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On September 8, the CFPB filed a complaint against a California-based online lender (defendant) for allegedly violating the terms of a 2016 consent order related to false claims about their lending program. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the 2016 consent order alleged the defendant engaged in deceptive practices by misrepresenting, among other things, the fees charged, the loan products that were available to consumers, and whether the loans would be reported to credit reporting companies in violation of the CFPA, TILA, and Regulation Z. According to the September 8 complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, the defendants continued with much of the same illegal and deceptive marketing that was prohibited by the 2016 consent order. Among other things, the complaint alleges that the defendants violated the terms of the consent order and various laws by: (i) deceiving consumers regarding the benefits of repeat borrowing; and (ii) failing to provide timely and accurate adverse-action notices. The Bureau seeks injunctive relief, damages, consumer restitution, disgorgement, and civil money penalties. In addition, the Bureau asks the court to permanently enjoin the defendants from committing future violations of the CFPA, the Bureau’s 2016 Consent Order, ECOA, or any provision of “Federal consumer financial law.”
On September 7, the CFPB announced a settlement with a Virginia-based non-profit income share agreement (ISA) provider, and its affiliated companies, to resolve allegations that the company engaged in deceptive acts with respect to its ISAs product to finance postsecondary education, in violation of the Consumer Financial Protection Act, among other things. The CFPB alleged that the company engaged in unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices by misrepresenting that its ISAs are not loans and do not create debt, failing to provide certain required disclosures, and imposing unlawful prepayment penalties on private education loans.
Under the terms of the consent order, the company is required to: (i) cease stating that its ISAs are not loans or do not create debt for consumers; (ii) provide the disclosures required by the Truth in Lending Act and its implementing Regulation Z for closed-end credit; (iii) “continue their practice of not objecting to any discharge of a student’s ISA in bankruptcy”; and (iv) reform its ISA contracts to remove prepayment penalties on private education loans and, for some ISAs, recalculate the payment caps to eliminate the prepayment penalty. The order does not impose a civil money penalty.
On August 18, the CFPB denied a petition by a debt collection company to set aside a civil investigative demand (CID) issued by the Bureau in May. The CID requested information regarding whether debt buyers, debt collectors or persons associated with selling or collecting debt, have “made false or misleading representations to consumers or third parties in a manner that is unfair, deceptive, or abusive,” in violation of the CFPA, among other things. The company petitioned the Bureau on May 26 to set aside the CID, arguing, among other things, that the CID (i) “fails to identify sufficiently the nature of the conduct under investigation”; (ii) “fails to provide [the company] with any notice whatsoever of any potential witnesses or participants who may be necessary to respond to the CID”; and (iii) is overbroad and unduly burdensome.
In rejecting the company’s arguments described above, the Bureau found that: (i) “the Bureau’s notification of purpose identifies the nature of the conduct under investigation and is therefore not ‘too indefinite’”; (ii) it is not required that the Bureau provide any notice any potential witnesses or participants who may be necessary to respond to the CID; and (iii) the CFPB holds “broad authority to seek information which may be relevant to its investigations.”
On August 10, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California granted summary judgment against an individual defendant in an action by the CFPB against a lender and several related individuals and companies (collectively, “defendants”) for alleged violations of the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA), Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR), and Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). As previously covered by InfoBytes, the CFPB filed a complaint in 2020 claiming the defendants violated the FCRA by, among other things, illegally obtaining consumer reports from a credit reporting agency for millions of consumers with student loans by representing that the reports would be used to “make firm offers of credit for mortgage loans” and to market mortgage products. However, the Bureau alleged that the defendants instead resold or provided the reports to numerous companies, including companies engaged in marketing student loan debt relief services. The defendants also allegedly violated the TSR by charging and collecting advance fees for their debt relief services, and violated both the TSR and CFPA by placing telemarketing sales calls and sending direct mail to encourage consumers to consolidate their loans, while falsely representing that consolidation could lower student loan interest rates, improve borrowers’ credit scores, and allow borrowers to change their servicer to the Department of Education. Settlements have already been reached with certain defendants (covered by InfoBytes here, here and here).
Responding to the Bureau’s motion for summary judgment against the individual defendant, the court, among other things, held that undisputed evidence showed that the individual defendant “obtained and later used prescreened lists from [a consumer reporting agency] without a permissible purpose” in order to send direct mail solicitations from the businesses that he controlled to consumers on the lists as opposed to firm offers of credit or insurance. The court also found that the individual defendant violated the TSR by mispresenting material aspects of the debt relief services and violated the CFPA by making false statements to induce consumers to pay advance fees for these services. Furthermore, the court rejected the individual defendant’s arguments involving boilerplate evidentiary objections and Fifth Amendment and statute of limitation claims. Because the individual defendant “was heavily involved in and controlled much of the [student loan debt relief businesses’] activities,” the court found that he acted recklessly and granted the Bureau’s motion for summary judgment, finding that injunctive relief, restitution, and a civil money penalty are appropriate remedies.
