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  • 3rd Circuit rules settlement offer for time-barred debt could violate FDCPA

    Courts

    On February 12, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit held that a collection letter offering a settlement on a time-barred debt could violate the prohibition against "any false, deceptive, or misleading representation or means in connection with the collection of any debt” of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). According to the opinion, the plaintiff filed a class action complaint against the debt collector after receiving a letter stating that the debt collector would accept a partial “settlement” of the delinquency amount, which was past the New Jersey six-year statute of limitations. The lower court granted the debt collector’s motion to dismiss, finding that the letter did not contain a threat of legal action by the use of the word settlement and therefore, did not violate the FDCPA. In reversing the lower court’s decision, the 3rd Circuit concluded that the “least-sophisticated debtor could be misled into thinking that ‘settlement of the debt’ referred to the creditor’s ability to enforce the debt.” In its conclusion, the appellate court also noted that settlement offers of time-barred debts “do not necessarily constitute deceptive or misleading practices” under the FDCPA and remanded the case back to the lower court for review.

    Courts Third Circuit Appellate FDCPA Debt Collection

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  • NJ appeals court says consumer should have litigated issues in original foreclosure action

    Courts

    On January 31, the Superior Court of New Jersey Appellate Division affirmed the lower court’s decision that a widower (plaintiff) should have raised improper foreclosure allegations during the final foreclosure action and cannot subsequently litigate the issues in a different forum. According to the opinion, in 2009, the bank initiated a foreclosure complaint against the plaintiff’s husband (borrower) and the borrower raised no defenses to the complaint. The borrower then initiated a modification request, which the bank ultimately denied due to title liens, and a final foreclosure judgment was entered at the end of 2010. The borrower filed an appeal to the foreclosure action but the plaintiff ultimately withdrew it after the borrower died. The current litigation was filed after the final foreclosure judgment was entered and asserted, among other things, that the foreclosure was improper due to the modification curing the default. The lower court dismissed two of the plaintiff’s claims because she was not a party to the original mortgage or modification attempt and granted summary judgment for the bank on the remaining claims because the “issue of the enforceability of the 2010 loan modification agreement is at the heart of plaintiff's claims and was directly related to the foreclosure action and should have been raised as part of that litigation.” The appeals court agreed with the lower court’s reasoning noting that the plaintiff “attempted to litigate the same issue in two forums.”

    Courts Mortgages Foreclosure Appellate

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  • 10th Circuit says FCBA claim ends if credit account is paid

    Consumer Finance

    On January 26, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit affirmed a District Court’s decision dismissing a consumer’s claim that, under the Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA), two credit card providers (collectively, defendants) must refund his accounts after a  merchant failed to deliver goods purchased using credit cards issued by the defendants. The FCBA allows consumers to raise the same claims against credit card issuers that can be raised against merchants, but limits such claims to the “amount of credit outstanding with respect to [the disputed] transaction.” According to the opinion, the consumer ordered nearly $1 million in wine from a merchant and prior to delivery of the complete order, the merchant declared bankruptcy. The consumer filed lawsuits against each credit card provider in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado seeking a refund to his credit accounts for the amounts of the undelivered wine. The District Court dismissed the suits against both defendants because the consumer had fully paid the balance on his credit cards. In affirming the District Court’s decision, the 10th Circuit concluded that because “‘the amount of credit outstanding with respect to’ the undelivered wine is $0” the consumer had no claim against the defendants under the FCBA.

    Consumer Finance Courts Credit Cards Tenth Circuit Appellate

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  • 10th Circuit reverses lower court decision in mortgage action

