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On October 18, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed dismissal of an FCRA action in favor of a defendant bank. According to the opinion, the plaintiff real estate investor obtained a loan secured by a mortgage from the defendant bank. The mortgage required the plaintiff to maintain a certain level of hazard insurance or the defendant bank could lender-place such insurance, with the cost of the lender-placed insurance amounts becoming additional debt secured by the mortgage. After the plaintiff underpaid on his flood insurance premiums, the defendant bank obtained lender-placed insurance. When the plaintiff did not pay the increased monthly payment associated with the lender-placed insurance amounts in full, the defendant bank informed the plaintiff that he was in default and that the entire amount of the loan would be accelerated if the default was not cured. While the plaintiff continued to submit partial payments, the defendant began reporting certain 2011 payments as 60 days or more late to the credit reporting agencies (CRAs). In 2012, the plaintiff disputed these purportedly late payments with the CRAs.
The plaintiff sued claiming, among other things, that the defendant violated the FCRA by failing to responsibly investigate the 2012 disputes. On appeal, after determining that the district court did not abuse its discretion by failing to rely on unsupported statements in the plaintiff's affidavit, the 7th Circuit found that the district court erred in requiring the plaintiff to prove damages as an element of his FCRA claim. However, the appellate court held that the plaintiff ultimately lacked standing to bring a claim under the FCRA because, as the appellate court highlighted, the injury that the plaintiff alleged—a decrease in his credit score in November 2011—could not be fairly traced to the defendant’s alleged action—a failure to reasonably investigate credit reporting disputes in January 2012.
On July 6, the FDIC, OCC, Federal Reserve Board, NCUA, and the Farm Credit Administration published a request for public comments on proposed new questions and answers to be included in the Interagency Questions and Answers Regarding Flood Insurance, following changes made to flood insurance regulations under the agencies’ joint rule regarding loans in special flood hazard areas. The proposal updates interagency questions and answers last updated in 2011, and is intended to reduce compliance burdens for lenders related to flood insurance laws. Among the new questions and answers are those related to (i) the “escrow of flood insurance premiums”; (ii) the “detached structure exemption to the mandatory purchase of flood insurance requirement”; and (iii) force-placement of flood insurance procedures. The proposal also revises and reorganizes several existing questions and answers to improve clarity and user functionality. Comments are due September 4.
Additionally, FDIC FIL 67-2020 states that the agencies are currently drafting new Interagency Questions and Answers Regarding Flood Insurance related to the 2019 private flood insurance rule (covered by InfoBytes here), which will be proposed at a later date.
On April 15, the OCC released a statement addressing the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) extension to the grace period for renewing flood insurance policies from 30 days to 120 days due to the Covid-19 pandemic. FEMA’s guidance in Bulletin W-20002 relates to National Flood Insurance Program policies with expiration dates from February 13, 2020 to June 15, 2020, and states that coverage will not lapse if the policy premium is paid prior to the end of the extended grace period. FEMA’s bulletin indicates that the payment grace period was extended “to allow additional time for policyholders who may be struggling financially during this unprecedented time to pay insurance premiums by ensuring that their policies are not canceled for nonpayment of premium due to circumstances beyond their control.” Likewise, the OCC statement “recognizes the serious impact the COVID-19 emergency may have on consumers” and conveys that it will not take enforcement or supervisory action against banks for “reasonable delays in complying with” the OCC’s force placement of flood insurance regulations. The OCC reminds banks that if flood insurance is force placed during the extended grace period, the banks must refund the cost of the overlapping coverage to the borrower.
On August 5, the U. S. District Court for the Central District of California granted preliminary approval and class certification to a settlement of at least $393.5 million to resolve multidistrict allegations that a national bank added force-placed auto insurance to auto loans that may have been unnecessary and without borrowers’ consent. Under the terms of the settlement, the auto insurance underwriter will pay an additional $7.5 million. The allegations stem from a 2017 lawsuit in which borrowers claimed the bank charged them for unnecessary collateral protection insurance. The settlement also requires the bank and the underwriter to pay up to $36 million in attorneys’ fees for the borrower class and up to $500,000 in litigation expenses. However, the court scheduled a settlement fairness hearing for October to examine the fees before granting final approval of the settlement. This settlement follows a 2018 settlement reached between the bank and the CFPB and the OCC concerning a similar set of allegations over the purported billing of force-placed insurance premiums that may not have been required. (See previous InfoBytes coverage here.)
On May 8, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part the dismissal of a consumer’s putative class action against her reverse mortgage servicer for the alleged improper placement of flood insurance on her home. The consumer claimed violations of the FDCPA and multiple Florida laws, including the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act (FDUTPA), based on allegations that the mortgage servicer improperly executed lender-placed flood insurance on her property, even though the condo association had flood insurance covering the property. The lender-placed flood insurance resulted in $5,200 in premiums added to the balance of the loan, and an increase in financing costs on the mortgage. The district court dismissed the action, concluding the mortgage servicer was required by federal law to purchase the flood insurance and the monthly account statements were not collection letters under the FDCPA or state law.
On appeal, the 11th Circuit agreed with the district court that the monthly account statements of the reverse mortgage, which prominently stated “this is not a bill” in bold, uppercase letters, and did not request or demand payment, were not an attempt to collect a debt under the FDCPA. Additionally, the appellate court concluded that the consumer failed to allege the mortgage servicer was a debt collector within the meaning of the FDCPA because the complaint does not allege that the debt was in default. The appellate court also affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the state debt collection claims for similar reasons. However, the appellate court reversed the district court’s dismissal of the consumer’s FDUTPA claims, noting that the mortgage servicer failed to cite to a state or federal law requiring it to purchase flood insurance “when it has reason to know that the borrower is maintaining adequate coverage” in the form a condo association insurance.
