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On April 4, the CFPB filed an amicus brief in a case on appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit concerning a mortgage loan servicer allegedly failing to answer multiple inquiries from two separate consumers regarding their loans despite the requirement under Regulation X that servicers respond when a borrower submits a request for information that “states the information the borrower is requesting with respect to the borrower’s mortgage loan.” The plaintiffs filed suit after the defendant servicer declined to provide the information requested, stating that it would not respond “because the issues raised are the same or very closely related to the issues raised” in pending litigation surrounding the mortgages.
The U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims, noting that under RESPA, “a mortgage loan servicer only has an obligation to provide a written response to a [qualified written request] that seeks ‘information relating to the servicing of such loan,’” and that the plaintiffs’ inquiries regarding the ownership of their loans and requesting other miscellaneous information did not “trigger [the defendant’s] obligations to respond under Regulation X” because a servicer has a ‘duty to respond’ only if a request for information ‘relates to the servicing of the loan.’”
In urging the appellate court to overturn the decision, the Bureau argued that under Section 1024.36 of Regulation X “servicers generally must respond to ‘any written request for information from a borrower’ that seeks ‘information ... with respect to the borrower’s mortgage loan.’” According to the Bureau, although a servicing-related request would fall under this provision, it is just one type of request that seeks information ‘with respect to’ a loan and thereby triggers a servicer’s obligation to respond” under the rules. The Bureau stated that Regulation X broadly requires servicers to respond to requests that seek information “with respect to” a borrower’s mortgage loan, explaining that it “included explicit language to that effect in the 2013 Rule to make clear that the rule created a unified set of requirements such that servicers’ obligations to respond were the same for a qualified written request as for any other information request,” and that it “did not exclude information requests that do not relate to servicing from the scope of § 1024.36.” The Bureau agreed with the plaintiffs that there is “no litigation exception to a servicer's obligation to respond to information requests under Regulation X.” The Bureau further noted in a blog post that,“[a] pending lawsuit does not take away a borrower’s right to a response from their loan servicer under Regulation X.”
On March 25, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed a district court’s dismissal of an FDCPA and FCRA case against a student loan servicer and three credit reporting companies for attempting to collect a loan debt after it had been discharged in bankruptcy. After the discharge and completion of his bankruptcy case, the plaintiff filed suit, alleging the defendants violated the FDCPA and the FCRA by attempting to collect student loan debt that had been discharged. The district court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss, ruling that the plaintiff failed to state a claim because under Section 523(a)(8) of the Bankruptcy Code, student loan debt is presumptively non-dischargeable and the plaintiff had not filed an adversary proceeding to determine otherwise.
On appeal, the plaintiff “argued that he was not required to file an adversary proceeding in Bankruptcy Court to determine the dischargeability of his student loan debt,” and that the Bankruptcy Court’s determination that the plaintiff was indigent rebuts “the presumption that his debt was nondischargeable by satisfying the exception in §523(a)(8) for undue hardship.” However, the appellate court held that “a finding of indigence is not the same as an undue hardship determination under §538(a)(8)” and that while the Bankruptcy Code does not require an adversary proceeding to discharge student loan debt, the procedures established in the Bankruptcy Rules do include such a requirement by providing that adversary proceedings include “a proceeding to determine the dischargeability of a debt” and are commenced by serving a summons and complaint on affected creditors. Accordingly, the appellate court affirmed dismissal.
On March 30, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed a lower court’s dismissal of claims based on the FDCPA and the Washington Consumer Protection Act (WCPA). According to the memorandum, the complaint alleged that the defendants violated the FDCPA and WCPA when they sought to garnish plaintiff’s wages based a state court judgment that was not yet final. The district court dismissed the FDCPA claim, holding that “at worst, Defendants violated a state court procedural rule—not substantive law—when they applied for the writ of garnishment based on the valid, albeit, not final judgment.” In affirming that dismissal, however, the appellate court noted that “[t]he issue is not whether [the defendant] and [the defendant’s attorney] violated state law but whether they violated the FDCPA.” The 9th Circuit clarified that “[t]he [plaintiff] might have argued that [the defendant] and [the defendant’s attorney] falsely represented the legal status of their debt by implicitly claiming in the garnishment application that the debt was subject to a final judgment. But they [did] not make this argument, so it is waived.” With respect to the WCPA claim, while the district court’s dismissal was based on a determination that the garnishment did not “occur in trade or commerce” as required under that statute, the 9th Circuit pointed out that if the garnishment was “a violation of the Washington Collection Agency Act (WCAA), [it] would have established an unfair or deceptive act in trade or commerce for purposes of the WCPA,” but upheld dismissal because the plaintiff had waived that argument as well.
