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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.
On June 30, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland issued a memorandum opinion granting the CFPB’s motion to strike four out of five affirmative defenses presented by defendants in an action alleging FCRA and FDCPA violations. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Bureau filed a complaint against the defendants (a debt collection entity, its subsidiaries, and their owner) for allegedly violating the FCRA, FDCPA, and the CFPA. The alleged violations include, among other things, the defendants’ failure to ensure accurate reporting to consumer-reporting agencies, failure to conduct reasonable investigations and review relevant information when handling indirect disputes, and failure to conduct investigations into the accuracy of information after receiving identity theft reports before furnishing such information to consumer-reporting agencies. The Bureau separately alleged that the FCRA violations constitute violations of the CFPA, and that the defendants violated the FDCPA by attempting to collect on debts without a reasonable basis to believe that consumers owed those debts.
After the court denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss on the basis that the CFPB was unconstitutional and therefore lacked standing, the defendants filed an amended affirmative defense asserting the following: (i) the alleged FDCPA violation was a bona fide error; (ii) the Bureau was “barred from seeking equitable relief by the doctrine of unclean hands”; (iii) the Bureau’s leadership structure was unconstitutional under Article II at the time the complaint was filed, thus the actions taken at the time were invalid; (iv) the Bureau structure is unconstitutional under Article I and therefore the Bureau lacked standing because “it is not accountable to Congress through the appropriations process”; and (v) the statute of limitations on the alleged violations had expired. The Bureau asked the court to strike all but the statute of limitations defense. Concerning the bona fide error defense, the defendants contended the alleged violations were not intentional and resulted from a bona fide error notwithstanding the maintenance of “detail[ed] policies and procedures for furnishing accurate information to the consumer reporting agencies,” but the court ruled this defense insufficient because the defendants failed to identify “specific errors [and] specific policies that were maintained to avoid such errors” and failed to explain their procedures. With respect to the unclean hands defense, the court ruled to strike the defense because it found that the defendants had not “alleged ‘egregious’ conduct or shown how the prejudice from that conduct ‘rose to a constitutional level’” when claiming the Bureau engaged in “duplicitous conduct” by allegedly disregarding its own NORA process or by serving multiple civil investigative demands. Finally, the court further decided to strike the two constitutional defenses because it found that allowing those defenses to proceed “could ‘unnecessarily consume the Court’s resources.’” The court granted the defendants 14 days to file an amended affirmative defense curing the identified defects.
On July 1, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California entered a stipulated final judgment and order against two defendants in a 2019 action brought by the CFPB, the Minnesota and North Carolina attorneys general, and the Los Angeles City Attorney, which 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 alleged that the defendants violated the Consumer Financial Protection Act, the Telemarketing Sales Rule, and various state laws by charging and collecting improper advance fees from student loan borrowers prior to providing assistance and receiving payments on the adjusted loans. In addition, the complaint asserted the defendants engaged in deceptive practices by misrepresenting (i) the purpose and application of fees they charged; (ii) their ability to obtain loan forgiveness; and (iii) their ability to actually lower borrowers’ monthly payments.
The finalized settlement issued against the two relief defendants, who neither admit nor deny the allegations except as specifically stated, requires the payment of $3.98 million by one defendant and $2.04 million by the other. However, based on the defendant’s inability to pay, full payment of the $2.04 million will be suspended. The finalized settlement also ordered the paying relief defendant to disgorge any funds held in accounts in excess of the $3.98 million, “including any income such as interest, dividends, and capital gains, as of the date the funds are transferred.” Moreover, both relief defendants are required to grant all rights and claims of identified assets to the Bureau, as well as any assets “currently in the possession, custody, or control of the Receiver.”
The court previously entered final judgments against several of the defendants, as well as a default judgment and order against two other defendants (covered by InfoBytes here, here, and here). Orders have yet to be entered against the remaining defendants.
On June 29, the CFPB announced a stipulated final judgment and order against a financial services company and its owners for allegedly deceiving consumers into hiring the company. According to the complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia with the Georgia attorney general, the defendants violated the Telemarketing and Consumer Fraud and Abuse Prevention Act, the Telemarketing Sales Rule, the Consumer Financial Protection Act, and Georgia’s Fair Business Practices Act by using telemarketing practices to deceptively induce consumers to hire the company, by, among other things, falsely promising to help them: (i) reduce their credit card debts by advertising to potential customers through direct mailers; and (ii) improve consumers’ credit scores by claiming they could restore their credit scores and that they had a “credit restoration team.” In addition, the defendants “collected millions of dollars in advance fees, claiming that it provided a ‘debt validation’ program that used the debt-verification process set forth in the [FDCPA] to invalidate and eliminate debt and improve consumers’ credit record, history, or rating.” Under the terms of the order, the defendants are banned from the telemarketing of any consumer financial product and selling financial advisory, debt relief, or credit repair services. The defendants must also pay a fine of $150,001, $15,000 of which will be remitted to the state of Georgia, and a penalty of approximately $30 million in consumer redress (full payment of which may be suspended if certain conditions are met).
On June 15, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California entered a stipulated final judgment and order against one of the defendants in an action brought by the CFPB, the Minnesota and North Carolina attorneys general, and the Los Angeles City Attorney in 2019, which 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 alleged that the defendants violated the Consumer Financial Protection Act, the Telemarketing Sales Rule, and various state laws by charging and collecting improper advance fees from student loan borrowers prior to providing assistance and receiving payments on the adjusted loans. In addition, the complaint asserts the defendants engaged in deceptive practices by misrepresenting (i) the purpose and application of fees they charged; (ii) their ability to obtain loan forgiveness; and (iii) their ability to actually lower borrowers’ monthly payments.
