    Courts RMBS Mortgages State Issues Appellate

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  • FTC and NY claim of deceptive supplement advertising gets new life

    Courts

    On February 21, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit issued a summary order reversing the lower court’s dismissal of an FTC and New York State action, which alleges a biotechnology group’s (defendants) marketing campaign for a dietary supplement was deceptive under the FTC Act. According to the opinion, defendants claimed in advertising and marketing materials that a suite of dietary supplements (i) improve memory and provide other cognitive benefits; (ii) the effects are clinically proven; and (iii) have an active ingredient that “supplements” brain proteins. The FTC and New York State brought an action alleging deceptive marketing in violation of the FTC Act because the defendants study of the supplements showed “no statistically significant improvement in the memory and cognition of the participants,” and the few positive findings did not “provide reliable evidence of a treatment effect.” The lower court dismissed the action, finding the challenge to the study “never proceed[ed] beyond the theoretical” as the complaint only showed there were “possibilities that the study’s results do not support its conclusion.”

    On appeal, the 2nd Circuit found the complaint adequately alleges that the results of the study contradict representations made in the marketing materials, such as, the supplement “improved memory for most subjects within 90 days,” and concluded the lower court erred in dismissing the action.

    Courts Second Circuit Appellate FTC Act FTC

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  • 2nd Circuit: Owner personally liable for debt collection companies’ violations

    Courts

    On January 11, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit affirmed a district court’s decision that two individual co-owners were jointly and severally liable for nearly $11 million for debt collection activities conducted by their companies (corporate defendants) that violated the Federal Trade Commission Act (FTCA) and the FDCPA. According to the opinion, the corporate defendants misrepresented that they were investigators calling from a “fraud unit” or a “fraud division,” falsely accused debtors of committing check fraud, threatened consumers with criminal prosecution if the debts were not paid, and contacted friends, family, employers, or co-workers, “telling them that the debtors owed a debt, had committed a crime in failing to pay it, and faced possible legal repercussions.” The district court held that the co-owners were personally liable for the $10,852,368 calculated by the FTC, which represented the total amount received by the corporate defendants from consumers as a result of their actions. One of the co-owners appealed the decision that he was personally liable and argued that the district court erred in determining the amount of equitable monetary relief.

    On appeal, the 2nd Circuit agreed with the district court that the co-owner “had both sufficient authority over the [c]orporate [d]efendants, and knowledge of their practices, to be held individually liable for their misconduct as a matter of law.” The court also upheld the disgorgement amount, reasoning that the FTC’s process to determine the amount was entitled to a presumption of reliance because it was based on the submission of more than 500 consumer complaints concerning the corporate defendants’ debt collection practices, aggressive collection scripts, and audio recordings of twenty-one of the twenty-five debt collectors “falsely telling consumers that the employees were law enforcement personnel or ‘processors.’” Moreover, the court noted that the co-owner failed to submit proof that the corporate defendants earned some or all of their revenue through lawful means.

    Courts Second Circuit Appellate FTCA FDCPA Debt Collection

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  • 7th Circuit vacates class decertification decision in auto finance lawsuit

    Courts

    On February 13, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit vacated a lower court’s decision to rescind class certification for a group of automotive dealerships (plaintiffs), concluding the lower court did not provide a sufficiently thorough explanation of its decision for the appeals court to reach a decision. According to the opinion, the plaintiffs were granted class certification of breach of contract and RICO claims, among others, brought against an inventory financing company for allegedly improperly charging interest and fees on credit lines before the money was actually extended by the company for the automobile purchases. The company had moved the district court to reconsider the class certification, arguing the plaintiffs admitted the financing agreements were ambiguous on their face, and therefore extrinsic evidence on an individual basis would be required to establish the parties’ intent. In response, the plaintiffs had argued that patent ambiguity in the contract does not require consideration of extrinsic evidence and individualized proof. The district court had agreed with the company, concluding that “ambiguity in the contracts requires consideration of extrinsic evidence, necessitates individualized proof, and undermines the elements of commonality and predominance for class certification.”

    On appeal, the 7th Circuit concluded the denial of class certification lacks “sufficient reasoning” to ascertain the basis of the decision, noting that while the original decision to grant certification was a “model of clarity and thoroughness,” the decision to withdraw certification provides only a conclusion. Moreover, the appellate court concluded that the mere need for extrinsic evidence does not in itself render class certification improper and therefore the court needed a more thorough explanation of its reasoning to decertify the class.