On March 15, the Court of Appeals of North Carolina affirmed a district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of a debt buyer plaintiff and rejected the debtor defendant’s argument that the plaintiff failed to comply with a provision of North Carolina’s Consumer Economic Protection Act (CEPA). According to the order, the defendant appealed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the plaintiff in its 2019 suit to renew a default judgment that was entered in 2010 against the defendant. The defendant argued that the default judgment “is void because it was procured by fraud and the clerk lacked jurisdiction to enter the default judgment for various reasons,” and “that Plaintiff’s interest rates on Defendant’s debt violate North Carolina law.” The appellate court noted that the CEPA “did not apply” because the statute requires that, “[p]rior to entry of a default judgment or summary judgment against a debtor in a complaint initiated by a debt buyer, the plaintiff shall file evidence with the court to establish the amount and nature of the debt.” The appellate court noted that although the plaintiff filed its original complaint against the defendant in August 2009, this CEPA provision did not take effect until October 1, 2009, and therefore only applies to “foreclosures initiated, debt collection activities undertaken, and actions filed on or after that date.” The defendant argued that the plaintiff was still required to comply with the CEPA provision because the plaintiff filed its motion for a default judgment in February 2010—after the effective date of the CEPA provision. But the appellate court determined that the plaintiff’s motion for a default judgment “was part of prosecuting its ‘action filed’ and was not a ‘debt collection activity’ within the meaning of the Act.”
On March 18, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois denied a retailer’s motion to certify for interlocutory appeal the court’s earlier ruling denying, in part, the retailer’s motion to dismiss. This multi-district litigation involves allegations that the retailer used a database containing photographs of individuals and other information to identify people whose images appeared in its surveillance cameras, in violation of the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA), and California and New York laws. In denying the request for interlocutory appeal, the district court held that its earlier ruling had faithfully applied U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit precedent regarding standing of those who allege invasions of their personal privacy, and that the Supreme Court’s decision in TransUnion v. Ramirez (covered by InfoBytes here) did not undermine that precedent. It also held that the retailer’s disagreement with its prior application of the alleged facts to BIPA and its prior ruling that the plaintiffs had stated claims under California and New York laws did not warrant interlocutory review.
2nd Circuit remands case to determine whether loans that violate New York’s criminal usury law are void ab initio
On March 15, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit vacated a district court ruling that had declined to treat an option that permits a lender, in its sole discretion, to convert an outstanding balance to shares of stock, at a fixed discount, as interest for purposes of New York’s criminal usury law. The district court had also observed, though it had no need to reach the issue, that even if the loan was usurious, it would not necessarily be void ab initio. After the case was appealed, the 2nd Circuit certified both issues to the New York Court of Appeals, which concluded, contrary to the district court, that such an option should be treated as interest for purposes of the usury statute and that loans made in violation of the usury statute are void ab initio. In light of the New York Court of Appeals holdings on these issues of state law, the 2nd Circuit vacated the district court’s order, and remanded to the district court to determine, in the first instance, whether the value of the option rendered the loan usurious.
On March 16, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled that the CFPB can proceed with its 2017 enforcement action against a New Jersey-based finance company alleging, among other things, that it misled first responders to the World Trade Center attack and NFL retirees about high-cost loans mischaracterized as assignments of future payment rights. In 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit vacated a 2018 district court order dismissing 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). The 2nd Circuit remanded the case to the district court, determining that the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Seila Law LLC v. CPFB (holding that the director’s for-cause removal provision was unconstitutional but 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. The defendants later filed a petition for writ of certiorari, arguing that the Bureau could not use ratification to avoid dismissal of the lawsuit, but the Supreme Court declined the petition. (Covered by InfoBytes here.)
In 2021, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss the Bureau’s enforcement action on the grounds that “it was brought by an unconstitutionally constituted agency” and that the Bureau’s “untimely attempt to subsequently ratify this action cannot cure the agency’s constitutional infirmity.” After narrowly reviewing whether the Bureau had the authority to bring claims under the Consumer Financial Protection Act, the district court turned to the Supreme Court’s June 2021 majority decision in Collins v. Yellen, which held that “‘an unconstitutional removal restriction does not invalidate agency action so long as the agency head was properly appointed[.]’” Accordingly, the agency’s actions are not void and do not need to be ratified, unless a plaintiff can show that “the agency action would not have been taken but for the President’s inability to remove the agency head.” (Covered by InfoBytes here.) The district court’s March 16 opinion applied Collins and ruled that “the CFPB possessed the authority to bring this action in February 2017 and, hence, that ratification by Director Kraninger was unnecessary.”