On August 10, the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts denied a motion to dismiss filed by a credit repair organization and the company’s president and owner (collectively, “defendants”) in a joint action taken by the CFPB and the Massachusetts attorney general, which alleged the defendants committed deceptive acts and practices in violation of the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA), the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Law, and the FTC’s Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR). As previously covered by InfoBytes, the complaint alleges the defendants, among other things, claimed their credit-repair services could help consumers substantially improve their credit scores and promised to fix “unlimited” amounts of negative items from consumers’ credit reports, but, in “numerous instances,” the defendants failed to achieve these results. The defendants also allegedly violated the TSR by engaging in abusive acts and by requesting and collecting fees before achieving any results related to repairing a consumer’s credit. The defendants moved to dismiss, arguing that they were governed by the Credit Repair Organizations Act (CROA), which cannot be reconciled with the TSR, the TSR definition of “telemarketing” is vague and violates the Due Process Clause, and that applying the TSR’s definition of telemarketing would place an unfair content-based restriction on speech that restricts when they can collect payments for their services. Moreover, the defendants claimed, among other things, that the FTC “exceeded its authority in promulgating rules targeting their conduct because Congress intended that only unsolicited telemarketing calls would be addressed by the FTC’s regulations.”
The court disagreed, holding first that that the CROA and the TSR do not conflict. “[C]ompliance with the TSR’s payment requirement would not cause defendants to violate the CROA,” the court stated. “The TSR simply adds a precondition to requesting payment…” Additionally, the court noted that the TSR’s “restriction is on conduct—the timing of the payment—not on speech,” adding that while “Congress directed the FTC to create rules regarding specific telemarketing activities. . ., Congress also authorized the FTC to create additional rules addressing ‘deceptive telemarketing acts or practices’ at its discretion.” As such, the court held that defendants did not show that “Congress intended the FTC to exclusively address unsolicited telemarketing calls.” Furthermore, the court held that the plaintiffs adequately defined the defendants’ allegedly deceptive conduct and that the alleged violations of state law are plausible.
On July 30, the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas granted a petition filed by the CFPB to enforce an administrative order that assessed more than $50 million in restitution and fines against a Delaware-based online payday lender and its CEO (collectively, “respondents”) while the parties await a decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the CFPB filed an action in 2015 against the respondents for allegedly violating TILA and EFTA and for engaging in unfair or deceptive acts or practices concerning the terms of the loans they originated. The respondents also allegedly (i) continued to debit borrowers’ accounts using remotely created checks after consumers revoked their authorization to do so; (ii) required consumers to repay loans via pre-authorized electronic fund transfers; and (iii) deceived consumers about the cost of short-term loans by providing them with contracts that contained disclosures based on repaying the loan in one payment, while the default terms called for multiple rollovers and additional finance charges.
In January 2021, former Director Kathy Kraninger adopted an administrative law judge’s findings and conclusions, affirming the respondents violated TILA, EFTA, and the CFPA and concluding the respondents should be held jointly and severally liable for restitution amounting to more than $38.4 million. Kraninger further held the lender liable for a $7.5 million civil penalty and the CEO liable for a civil penalty of $5 million. In March, acting Director Dave Uejio issued an order denying the respondents’ motion to stay Kraninger’s final decision pending appellate review, but granted their request for a 30-day stay to allow them the opportunity to seek a stay from the 10th Circuit. In opposition to the Bureau’s petition to enforce the final order, the CEO argued, among other things, that the final order is not valid and enforceable. The court noted, however, that it is not permitted to stay enforcement of or suspend the final order. The power to suspend the final order or stay its enforcement belongs to the 10th Circuit—a request, the court noted, that the respondents did not seek when they filed their appeal. The CEO “has not cited any authority indicating that this Court may or should refuse to grant a petition for enforcement under this statute,” the court wrote. “Accordingly, the Court grants the petition for enforcement of the Final Order, and respondents are hereby ordered to comply with the Final Order by paying the restitution and civil penalties imposed and by cooperating as directed.”
On July 14, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California entered a stipulated final judgment and order against the named defendant in a 2019 action brought by the CFPB, the Minnesota and North Carolina attorneys general, and the Los Angeles City Attorney. which had alleged a student loan debt relief operation deceived thousands of student-loan borrowers and charged more than $71 million in unlawful advance fees. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the complaint asserted that the defendants violated the CFPA, the Telemarketing Sales Rule, and various state laws. A second amended complaint also included claims for avoidance of fraudulent transfers under the FDCPA and California’s Uniform Voidable Transactions Act.
