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  • 5th Circuit affirms SEC’s victim awards

    Courts

    On October 12, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed a district court’s nearly $2.4 million disgorgement order in an SEC case involving alleged penny stock fraud, marking the first time an appellate court has been asked to decide the “awarded for victims” question that arose out of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Liu v. SEC. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in 2020, the Court held that the SEC may continue to collect disgorgement in civil proceedings in federal court as long as the award does not exceed a wrongdoer’s net profits, and that such awards for victims of the wrongdoing are equitable relief permissible under the Exchange Act, 15 U.S.C. §78u(d)(5). The Court’s decision discussed three limits: (i) the “profits remedy” must return the defendant’s wrongful gains to those harmed by the defendant’s actions, as opposed to depositing them in the Treasury; (ii) disgorgement under the statute requires a factual determination of whether petitioners can, consistent with equitable principles, be found liable for profits as partners in wrongdoing or whether individual liability is required; and (iii) disgorgement must be limited to “net profits” and therefore “courts must deduct legitimate expenses before ordering disgorgement” under the statute. 

    In the current action, the SEC brought a case against three individuals accused of allegedly selling unregistered securities and misleading investors during their operation of a penny stock company. The district court found the individuals liable on several of the claims and granted summary judgment in favor of the SEC. The district court also ordered (and later amended) disgorgement of the proceeds that the individuals obtained in the alleged fraud. The individuals appealed, challenging both the summary judgment decision (on the premise that “‘numerous’ disputed fact issues exist”) and the amended disgorgement remedy. Upon review, the 5th Circuit determined that that the district court’s disgorgement order satisfied the requirements laid out by the Court in Liu. The appellate court stated that the individuals’ appeal failed “to identify any disputed issues; nor does it sufficiently challenge the court’s analysis finding them liable based on undisputed facts.” Moreover, the 5th Circuit explained that the district court did not impose joint-and several liability, but rather individually assessed disgorgement amounts for each defendant based on the gains they received from the securities fraud, adding that the SEC has identified the victims of the fraud and created a process for the return of the disgorged funds. According to the 5th Circuit, “[u]nder the district court’s supervision, any funds recovered will go to the SEC, acting as a de facto trustee. The SEC will then disburse those funds to victims but only after district court approval.” “The disgorgement thus is being ‘awarded for victims.’”

    Courts SEC Fifth Circuit Appellate Liu v. SEC Disgorgement Securities Exchange Act Enforcement

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  • District Court remands debt collection class action to state court for lack of standing

    Courts

    On October 12, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois granted plaintiff’s motion to remand a debt collection class action lawsuit back to state court. The plaintiff claimed the defendants violated the Illinois Collection Agency Act and FDCPA Section 1692c(b) by using a third-party mailing vendor to print and mail collection letters to class members. According to the plaintiff’s complaint filed in state court, conveying the information to the vendor—an allegedly unauthorized party—served as a communication under the FDCPA. The defendants removed the case to federal court, but on review, the court determined the plaintiff did not have Article III standing to sue because Congress did not intend to prevent debt collectors from using mail vendors when the FDCPA was enacted. Specifically, the court disagreed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit’s decision in Hunstein v. Preferred Collection & Management Services, which held that transmitting a consumer’s private data to a commercial mail vendor to generate debt collection letters violates Section 1692c(b) of the FDCPA because it is considered transmitting a consumer’s private data “in connection with the collection of any debt.” (Covered by InfoBytes here.) In this case, the court stated it “is difficult to imagine Congress intended for the FDCPA to extend so far as to prevent debt collectors from enlisting the assistance of mailing vendors to perform ministerial duties, such as printing and stuffing the debt collectors’ letters, in effectuating the task entrusted to them by the creditors—especially when so much of the process is presumably automated in this day and age.” According to the court, “such a scenario runs afoul of the FDCPA’s intended purpose to prevent debt collectors from utilizing truly offensive means to collect a debt.”

    Courts Vendor Third-Party Hunstein Appellate Eleventh Circuit Debt Collection State Issues FDCPA Class Action

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  • CFPB petitions 7th Circuit to reconsider Regulation O attorney exemption

    Courts

    On October 7, the CFPB filed a petition for panel or en banc rehearing with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, asking the appellate court to reconsider its recent determination “that practicing attorneys are categorically exempt from Regulation O,” as it strips the CFPB “of the authority given it by Congress to hold attorneys to account for violations not just of Regulation O, but of a host of other federal laws as well.” (Covered by InfoBytes here.) In 2014, the CFPB, FTC, and 15 state authorities took action against several foreclosure relief companies and associated individuals, alleging that they made misrepresentations about their services, failed to make mandatory disclosures, and collected unlawful advance fees (covered by InfoBytes here). A ruling issued by the district court in 2019 (covered by InfoBytes here) ordered nearly $59 million in penalties and restitution against several of the defendants for violations of Regulation O, but was later vacated by the 7th Circuit based on the application of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Liu v. SEC, which held that a disgorgement award cannot exceed a firm’s net profits—a ruling that is “applicable to all categories of equitable relief, including restitution.” (Covered by InfoBytes here.)

