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On September 16, a split U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit concluded that “an agreement delegating to an arbitrator the gateway question of whether the underlying arbitration agreement is enforceable must be upheld unless that specific delegation provision is itself unenforceable.” The appellate court’s decision reversed a district court’s ruling that an arbitration agreement entered between tribal lenders and borrowers was unenforceable because it impermissibly waived borrowers’ rights to pursue federal statutory claims. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in April the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California granted class certification to residents who received loans from an online lender, allowing them to pursue class Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) claims based on allegations they were charged interest rates that exceeded state limits for lenders claiming tribal immunity. The class of borrowers include California residents who collected loans from an Oklahoma-based tribe, and California residents who received loans from a Montana-based tribe. The district court also ruled that the entire arbitration agreement, including provisions containing a class action waiver, was unenforceable. The lenders appealed.
On appeal, the 9th Circuit majority cited to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Rent-A-Center, West, Inc. v. Jackson, which determined, among other things, that when a party challenges an entire agreement—not just an arbitration provision—deciding “gateway” issues such as enforceability must be delegated to an arbitrator. “We do not dispute that [b]orrowers have a reasonable argument that the arbitration agreement as written precludes them from asserting their RICO claims or other federal claims in arbitration. . . . And if that is true, the arbitration agreement is likely unenforceable as a prospective waiver,” the majority wrote. “But, when there is a clear delegation provision, that question is. . .for the arbitrator to decide so long as the delegation provision itself does not eliminate parties’ rights to purse their federal remedies,” the majority added.
The 9th Circuit’s opinion differs from decisions issued by other appellate courts, which found that certain delegation provisions were unenforceable for various reasons after reviewing whether an arbitration agreement as a whole was unenforceable due to prospective waiver of federal claims. (See InfoBytes coverage of the 3rd and 4th Circuit decisions here and here.) The majority stated that the other appellate courts “considered the wrong thing by ‘confus[ing] the question of who decides arbitrability with the separate question of who prevails on arbitrability.’” According to the majority, “[t]he proper question is not whether the entire arbitration agreement constitutes a prospective waiver, but whether the antecedent agreement delegating resolution of that question to the arbitrator constitutes prospective waiver.”
On September 13, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois reimposed a more than $5 million restitution award in an action dating back to 2018, this time under Section 19 of the FTC Act. The court originally granted the FTC’s motion for summary judgment against a credit monitoring service and its sole owner in an action filed under Section 13(b) of the FTC Act, after concluding that no reasonable jury would find that the defendants’ scheme of using false rental property ads to solicit consumer enrollment in credit monitoring services without their knowledge could occur without engaging in unfair or deceptive practices (covered by InfoBytes here). However, as previously covered by InfoBytes, in 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held that Section 13(b) does not grant the FTC authority to order restitution—a position that the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately agreed with when issuing its decision in AMG Capital Management, LLC v. FTC (which unanimously held that Section 13(b) of the FTC Act “does not authorize the Commission to seek, or a court to award, equitable monetary relief such as restitution or disgorgement”—covered by InfoBytes here).
In its current ruling, the court agreed to reimpose the damages under the Restore Online Shopper Confidence Act (ROSCA) and Section 19. The court noted that because ROSCA incorporates all the enforcement tools of the FTC Act, the FTC could seek remedies using Section 19 of the FTC Act instead of relying on Section 18. Further, the court noted that the FTC indicated that the FTC may seek remedies under Section 19 when it brought the action under Section 5(a) of ROSCA, which the court ultimately agreed was correct. “The FTC has the better of this dispute,” the court wrote, adding, among other things, that “the court is unmoved by [the defendant’s] claims of unfair prejudice. Aside from the particular route to an award of restitution, nothing will materially change. The FTC seeks the same remedy, for the same reasons, and for the same victims under section 5(a) via section 19 as it did under section 13(b).”