In 2019, the named defendant filed a voluntary petition for Chapter 11 relief, which was later converted to a Chapter 7 case. As the defendant is a Chapter 7 debtor and no longer conducting business, the Bureau did not seek its standard compliance and reporting requirements. Instead, the finalized settlement prohibits the defendant from resuming operations, disclosing or using customer information obtained during the course of offering or providing debt relief services, or attempting “to collect, sell, assign, or otherwise transfer any right to collect payment” from any consumers who purchased or agreed to purchase debt relief services. The defendant is also required to pay more than $35 million in redress to affected consumers, a $1 civil money penalty to the Bureau, and $5,000 in civil money penalties to each of the three states.
On July 12, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland issued an opinion denying several motions filed by parties in litigation stemming from a 2016 complaint filed by the CFPB, which alleged the defendants employed abusive practices when purchasing structured settlements from consumers in exchange for lump-sum payments. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Bureau claimed the defendants violated the CFPA by encouraging consumers to take advances on their structured settlements and falsely representing that the consumers were obligated to complete the structured settlement sale, “even if they [later] realized it was not in their best interest.” After the court rejected several of the defendants’ arguments to dismiss based on procedural grounds and allowed the CFPB’s UDAAP claims against the structured settlement buyer and its officers to proceed, the CFPB filed an amended complaint in 2017 alleging unfair, deceptive, and abusive acts and practices and seeking a permanent injunction, damages, disgorgement, redress, civil penalties and costs.
In the newest memorandum opinion, the court considered a motion to dismiss the amended complaint and a motion for judgment on the pleadings on the grounds that the enforcement action was barred by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Seila Law LLC v. CFPB, which held that that the director’s for-cause removal provision was unconstitutional (covered by a Buckley Special Alert), and that the ratification of the enforcement action “came too late” because the statute of limitations on the CFPA claims had already expired. The court reviewed, among other things, whether the doctrine of equitable tolling saved the case from dismissal and cited a separate action issued by the Middle District of Pennsylvania which concluded that an “action was timely filed under existing law, at a time where there was no finding that a provision of the Dodd-Frank Act was unconstitutional.” While noting that the ruling was not binding, the court found the facts in that case to be similar to the action at issue and the analysis to be persuasive. As such, the court denied the motion to dismiss and the motion for judgment on the pleadings, and determined that the Bureau may pursue the enforcement action originally filed in 2016.
On July 12, the CFPB announced a consent order against a Georgia-based fintech company for allegedly enabling contractors and other merchants to take out loans on behalf of thousands of consumers who did not authorize them. According to the CFPB, the respondent allegedly violated the CFPA’s prohibition against deceptive acts or practices by (i) servicing and facilitating the origination of unauthorized loans to consumers and (ii) enabling unauthorized loans by, among other things, failing to implement appropriate and effective controls during the loan application, approval, and funding processes. The CFPB noted that over 6,000 complaints were filed between 2014 and 2019 about the respondent, with some consumers claiming to have no prior involvement or knowledge of the respondent before receiving billing statements and collection letters. Under the terms of the consent order, the respondent must verify consumers’ identities and confirm their authorizations before activating loans or disbursing loan proceeds and implement an effective consumer complaint management program, exercising oversight of third-party merchant partners, and implementing uniform standards regarding the write-off of illegal loans. The respondent is also ordered to pay up to approximately $9 million in redress to its victims and a $2.5 million civil money penalty.
On July 2, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California entered a stipulated final judgment and order against an online debt-settlement company to resolve CFPB allegations concerning violations of the TSR and the CFPA’s prohibition on abusive acts or practices. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Bureau filed a complaint against the company in April claiming it took “unreasonable advantage of consumers’ reasonable reliance that [the company] would protect their interests in negotiating their debts” by failing to disclose its relationship to certain creditors and steering consumers into high-cost loans offered by affiliated lenders. The Bureau also alleged that the company regularly prioritized creditors with which it had undisclosed relationships when settling consumers’ debts. Under the terms of the order, the company—who neither admits nor denies the allegations except as specified—is required to pay approximately $646,769 in redress and a $750,000 civil money penalty. The company is also (i) prohibited from settling consumers’ debts owed to any affiliated company with which it shares direct or indirect ownership; (ii) required to disclose to consumers any affiliation with any provider of the specific loans; and (iii) required to notify consumers with currently enrolled debts that it will no longer seek to settle those debts. Additionally, the company is required to comply with the TSR when marketing or selling any debt relief products or services, including by providing accurate disbursement amounts, not charging settlement-performance fees, clearly disclosing estimated costs, and not misrepresenting any material facts.
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