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On June 1, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit granted Seila Law’s request to stay a mandate ordering compliance with a civil investigative demand (CID) issued by the CFPB. The order stays the appellate court’s mandate (covered by InfoBytes here) for 150 days, or until final disposition by the U.S. Supreme Court should the law firm file its expected petition of certiorari. Last month, Seila Law announced its intention to ask the Court “whether the ratification of the CFPB’s civil investigative demand is an appropriate remedy for the separation-of-powers violation identified by the Supreme Court.” In its motion, Seila Law claimed that the Bureau’s “alleged ratification” was not legally sufficient to cure the constitutional defect and that “an action taken by an agency without authority cannot be ratified if the principal lacked authority to take the action when the action was taken.” Seila Law further argued that the only appropriate remedy is dismissal of the petition to enforce the CID. The Bureau countered that former Director Kraninger’s ratification was valid, emphasizing that the majority of the 9th Circuit denied en banc rehearing last month (covered by InfoBytes here). The Bureau further contended that Seila Law did not demonstrate good cause for the stay or suggest that it would suffer irreparable harm should the motion be denied, pointing out that “equities now weigh overwhelmingly in favor” of requiring Seila Law’s compliance with the CID.
On April 26, the CFPB denied a petition by a title lending company to set aside a civil investigative demand (CID) issued by the Bureau in February. The CID requested information from the company to determine, among other things, whether “consumer-lending companies or title-loan companies, in connection with the extension of credit, servicing of loans, processing of payments, or collection of debt, have made false or misleading representations” to consumers. On February 25, the company had petitioned the Bureau to set aside the CID, arguing, in part, that (i) the Bureau failed to provide the company “‘with fair notice as to the nature of the Bureau’s investigation,” as required under section 1052(c)(2) of the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA); (ii) the CID did not enable the company to adequately assess “the relevance or the burdensomeness of the individual requests”; and (iii) part of the Bureau’s investigation related to the company’s sale of non-filing insurance (NFI), which is a particular concern “because NFI is a topic that appears to be completely outside of the Bureau’s authority,” as the CFPA does not authorize the Bureau to regulate the business of insurance.
The Bureau rejected the company’s request to set aside or modify the CID, finding that: (i) the Bureau notified the company that it is investigating conduct in connection with the extension of credit, servicing of loans, processing of payments, or collection of debt’ as potential violations of §§ 1031 and 1036 of the CFPA, the Truth in Lending Act, the Military Lending Act, as well as a prior consent order to which the company is still subject; (ii) the company’s defenses are premature at the investigative stage, even if they “could be raised in defense against the potential legal claims contemplated by the CID”; (iii) although the company complained about the purported “vagueness of the description of the subjects of the investigation” and “whether all of the potential violations applied to the [c]ompany or only a portion,” the Bureau is not required to identify the subject of law enforcement investigations in its CIDs; and (iv) the notification at issue is “far more specific” than the notification of purpose in a different matter referenced by the company, and “identifies the precise conduct under investigation while expressly noting the conduct was committed ‘in connection with the extension of credit, servicing of loans, processing of payments, or collection of debt.’”
On December 16, the CFPB denied a petition by a non-profit guaranty agency that serves as a guarantor of federal student loans to set aside a civil investigative demand (CID) issued by the Bureau last September. The CID requested information from the company to determine, among other things, whether “debt collectors, guaranty agencies, or associated persons” violated the CFPA’s UDAAP provisions by improperly causing borrowers to incur costs or fees in connection with the collection of student loans. The company petitioned the Bureau to set aside the CID. Among other things, the company argued that the Bureau lacked jurisdiction, because it does not provide a consumer financial product or service, but rather a commercial service to the Department of Education (Department). The company also argued that the Bureau lacked jurisdiction due to the company’s fiduciary relationship with the Department, citing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Bureau and the Department related to their respective responsibilities for handling student borrower complaints. Additionally, the company claimed that any potential allegations are time-barred, and that, in the alternative, the CID should be stayed until the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issues a decision in a pending lawsuit challenging the validity of the Department’s Guaranty Agency Collections Fee Rule.