    In its appeal, the Bureau did not challenge the vacated restitution award, but rather argued that a rehearing is necessary to ensure that the agency can bring enforcement actions against attorneys who violate federal consumer laws, including Regulation O. “The panel’s conclusion. . .threatens to disrupt the existing federal regulatory scheme for multiple consumer laws and expose ordinary people across the country to an increased risk of harm from illegal practices,” the Bureau stated, adding that 12 U.S.C. § 5517(e) does not limit the Bureau’s ability to pursue a civil enforcement action against practicing attorneys who are subject to Regulation O. According to the Bureau, Paragraph 3 of § 5517(e) states that the limitation on the Bureau’s authority “‘shall not be construed’ to limit the Bureau’s authority with respect to an attorney ‘to the extent that such attorney is otherwise subject’ to an enumerated consumer law or transferred authority.” The Bureau asked the 7th Circuit to reconsider its decision on this issue or, in the alternative, withdraw that portion as unnecessary to the outcome.

    Courts CFPB Appellate Seventh Circuit Enforcement Regulation O Mortgages Liu v. SEC U.S. Supreme Court

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  • Seila Law will not petition Supreme Court a second time

    Courts

    On October 8, counsel for the appellant in CFPB v. Seila Law LLC sent a letter to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit stating that, after further consideration, the law firm has decided not to seek further review from the U.S. Supreme Court in its long-running challenge with the Bureau. Seila Law’s last trip to the Court resulted in a decision that declared the director’s for-cause removal provision was unconstitutional but was severable from the statute establishing the Bureau (covered by a Buckley Special Alert). October 11 was the deadline for Seila Law to file a certiorari petition with the Court after the 9th Circuit granted the law firm’s request to stay a mandate ordering compliance with a 2017 civil investigative demand (CID) issued by the Bureau. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the order stayed the appellate court’s mandate (covered by InfoBytes here) for 150 days, or until final disposition by the Court if the law firm had filed its petition of certiorari. The letter did not explain Seila Law’s reasoning.

    This announcement follows the Court’s recent decision not to hear a petition filed by a New Jersey-based finance company accused by the CFPB and the New York attorney general of misleading consumers about high-cost loans allegedly mischaracterized as assignments of future payment rights (covered by InfoBytes here), and may mark the beginning of the end of litigation over former Director Kraninger’s July 2020 ratifications of the Bureau’s private actions (covered by InfoBytes here). Since the Court’s decision in Seila, several courts have heard challenges from companies claiming the Bureau could not use ratification to avoid dismissal of their lawsuits.

    Courts Ninth Circuit Appellate U.S. Supreme Court Seila Law CFPB Single-Director Structure Enforcement CIDs

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  • Supreme Court won’t hear challenge to CFPB ratification

    Courts

    On October 4, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a petition filed by a New Jersey-based finance company accused by the CFPB and the New York attorney general of misleading first responders to the World Trade Center attack and NFL retirees about high-cost loans mischaracterized as assignments of future payment rights (see entry #20-1758). In 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit vacated a 2018 district court order, which had previously dismissed the case on the grounds that the Bureau’s single-director structure was unconstitutional, and that, as such, the agency lacked authority to bring claims alleging deceptive and abusive conduct by the company (covered by InfoBytes here). At the time, the district court also rejected an attempt by then-acting Director Mulvaney to salvage the Bureau’s claims, concluding that the “ratification of the CFPB’s enforcement action against defendants failed to cure the constitutional deficiencies in the CFPB’s structure or otherwise render defendants’ arguments moot.” The 2nd Circuit remanded the case to the district court, determining that the Court’s ruling in Seila Law LLC v. CPFB (which held that the director’s for-cause removal provision was unconstitutional but was severable from the statute establishing the Bureau, as covered by a Buckley Special Alert) superseded the 2018 ruling. The appellate court further noted that following Seila, former Director Kathy Kraninger ratified several prior regulatory actions (covered by InfoBytes here), including the enforcement action brought against the defendants, and as such, remanded the case to the district court to consider the validity of the ratification of the enforcement action.

    In its June petition for writ of certiorari, the company argued that the Bureau could not use ratification to avoid dismissal of the lawsuit. The company noted that while several courts, including the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (covered by InfoBytes here) have “appl[ied] ratification to cure the structural problem,” other courts have rejected the Bureau’s ratification efforts, finding them to be untimely (see a dismissal by the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware, as covered by InfoBytes here). As such, the company had asked the Supreme Court to clarify this contradictory “hopeless muddle” by clarifying the appropriate remedy for structural constitutional violations and addressing whether ratification is still effective if it comes after the statute of limitations has expired.

