Subscribe to our InfoBytes Blog weekly newsletter and other publications for news affecting the financial services industry.
On January 19, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit affirmed a lower court decision that the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) does not cover non-judicial foreclosures in Colorado. In affirming the District Court’s dismissal of the case, the 10th Circuit reasoned that non-judicial foreclosures in Colorado do not constitute an attempt to collect money from a debtor because the state only allows the trustee to obtain payment from the sale of the foreclosed property and a deficiency judgment must be sought through a separate action. According to the opinion, in 2014, a mortgage servicer hired a law firm to initiate a non-judicial foreclosure and the law firm sent the homeowner a letter indicating that it “may be considered to be a debt collector attempting to collect a debt.” The homeowner then filed a complaint in District Court against the firm and the mortgage servicer for FDCPA violations, which was subsequently dismissed. The 10th Circuit reasoned that the mortgage servicer was not considered a debt collector under the law because servicing initiated prior to the loan’s default and the law firm’s communications with the homeowner never attempted to induce payment. The opinion acknowledges that many courts are split on this topic and emphasizes that the holding does not apply to judicial foreclosures.
On January 22, the U.S. Supreme Court denied a second petition for writ of certiorari in Spokeo v. Robins, thereby declining to reconsider its position on Article III’s standing to sue requirements or to provide further clarification on what constitutes injury in fact. Citing “widespread confusion” over how to determine whether intangible injuries qualify as injury in fact, and therefore meet the standing threshold, Spokeo argued in its petition that review is “warranted to ensure that the jurisdiction asserted by the federal courts remains within constitutional limits.” The second petition was filed by Spokeo last December to request a review of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit’s August 2017 decision—on remand from the Supreme Court (see Buckley Sandler Special Alert here)—which ruled that Robins had established standing to sue for alleged violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) by claiming an intangible statutory injury without any additional harm. The 9th Circuit opined that information contained in a consumer report about age, marital status, educational background, and employment history is important for employment and loan applications, home purchases, and more, and that it “does not take much imagination to understand how inaccurate reports on such a broad range of material facts about Robins’s life could be deemed a real harm.” Further, guaranteeing the accuracy of such information “seems directly and substantially related to FCRA’s goals.” The 9th Circuit reversed and remanded the case to the Central District of California after finding that Robins had adequately alleged the essential elements of standing (see previous InfoBytes coverage here).
On January 17, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit reversed a decision by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin dismissing the plaintiffs’ claims that the defendant debt collection agency violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) by falsely stating balances owed might increase “due to interest, late charges and other charges” in its dunning letters to the plaintiffs. In 2016, the defendant sent collection letters for overdue medical bills; according to the plaintiffs, the collection letters falsely suggested that the debt would continue to increase every day due to “late charges and other charges” that the defendant could not legally impose. In granting the motion to dismiss, the District Court had agreed with the defendant that the language used in their dunning letters was nearly identical to the safe harbor language upheld by the 7th Circuit in 2000, and that the letters were not “false, deceptive, or misleading.” By reversing the District Court’s decision, the 7th Circuit determined that the defendant’s use of the safe harbor language in their letters was inaccurate, because the defendant could not lawfully impose “late charges and other charges.” In doing so, the 7th Circuit rejected the defendant’s attempt to copy and paste the safe harbor language, and instead concluded that debt collectors are required to tailor boilerplate language to avoid ambiguity and ensure their statements are accurate under the circumstances.
On January 5, the Supreme Court dismissed a servicemember’s petition for a writ of certiorari after receiving a Stipulation of Dismissal from both parties who agreed to settle the dispute. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the servicemember filed the petition after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the lower court’s decision that the servicemember was not entitled to the protections against non-judicial foreclosures under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). The lower court concluded that because the servicemember “incurred his mortgage obligation during his service in the Navy, the obligation was not subject to SCRA protection” even through the servicemember, after a discharge period, later re-enlisted with the Army.