On September 13, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed a district court’s summary judgment ruling in favor of a defendant mortgage servicer, holding that a jury could find the defendant “willfully and negligently” violated the FCRA by incorrectly reporting a past due account status to consumer reporting agencies (CRAs) for over a year after the plaintiff’s mortgage loan was discharged in bankruptcy. The plaintiff discovered the loan was being mis-reported as past due when he checked his credit score in advance of buying a car and found it to be lower than expected. The plaintiff disputed the tradeline, and the CRAs forwarded his dispute to the mortgage servicer. In response to the dispute, the servicer changed the plaintiff’s account status from past due to “no status”—which meant the status had not changed from the prior month—and continued reporting it to the CRAs.
The plaintiff sued the servicer for violating the FCRA, claiming the defendant knew the loan had been discharged but still reported it as past due for more than a year. The defendant countered, among other things, that because the plaintiff “chose not to apply for a car loan” he could not prove that he was harmed by negligence due to the mis-reporting. The district court ultimately ruled that (i) the plaintiff did not have standing to allege a negligent violation of the FCRA, and (ii) no “reasonable jury” would find that the defendant had willfully violated the statute.
On appeal, the 6th Circuit disagreed, finding that the plaintiff had standing to assert a negligence claim under FCRA and that a reasonable jury could find a negligent and willful violation. The court pointed out that the plaintiff’s credit score increased by almost 100 points once the tradeline was removed, suggesting the servicer’s mis-reporting did harm the plaintiff and gave him standing to sue in negligence. The court also found the defendant “knew that [the plaintiff’s] loan had been discharged but for more than a year told the credit-reporting agencies that the loan was past due. A jury could therefore find that [the defendant] was either incompetent or willful in its failure to correct its reports sooner.” The 6th Circuit added that the defendant’s implementation of policies to guide its analysts through resolving credit disputes “hardly disproves as a matter of law that [the defendant] acted willfully.” The court held the defendant was not entitled to summary judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings.
On August 30, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that a district court did not err in denying an investment firm’s motion to hold a group of Chinese banks in contempt for failure to implement certain asset restraints. According to the opinion, in 2015, an athletic apparel corporation and one of its subsidiaries won a more than $1 billion default judgment against hundreds of participants in several Chinese counterfeiting networks (counterfeiters). The judgment enjoined the counterfeiters “and all persons acting in concert or in participation with any of them . . . from transferring, withdrawing or disposing of any money or other assets into or out of [the counterfeiters’ accounts] regardless of whether such money or assets are held in the U.S. or abroad.” The investment firm (the corporation’s successor-in-interest) moved to hold the Chinese banks in contempt for failing to implement the asset restraints and asked the district court to impose a $150 million penalty, claiming, among other things, that the Chinese banks allowed the counterfeiters to transfer more than $32 million from their accounts after the Chinese banks were informed of the asset restraints. The investment firm further claimed that the Chinese banks also failed to produce documents during discovery. The district court denied the motion.
In agreeing with the district court, the 2nd Circuit concluded that (i) until the contempt motion was filed, the corporation and the investment firm never sought to enforce the asset restraints against the Chinese banks; (ii) “there is a fair ground of doubt as to whether, in light of New York’s separate entity rule and principles of international comity, the orders could reach assets held at foreign bank branches”; (iii) “there is a fair ground of doubt as to whether the [b]anks’ activities amounted to ‘active concert or participation’ in Defendants’ violation of the asset restraints that could be enjoined under Federal 16 Rule of Civil Procedure 65(d)”; and (iv) the investment firm failed to provide clear and convincing evidence of a discovery violation.
On August 20, former FinCEN officials filed an amicus brief in support of a petition for certiorari filed by penny stock broker-dealer (petitioner) against the SEC claiming the agency usurped FinCEN’s Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) enforcement authority. The petition seeks to reverse a U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit decision, which upheld a $12 million penalty and concluded the SEC has the authority to bring an action under Section 17(a) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (Exchange Act) and Rule 17a-8 promulgated thereunder for failure to comply with the Suspicious Activity Report (SAR) provisions of the BSA. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the appellate court rejected the broker-dealer’s argument that the SEC is attempting to enforce the BSA, which only the U.S. Treasury Department has the authority to do. The appellate court noted that the SEC is enforcing the requirements of Rule 17a-8, which requires broker-dealers to adhere to the BSA in order to comply with requirements of the Exchange Act, which does not constitute the agency’s enforcement of the BSA. Moreover, the appellate court concluded that the SEC did not overstep its authority when promulgating Rule 17a-8, as SARs “serve to further the aims of the Exchange Act by protecting investors and helping to guard against market manipulation,” and that the broker-dealer did not meet its “‘heavy burden’ to show that Congress ‘clearly expressed [its] intention’ to preclude the SEC from examining for SAR compliance in conjunction with FinCEN and pursuant to authority delegated under the Exchange Act.”