On April 9, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit held that a consumer’s insurance repayment plan on her reverse mortgage did not qualify as an escrow account under RESPA’s Regulation X. According to the opinion, a consumer’s reverse mortgage required her to maintain hazard insurance on her property, which she elected to pay herself, and did not establish an escrow account with the mortgage servicer to pay her insurance and property taxes. After her insurance lapsed, the mortgage servicer advanced her over $5,000 in funds paid directly to her insurance carrier to ensure the property was covered, subject to a repayment agreement. After the consumer failed to make any payments under the agreement, the servicer initiated a foreclosure action against the consumer and obtained a forced-placed insurance policy when the insurance lapsed for a second time. Ultimately, a state-run forgivable loan program brought the consumer’s past due balance current and excess funds were placed in a trust to cover future insurance payments on the property. The consumer filed an action against the mortgage servicer alleging the servicer violated RESPA’s implementing Regulation X when it initiated forced-placed insurance, because the repayment agreement purportedly established an escrow account, which required the servicer to advance the funds for insurance. The district court entered judgment in favor of the servicer.
On appeal, the 11th Circuit agreed with the district court, concluding that no escrow account existed between the consumer and the servicer, emphasizing that nothing in the repayment agreement set aside funds for the servicer to pay insurance or taxes on the property in the future. The 11th Circuit rejected the consumer’s characterization of the repayment agreement as an arrangement under Regulation X “where the servicer adds a portion of the borrower’s payment to principal and subsequently deducts from principal the disbursements for escrow account items.” The 11th Circuit reasoned that not only did the consumer never make a principal payment to the servicer, the consumer’s characterization is “entirely inconsistent” with the reverse mortgage security instrument. Because the servicer never deducted anything from the principal when it disbursed funds to pay the insurance, the repayment agreement did not qualify as an escrow agreement under Regulation X.
State Attorneys General fine national bank $575 million for incentive compensation, mortgage and auto lending practices
On December 28, a national bank reached a $575 million multistate settlement with 50 states and the District of Columbia. Among other things, the settlement resolves allegations that have been the subject of previous litigation concerning the bank’s incentive compensation sales program (covered by InfoBytes here), as well as allegations involving certain practices related to mortgage rate-lock extension fees, auto loan force-placed insurance policies, and guaranteed asset/auto protection products. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the bank reached a settlement last year with the CFPB and the OCC to resolve allegations concerning its auto and mortgage lending practices, which were previously discontinued and for which voluntary consumer remediation was initiated by the bank.
On September 24, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of two class actions on grounds that the “filed-rate doctrine” precludes the plaintiffs’ claims. In their complaints, the plaintiffs alleged that their loan servicers charged “inflated amounts” for lender-placed insurance by receiving “rebates” or “kickbacks” from an insurance company without passing the savings on to consumers. The district court dismissed the actions with prejudice, holding that the filed-rate doctrine barred the plaintiffs’ claims. On appeal, the 11th Circuit upheld the lower court’s decision, finding that the plaintiffs’ allegations challenged the insurance company’s filed rate. As a result, the court determined that the plaintiffs’ allegations were textbook examples of claims barred by the nonjusticiability principle, which provides that duly-empowered administrative agencies have exclusive say over the rates charged by regulated entities because agencies are more competent than the courts at the rate-making process.
On April 20, the CFPB, in coordination with the OCC, announced a $1 billion settlement with a national bank for certain auto and mortgage lending practices the bank had previously discontinued and for which voluntary consumer remediation was initiated by the bank. According to the CFPB consent order, the Bureau alleged the bank inappropriately (i) charged fees for mortgage rate-lock extensions, and (ii) operated a force-placed insurance program in connection with auto loans. Specifically, the CFPB alleged that the bank sometimes charged rate lock extension fees to consumers when it should have absorbed the fees. With respect to auto loans, the Bureau alleged that, due to issues with the vendor employed to monitor for insurance and issue insurance if not maintained by the consumer, certain consumers paid for force-placed insurance premiums and interest that may not have been required resulting in potential consumer harm. The CFPB consent order acknowledges that the bank voluntarily discontinued the above practices and has voluntarily begun consumer remediation. Under the terms of both of the consent orders, the bank will remediate affected consumers and will implement necessary changes to its compliance risk-management program.
On February 20, a federal judge for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida issued an opinion and order against a borrower after a two-day bench trial, finding that the borrower failed to establish a private right of action for any of her alleged RESPA violations. According to the opinion, one of the defendants, a mortgage company, initiated foreclosure proceedings against the borrower for failing to pay required insurance and tax associated with her reverse mortgage. During this period, the mortgage company purchased force-placed insurance through an insurance intermediary company to protect its collateral for the reverse mortgage. When the borrower later brought the account current, the mortgage company dismissed the foreclosure complaint. However, the borrower filed a suit against the mortgage company for failing to “advance insurance premiums on her behalf through an escrow account” and against the second defendant, an insurance company, for procuring a policy that “tortiously interfered” with her business relationship with the mortgage company. Specifically, the borrower alleged the procedure used to obtain the force-placed rates violated Florida Insurance Code Section 626.916, and were, therefore, “not bona fide and reasonable under RESPA.”
However, the judge ruled that none of the borrower’s claims created a private right of action under RESPA, and furthermore, the borrower could not “bootstrap Section 626.916 through another cause of action.” Additionally, the judge noted that counsel for the borrower was unable to provide case law authority to support the “proposition that [the borrower’s] RESPA claim could be premised on a Florida statue which lacked a private right of action.” Concerning the borrower’s allegations of tortious interference against the insurance company, the judge concluded that the claim failed to show that the insurance company “intentionally or unjustifiably” interfered with her relationship with the mortgage company.