    State Issues

    On January 23, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit reversed a District Court’s decision dismissing a borrower’s claims against a lender and mortgage loan servicer (collectively, “defendants”) under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, which prohibits lower federal courts from reviewing state court civil judgments. Colorado maintains a unique procedure for non-judicial foreclosure. Specifically, under Rule 120 of the Colorado Rules of Civil Procedure (“Rule 120”) a trustee is required to obtain a trial court ruling that a “reasonable probability” of default exists before moving forward with a non-judicial foreclosure. According to the opinion, in 2014, the defendants initiated a non-judicial foreclosure proceeding against the borrower through the Rule 120 process. Prior to completing the sale, however, the borrower filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado seeking, among other things, an injunction against the sale, damages, and cancellation of the promissory note. Relying on the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, the District Court dismissed the borrower’s suit as an attempt to unwind the results of the Rule 120 proceedings. The 10th Circuit reversed this decision based on its finding that the borrower’s suit did not challenge the Rule 120 state court decision, but rather took issue with the defendant’s actions prior to the state court proceedings. In reaching this conclusion, the 10th Circuit noted that even if the borrower had filed suit after the Rule 120 judgment had been entered, unless the borrower was alleging the state court wrongfully entered the judgment, the suit would not be barred by Rooker-Feldman.

    State Issues Mortgages Foreclosure Tenth Circuit Appellate

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  • Fifth Circuit rules that loan-modification discussions resulting in foreclosure do not violate TDCA

    Courts

    On January 22, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed a lower court’s decision that a loan-modification discussion between two borrowers and a mortgage servicer did not constitute a debt collection activity under the Texas Debt Collection Act (TDCA). After two borrowers defaulted on their home equity loan, they were encouraged by their mortgage servicer to apply for a modification under the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP). When the borrowers learned that they were, in fact, ineligible for a HAMP modification, due to state law restrictions, the borrowers filed suit against the creditor and the mortgage servicer (the “creditors”). Specifically, the borrowers alleged that the creditors violated the TDCA’s prohibition against using false representations or deceptive means to collect a debt by suggesting that the borrowers apply for a HAMP modification for which they did not qualify. The three-judge panel rejected this argument for two reasons. First, the court found that the borrower and creditors conversation about a modification did not “concern the collection of a debt” and thus the conduct was not subject to the TDCA. Second, even if the conduct were covered, the court found that the creditor had not affirmatively represented that the borrowers would qualify for a HAMP modification and, thus, under the TDCA’s prohibition against using false representations and deceptive means to collect a debt, no liability could ensue.

    Courts State Issues Fifth Circuit Appellate Debt Collection Mortgage Servicing

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  • FSOC agrees to dismiss SIFI designation appeal

    Courts

    On January 23, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit dismissed an appeal by the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) after both parties filed a joint stipulated motion to voluntarily dismiss the case. The litigation began in 2015 when a national insurance firm sued FSOC over its designation of the firm as a nonbank systemically important financial institution (SIFI). In March 2016, the district court issued its opinion agreeing with the insurance firm and finding the FSOC determination arbitrary and capricious because it failed to consider the financial impact the SIFI designation would have on the firm. FSOC appealed the court’s ruling but after a change in FSOC leadership, agreed to jointly dismiss the appeal with the insurance firm.

    For more InfoBytes coverage on SIFIs, click here.

    Courts SIFIs Nonbank Supervision FSOC DC Circuit Appellate

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  • 11th Circuit denies revival of TCPA suit

    Courts

    On January 22, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit denied an Ohio-based bank’s request for a rehearing en banc. Last August, the three-judge panel reinstated a suit accusing the bank of violating the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) when it allegedly made “over 200 automated calls” to the consumer plaintiff who claimed to have partially revoked her consent by telling the bank to stop calling at certain times. As previously covered in InfoBytes, the appellate court’s August 2017 decision to remand the case for trial concluded that “the TCPA allows a consumer to provide limited, i.e., restricted, consent for the receipt of automated calls,” and that “unlimited consent, once given, can also be partially revoked as to future automated calls under the TCPA.” Furthermore, the decision made clear that the lower court erred in its decision to grant summary judgment in favor of the bank “because a reasonable jury could find that [the consumer plaintiff] partially revoked her consent to be called in ‘the morning’ and ‘during the workday’” during a phone call with a bank employee.

    However, in its en banc rehearing petition, the bank argued that the “ruling is likely to create ambiguity amongst both consumers and callers regarding the ability of consumers to impose arbitrary limits on communications . . . despite the FCC’s consistent and unwavering proclamation that in order to revoke consent, consumers must clearly request no further communications.” The appellate court’s decision to deny the petition provides no explanation aside from noting that none of its active judges requested that the court be polled on a rehearing en banc.