On January 10, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed that three payday lenders and two marketing companies (together, the defendants) did not indirectly violate the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) by accepting marketing help from a separate lead generator company that used a program to send text-messaged advertisements. In upholding the district court’s decision, the three judge panel concluded that “it is undisputed” that the defendants did not enter into a contract with the lead generator company, and further, that the lead generator company did not act as their agent or purported agent. The plaintiff-appellant that received the text-messaged advertisement—which directed consumers who clicked on the link within the message to a loan application website controlled by one of the defendants—filed a putative class action complaint, certified by the district court, against the defendants to allege that they were vicariously liable for sending the text messages in violation of the TCPA. Specifically, the plaintiff-appellant claimed the defendants ratified the lead generator company’s actions when they accepted leads even though they knew the leads were being generated through text messages. The district court granted summary judgments for all the defendants, and ruled they were not vicariously liable for the lead generator company’s actions, and that additionally, the plaintiff-appellant failed to present evidence that defendants had actual knowledge that the texts were being sent in violation of the TCPA. The appellate panel also noted that because one of the defendants—a contracted lead provider—had “no ‘knowledge of facts that would have led a reasonable person to investigate further,’ . . . [the defendant] cannot be deemed to have ratified [the] actions and therefore is not vicariously liable.”
On December 11, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled that a mortgage servicer’s communications about a potential loan modification do not constitute “debt collection activity” under the Texas Debt Collection Act (TDCA). The servicer had initially told borrowers that they could apply for a loan modification but later informed them that they were not eligible. The borrowers unsuccessfully appealed the determination with the servicer, yet prior to a final determination on the appeal, the servicer sent a statement reflecting a new monthly payment in the amount that the borrowers had been requesting. The borrowers made one payment in that amount, which the servicer accepted, but weeks later the servicer sent a letter stating that the mortgage was still in default. In affirming the district court’s judgment in favor of the mortgage servicer, the three-judge panel determined that while “modification discussions may constitute debt collection activities under the TDCA when those discussions are used as a ruse to collect debt,” the borrowers failed to make such a showing, and instead the servicer’s misrepresentations were “merely poor customer service.”
On December 5, after a five-day trial, a jury in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia entered a unanimous verdict clearing a Pennsylvania-based student loan servicing agency (defendant) accused of improper billing practices under the False Claims Act (FCA) and bilking the federal government of millions of dollars. The plaintiff—a former Department of Education employee whistleblower—sought treble damages and forfeitures under the FCA. The case stems from a qui tam suit originally filed in 2007, in which the plaintiff alleged that multiple state-run student loan financing agencies overcharged the U.S. government through fraudulent claims to the Federal Family Education Loan Program in order to unlawfully obtain 9.5 percent special allowance interest payments. Although the district court dismissed four of the agencies from the suit in 2009, ruling that they were state agencies and therefore immune from lawsuits brought by a qui tam relator, a Fourth Circuit Panel eventually reversed the ruling with respect to the Pennsylvania-based state agency defendant, holding that the entity “is an independent political subdivision, not an arm of the commonwealth,” and “therefore a 'person' subject to liability under the False Claims Act.” The panel held that the defendant failed to qualify as a state entity because the defendant’s board is responsible for decision-making and its revenue derives from commercial activities, notwithstanding the fact that the defendant is operated by state employees and is required to deposit its funds in the state’s treasury.
Upon remand, the district court cleared the way for the jury trial by denying the defendant’s motion for judgment on the pleadings, which argued that the plaintiff cannot establish the materiality requirement set under Universal Health Services, Inc. v. U.S. ex rel. Escobar. In a memorandum opinion, the court concluded that the Department of Education continuing to pay claims even after becoming aware of the loan servicer’s billing practices did not, in fact, change the definition of materiality under the FCA, and therefore, did not “merit reconsideration of this court’s ruling that plaintiff stated a plausible claim.”
The case then went to jury trial in November, leading to the jury’s verdict in favor of the defendant.
On November 14, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed a Southern District of New York dismissal of a lawsuit against a debt collection law firm regarding actions taken during state court collection proceedings. Concluding that the plaintiff had stated a claim against the law firm under two sections of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), a three-judge panel vacated the dismissal and remanded for further proceedings consistent with its decision.
The appeal stems from the law firm’s actions in attempting to collect on a default judgment entered against the plaintiff. After receiving a restraining notice from the law firm, the plaintiff’s bank placed a restraint on his checking account and the law firm told plaintiff that, unless he made a payment, he would have to get a court order to lift the restraint. The plaintiff sought such an order on the grounds that all the money in his checking account was Social Security Retirement Income (SSRI) and, therefore, exempt from restraint. The plaintiff claimed that the law firm’s objection to his request contained false statements in violation of the FDCPA and New York law because the plaintiff had earlier provided the law firm with documents supporting his exemption claim.
