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D.C. Circuit says CFPB’s Prepaid Rule does not mandate model disclosures for payment companies
On February 3, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit reversed a district court’s decision that had previously granted summary judgment in favor of a payment company and had vacated two provisions of the CFPB’s Prepaid Rule: (i) the short-form disclosure requirement “to the extent it provides mandatory disclosure clauses”; and (ii) the 30-day credit linking restriction. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the company sued the Bureau alleging, among other things, that the Bureau’s Prepaid Rule exceeded the agency’s statutory authority “because Congress only authorized the Bureau to adopt model, optional disclosure clauses—not mandatory disclosure clauses like the short-form disclosure requirement.” The Bureau countered that it had authority to enforce the mandates under federal regulations, including the EFTA, TILA, and Dodd-Frank, and argued that the “EFTA and [Dodd-Frank] authorize the Bureau to issue—or at least do not foreclose it from issuing—rules mandating the form of a disclosure.”
The district court concluded, among other things, that the Bureau acted outside of its statutory authority, and ruled that it could not presume that Congress delegated power to the agency to issue mandatory disclosure clauses just because Congress did not specifically prohibit it from doing so. Instead, the Bureau can only “‘issue model clauses for optional use by financial institutions’” since the EFTA’s plain text does not permit the Bureau to issue mandatory clauses, the district court said. The Bureau appealed, arguing that both the EFTA and Dodd-Frank authorize the Bureau to promulgate rules governing disclosures for prepaid accounts, and that the decision to adopt such rules is entitled to deference. (Covered by InfoBytes here.) However, the Bureau maintained that the Prepaid Rule “does not make any specific disclosure clauses mandatory,” and stressed that companies are permitted to use the provided sample disclosure wording or use their own “substantially similar” wording.
In reversing and remanding the ruling, the appellate court unanimously determined that because the Bureau’s Prepaid Rule does not mandate “specific copiable language,” it is not mandating a “model clause,” which the court assumed for purposes of the opinion that the Bureau was prohibited from doing. While the Prepaid Rule imposes formatting requirements and requires the disclosure of certain enumerated fees, the D.C. Circuit stressed that the Bureau “has not mandated that financial providers use specific, copiable language to describe those fees.” Moreover, formatting is not part of a “model clause,” the appellate court added. And because companies are allowed to provide “substantially similar” disclosures, the appellate court held that the Bureau has not mandated a “model clause” in contravention of the EFTA. The appellate court, however, did not address any of the procedural or constitutional challenges to the Bureau’s short-form disclosures that the district court had not addressed in its opinion, but instead directed the district court to address those questions in the first instance.
CFPB appeals decision on Prepaid Accounts Rule
On August 16, the CFPB filed its opening brief in the agency’s appeal of a district court’s December 2020 decision, which granted a payment company’s motion for summary judgment and vacated two provisions of the Bureau’s Prepaid Account Rule: (i) the short-form disclosure requirement “to the extent it provides mandatory disclosure clauses”; and (ii) the 30-day credit linking restriction. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Bureau claimed that it had authority to enforce the mandates under federal regulations, including the EFTA, TILA, and Dodd-Frank, but the district court disagreed, concluding, among other things, that the Bureau acted outside of its statutory authority with respect to the mandatory disclosure clauses of the short-form requirement in 12 CFR section 1005.18(b) by presuming that “Congress delegated power to the Bureau to issue mandatory disclosure clauses just because Congress did not specifically prohibit them from doing so.” In striking the mandatory 30-day credit linking restriction under 12 CFR section 1026.61(c)(1)(iii), the district court determined that “the Bureau once again reads too much into its general rulemaking authority,” and that neither TILA nor Dodd-Frank vest the Bureau with the authority to promulgate substantive regulations on when consumers can access and use credit linked to prepaid accounts. Moreover, the court deemed the regulatory provision to be a “substantive regulation banning a consumer’s access to and use of credit” under the disguise of a disclosure, and thus invalid.
