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  • 11th Circuit rejects a proposed TCPA class action settlement

    Courts

    On May 13, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit vacated and remanded a proposed TCPA class action settlement agreement. The class, consolidated from three class actions, accused the defendant, the “world’s largest services platform for entrepreneurs,” of violating the TCPA by using an automatic telephone dialing system to send unwanted calls and text messages to promote its products. The $35 million settlement and attorney’s fees, up to $10.5 million, was approved preliminarily in 2020.

    According to the appellate court’s opinion, the district court abused its discretion in approving a proposed $35 million settlement because it: (i) did not consider the 2018 amendments to Rule 23(e)(2); (ii) overlooked possible collusion in the settlement agreement; and (iii) inadequately informed class members about the case. Additionally, the court incorrectly calculated the attorneys’ fees and wrongly treated the settlement as a common fund rather than a claims settlement. The class’s counsel was criticized for appearing to represent their own interests over those of the class since they were supposed to receive $10.5 million in fees. The court also found issues with the opt-out process, which was deemed overly complex and likely to discourage class members from opting out. As a result, the judgment was vacated.

    Courts Eleventh Circuit Appellate TCPA Settlement

  • 11th Circuit changes course, says one text message sufficient for TCPA standing

    Courts

    On July 24, the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit unanimously held that a plaintiff who receives a single, unwanted text message has standing to sue the sender of the message under the TCPA. The decision departs from precedent set by the same court in 2019, in which it determined in a different case that receiving one unsolicited text message is not enough of a concrete injury to establish standing under the statute. (Covered by InfoBytes here.) Plaintiff filed a putative class action against a web-hosting company alleging the defendant violated the TCPA by using a prohibited autodialer to send promotional calls and text messages selling services and products. The settlement agreement reached between the parties also resolved claims brought against the defendant by parties in two other actions.

    During settlement discussions, the district court cited the aforementioned 2019 11th Circuit decision and asked the parties to brief how their case, which includes individuals who received only one text message, was distinguishable from the 2019 action. The district court ultimately ruled that class members who only received one text message “lacked a viable claim” in the 11th Circuit under the 2019 precedent, but noted that because the case involves a nationwide settlement, “those class members ‘do have a viable claim in their respective Circuit.’” An objector to the settlement appealed the ruling on various grounds to the 11th Circuit, which dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction and held that the class definition did not meet Article III standing requirements, as it included individuals who received a single text message. Plaintiff moved for rehearing en banc, asking the 11th Circuit to reevaluate the 2019 precedent and to clarify the elements necessary to pursue a TCPA claim.

    Reviewing de novo the threshold jurisdiction question of whether plaintiffs have standing to sue, the 11th Circuit said that “the harm that underlies a lawsuit for the common-law claim of intrusion upon seclusion” shares a “close relationship” with a “traditional harm.” The appellate court explained that because “[b]oth harms reflect an intrusion into the peace and quiet in a realm that is private and personal[,] [a] plaintiff who receives an unwanted, illegal text message suffers a concrete injury. Because [plaintiff] has endured a concrete injury, we remand this matter to the panel to consider the rest of the appeal.” Recognizing that a single unsolicited text message may not be considered “highly offensive to the ordinary reasonable man” it “is nonetheless offensive to some degree to a reasonable person.” The 11th Circuit also referred to seven other circuit courts that “have declined to consider the degree of offensiveness required to state a claim for intrusion upon seclusion at common law,” and have instead chosen to conclude that “receiving either one or two unwanted texts or phone calls resembles the kind of harm associated with intrusion upon seclusion.” Moreover, the 11th Circuit noted that Congress is given authority under the Constitution “to decide what degree of harm is enough so long as that harm is similar in kind to a traditional harm,” which is “exactly what Congress did in the TCPA when it provided a cause of action to redress the harm that unwanted telemarketing texts and phone calls cause.”