The Bureau rejected the company’s request to set aside or modify the CID, finding that (i) it has a “reasonable basis to investigate” whether guaranty agencies, like the company, fall within its jurisdiction; (ii) the CID is proper because it seeks information “relevant to a violation” of consumer financial protection laws, as well as information related to the company’s relationships with private collection agencies and loan servicers; (iii) the Bureau’s MOU with the Department has “no relevance” to the Bureau’s exercise of its investigative or enforcement authority; (iv) its investigation is not time-barred because the CFPA’s statute of limitations begins to run upon the Bureau’s discovery of the violation, and, moreover, the Bureau is not limited to gathering information from only within the limitations period; and (v) the company “fail[ed] to establish any basis for an indefinite stay of the CID.”
On August 27, the CFPB denied a petition by an auto financing company to set aside a civil investigative demand (CID) issued by the Bureau in June. The CID requested information from the company to determine, among other things, “whether auto lenders or associated persons, in connection with originating auto loans (including marketing and selling products ancillary to such loans), servicing loans, collecting debts (including through repossessing vehicles), or consumer reporting” may have violated the Consumer Financial Protection Act’s UDAAP provisions, as well as the FCRA and TILA. The company petitioned the Bureau to set aside the CID. Among other things, the company argued that because certain aspects of the CID do not fall within a “reasonable construction of the CID’s notification of purpose,” and thus failed to provide fair notice as to what the Bureau is investigating, the CID should be “modified to strike each of these requests or clearly confine them to the enumerated topics.”
The Bureau rejected the company’s request to set aside or modify the CID, countering that (i) the particular requests that the company objects to are “all reasonably relevant to the Bureau’s inquiry as described in the notification of purpose,” and that the company cannot rewrite the CID’s notification of purpose to describe only four specific topics and then argue that the Bureau is asking for irrelevant information; and (ii) the Bureau has broad authority to seek information that may be “reasonably relevant” to an investigation, and that the Bureau’s “own appraisal of relevancy must be accepted so long as it is not obviously wrong.” According to the Bureau, the company failed to overcome this “high hurdle established in the judicial precedent.” However, the Bureau granted the company’s request for confidential treatment of its petition and attached exhibits by agreeing to redact certain proprietary business information and confidential supervisory information.
On August 31, the CFPB filed a supplemental brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, arguing that the formal ratifications of then-Acting Director Mick Mulvaney and current Director Kathy Kraninger, paired with the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Seila v. CFPB, are sufficient for the appellate court to enforce the CID previously issued against the law firm, and that “[s]etting aside the CID at this point would serve no valid purpose.” As previously covered by InfoBytes, in 2017, the CFPB ordered Seila Law to comply with a CID seeking information about the firm’s business practices to determine whether it violated the CFPA, the Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR), or other federal consumer financial laws when providing debt-relief services or products, but the law firm refused to comply, arguing that the CID was invalid because the CFPB’s structure was unconstitutional. Last year, after the 9th Circuit upheld the CID (covered by InfoBytes here), Seila Law appealed the decision to the Supreme Court. Following the Supreme Court’s opinion in June—which held that the director’s for-cause removal provision was unconstitutional but was severable from the statute establishing the Bureau (covered by a Buckley Special Alert)—the Bureau noted that Kraninger formally ratified the agency’s decisions regarding the CID in July.
Among other things, the Bureau highlighted in its brief Seila Law’s argument “that the CID still should not be enforced because at the time this action commenced, the Supreme Court had not yet held invalid the removal provision.” The Bureau countered that any defect in the initiation of this action has been resolved because the CID, and the action to enforce it, “have now been formally and expressly ratified” by two Bureau officials removable at will by the President. The Bureau also asked the 9th Circuit to consider what may happen if the appellate court chooses to ignore the ratifications and rule in favor of Seila Law. According to the Bureau, such a result “could also, depending on the [c]ourt’s reasoning, be used to raise doubts about the validity of other actions the Bureau has taken over the past decade and that a fully accountable Director has now also ratified.” Should the 9th Circuit choose to set aside the CID, the appellate court would not only further delay a “legitimate law-enforcement investigation,” but also “undermine the very Article II authority that the Supreme Court so emphasized in deciding this case,” the Bureau argued.