In its appeal, the Bureau urged the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to overturn the district court’s ruling, arguing that both the EFTA and Dodd-Frank authorize the Bureau to promulgate rules governing disclosures for prepaid accounts. “The model-clause provision simply ensures that institutions will always have a surefire way of complying with the statute, even when the Bureau’s regulations do not specify how information should be disclosed,” the CFPB said, stressing that “[n]either that provision nor anything else forecloses—let alone unambiguously forecloses—rules requiring disclosures to present specified content in a specified format so that consumers are better able to find, understand, and compare products’ terms.” The decision to adopt such rules, the Bureau added, is entitled to deference. According to the Bureau, the Prepaid Account Rule “does not make any specific disclosure clauses mandatory,” and companies are permitted to use the provided sample disclosure wording or use their own “substantially similar” wording. Additionally, the Bureau argued, among other things, that “[b]y mandating optional model clauses while remaining silent about content and formatting requirements, Congress did not ‘circumscribe the [agency’s] discretion’ to adopt such requirements.” Instead, the Bureau contended, “whether to adopt content and formatting requirements is left ‘to agency discretion.’” Moreover, the disputed requirements “fit comfortably” within its power to regulate disclosure standards under EFTA and Dodd-Frank, the Bureau argued, adding that the law “authorizes the Bureau to ‘prescribe rules to ensure that the features of any consumer financial product or service … are fully, accurately, and effectively disclosed to consumers.’”
D.C Circuit keeps CDC eviction moratorium in place
On June 2, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia denied a group of realtors’ motion to lift an administrative stay placed by a district court on its own order, in which it had previously ruled that the CDC’s nationwide eviction moratorium issued in response to the Covid-19 pandemic exceeded the agency’s statutory authority with the temporary ban. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the district court vacated the CDC’s eviction moratorium and rejected the federal government’s request that the decision be narrowed, ruling that “when ‘regulations are unlawful, the ordinary result is that the rules are vacated—not that their application to the individual petitioner is proscribed.’” However, shortly after the federal government filed a notice of appeal, the district court stayed its own summary judgment order pending appeal.
In denying the plaintiffs’ motion to vacate the stay pending appeal, the appellate court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in staying its own ruling, and noted that the federal government has a good chance of winning its appeal. “[W]hile of course not resolving the ultimate merits of the legal question, we conclude that [the federal government] has made a strong showing that it is likely to succeed on the merits,” the appellate court wrote, adding, among other things, that “Congress has expressly recognized that the agency had the authority to issue its narrowly crafted moratorium.” Moreover, the D.C. Circuit determined that the plaintiffs failed to show the likelihood of irreparable injury should the stay remain in place.
CFPB appeals ruling vacating mandatory disclosures and 30-day credit linking restriction in Prepaid Accounts Rule
On March 1, the CFPB filed a notice to appeal a December 2020 ruling, in which the U.S. District Court for the District of D.C. vacated two provisions of the Bureau’s Prepaid Account Rule: (i) the short-form disclosure requirement “to the extent it provides mandatory disclosure clauses”; and (ii) the 30-day credit linking restriction. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the court concluded that the Bureau acted outside of its statutory authority by promulgating a short-form disclosure requirement (to the extent it provided for mandatory disclosure clauses). The court noted that it could not “presume—as the Bureau does—that Congress delegated power to the Bureau to issue mandatory disclosure clauses just because Congress did not specifically prohibit them from doing so.” The court further determined that the Bureau also read too much into its general rulemaking authority when it promulgated a mandatory 30-day credit linking restriction under 12 CFR section 1026.61(c)(1)(iii) that limited consumers’ ability to link certain credit cards to their prepaid accounts. The court first determined that neither TILA nor Dodd-Frank vest the Bureau with the authority to promulgate substantive regulations on when consumers can access and use credit linked to prepaid accounts. Second, the court deemed the regulatory provision to be a “substantive regulation banning a consumer’s access to and use of credit” under the disguise of a disclosure, and thus invalid.
Divided FCC says net neutrality reversal won't hurt public safety
On October 27, the FCC voted 3-2 to adopt an Order on Remand in response to a 2019 decision issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit (covered by InfoBytes here). The D.C. Circuit’s decision mostly ratified the Commission’s 2017 Restoring Internet Freedom Order that reversed the net neutrality rules barring internet service providers from slowing down or speeding up web traffic based on business relationships, however it remanded three “discrete issues” for the FCC’s further consideration, including how the reversal of the net neutrality rules could affect public safety issues. A Fact Sheet accompanying the Order on Remand stated that the FCC found “no basis to alter” its conclusions in the Restoring Internet Freedom Order, noting that, among other things, “[n]either the Commission’s decision to return broadband Internet access service to its longstanding classification as an information service, nor its decision to eliminate the Internet conduct rules, is likely to adversely impact public safety.”