The former officials’ brief states that they “have no interest in the facts” of the petitioner’s dispute with the SEC, but rather “are concerned that the Second Circuit’s misunderstanding of FinCEN’s delegated enforcement authority will lead to confusion among the financial institutions that must comply with the BSA; create multiple, conflicting BSA regulatory regimes; decrease American influence over global financial regulators; and hamper U.S. law enforcement and national security efforts by diminishing the value of BSA data.” They further pointed out that the appellate court “erred in conflating delegated compliance examination efforts with the exercise of enforcement authority and let stand SEC and lower court decisions applying materially different legal standards with a lower level of judicial oversight and review than that established by Congress.” The former officials stressed that the appellate court’s decision fails “to appreciate the nature of the AML regime and therefore FinCEN’s unique expertise and central role,” adding that the decision “threatens to undermine the BSA statutory regime and harm U.S. efforts to fight money laundering and terrorist financing” and may affect other regulators and regulated entities.
On August 16, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed a district court decision to require the plaintiff CEO of several petrochemical companies, who defaulted on a revolving line of credit that he guaranteed, to repay national lenders (defendants) an outstanding amount, rejecting the CEO’s argument that the agreements were fraudulently induced. The plaintiff allegedly withdrew a $90 million revolving line of credit from the defendants. His personal liability arose after his companies began breaching some of the loans’ financial covenants. To avoid acceleration, the CEO himself guaranteed the companies’ outstanding debt. Because his companies continued breaching their loan obligations and the defendants were “concerned about the borrowers’ cash burn, ‘collateral deterioration,’ and ‘poor accounting controls,’” the parties modified the total debt to $72 million. In addition, the defendants and the companies amended their credit agreement and the plaintiff “executed a personal guaranty of the debt his companies assumed.” At the defendants’ recommendation—or, as the CEO maintains—“the borrowers also brought on a chief restructuring officer (CRO) to help turn the companies around.” When the companies continued to default on the loan obligations, the CEO and the borrowers entered into two forbearance agreements with the defendants that imposed financial, operational, and reporting obligations on the borrowers. After the second agreement expired and the borrowers' defaults remained, the company sued the defendants for over $1.5 billion in damages for negligence, fraud, conversion, among other things, in which the defendants “counterclaimed and impleaded [the CEO] and the remaining borrowers and guarantors, alleging breach of contract and breach of guaranty.” According to the opinion, “[t]hose third-party defendants then counterclaimed against the lenders, asserting the same tort claims initially lodged by the company.” Furthermore, the CEO asserted the following four defenses: fraudulent inducement, duress, unclean hands, and equitable estoppel. The district court rejected each of the plaintiff’s arguments, ordering him to pay the defendants, plus interest and attorney fees, noting “that the underlying breach of guaranty was ‘not contested.’” The district court held that the waivers and releases the plaintiff signed as part of the two forbearance agreements “foreclosed any claim that he was fraudulently induced into signing the earlier Guaranty,” and determined that his allegations of intense business pressure fell short of establishing duress.
On appeal, the 5th Circuit agreed with the district court, affirming that the plaintiff failed to prove that he signed onto the agreements under duress. According to the 5th Circuit, “[t]he district court detected a glaring problem with this theory: the timeline of events refutes it,” and the plaintiff “learned of the purported fraud—the supposed scheme to replace him with the CRO—before he ratified the Guaranty.”