    Courts Seventh Circuit Appellate Class Action Auto Finance

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  • 4th Circuit holds TILA and EFTA taxpayer payment agreement claims can proceed

    Courts

    On February 6, a three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit affirmed a district court’s denial of a motion to dismiss a proposed class action suit against two tax payment financing companies, finding that (i) the plaintiff had standing under EFTA because he alleged that he suffered an injury in fact; and (ii) a taxpayer payment agreement (agreement) between the plaintiff and the financing companies qualifies as a consumer credit transaction subject to both TILA and EFTA. According to the decision, the plaintiff entered into an agreement to finance the payment of residential property taxes as allowed under state law. The plaintiff subsequently challenged the agreement on several grounds, including that it violated TILA, EFTA, and the Virginia Consumer Protection Act because many of the agreement’s terms had incorrect amounts, there was no itemized list of closing costs, and the agreement did not include “certain allegedly required financial disclosures.” Following the plaintiff’s initiation of a proposed class action, the defendants moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim, arguing, among other things, that the agreement is not a consumer credit transaction and therefore not subject to TILA or EFTA.

    The district court, however, determined that the plaintiff had standing under the EFTA because he claimed he suffered an injury in fact—that the agreement was contingent on his agreeing to preauthorized electronic funds transfer payments—and that the agreement was subject to both TILA and EFTA. On appeal, the 4th Circuit agreed that the plaintiff satisfied the injury requirement “because he alleged that he was required to agree to [electronic funds transfer payment] authorization as a condition of the agreement and that the agreement contained terms requiring him to waive EFTA’s substantive rights regarding [electronic funds transfer payment] withdrawal.” Even if the court accepted the defendant’s assertion that there was no injury, it held that the plaintiff would still have standing to challenge the agreement because “there is a ‘realistic danger’ that [the plaintiff] will ‘sustain[] a direct injury’ as a result of the terms of the [agreement].” The court also found the agreement to be a credit transaction under the meaning of TILA and EFTA because under TILA, a consumer transaction is “one in which the party to whom credit is offered or extended is a natural person, and the money, property, or services which are the subject of the transaction are primarily for personal, family or household purposes.”

    One judge concurred in part—regarding standing under EFTA—but dissented also, writing that the agreement does not qualify as a “credit transaction” under TILA because the Virginia code, and not a creditor, grants the taxpayer the right to defer payment of a local tax assessment by entering into an agreement with a third party like the defendant. “A[n] [agreement] is not a ‘credit transaction,’ within the meaning of TILA, because the preexisting obligation of the taxpayer is not severed by the third-party payor’s payment, and the third-party payor does not grant any right to the taxpayer that is not conferred already by statute,” the dissenting judge concluded. The judge further opined that protections for taxpayers who enter into an agreement should be resolved by the state, as the entity creating this form of tax payment.

    Courts Fourth Circuit Appellate TILA EFTA

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  • 7th Circuit holds arithmetic does not affect a debt’s character under the FDCPA

    Courts

    On February 7, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit held that arithmetic does not affect a debt’s “character” under the FDCPA, reversing the district court’s judgment against a debt collector. A debt collector reported to a credit bureau that the debtor had nine unpaid bills of $60, rather than one aggregate debt of $540. The debtor filed suit, arguing that the debt collector violated the FDCPA’s prohibition on making a “false representation” about “the character, amount, or legal status of any debt.” The district court agreed with the debtor, determining that the debt collector should have reported the amount in the aggregate and imposing a $1,000 penalty for the violation.

    On appeal, the 7th Circuit noted a lack of authoritative or persuasive guidance discussing whether aggregation of all amounts owed to a creditor “concerns the ‘character’ of a debt” under the FDCPA. The appeals court concluded that the number of specific transactions between a debtor and a creditor “does not affect the genesis, nature, or priority of the debt” and, therefore, does not concern its character. Moreover, the court noted that “‘amount’ rather than the word ‘character’ is what governs reporting the debt’s size”; otherwise, there would be no distinction in the FDCPA’s prohibition on false representations about the “character, amount, or legal status” of a debt. Because it was undisputed that the debtor incurred nine debts of $60 each to a single creditor, the debt collector did not misstate the “character” of the debt under the FDCPA.

    Courts Seventh Circuit Appellate FDCPA Debt Collection Credit Report

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  • NYDFS issues title insurance guidance following Appellate Division ruling on Regulation 208

    State Issues

    On January 31, NYDFS issued Supplement No. 2 to Insurance Circular Letter No. 1 (2003), which provides guidance to the title insurance industry following a January 15 unanimous decision by the Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court to uphold Insurance Regulation 208. The Appellate Division’s decision vacated the majority of a trial court order annulling Regulation 208, which limits title insurers’ ability to offer inducements to obtain business. (See previous InfoBytes coverage here.)

    The NYDFS supplement highlighted three critical holdings from the Appellate Division’s decision. First, the court upheld Regulation 208’s ban on inducements for future title insurance business, recognizing that NYDFS had found that lavish gifts were routinely offered to intermediaries such as lawyers in anticipation of receiving business. Second, the appellate court held that Insurance Law § 6409(d), which prohibits a commission, rebate, fee, or “other consideration or valuable thing,” is not limited to a prohibition on quid pro quo exchanges for specific business. Third, the court annulled Regulation 208’s ban on certain closer fees and fees for ancillary searches.

    State Issues Courts Appellate NYDFS Title Insurance

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