Supreme Court to review FHFA structure, FTC restitution, and TCPA autodialing
On July 9, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to review the following cases:
- FHFA Constitutionality. The Court agreed to review the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit’s en banc decision in Collins. v. Mnuchin (covered by InfoBytes here), which concluded that the FHFA’s structure—which provides the director with “for cause” removal protection—violates the Constitution’s separation of powers requirements. As previously covered by a Buckley Special Alert last month, the Court held that a similar clause in the Dodd-Frank Act that requires cause to remove the director of the CFPB violates the constitutional separation of powers. The Court further held that the removal provision could—and should—be severed from the statute establishing the CFPB, rather than invalidating the entire statute.
- FTC Restitution Authority. The Court granted review in two cases: (i) the 9th Circuit’s decision in FTC V. AMG Capital Management (covered by InfoBytes here), which upheld a $1.3 billion judgment against the petitioners for allegedly operating a deceptive payday lending scheme and concluded that a district court may grant any ancillary relief under the FTC Act, including restitution; and (ii) the 7th Circuit’s FTC v. Credit Bureau Center (covered by InfoBytes here), which held that Section 13(b) of the FTC Act does not give the FTC power to order restitution. The Court consolidated the two cases and will decide whether the FTC can demand equitable monetary relief in civil enforcement actions under Section 13(b) of the FTC Act.
- TCPA Autodialer Definition. The Court agreed to review the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit’s decision in Duguid v. Facebook, Inc. (covered by InfoBytes here), which concluded the plaintiff plausibly alleged the social media company’s text message system fell within the definition of autodialer under the TCPA. The 9th Circuit applied the definition from their 2018 decision in Marks v. Crunch San Diego, LLC (covered by InfoBytes here), which broadened the definition of an autodialer to cover all devices with the capacity to automatically dial numbers that are stored in a list. The 2nd Circuit has since agreed with the 9th Circuit’s holding in Marks. However, these two opinions conflict with holdings by the 3rd, 7th, and 11th Circuits, which have held that autodialers require the use of randomly or sequentially generated phone numbers, consistent with the D.C. Circuit’s holding that struck down the FCC’s definition of an autodialer in ACA International v. FCC (covered by a Buckley Special Alert).
D.C. Circuit says consumer failed to show injury in FDCPA action
On June 9, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit vacated the district court’s judgment in favor of a consumer, concluding that the consumer failed to demonstrate a concrete injury-in-fact traceable to the FDCPA violations she alleged. According to the opinion, the consumer brought the putative class action against the debt collector after the collector sued the consumer to collect an outstanding auto loan debt. The collector allegedly used affidavits in its lawsuit against the consumer that were signed by an agent of the collector, not by an employee as attested. As requested by the debt collector, the action was then dismissed with prejudice. Subsequently, the consumer filed the putative class action against the debt collector and its agent alleging various violations of the FDCPA. The defendants moved to dismiss the action, which the district court denied. Subsequently, the district court granted their motion for summary judgment, concluding that any “any falsehoods in the  affidavits were immaterial—and thus not actionable—because they ‘had no effect on [the consumer]’s ability to respond or to dispute the debt.’”
On appeal, the D.C. Circuit disagreed with the district court, concluding that the consumer lacked standing to sue the defendants altogether. Specifically, the appellate court held that the consumer failed to identify a traceable injury to the “false representations” made in the affidavits, citing to the fact that the consumer “testified unequivocally that she neither took nor failed to take any action because of these statements.” Moreover, citing to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, the appellate court emphasized that “[n]othing in the FDCPA suggests that every violation of the provisions implicated here…create a cognizable injury.” The appellate court vacated the district court’s judgment and remanded the case with instructions to dismiss the complaint.
7th Circuit: Dialing system that cannot generate random or sequential numbers is not an autodialer under the TCPA
On February 19, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed a district court’s ruling that a dialing system that lacks the capacity to generate random or sequential numbers does not meet the definition of an automatic telephone dialing system (autodialer) under the TCPA. According to the 7th Circuit, an autodialer must both store and produce phone numbers “using a random or sequential number generator.” The decision results from a lawsuit filed by a consumer alleging a company sent text messages without first receiving his prior consent as required by the TCPA. However, according to the 7th Circuit, the company’s system—the autodialer in this case—failed to meet the TCPA’s statutory definition of an autodialer because it “exclusively dials numbers stored in a customer database” and not numbers obtained from a number generator. As such, the company did not violate the TCPA when it sent unwanted text messages to the consumer, the appellate court wrote.