On August 17, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed a district court’s decision in granting a plaintiff summary judgment, finding that the debt collector (defendant) violated the FDCPA by allegedly attempting to collect a debt despite receiving written notice disputing the debt, and by allegedly calling the defendant despite receiving a “cease-and-desist letter.” According to the opinion, the plaintiff allegedly incurred a medical debt that was placed with the defendant for collection, in which the defendant sent a letter on April 25 to the plaintiff seeking payment of the debt. On April 30, the defendant called the plaintiff and left a voice message. Subsequently, the defendant received a letter from the plaintiff on May 7 disputing the debt and demanding that the defendant cease calling, and that future correspondence should be in writing. However, the letter was not documented into the defendant’s system until May 10; meanwhile, on May 8, the defendant placed another call to the plaintiff, leaving another voice message. The plaintiff filed suit, alleging the defendant violated Section 1692g(b) of the FDCPA “by attempting to collect the debt despite receiving her written notice disputing the debt” and Section 1692g(c) of the FDCPA “by continuing to call her despite receiving her cease-and-desist letter.” The district court ruled that the plaintiff violated the FDCPA and the defendant’s bona fide error defense did not excuse the FDCPA violations, emphasizing that “the bona fide-error defense is an affirmative one, requiring that [the defendant] prove the prongs of the defense, not that [the plaintiff] disprove them.”
On appeal, the 10th Circuit agreed with the district court and cited TransUnion v. Ramirez, where the U.S. Supreme Court clarified the Spokeo standing requirements, including that the tort of intrusion upon seclusion is recognized as an intangible harm providing a basis for a lawsuit in American courts (covered by InfoBytes here). According to the opinion, in consideration of the FCRA, “the TransUnion Court noted that a company’s maintaining incorrect information in its database, absent dissemination to a third party, failed to create a harm bearing a close relationship to the common-law tort of defamation.” Further, “[w]ithout the ‘necessary’ defamation component that the tortious words were published, this harm differed in kind.” The appellate court pointed out that “this analysis doesn’t control the case at question because the plaintiff alleged the necessary components for a common-law intrusion-upon-seclusion tort.” The appellate court further affirmed that the phone call that was placed after the cease-and-desist letter was received is considered enough to confer standing for the plaintiff to sue. The 10th Circuit held, “[t]hough a single phone call may not intrude to the degree required at common law, that phone call poses the same kind of harm recognized at common law—an unwanted intrusion into a plaintiff’s peace and quiet.”
On August 18, a Florida District Court of Appeals affirmed a district court’s decision that an auto dealer (defendant) waived its right to compel arbitration after failing to mention an arbitration provision until days before the hearing. The plaintiffs filed a class action complaint alleging that the defendant engaged in deceptive practices regarding fees on car sales. While the defendant raised seven affirmative defenses, it did not raise arbitration, even though an arbitration provision was included in the contract between the defendant and each vehicle purchaser. The defendant moved for judgment on the pleadings and argued “that the type of damages sought in the suit were unavailable under the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act,” but the court denied the motion. According to the opinion, days before the hearing, the defendant “filed its motion to compel arbitration ‘in opposition to plaintiff’s motion for class certification,’ raising arbitration as an issue for the first time fourteen months after the class action complaint had been filed,” contending that it did not waive its right to arbitrate due to prior filings being defensive in nature. Later, the defendant argued that even if the court found a waiver as to the named plaintiffs, it could not have waived its right to arbitrate with the unnamed class members. The court ruled that the defendant “engaged in class discovery without objecting to it or preserving its right to compel arbitration with the unnamed class members.”
In making its decision, the appellate court cited a 2018 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, which ruled that a bank had not waived its arbitration rights regarding the unnamed class members because it expressly stated it wished to preserve arbitration rights against those class members when the matter became ripe (covered by InfoBytes here). The appellate court agreed with the court, finding that the defendant acted inconsistently with regard to arbitration in the dispute and therefore waived any right to force the plaintiffs into arbitration.