    Courts Appellate Eleventh Circuit TCPA Class Action Autodialer

  • 11th Circuit orders reexamination of breach class boundaries

    Privacy, Cyber Risk & Data Security

    On July 11, a split U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit partially vacated the greenlighting of two data breach class actions, holding that a district court must re-analyze the boundaries of the classes. Both the nationwide and California classes are individuals who sued a restaurant chain after their card data and personally identifiable information were compromised in a cyberattack. Plaintiffs claimed that information for roughly 4.5 million cards could be accessed on an online marketplace for stolen payment information. Two of the three named plaintiffs also said they experienced unauthorized charges on their accounts. Plaintiffs moved to certify two classes seeking both injunctive and monetary relief—a nationwide (or alternatively a statewide) class for negligence and a California class for claims based on the state’s unfair business practices laws. The district court certified a nationwide class and a separate California-only class. The restaurant chain’s parent company appealed, arguing that the certification violates court precedent on Article III standing for class actions, that the classes do not meet the commonality requirements for certification, and that the district court erred by finding that a common damages methodology existed for the class.

    On appeal, the majority found that at the class certification stage, plaintiffs only had to show that a reliable damages methodology existed. The majority also determined that the district court correctly found that plaintiffs’ expert presented a sufficient methodology for calculating damages and that “it would be a ‘matter for the jury’ to decide actual damages at trial.” However, the majority remanded the case with instructions for the district court to clarify what it meant when it certified classes of individuals who had their “data accessed by cybercriminals.” According to the opinion, the district court meant for this term to encompass individuals who experienced fraudulent charges or whose credit card information was posted on the dark web. The majority expressed concerns that the phrase “accessed by cybercriminals” is broader than the two delineated categories provided by the district court and could include individuals who had their data taken but were otherwise uninjured. The majority also vacated the California class certification after determining that two of the three named plaintiffs lacked standing because they dined at the restaurant outside of the “at-risk” timeframe. The district court’s damages calculation methodology, however, was left undisturbed by the appellate court.  

    Partially dissenting, one of the judges wrote that while she agreed that one of the named plaintiffs had standing to sue, she disagreed with the majority’s concrete injury analysis. The judge also argued that the district court erred in its damage calculations by “impermissibly permit[ting] plaintiffs to receive an award based on damages that they did not suffer.”

    Privacy, Cyber Risk & Data Security Courts State Issues California Appellate Eleventh Circuit Consumer Protection Class Action Data Breach

  • 11th Circuit revises data breach negligence claim

    Courts

    The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit recently reversed the dismissal of a negligence claim brought against a Georgia-based airport retailer, determining that a company of its size and sophistication “could have foreseen being the target of a cyberattack.” Plaintiff, who used to work for the defendant, filed suit alleging the defendant failed to protect thousands of current and former employees’ sensitive personally identifiable information (PII), including Social Security numbers, from an October 2020 ransomware attack. Bringing claims for negligence and breach of implied contract on behalf of class members, plaintiff contended that not only should the defendant have protected the PII, but it also took several months for the defendant to notify affected individuals. A notice provided by the company claimed the attack only affected an internal, administrative system, but according to the plaintiff, the attacker uploaded the PII to third-party servers. Plaintiff was later informed that an unknown party used his Social Security number to file pandemic-related unemployment assistance claims under his name in Rhode Island and Kentucky. Plaintiff challenged that the defendant should have taken steps before the hack to better protect the information and that the alleged “harms he suffered were a foreseeable result of [defendant’s] inadequate security practices and its failure to comply with industry standards appropriate to the nature of the sensitive, unencrypted information it was maintaining.” The district court disagreed and granted defendant’s motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Plaintiff appealed, arguing that “the district court demanded too much at the pleadings stage.”

    On appeal, the 11th Circuit concluded, among other things, that the plaintiff could not have been expected to plead details about the defendant’s private data security policies. “We cannot expect a plaintiff in [this] position to plead with exacting detail every aspect of [defendant’s] security history and procedures that might make a data breach foreseeable, particularly where ‘the question of reasonable foreseeability of a criminal attack is generally for a jury’s determination rather than summary adjudication by the courts,’” the appellate court wrote, noting that plaintiff had sufficiently pled the existence of a special relationship as well as a foreseeable risk of harm. However, the 11th Circuit affirmed dismissal of plaintiff’s claim for breach of implied contract, stating that he failed to allege any facts showing that the defendant agreed to be bound by a data retention or protection policy.