On March 9, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the FTC and the Florida attorney general after finding that an individual defendant could be held liable for the actions of the entities he controlled. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the FTC and the Florida AG filed a complaint in 2016 against several interrelated companies and the individual defendant who founded the companies, alleging violations of the FTC Act, the Telemarketing Sales Rule, and the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act. The complaint alleged that the defendants engaged in a scheme that targeted financially distressed consumers through illegal robocalls selling bogus credit card debt relief services and interest rate reductions. Among other things, the defendants also claimed to be “licensed enrollment center[s]” for major credit card networks with the ability to work with a consumer’s credit card company or bank to substantially and permanently lower credit card interest rates and charged up-front payments for debt relief and rate-reduction services. In 2018, the court granted the FTC and the Florida AG’s motion for summary judgment, finding there was no genuine dispute that the individual defendant controlled the defendant entities, that he knew his employees were making false representations, and that he failed to stop them. The court entered a permanent injunction, which ordered the individual defendant to pay over $23 million in equitable monetary relief and permanently restrained and enjoined the individual defendant from participating—whether directly or indirectly—in telemarketing; advertising, marketing, selling, or promoting any debt relief products or services; or misrepresenting material facts.
The individual defendant appealed, arguing that there were genuine disputes over whether: (i) he controlled the entities; (ii) he had knowledge that employees were making misrepresentations and failed to prevent them; (iii) employee affidavits “attesting that they had saved customers money created an issue of fact about whether his programs did what he said they would do”; and (iv) he had knowledge of “rogue employees” violating the “do not call” registry to solicit customers.
On appeal, the 11th Circuit determined that the facts presented by the individual defendant did not create a genuine dispute about whether he controlled the entities, and further stated that the individual defendant is liable for the employees’ misrepresentations because of his control of the entities and his knowledge of those misrepresentations. The appellate court explained that while the individual defendant argued that he could not be liable because he did not participate in those representations, he failed to present any evidence in support of that argument and, even if he had, “it wouldn’t matter, because [the individual defendant’s] liability stems from his control of [the companies], not from his individual conduct.” Additionally, the appellate court held that whether the services were helpful to customers was immaterial and did not absolve him of liability, because liability for deceptive sales practices does not require worthlessness. As to the “do not call” registry violations, the appellate court disagreed with the individual defendant’s claim that an “outside dialer or lead generator”—not the company—placed the outbound calls, holding that this excuse also does not absolve him of liability.
On March 4, a split U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, on remand from the U.S. Supreme Court, sent a shareholders’ suit back to the district court for further proceedings consistent with the Supreme Court’s decision in Collins v. Yellen, in which the Supreme Court, relying on its decision in Seila Law LLC v. CFPB, held that FHFA’s leadership structure was unconstitutional because it only allowed the president to fire the FHFA director for cause. (Covered by InfoBytes here.) In Collins, the Supreme Court reviewed the 5th Circuit’s en banc decision stemming from a 2016 lawsuit brought by a group of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (GSEs) shareholders against the U.S. Treasury Department and FHFA, in which shareholders claimed that the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 (Recovery Act), which created the agency, violated the separation of powers principal because it only allowed the president to fire the FHFA director “for cause.” The shareholders also alleged that FHFA acted outside its statutory authority when it adopted a third amendment to the Senior Preferred Stock Purchase Agreements, which replaced a fixed-rate dividend formula with a variable one requiring the GSEs to pay quarterly dividends equal to their entire net worth minus a specified capital reserve amount to the Treasury Department (known as the “net worth sweep”). (Covered by InfoBytes here.) At the time, while the en banc appellate court reaffirmed its earlier decision that FHFA’s structure violated the Constitution’s separation of powers requirements, nine of the judges concluded that the appropriate remedy should be severance of the for-cause provision, not prospective relief invalidating the net worth sweep, stating that “the Shareholders’ ongoing injury, if indeed there is one, is remedied by a declaration that the ‘for cause’ restriction is declared removed. We go no further.”