    As is customary when denying a petition for certiorari, the Supreme Court did not explain its reasoning.

    Courts U.S. Supreme Court CFPB Single-Director Structure Enforcement Appellate Seila Law Second Circuit

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  • 5th Circuit: Extended overdraft charges are not interest

    Courts

    On September 29, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that the daily fees imposed on a consumer who failed to timely pay an overdraft were deposit-account service charges, not interest, and thus not subject to usury limits. The plaintiff allegedly overdrew her account and her bank paid the overdraft. The bank began charging a daily fee after the plaintiff did not repay the overdraft within five business days (called an “Extended Overdraft Charge”), which the plaintiff argued constituted interest on an extension of credit and was usurious in violation of the National Bank Act (NBA). In dismissing the plaintiff’s complaint for failure to state a claim, the district court reasoned that the bank does not make a loan to a customer when it covers the customer’s overdraft, and therefore the NBA’s limitations on interest charges do not apply. On appeal, the appellate court sided with the district court and deferred to the interpretation of the OCC that the fees at issue were not “interest” under the law. The court found the OCC’s interpretation to be reasonable and otherwise entitled to Auer deference, and on that basis affirmed.

    Courts Fifth Circuit Appellate National Bank Act Fees OCC Overdraft Usury Bank Regulatory

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  • District Court denies delay on payday lending compliance

    Courts

    On September 30, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas denied a request made by two trade groups to stay the implementation of the payment provisions of the CFPB’s 2017 final rule covering “Payday, Vehicle Title, and Certain High-Cost Installment Loans” (2017 Rule) while they appeal an earlier decision allowing the provisions to take effect. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the court upheld the 2017 Rule’s payment provisions, finding that the Bureau’s ratification “was valid and cured the constitutional injury caused by the 2017 Rule’s approval by an improperly appointed official.” The court also concluded that the payment provisions, as a matter of law, “are consistent with the Bureau’s statutory authority and are not arbitrary and capricious,” and that the Bureau properly considered the costs and benefits of such payment provisions. The court’s order, however, granted the plaintiffs’ request to stay the compliance date, which had been set as August 19, 2019, until 286 days after final judgment.

    The plaintiffs appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and asked the district court to stay the running of the 286-day stay pending appeal, such that compliance would not be required until 286 days after the appeal is resolved. The court rejected that request, stating that the plaintiffs “failed to make a sufficient showing to warrant a stay pending resolution of the appeal” and that “the equities do not support extending the stay of the compliance date beyond the court's 286-day stay from August 30, 2021.”

    Courts CFPB Payday Lending Payday Rule Agency Rule-Making & Guidance Appellate Fifth Circuit

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  • En banc 9th Circuit: FHA does not support downstream injuries

    Courts

    On September 28, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued an en banc decision concluding that the Fair Housing Act (FHA) “is not a statute that supports proximate cause for injuries further downstream.” As previously covered by InfoBytes, the City of Oakland sued a national bank alleging violations of the FHA and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, claiming the bank provided minority borrowers mortgage loans with less favorable terms than similarly situated non-minority borrowers, which led to disproportionate defaults and foreclosures and caused (i) decreased property tax revenue; (ii) increased city expenditures; and (iii) neutralized spending in Oakland’s fair-housing programs. In 2020, a three-judge panel affirmed both the district court’s denial of the bank’s motion to dismiss claims for decreased property tax revenue, as well as the court’s dismissal of Oakland’s claims for increased city expenditures. (Covered by InfoBytes here.) The panel further held that Oakland’s claims for injunctive and declaratory relief were also subject to the FHA’s proximate-cause requirement and, on remand, the district court must determine whether Oakland’s allegations satisfied this requirement. The bank filed a petition for panel rehearing and rehearing en banc last year arguing, among other things, that the panel had “fashioned a looser, FHA-specific proximate-cause standard” in conflict with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Bank of America Corp. v. City of Miami. As covered by a Buckley Special Alert, in 2017, the Supreme Court held that municipal plaintiffs may be “aggrieved persons” authorized to bring suit under the FHA against lenders for injuries allegedly flowing from discriminatory lending practices, but that such injuries must be proximately caused by, rather than simply the foreseeable result of, the alleged misconduct. 

    The 9th Circuit agreed with the bank and remanded the case for dismissal of the FHA claims and proceedings consistent with the opinion. Citing the Miami decision as one of the leading factors, the panel stated that “[w]e begin where Miami began, with ‘[t]he general tendency. . .not to go beyond the first step,’” adding that “[t]here is no question that Oakland’s theory of harm goes beyond the first step—the harm to minority borrowers who receive predatory loans. Oakland’s theory of harm runs far beyond that—to depressed housing values, and ultimately to reduced tax revenue and increased municipal expenditures. Oakland thus fails a strict application of the general tendency not to stretch proximate causation beyond the first step.” The panel also affirmed the district court’s decision that Oakland failed to sufficiently plead claims related to increased municipal expenditures and reversed the district court’s denial of the bank’s motion to dismiss claims for lost property tax revenue and injunctive and declaratory relief.