In finding the complaint states a claim under FDCPA section 1692e, the Court rejected, among other arguments made by the law firm, the notion that FDCPA liability cannot be imposed based on conduct in litigation; the opinion contrasts bankruptcy court proceedings—where the Second Circuit has found the filing of false statements of claim does not violate the FDCPA—with those of state courts, “where . . . the consumer, often unfamiliar with the law governing garnishment of bank accounts, has the benefit of neither counsel nor a bankruptcy trustee.” The Court also held that “a debt collector engages in unfair or unconscionable litigation conduct in violation of [FDCPA] section 1692f when . . . it in bad faith unduly prolongs legal proceedings or requires a consumer to appear at an unnecessary hearing.”
On November 9, the CFPB filed a brief with the Supreme Court opposing the petition for a writ of certiorari submitted by online tribal lending entities. The lenders are challenging a January decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which ordered the entities to comply with a CFPB investigation (previously covered by Infobytes). The litigation stems from the issuance of a civil investigative demand (CID) by the CFPB to online lending entities owned by Native American tribes. The entities argue that due to tribal sovereignty, the CFPB does not have jurisdiction over the small-dollar lending services in question. The district court and the Ninth Circuit concluded that the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA) did not expressly exclude tribes from the CFPB’s enforcement authority and therefore, the entities cannot claim tribal sovereign immunity.
In its brief opposing the certiorari petition, the CFPB argues that the Ninth Circuit’s holding does not conflict with any prior Supreme Court or court of appeals decision, making further review unwarranted. The CFPB also argues, among other things, that Supreme Court review is unnecessary because “[t]he question at this juncture is solely whether the Bureau may obtain information from petitioners pursuant to a CID,” not “whether petitioners are subject to the Bureau’s regulatory authority.”
On October 12, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed an Indiana District Court’s 2016 ruling, agreeing that an insurance company does not bear the responsibility for covering a bank’s $24 million class action settlement under a policy provision that excludes coverage for any case involving fees. In upholding the lower court’s decision, the three judge panel concluded that the insurance company had no duty to defend or indemnify the bank on the basis that the underlying overdraft fee claims fall under “Exclusion 3(n)” in the bank's professional liability insurance policy, which states that the insurance company “shall not be liable for [l]oss on account of any [c]laim . . . based upon, arising from, or in consequence of any fees or charges.” Class claims alleging that the bank manipulated its debit processing to “maximize overdraft revenue” by charging purportedly excessive fees to consumers who overdraw their checking and savings accounts triggered the exclusion. The panel also noted that an insurance company’s decision to include fee exclusions in banking liability policies is designed to prevent the “moral hazard” of allowing banks to “freely create other customer fee schemes” knowing they could easily secure coverage.
- Buckley Webcast: The next consumer litigation frontier? Assessing the consumer privacy litigation and enforcement landscape in 2019 and beyond
- Buckley Webcast: The CFPB’s proposed debt collection rule
- Buckley Webcast: Trends in e-discovery technology and case law
- Brandy A. Hood to discuss "What the flood? Don’t get washed away by a flood of changes" at the American Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Mitigating the risks of banking high risk customers" at the American Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano, Kari K. Hall, Brandy A. Hood, and H Joshua Kotin to discuss "Regulations that matter in a deregulatory environment" at the American Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference Power Hour
- Buckley Webcast: Data breach litigation and biometric legislation
- Hank Asbill to discuss "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain: Addressing prosecutions driven by hidden actors" at the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers West Coast White Collar Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Keep off the grass: Mitigating the risks of banking marijuana-related businesses" at the ACAMS AML Risk Management Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Mid-year policy update" at the ACAMS AML Risk Management Conference
- Amanda R. Lawrence to discuss "Navigating the challenges of the latest data protection regulations and proven protocols for breach prevention and response" at the ACI National Forum on Consumer Finance Class Actions and Government Enforcement
- Benjamin W. Hutten to discuss "Requirements for banking inherently high-risk relationships" at the Georgia Bankers Association BSA Experience Program
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Lessons learned from recent enforcement actions and CMPs" at the ACAMS AML & Financial Crime Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Assessing the CDD final rule: A year of transitions" at the ACAMS AML & Financial Crime Conference
- Douglas F. Gansler to discuss "Role of state AGs in consumer protection" at a George Mason University Law & Economics Center symposium