CFPB denies company’s petition to set aside CID, citing investigative authority broader than enforcement authority
On August 13, the CFPB denied a petition by a credit repair software company to set aside a civil investigative demand (CID) issued by the Bureau in April. The CID requested information from the company “to determine whether providers of credit repair business software, companies offering credit repair that use this software, or associated persons, in connection with the marketing or sale of credit repair services, have: (1) requested or received prohibited payments from consumers in a manner that violates the Telemarketing Sales Rule [(TSR)]. . .; or (2) provided substantial assistance in such violations in a manner that violates [the CFPA or TSR].” The company petitioned the Bureau to set aside the CID, arguing, among other things, that the CID exceeds the Bureau’s jurisdiction and scope of authority because the agency lacks investigative and enforcement authority over companies that provide credit repair services and companies that provide customer relationship management software for such services. The company also argued that (i) the CID is invalid because the company does not engage in telemarketing, perform credit repair services, or market or sell credit repair services to consumers; (ii) the company is not a “covered person” or “service provider” under the CFPA; and (iii) the company is not required to respond to the CID because “it is clear that [the company] does not provide any assistance, let alone substantial assistance, to any covered person in violation of the CFPA.”
The Bureau rejected the company’s arguments, countering that its “authority to investigate is broader than its authority to enforce.” According to the Bureau, “[r]egardless of whether [the company] itself engages in telemarketing or accepts payments from consumers in a manner that violates the TSR, the Bureau has the authority to obtain information from [the company] that will help it assess whether others may have done so.” Furthermore, the Bureau stated that the CFPA grants it the authority to prohibit unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices committed by a “covered person” or a “service provider,” and “the authority over those who, knowingly or recklessly, provide substantial assistance to a covered person,” which include companies that provide credit repair services. “Whether a company that sells business software to credit repair firms does, in fact, substantially assist any violations committed by those firms depends upon the facts,” the Bureau explained.
On May 4, the National Association of Attorneys General published a letter to US Telecom, an industry group of telecommunications providers, and the Industry Traceback Group, an industry group dedicated to assist with the tracing of illegal robocalls. The letter noted that state attorneys general intend to intensify enforcement efforts against illegal robocallers, and urged US Telecom and the Industry Traceback Group to expand capabilities related to tracebacks in anticipation of growth in the need for data analysis and the number of civil investigative demands and subpoenas that will be issued directly to the Industry Traceback Group. The need for action has been tied to an increase in Covid-19 related robocalls.
On April 13, the CFPB released a Supplemental Decision and Order partially granting a payment technology company’s request for confidential treatment of its petition that sought to set aside a 2019 CID seeking information related to, among other things, the company’s payment processing activities. The CFPB noted in its supplemental decision and order that while the company’s initial confidentiality arguments were rejected, it provided the company an opportunity to make an additional submission following a U.S. Supreme Court decision that clarified the standard for determining what information may be withheld under Exemption 4 of FOIA. The Bureau ultimately granted the company’s confidentiality request with respect to its payment processor information only.
The supplemental decision and order is related to the company’s now-published original petition to set aside the CID, in which it asserted that it is not a covered person under the Consumer Financial Protection Act because even though it sells various products and services, it does not provide payment processing services. The company also argued that it is not a service provider because it does not offer or provide consumer financial products or services, nor does it provide services to a covered person. Furthermore, because it is not a financial institution, the company claimed that the CFPB has no EFTA authority over it. The original petition requested that the CID be set aside because it exceeds the Bureau’s jurisdictional authority. The Bureau responded that the company’s arguments did not warrant setting aside the CID because the investigation was “not patently outside” its authority, but it partially modified the CID’s Notification of Purpose to provide greater detail about the conduct the Bureau was investigating. The Bureau also contended that the fact that the company is not a financial institution does not affect whether the Bureau can conduct an investigation into potential violations of section 1005.10(b) of Regulation E (EFTA), which “applies to any person.”