    Courts Appellate Ninth Circuit Fair Housing Fair Housing Act Consumer Finance State Issues Fair Lending U.S. Supreme Court

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  • 6th Circuit: TCPA robocall claims not invalidated by severance of 2015 amendment in AAPC

    Courts

    On September 9, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit determined that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Barr v. American Association of Political Consultants Inc. (AAPC) (covered by InfoBytes here, which held that the government-debt exception in Section 227(b)(1)(A)(iii) of the TCPA is an unconstitutional content-based speech restriction and severed the provision from the statute) does not invalidate a plaintiff’s TCPA claims concerning robocalls he received prior to the Court issuing its decision. In the current matter, the plaintiff filed a proposed class action alleging violations of the TCPA’s robocall restriction after he received two robocalls from the defendant in late 2019 and early 2020 advertising its electricity services. Following the Court’s decision in AAPC, the district court granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss, ruling that because severance of the exception in AAPC only operates prospectively, “the robocall restriction was unconstitutional and therefore ‘void’ for the period the exception was on the books.” As such, the district court concluded that because the robocall restriction was void, it could not provide a basis for federal-question jurisdiction for alleged TCPA robocall violations arising before the Court severed the exception.

    On appeal, the 6th Circuit conducted a severability analysis, holding that the district court erred in concluding that the court, in AAPC, offered “‘a remedy in the form of eliminating the content-based restriction' from the TCPA.” Rather, the appellate court pointed out that “the Court recognized only that the Constitution had ‘automatically displace[d]’ the government-debt-collector exception from the start, then interpreted what the statute has always meant in its absence,” adding that the legal determination in AAPC applied retroactively and did not render the entire TCPA robocall restriction void until the exception was severed by the court. A First Amendment defense presented by the defendant premised on the argument that “government-debt collectors have a due-process defense to liability because they did not have fair notice of their actions’ unlawfulness” for robocalls placed before AAPC was also rejected. The 6th Circuit opinion emphasized that “[w]hether a debt collector had fair notice that it faced punishment for making robocalls turns on whether it reasonably believed that the statute expressly permitted its conduct. That, in turn, will likely depend in part on whether the debt collector used robocalls to collect government debt or non-government debt. But applying the speech-neutral fair-notice defense in the speech context does not transform it into a speech restriction.”

    Courts Appellate Sixth Circuit TCPA Robocalls U.S. Supreme Court Class Action

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  • Illinois state appellate court applies different limitation periods under BIPA

    Privacy, Cyber Risk & Data Security

    On September 17, the First District Appellate Court of Illinois held that different limitation periods should be applied to the Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA), concluding that while Section 15 imposes various duties that all concern privacy, “each duty is separate and distinct.” Specifically, the panel stated that claims related to “[a]ctions for slander, libel or for publication of matter violating the right of privacy” have a one-year limitation period, while “all civil actions not otherwise provided for” carry a five-year limit. Plaintiffs filed a class action complaint alleging violations of BIPA Sections 15(a), 15(b), and 15(d), claiming the defendant collected, stored, used, and disseminated individuals’ biometric data obtained through fingerprint scans without, among other things, (i) informing plaintiffs of the purpose and length of the storage and use of their data; (ii) receiving written release from plaintiffs; (iii) providing a retention schedule and guidelines for destroying the data; or (iv) obtaining consent from plaintiffs and other employees to disseminate their data to third parties. The defendant moved to dismiss, arguing that the claims were filed outside the limitation period, noting that while BIPA itself has no limitation provision, “the one-year limitation period for privacy actions under Code section 13-201 applies to causes of action under [BIPA] because [BIPA’s] purpose is privacy protection.” A state trial court denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss, ruling that the plaintiffs’ claims  were subject to Illinois’ “catchall” five-year limitation provision rather than the state’s one-year privacy claim limitation period, since the plaintiffs were alleging specific BIPA violations rather than a general privacy invasion.

    On appeal, the appellate court considered the limitations question and determined, among other things, that since Illinois’ one-year statute of limitations applies only to published privacy violations, it can only govern BIPA claims filed under section 15(c)’s profit restrictions and section 15(d)’s disclosure/dissemination prohibitions. As such, plaintiffs suing under BIPA’s section 15(a)’s retention requirements, section 15(b) informed consent, and section 15(e) data safeguarding requirements have five years to bring such claims since these duties “have absolutely no element of publication or dissemination.”

    Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security State Issues Courts Illinois Statute of Limitations BIPA Class Action Appellate

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