    Courts Eleventh Circuit Appellate TCPA Litigation FCC

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  • 10th Circuit says FDCPA does not cover non-judicial foreclosures

    Courts

    On January 19, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit affirmed a lower court decision that the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) does not cover non-judicial foreclosures in Colorado. In affirming the District Court’s dismissal of the case, the 10th Circuit reasoned that non-judicial foreclosures in Colorado do not constitute an attempt to collect money from a debtor because the state only allows the trustee to obtain payment from the sale of the foreclosed property and a deficiency judgment must be sought through a separate action. According to the opinion, in 2014, a mortgage servicer hired a law firm to initiate a non-judicial foreclosure and the law firm sent the homeowner a letter indicating that it “may be considered to be a debt collector attempting to collect a debt.” The homeowner then filed a complaint in District Court against the firm and the mortgage servicer for FDCPA violations, which was subsequently dismissed. The 10th Circuit reasoned that the mortgage servicer was not considered a debt collector under the law because servicing initiated prior to the loan’s default and the law firm’s communications with the homeowner never attempted to induce payment. The opinion acknowledges that many courts are split on this topic and emphasizes that the holding does not apply to judicial foreclosures.

    Courts State Issues Mortgages Foreclosure FDCPA Debt Collection Appellate Tenth Circuit Litigation

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  • Supreme Court denies cert petition in Spokeo

    Courts

    On January 22, the U.S. Supreme Court denied a second petition for writ of certiorari in Spokeo v. Robins, thereby declining to reconsider its position on Article III’s standing to sue requirements or to provide further clarification on what constitutes injury in fact. Citing “widespread confusion” over how to determine whether intangible injuries qualify as injury in fact, and therefore meet the standing threshold, Spokeo argued in its petition that review is “warranted to ensure that the jurisdiction asserted by the federal courts remains within constitutional limits.” The second petition was filed by Spokeo last December to request a review of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit’s August 2017 decision—on remand from the Supreme Court (see Buckley Sandler Special Alert here)—which ruled that Robins had established standing to sue for alleged violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) by claiming an intangible statutory injury without any additional harm. The 9th Circuit opined that information contained in a consumer report about age, marital status, educational background, and employment history is important for employment and loan applications, home purchases, and more, and that it “does not take much imagination to understand how inaccurate reports on such a broad range of material facts about Robins’s life could be deemed a real harm.” Further, guaranteeing the accuracy of such information “seems directly and substantially related to FCRA’s goals.” The 9th Circuit reversed and remanded the case to the Central District of California after finding that Robins had adequately alleged the essential elements of standing (see previous InfoBytes coverage here).

    Courts U.S. Supreme Court Ninth Circuit Appellate FCRA Litigation Spokeo

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  • 7th Circuit says debt collectors cannot simply copy and paste safe harbor language

    Courts

    On January 17, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit reversed a decision by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin dismissing the plaintiffs’ claims that the defendant debt collection agency violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) by falsely stating balances owed might increase “due to interest, late charges and other charges” in its dunning letters to the plaintiffs. In 2016, the defendant sent collection letters for overdue medical bills; according to the plaintiffs, the collection letters falsely suggested that the debt would continue to increase every day due to “late charges and other charges” that the defendant could not legally impose. In granting the motion to dismiss, the District Court had agreed with the defendant that the language used in their dunning letters was nearly identical to the safe harbor language upheld by the 7th Circuit in 2000, and that the letters were not “false, deceptive, or misleading.” By reversing the District Court’s decision, the 7th Circuit determined that the defendant’s use of the safe harbor language in their letters was inaccurate, because the defendant could not lawfully impose “late charges and other charges.” In doing so, the 7th Circuit rejected the defendant’s attempt to copy and paste the safe harbor language, and instead concluded that debt collectors are required to tailor boilerplate language to avoid ambiguity and ensure their statements are accurate under the circumstances.

    Courts Seventh Circuit Appellate Debt Collection FDCPA

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