Florida District Court of Appeals partially affirms and partially reverses ruling against national bank
On August 13, a Florida District Court of Appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part a judgment against a national bank (defendant) awarding a payment processor approximately $2 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages. The judgment, based on a jury verdict, awarded punitive damages as a result of the conduct of the bank’s relationship manager, who negligently misrepresented to a payment processor (plaintiff) that the account of the bank’s customer, a check authorization service, was in good standing when really the bank had previously terminated the relationship. On appeal, the court found that the relationship manager was considered a mid-level employee with limited managerial authority. Therefore, the appeals court determined that the defendant could not be held directly liable for his conduct, stating that “[the employee] was not a managing agent for purposes of imposing direct liability for punitive damages,” and “the trial court erred in denying [the defendant’s] motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict on [the plaintiff’s] punitive damage claim.”
On August 16, the CFPB filed its opening brief in the agency’s appeal of a district court’s December 2020 decision, which granted a payment company’s motion for summary judgment and vacated two provisions of the Bureau’s Prepaid Account Rule: (i) the short-form disclosure requirement “to the extent it provides mandatory disclosure clauses”; and (ii) the 30-day credit linking restriction. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Bureau claimed that it had authority to enforce the mandates under federal regulations, including the EFTA, TILA, and Dodd-Frank, but the district court disagreed, concluding, among other things, that the Bureau acted outside of its statutory authority with respect to the mandatory disclosure clauses of the short-form requirement in 12 CFR section 1005.18(b) by presuming that “Congress delegated power to the Bureau to issue mandatory disclosure clauses just because Congress did not specifically prohibit them from doing so.” In striking the mandatory 30-day credit linking restriction under 12 CFR section 1026.61(c)(1)(iii), the district court determined that “the Bureau once again reads too much into its general rulemaking authority,” and that neither TILA nor Dodd-Frank vest the Bureau with the authority to promulgate substantive regulations on when consumers can access and use credit linked to prepaid accounts. Moreover, the court deemed the regulatory provision to be a “substantive regulation banning a consumer’s access to and use of credit” under the disguise of a disclosure, and thus invalid.
In its appeal, the Bureau urged the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to overturn the district court’s ruling, arguing that both the EFTA and Dodd-Frank authorize the Bureau to promulgate rules governing disclosures for prepaid accounts. “The model-clause provision simply ensures that institutions will always have a surefire way of complying with the statute, even when the Bureau’s regulations do not specify how information should be disclosed,” the CFPB said, stressing that “[n]either that provision nor anything else forecloses—let alone unambiguously forecloses—rules requiring disclosures to present specified content in a specified format so that consumers are better able to find, understand, and compare products’ terms.” The decision to adopt such rules, the Bureau added, is entitled to deference. According to the Bureau, the Prepaid Account Rule “does not make any specific disclosure clauses mandatory,” and companies are permitted to use the provided sample disclosure wording or use their own “substantially similar” wording. Additionally, the Bureau argued, among other things, that “[b]y mandating optional model clauses while remaining silent about content and formatting requirements, Congress did not ‘circumscribe the [agency’s] discretion’ to adopt such requirements.” Instead, the Bureau contended, “whether to adopt content and formatting requirements is left ‘to agency discretion.’” Moreover, the disputed requirements “fit comfortably” within its power to regulate disclosure standards under EFTA and Dodd-Frank, the Bureau argued, adding that the law “authorizes the Bureau to ‘prescribe rules to ensure that the features of any consumer financial product or service … are fully, accurately, and effectively disclosed to consumers.’”
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Getting your company ready: Managing fair lending for IMBs” at the Mortgage Bankers Association Independent Mortgage Bankers Conference
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Be Your Compliance Best in 2022” at the California Mortgage Bankers Association webinar
- Lauren R. Randell to discuss “Significant legal developments in the Northeast” at the 37th Annual National Institute on White Collar Crime
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Small business & regulation: How fair lending has evolved & where it is heading?” at the Consumer Bankers Association Live program
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Regulators always ring twice: Responding to a government request” at ALM Legalweek
- Jonice Gray Tucker and Kari Hall to discuss “Equity, equality, regulation and enforcement – The evolving regulatory landscape of fair lending, redlining, and UDAAP” at the ABA Business Law Committee Hybrid Spring Meeting