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On December 20, 2018, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois granted summary judgment in favor of a debt collector, holding the collection letters effectively stated the amount of the debt under the FDCPA. According to the opinion, a consumer received four collection letters from a debt collector stating an account balance of $794.67. The consumer sued the debt collector, alleging the letters were false, deceptive, or misleading and failed to effectively state the amount of the debt in violation of the FDCPA because, according to the terms in the creditor’s online sample agreement, the original creditor could have collected interest on post-charge off fees after the debt collector closed the account. Both parties moved for summary judgment. The court determined the collection letter at issue complied with the FDCPA because the debt collector “sought to collect only the amount due on the date it sent the letter” and was not “trying to collect the listed balance plus the interest running on it or other charges.” Moreover, the court rejected the consumer’s argument that the letter was false, deceptive, or misleading because it failed to include whether the creditor could charge additional interest or other fees on the original debt, determining the letter could not mislead or deceive an unsophisticated consumer. Specifically, citing the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit’s decision in Wahl v. Midland Credit Management, the court stated that a debt collector “need only request the amount it is owed; it need not provide whatever the credit-card company may be owed more than that.” Because a consumer of reasonable intelligence and basic financial knowledge would read the collection letter and determine that he or she owes $794.67, the court granted summary judgment in favor of the debt collector.
5th Circuit: Loan originators cannot be liable for loan servicers’ violations of RESPA loss mitigation requirements
On December 21, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit held that a mortgage loan originator cannot be held vicariously liable for a loan servicer’s failure to comply with the loss mitigation requirements of RESPA (and its implementing Regulation X). According to the opinion, in response to a foreclosure action, a consumer filed a third-party complaint against her loan servicers and loan originator alleging, among other things, that the loan servicers had violated Regulation X’s requirement that a servicer evaluate a completed loss mitigation application submitted more than 37 days before a foreclosure sale. In subsequent filings, the consumer clarified that the claims against the loan originator were for breach of contract and vicarious liability for one of the loan servicer’s alleged RESPA violations. The district court dismissed both claims against the loan originator and the consumer appealed the dismissal of the RESPA claim.
On appeal, the 5th Circuit affirmed the dismissal for two independent reasons. First, the 5th Circuit noted it is well established that vicarious liability requires an agency relationship and determined the consumer failed to assert facts that suggested such a relationship existed. Second, in an issue of first impression at the circuit court stage, the court ruled that, as a matter of law, the loan originator could not be vicariously liable for its servicer’s alleged violations of RESPA, as the applicable statutory and regulatory provisions only impose loss mitigation requirements on “servicers,” and therefore only servicers could fail to comply with those obligations. The appellate court reasoned that Congress explicitly imposed RESPA duties more broadly in other sections (using the example of RESPA’s prohibition on kickbacks and unearned fees that applies to any “person”), but chose “a narrower set of potential defendants for the violations [the consumer] alleges.” The court concluded, “the text of this statute plainly and unambiguously shields [the loan originator] from any liability created by the alleged RESPA violations of its loan servicer.”
On December 20, the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey granted a student loan company’s motion for summary judgment, holding that the plaintiff failed to establish the company’s phone system qualified as an automated telephone dialing system (autodialer) under the TCPA. The plaintiff alleged the company violated the TCPA by using an autodialer to call his cell phone without his prior express consent. Each party filed cross-motions for summary judgment with the plaintiff arguing that the company’s system “had the present capacity without modification to place calls from a stored list without human intervention.” The company disagreed with the plaintiff’s assertions, arguing that it used separate systems for land lines and cell phones, and that the system which dialed the cell phone “contains no features that can be activated, deactivated, or added to the system to enable autodialing.” Citing to the opinion of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit in Dominguez v. Yahoo (previously covered by InfoByres here), which held that it would interpret the definition of an autodialer as it would prior to the FCC’s 2015 Declaratory Ruling, the court noted that the term “capacity” in the TCPA’s autodialer definition refers to the system’s current functions, not its potential capacity. Because the plaintiff failed to establish that the system used to dial his cell phone had the “present capacity” to initiate autodialed calls without modifications, the court concluded the claim failed as a matter of law.