Though the appellate court admitted that the wording of the provision “is enough to make a grammarian throw down her pen” as there are at least four possible ways to read the definition of an autodialer in the TCPA, the court concluded that while its adopted interpretation—that “using a random or sequential number generator” describes how the numbers are “stored” or “produced”—is “admittedly imperfect,” it “lacks the more significant problems” of other interpretations and is thus the “best reading of a thorny statutory provision.”
The 7th Circuit’s opinion is consistent with similar holdings by the 11th and 3rd Circuits (covered by InfoBytes here and here), which have held that autodialers require the use of randomly or sequentially generated phone numbers, as well as the D.C. Circuit’s holding in ACA International v. FCC, which struck down the FCC’s definition of an autodialer (covered by a Buckley Special Alert here). However, these opinions conflict with the 9th Circuit’s holding in Marks v. Crunch San Diego, LLC, (covered by InfoBytes here), which broadened the definition of an autodialer to cover all devices with the capacity to automatically dial numbers that are stored in a list.
House tells Supreme Court CFPB structure is constitutional
On October 4, the U.S. House of Representatives filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court arguing that the CFPB’s structure is constitutional. The brief was filed in response to a petition for writ of certiorari by a law firm, contesting a May decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which held that, among other things, the Bureau’s single-director structure is constitutional (previously covered by InfoBytes here). The House filed its brief after the amicus deadline, but requested its motion to file be granted because it only received notice that the Bureau changed its position on the constitutionality of the CFPB’s structure the day before the filing deadline. As previously covered by InfoBytes, on September 17, the DOJ and the CFPB filed a brief with the Court arguing that the for-cause restriction on the president’s authority to remove the Bureau’s single Director violates the Constitution’s separation of powers; and on the same day, Director Kraninger sent letters (see here and here) to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) supporting the same argument.
The brief, which was submitted by the Office of General Counsel for the House, argues that the case “presents an issue of significant important to the House” and, because the Solicitor General “has decided not to defend” Congress’ enactment of the for-cause removal protection through the Dodd-Frank Act, the “House should be allowed to do so.” The brief asserts that the 9th Circuit correctly held that the Bureau’s structure is constitutional based on the D.C. Circuit’s majority in the 2018 en banc decision in PHH v. CFPB (covered by a Buckley Special Alert). Moreover, the brief argues that when an agency is “headed by a single individual, the lines of Executive accountability—and Presidential control—are even more direct than in a multi-member agency,” as the President has the authority to remove the individual should they be failing in their duty. Such a removal will “‘transform the entire CFPB and the execution of the consumer protection laws it enforces.’”
D.C. Circuit upholds majority of FCC order overturning net neutrality rules
On October 1, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit issued a decision, which mostly ratifies the FCC’s 2017 reversal of the net neutrality rules barring internet service providers (ISPs) from slowing down or speeding up web traffic based on business relationships. (See previous InfoBytes coverage here.) Notably, however, the decision vacates a portion of the FCC’s 2018 Restoring Internet Freedom Order (Order), which preempted states from issuing their own net neutrality rules on requirements that the FCC “‘repealed or decided to refrain from imposing’ in the Order or that [are] ‘more stringent’ than the Order.”
The D.C. Circuit held that the FCC’s decision to reclassify broadband internet access as a Title I service under the Telecommunications Act—allowing for a “light-touch” regulatory framework for ISPs instead of the more heavily regulated Title II—deserves Chevron deference. The appellate court also noted that while “[p]etitioners dispute that the transparency rule, market forces, or existing antitrust and consumer protection laws can adequately protect internet openness. . . . [we] are ultimately unpersuaded.”
The D.C. Circuit also concluded that the FCC failed to adequately address how the reversal of the net neutrality rules could affect public safety issues, holding that the FCC must address this issue. The appellate court stressed that “[u]nlike most harms to edge providers incurred because of discriminatory practices by broadband providers, the harms from blocking and throttling during a public safety emergency are irreparable.” Additionally, the appellate court instructed the FCC to revisit its analysis on how the reversal will affect the regulation of pole attachments as well as low-income households that receive the internet through an FCC subsidy program. Furthermore, while the appellate court concluded that the FCC overreached its authority in prohibiting states from passing their own net neutrality rules, Judge Williams—who concurred in part and dissented in parted—reasoned that the internet cannot be divided into state markets, and that state actions “would frustrate an agency’s authorized policy.”