The split Supreme Court had affirmed the 5th Circuit’s en banc decision regarding the FHFA’s structure, but left intact the net worth sweep and remanded the case to the appellate court to determine “what remedy, if any, the shareholders are entitled to receive on their constitutional claim.” Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote for the majority, stated that “[a]lthough the statute unconstitutionally limited the President’s authority to remove the confirmed Directors, there was no constitutional defect in the statutorily prescribed method of appointment to that office. As a result, there is no reason to regard any of the actions taken by the FHFA in relation to the third amendment as void.”
On remand, the en banc 5th Circuit majority ordered the district court to decide whether the shareholders suffered compensable harm from the unconstitutional removal provision, observing that the Supreme Court left open the possibility that the unconstitutional restriction on the President’s power to remove the FHFA director could have inflicted compensable harm. Noting that the Supreme Court had sketched “possible causes and consequences of such harm along with the Federal Defendants’ denial of any such harm,” the majority stressed that “it became clear” during oral argument that “the prudent course is to remand to the district court to fulfill the Supreme Court’s remand order.”
However, five of the appellate judges dissented from the majority decision on the grounds that nothing in the Supreme Court’s decision precluded the 5th Circuit from deciding the harm issue, pointing out that the appellate court could “easily do so in light of [its] previous conclusion that ‘the President, acting through the Secretary of the Treasury, could have stopped [the Net Worth Sweep] but did not.’” The dissenting judges noted that because the shareholders failed to point to sufficient facts to cast doubt on the 5th Circuit’s previous decision, the appellate court “should modify the district court’s judgment by granting declaratory relief in the Plaintiff’s favor, stating that the ‘for cause’ removal provision as to the Director of the FHFA is unconstitutional. In all other respects, we should affirm.”
On March 2, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a class action suit for failure to state a claim, concluding that investors had failed to adequately allege that statements about the defendant company’s cybersecurity practices in the company’s 2018 Form 10-K amounted to securities fraud. The plaintiffs asserted that certain statements, including statements that the company maintained “a comprehensive security program,” “were misleading because they created the impression that [the company] implemented the data security best practices described in those statements no later than 2016, when in fact, the company did not implement those practices until later.” The plaintiffs argued that based on these statements, “a reasonable investor could have concluded that any data security improvements [the company] described would have been put in place in response to the two public hacks [the company] had experienced in the past, one in 2013 and one in 2016.” The 9th Circuit determined that the plaintiffs had failed to show that the company had misled investors into believing that it had made data security improvements specifically in response to the 2013 and 2016 data breaches and had “plead no facts supporting a reasonable inference that either of those hacks was a prominent enough milestone in company history that the average investor would be led to believe every data security improvement directly followed them.”
The plaintiffs further alleged that other statements in the 10-K were misleading because they “created the impression that it was unlikely [the company] had suffered an undetected data breach in the past, when in reality it was somewhat likely.” The appellate court rejected the plaintiffs’ argument and noted that “these statements would not give an ordinary investor reason to believe that [the company] was asserting that the risk that an undetected breach had occurred was particularly high or low, or that it had changed over time.” The 9th Circuit further agreed with the district court that the plaintiffs had failed to specifically allege that the company acted with the intent to deceive, manipulate, or defraud, or engage in “deliberate recklessness.”
- Kathryn L. Ryan and Jedd R. Bellman to discuss “Risk and compliance management: Are you covered?” at a Mortgage Bankers Association webinar
- Melissa Klimkiewicz and Daniel A. Bellovin to discuss “Things to know about flood insurance” at a NAFCU webinar
- Hank Asbill to discuss “Ethical issues at sentencing” at the 31st Annual National Seminar on Federal Sentencing
- Max Bonici will moderate a panel on “Enforcement risk and other regulatory and compliance issues related to crypto and digital assets” at the American Bar Association’s 2022 Annual Meeting
- John R. Coleman to provide a “CFPB Update” at MBA’s 2022 Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Amanda R. Lawrence to discuss “The shifting data privacy and data protection landscape” at MBA’s 2022 Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Jeffrey P. Naimon to provide “An update on key fair lending cases and the CRA and UDAAP rules” at MBA’s 2022 Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Benjamin W. Hutten to discuss “Fundamentals of financial crime compliance” at the Practicing Law Institute
- Benjamin W. Hutten to discuss “Ongoing CDD: Operational considerations” at NAFCU’s Regulatory Compliance & BSA Seminar
- James C. Chou to discuss ransomware at NAFCU’s Regulatory Compliance & BSA seminar