On December 18, the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey reversed a lower court’s order compelling arbitration, concluding the arbitration provision of the plaintiff’s auto lease agreement did not clearly and unambiguously inform the reader that arbitration was the exclusive dispute remedy. According to the opinion, the plaintiff filed a complaint against an auto dealer after allegedly being charged a $75 dollar fee associated with the loan payoff of his trade-in vehicle for which the plaintiff never received an explanation of its purpose, in violation of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act and Truth in Consumer Contract, Warranty and Notice Act. The auto dealer moved to compel arbitration under the lease contract’s arbitration notice, which included the statement, “[e]ither you or Lessor/Finance Company/Holder […] may choose at any time, including after a lawsuit is filed, to have any Claim related to this contract decided by arbitration.” The lower court determined that the arbitration provision was not “ambiguous or vague in any way” and ordered arbitration. The plaintiff appealed, arguing the clause is vague because it states the parties “may” arbitrate. On appeal, the appellate court concluded that the arbitration provision was not clear and unambiguous due to the use of a passive “may” when referring to the ability to opt into arbitration. Moreover, the appellate court determined the arbitration provision to be unenforceable because it lacked language that would affirmatively inform the plaintiff that “he could not pursue his statutory rights in court.”
On December 10, the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota ruled on a motion for summary judgment concerning whether the Minnesota Mortgage Originator and Servicer Licensing Act’s (MOSLA) provision prohibiting “a mortgage servicer from violating ‘federal law regulating residential mortgage loans’” provides a cause of action under state law when a loan servicer violates RESPA but where the consumer ultimately has no federal cause of action because the consumer “sustained no actual damages and thus has no actionable claim under RESPA.”
As previously covered by InfoBytes, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit reviewed the district court’s earlier decision to grant summary judgement in favor of a consumer who claimed the mortgage loan servicer failed to adequately respond to his qualified written requests concerning erroneous delinquency allegations. The 8th Circuit overturned that ruling, opining that while the loan servicer failed to (i) conduct an adequate investigation following the plaintiff’s request as to why there was a delinquency for his account, and (ii) failed to provide a complete loan payment history when requested, its failure did not cause actual damages.
Now, revisiting the issue on remand, the district court stated that any MOSLA violation or injury is predicated on the RESPA violation or injury. Reasoning that since there were “no actual damages under RESPA, then there are no actual damages under MOSLA,” the court concluded that the consumer did not have a viable cause of action under MOSLA and dismissed the action with prejudice.
On December 10, the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey denied a medical laboratory’s motion to dismiss a putative TCPA class action against the company, holding the plaintiff sufficiently alleged the equipment used to make unsolicited calls qualified as an “autodialer.” According to the opinion, the plaintiff filed the class action against the company after receiving an unsolicited call to her cell phone and hearing a “momentary pause” before a representative started speaking, allegedly indicating the company was using an automatic telephone dialing system (autodialer). The plaintiff argues the company violated the TCPA by placing non-emergency calls using an autodialer without having her express consent. The company moved to dismiss the action, arguing the plaintiff did not sufficiently allege the company called her using an autodialer. The court disagreed, stating that “[d]ead air after answering the phone is indicative that the caller used a predictive dialer.” The court noted that a predictive dialer is a device considered an autodialer under binding precedent, citing to the opinion of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit in Dominguez v. Yahoo, which held that it would interpret the definition of an autodialer as it would prior to the FCC’s 2015 Declaratory Ruling, which was invalidated by the D.C. Circuit. (Previously covered by InfoBytes here.) The court acknowledged that the actual configuration of the dialing equipment should be explored in discovery, but at this stage, the plaintiff sufficiently alleged the use of an autodialer for purposes of the TCPA.
7th Circuit holds consumers can be expected to read second page of two-page collection letter, affirms dismissal of FDCPA action
On December 7, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a consumer’s class action against a debt collection company for allegedly violating the FDCPA by indicating “additional important information” was on the back of the first page when the required validation notice was actually on the front of the second page. According to the opinion, the consumer alleged the debt collection notice “misleads the unsophisticated consumer by telling him that important information is on the back, but instead providing the validation notice on the front of the second page, thereby ‘overshadowing’ the consumer’s rights” under the FDCPA. The debt collector moved to dismiss the action for failure to state a claim and the district court granted the dismissal and declined to allow the consumer leave to amend the complaint.