On March 3, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Seila Law LLC v. CFPB to consider whether the Constitution prohibits an agency being led by a single director who cannot be removed at will by the President. In addition, the arguments addressed the question of the appropriate remedy if the Court determines that the limitation on the President’s ability to remove the director is unconstitutional.
The case arises out of a Civil Investigative Demand (CID) issued by the CFPB to the petitioner Seila Law, a law firm providing debt relief services to consumers. Seila Law refused to respond to the CID, arguing that it is invalid because the CFPB’s structure is unconstitutional. The CFPB and the DOJ agreed with the contention that the statute is unconstitutional. However, the parties differed on the question of remedy. The government argued that the removal restriction should simply be severed from the statute, leaving the remainder of the Consumer Financial Protection Act in place. But Seila Law argued that to do so would amount to a judicial “rewrite” of the statute, and the Court should instead simply hold that the CID is unenforceable and leave to Congress the task of revising the statute to comply with the Constitution.
Because the government was not defending the constitutionality of the statute, the court appointed a former Solicitor General to act as an amicus to defend the constitutionality of the statute. In addition, the House of Representatives, which had filed an amicus brief on behalf of that legislative body, also defended the constitutionality of the statute at the oral arguments.
Find continuing InfoBytes coverage of Seila Law here.
On February 18, the CFPB released a Decision and Order denying a joint request to set aside civil investigative demands (CIDs) issued in 2019 to four online installment lenders owned by a federally recognized Indian tribe, as well as a processing services company. The CIDs in dispute were issued to the petitioners last October and sought information “to determine whether lenders or associated individuals or entities have violated the Consumer Financial Protection Act’s (CFPA) prohibition on unfair, deceptive, and abusive acts and practices [(UDAAP)] by collecting amounts that consumers did not owe or by making false or misleading representations to consumers in the course of servicing loans and collecting debts.” As previously covered by InfoBytes, four of the petitioners were also part of a 2017 CFPB enforcement action, which alleged that the lenders’ practices violated UDAAP and the Truth in Lending Act. This action was voluntarily dismissed without prejudice in 2018 (covered by InfoBytes here).
According to the CFPB, the joint petition to set aside or modify the CIDs sets out five primary arguments: (i) the CFPB “lacks authority to investigate entities that are arms of a tribe”; (ii) the lenders cannot comply with the CIDs without violating a protective order issued by the Tribal Consumer Financial Services Regulatory Commission; (iii) “the CIDs lack a proper purpose”; (iv) “the CIDs are overly broad and unduly burdensome”; and (v) the CIDs should be withdrawn or stayed pending the U. S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Seila Law LLC v. CFPB about whether the structure of the CFPB is unconstitutional.
The CFPB’s denial of the petitioners’ request addresses each of the arguments. First, it rejects that it lacks authority to investigate “arms of a tribe” based on, among other things, a Ninth Circuit case holding that the CFPA applies to tribal businesses and numerous cases holding that tribes “do not enjoy sovereign immunity from lawsuits brought by the federal government.” Second, while noting the CFPB’s “utmost respect” for, and desire to coordinate with, state and tribal regulators, the agency is not required to coordinate with such regulators before carrying out its responsibility to investigate potential violations of federal consumer law. Third, with respect to whether the CIDs have a proper purpose, the CFPB asserts, among other things, that the dismissal of the earlier lawsuit does not preclude it from bringing future actions, and moreover, even if some of the requested information relates to potentially time-barred conduct, it does not undermine the overall validity. Fourth, concerning the petitioners’ claims that the CIDs are overbroad or unduly burdensome, the CFPB states that the petitioners did not meaningfully engage during the meet-and-confer-process and have not adequately specified or identified how or why the CIDs would be unduly burdensome. Finally, regarding the constitutional issue, the CFPB notes that it has consistently stated that “the administrative process set out in the [CFPB’s] statute and regulations for petitioning to modify or set aside a CID is not the proper forum for raising and adjudicating challenges to the constitutionality of the [CFPB’s] statute.” The CFPB directs the petitioners to comply with the CIDs within 30 days of the order.