The finalized settlement issued against the relief defendant—who acted in an individual capacity and also as trustee of a trust, and who neither admits nor denies the allegations—requires the liquidation of certain assets up to but not exceeding $3 million as monetary relief to go to the CFPB and the People of the State of California. If the liquidation value of the asset is less than $3 million, the relief defendant “will be additionally liable for the difference between the liquidation value of the [asset] and $3,000,000, up to but not exceeding $500,000.” The relief defendant is also liable to all plaintiffs for $88,381.80. In addition, the relief defendant must comply with certain reporting and recordkeeping requirements and fully cooperate with the plaintiffs.
The court previously entered final judgments against four of the defendants, as well as a default judgment and order against two other defendants (covered by InfoBytes here and here). Orders have yet to be entered against the remaining defendants.
On May 27, the CFPB announced a settlement with a Florida-based lender and the CEO of the company (collectively, “defendants”) to resolve allegations that the defendants violated the Consumer Financial Protection Act by misrepresenting the risks associated with their deposit product and the annual percentage rate (APR) associated with their consumer loans. The settlement resolves a complaint against the defendants filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida in November 2020 (covered by InfoBytes here). The CFPB alleged that the company took deposits from consumers to fund loans, claiming their deposits would have a fixed and guaranteed 15 percent annual percentage yield and would be deposited at FDIC-insured institutions. However, according to the complaint, the representations were false in that the funds were not held in FDIC-insured accounts and the rate of return was not guaranteed. The CFPB also alleged that most deposited funds were used to fund short-term, high-interest personal loans that were deceptively marketed as having an APR of 440 percent when the actual APRs are alleged to have been more than 900 percent, well in excess of the rate permitted under Florida’s criminal-usury law, causing the loans to be uncollectable and creating risk that obligations could not be met to depositors who sought to withdraw their deposited funds. The complaint claimed that the defendants had loaned a total of more than $30 million to consumers since 2017.
Under the terms of the stipulated order, the defendants are (i) subject to a judgment for monetary relief and damages for the full amount defendants received from consumers who purchased their financial products and services, around $1 million, plus all interest due to consumers under the terms of the advertised products and services purchased; and (ii) required to pay a $100,000 civil money penalty. The order also permanently bans the defendants from engaging in deposit-taking activity and from making deceptive statements to consumers.
On May 11, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California obtained two additional judgments in an action by the CFPB against a mortgage 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). These are the latest judgments reached with defendants in the ongoing litigation. (See InfoBytes coverage on previously announced settlements here, here, here, and here.)
As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Bureau filed a complaint in January 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, but instead, the defendants allegedly resold or provided the reports to 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. The CFPB further claimed that the defendants violated the TSR and CFPA when they used telemarketing sales calls and direct mail to encourage consumers to consolidate their loans, and falsely represented that consolidation could lower student-loan interest rates, improve borrowers’ credit scores, and change their servicer to the Department of Education.
The May 11 stipulated final judgment entered against a group of corporate defendants, as well as an associated individual, requires the defendants to pay more than $18 million in consumer redress. Payment will be suspended, however, upon satisfaction of certain outlined obligations. The defendants, who neither admitted nor denied the allegations, are also obligated to pay a $125,000 civil money penalty to the Bureau, and are permanently enjoined from offering or providing debt-relief services or from using or obtaining consumer reports for any purpose. Additionally, the individual defendant is banned from using or obtaining benefit from consumer information contained in prescreened consumer reports.
On the same day, a second stipulated final judgment was entered against one of the individual defendants. The judgment requires the individual defendant to pay more than $3.4 million in redress to affected consumers, which will be partially suspended upon satisfaction of certain outlined obligations, along with a $1 civil money penalty. The individual defendant, who also neither admitted nor denied the allegations, is permanently enjoined from offering or providing debt relief services, from participating or engaging in the telemarketing of any consumer financial product or service, or from using or obtaining prescreened consumer reports for any purpose.
- Jeffrey P. Naimon to provide “Fair lending update” at the Colorado Mortgage Lenders Association Operational and Compliance Forum
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Justice for all: Achieving racial equity through fair lending” at CBA Live
- Warren W. Traiger to discuss “On the horizon for CRA modernization” at CBA Live
- APPROVED Webcast: Strategy & Technology: A dynamic duo for successful regulatory exams
- Daniel R. Alonso to discuss “Primer on cross-border prosecutions in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico for U.S. criminal lawyers” at a New York City Bar Association webinar
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Fair lending" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Michelle L. Rogers to discuss “State law regulatory and enforcement trends” at the Mortgage Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Government investigations, and compliance 2021 trends” at the Corporate Counsel Women of Color Career Strategies Conference
- Max Bonici to discuss “BSA/AML trends: What to expect with the implementation of the AML Act of 2020” at the American Bar Association Banking Law Fall Meeting
- H Joshua Kotin to discuss “Modifications and exiting forbearance” at the National Association of Federal Credit Unions Regulatory Compliance Seminar
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Fintech trends” at the BIHC Network Elevating Black Excellence Regional Summit
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Consumer financial services" at the Practising Law Institute Banking Law Institute