On appeal, the 7th Circuit determined that the location of the validation notice—which “is clear, prominent, and readily readable”—did not overshadow the consumer’s FDCPA rights or misrepresent the importance of the notice, notwithstanding the language on the first page indicating the important information would be on the back of the first page, not on the top of the second page. The 7th Circuit explained, “The FDCPA does not say a debt collector must put the validation notice on the first page of a letter. Nor does the FDCPA say the first page of a debt-collection letter must point to the validation notice if it is not on the first page. Nor does the FDCPA say a debt collector must tell a consumer the validation notice is important. Nor does the FDCPA say a debt collector may not tell a consumer that other information is important.” The appellate court rejected the consumer’s unsophisticated consumer argument, concluding that "[e]ven an unsophisticated consumer—maybe especially one—can be expected to read page two of a two-page collection letter." Moreover, the appellate court upheld the denial of the consumer’s request to amend her complaint, noting that no proposed amendment would push the plaintiff’s “original claim into the realm of plausibility.”
On December 6, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit reversed a lower court’s decision to dismiss TILA allegations brought against a bank, finding that the statute of limitations for borrowers to bring TILA rescission enforcement claims is based on state law, and is six years in the state of Washington. The panel opined that, because TILA does not specify a statute of limitations for when an action to enforce a TILA recession must be brought, “courts must borrow the most analogous state law statute of limitations and apply that limitation period” to these type of claims, which, in Washington, is the six-year statute of limitations on contract claims. According to the opinion, the plaintiffs refinanced a mortgage loan in 2010, but failed to receive notice of the right to rescind the loan at the time of refinancing in violation of TILA’s disclosure requirements. Consequently, the plaintiffs had three years—instead of three days—from the loan’s consummation date to rescind the loan. In 2013, within the three-year period, the plaintiffs notified the bank of their intent to rescind the loan. However, instead of taking action in response to the plaintiffs’ notice, the bank instead began a nonjudicial foreclosure nearly four years after the rescission demand, declaring that the plaintiffs were in default on the loan. The plaintiffs filed suit in 2017 to enforce the recession, which the bank moved to dismiss on the argument that the claims were time barred. According to the panel, the lower court wrongly interpreted the plaintiff’s request for damages under the Washington Consumer Protection Act “as a claim for monetary relief under TILA”—which has a one-year statute of limitations—and dismissed the plaintiffs’ claim as time barred without leave to amend. However, the consumers were seeking a declaratory judgment and an injunction, not damages.
On appeal, the 9th Circuit rejected three possible statute of limitations offered by the lower court. The panel also rejected plaintiffs’ argument that no statute of limitations apply to TILA recession enforcement claims, and held that it could not be assumed that “Congress intended that there be no time limit on actions at all”; rather, federal courts must borrow the most applicable state law statute of limitations. Because the mortgage loan agreement was a written contract between the plaintiffs and the bank, and the plaintiffs’ suit was an attempt to rescind that written contract, Washington’s six-year time limit on suits under written contracts must be borrowed. Therefore, the panel concluded that the plaintiffs’ suit was not time-barred and reversed and remanded the case for further proceedings.
On December 7, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California denied a bank’s motion to dismiss a putative class action alleging the bank violated the California Unfair Competition Law (UCL) by not paying interest to residential mortgagors on funds held in escrow accounts, as required by California law. The three plaintiffs filed the complaint against the bank after the March decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit 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 the funds held in a consumer’s escrow account. (Previously covered by InfoBytes here.) The plaintiffs argued that the 9th Circuit decision requires the bank to comply with the California law requiring interest on funds held in escrow.
In response, the bank filed a motion to dismiss, or in the alternative to stay the case, on the basis that the plaintiffs failed to provide the bank with notice and an opportunity to cure alleged misconduct prior to judicial action as required by the mortgage deed, and that the plaintiff’s claims were preempted by the Home Owners Loan Act (HOLA). The court rejected these arguments, finding that the plaintiff’s failure to comply with the ambiguous provisions in the mortgage deed do not foreclosure their claims, concluding “[t]o deprive Plaintiffs of recourse to their statutory rights based on an ambiguous contractual provision would also frustrate the consumer protection purposes of those statutes.” As to the HOLA argument, the court acknowledged that HOLA preempted the state interest law as to the originator of the mortgages, a now-defunct federal thrift, but disagreed with the bank’s assertion that the preemption attached throughout the life of the loan, including after the loan is transferred to a bank whose own lending is not covered by HOLA. Specifically, the court looked to the legislative intent of HOLA and noted it was unclear if Congress intended for preemption to attach through the life of the loan, but found a clear goal of consumer protection. Therefore, the court concluded that “[a]llowing preemption may run contrary to HOLA's purpose and could result in a gross miscarriage of justice” by depriving homeowners of state law protections.
Additionally, the court rejected as moot the alternative request to stay the case pending the Supreme Court’s resolution of Lusnak, because the Supreme Court denied the petition of writ in that case in November (covered by InfoBytes here).
On December 3, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit upheld a $1.3 billion judgment against defendants-appellants responsible for operating an allegedly deceptive payday lending scheme. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in October 2016, the FTC announced that the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada ordered a Kansas-based operation and its owner to pay nearly $1.3 billion for allegedly violating Section 5(a) of the FTC Act by making false and misleading representations about loan costs and payment. The owner appealed to the 9th Circuit, arguing that the loan notes were “technically correct” because the fine print located under the TILA disclosure box contained all the legally required information. The appeals court disagreed. In affirming the district court’s judgment, the appeals court determined the loan note was still deceptive even though the fine print contained the relevant information about the loan’s automatic renewal terms, stating “[appellants’] argument wrongly assumes that non-deceptive business practices can somehow cure the deceptive nature of the Loan Note.” Moreover, the appeals court rejected the argument about technical correctness, citing the FTC Act’s “consumer-friendly standard” (which does not require technical accuracy) and noting that “consumers acting reasonably under the circumstances—here, by looking to the terms of the Loan Note to understand their obligations—likely could be deceived by the representations made there.” Among other things, the appeals court also rejected the appellant owner’s challenge to the $1.3 billion judgment (based on an argument that the lower court overestimated his “wrongful gain” and that the FTC Act only allows the court to issue injunctions), concluding that the owner failed to provide evidence contradicting the wrongful gain calculation and that a district court may grant any ancillary relief under the FTC Act, including restitution.
- Heidi M. Bauer and Dan Ladd to discuss "'So you want to form a joint venture' — Licensing strategies for successful JVs" at RESPRO26
- Tim Lange to discuss "Update from 2019 NMLS Conference" at the California Mortgage Bankers Association Mortgage Quality & Compliance Committee webinar
- Jonice Gray Tucker to to discuss "DC policy: Everything but the kitchen sink" at CBA Live
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Small business & regulation: How fair lending has evolved & where are we heading?" at CBA Live
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Lessons learned from ABLV and other major cases involving inadequate compliance oversight" at the ACAMS International AML & Financial Crime Conference
- Jon David D. Langlois to discuss "Transaction management-issues surrounding purchase & sale agreements, post acquisition integration & trailing docs" at the Investment Management Network Residential Mortgage Servicing Rights Forum
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "A year in the life of the CDD final rule: A first anniversary assessment" at the ACAMS International AML & Financial Crime Conference
- Moorari K. Shah to discuss "State regulatory and disclosures" at the Equipment Leasing and Finance Association Legal Forum
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "The state of the BSA 2019: What’s working, what’s not, and how to improve it" at the West Coast Anti Money-Laundering Forum
- Hank Asbill to discuss "Creative character evidence in criminal and civil trials" at the Litigation Counsel of America Spring Conference & Celebration of Fellows
- Brandy A. Hood to discuss "Flood NFIP in the age of extreme weather events" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Michelle L. Rogers to discuss "UDAAP compliance" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Kathryn L. Ryan to discuss "State examination/enforcement trends" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Benjamin K. Olson to discuss "LO compensation" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Kathryn L. Ryan to discuss "Major state law developments" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Leveraging big data responsibly" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- 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 "Mid-year policy update" at the ACAMS AML Risk Management 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
- Benjamin W. Hutten to discuss "Requirements for banking inherently high-risk relationships" at the Georgia Bankers Association BSA Experience Program