    A few days later, the 11th Circuit issued an opinion saying class members in a different action should be allowed to amend their data breach negligence claim in light of the appellate court’s decision discussed above. The 11th Circuit wrote that the decision in the aforementioned case “undermined” the dismissal of plaintiff’s negligence claim alleging a defendant warehousing company allowed a data breach to occur because it failed to take appropriate measures to secure its network. Class members in this case also alleged their PII was improperly accessed during a ransomware attack. The appellate court agreed with class members’ contention that the defendant had failed to address a newly created legal standard for data breach negligence claims in its motion to dismiss: “Indeed, the plaintiffs would have been hard-pressed to predict that they might need to amend their complaint to add more specific foreseeability allegations in response to [defendant’s] renewed motion to dismiss,” the appellate court wrote, reversing the denial of the motion for leave to amend.

    Courts Privacy Data Breach Ransomware Appellate Eleventh Circuit Consumer Finance

  • 11th Circuit revises data breach negligence claim

    Courts

    The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit recently reversed the dismissal of a negligence claim brought against a Georgia-based airport retailer, determining that a company of its size and sophistication “could have foreseen being the target of a cyberattack.” Plaintiff, who used to work for the defendant, filed suit alleging the defendant failed to protect thousands of current and former employees’ sensitive personally identifiable information (PII), including Social Security numbers, from an October 2020 ransomware attack. Bringing claims for negligence and breach of implied contract on behalf of class members, plaintiff contended that not only should the defendant have protected the PII, but it also took several months for the defendant to notify affected individuals. A notice provided by the company claimed the attack only affected an internal, administrative system, but according to the plaintiff, the attacker uploaded the PII to third-party servers. Plaintiff was later informed that an unknown party used his Social Security number to file pandemic-related unemployment assistance claims under his name in Rhode Island and Kentucky. Plaintiff challenged that the defendant should have taken steps before the hack to better protect the information and that the alleged “harms he suffered were a foreseeable result of [defendant’s] inadequate security practices and its failure to comply with industry standards appropriate to the nature of the sensitive, unencrypted information it was maintaining.” The district court disagreed and granted defendant’s motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Plaintiff appealed, arguing that “the district court demanded too much at the pleadings stage.”

    On appeal, the 11th Circuit concluded, among other things, that the plaintiff could not have been expected to plead details about the defendant’s private data security policies. “We cannot expect a plaintiff in [this] position to plead with exacting detail every aspect of [defendant’s] security history and procedures that might make a data breach foreseeable, particularly where ‘the question of reasonable foreseeability of a criminal attack is generally for a jury’s determination rather than summary adjudication by the courts,’” the appellate court wrote, noting that plaintiff had sufficiently pled the existence of a special relationship as well as a foreseeable risk of harm. However, the 11th Circuit affirmed dismissal of plaintiff’s claim for breach of implied contract, stating that he failed to allege any facts showing that the defendant agreed to be bound by a data retention or protection policy.

    A few days later, the 11th Circuit issued an opinion saying class members in a different action should be allowed to amend their data breach negligence claim in light of the appellate court’s decision discussed above. The 11th Circuit wrote that the decision in the aforementioned case “undermined” the dismissal of plaintiff’s negligence claim alleging a defendant warehousing company allowed a data breach to occur because it failed to take appropriate measures to secure its network. Class members in this case also alleged their PII was improperly accessed during a ransomware attack. The appellate court agreed with class members’ contention that the defendant had failed to address a newly created legal standard for data breach negligence claims in its motion to dismiss: “Indeed, the plaintiffs would have been hard-pressed to predict that they might need to amend their complaint to add more specific foreseeability allegations in response to [defendant’s] renewed motion to dismiss,” the appellate court wrote, reversing the denial of the motion for leave to amend.

    Courts Privacy, Cyber Risk & Data Security Data Breach Ransomware Appellate Eleventh Circuit Consumer Finance

  • 11th Circuit: ECOA anti-discrimination provision against requiring spousal signature does not apply to defaulted mortgage during loan modification offer

    Courts

    On April 27, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed a lower court’s decision to enter judgment in favor of a defendant national bank following a bench trial related to claims arising from foreclosure proceedings on the plaintiff’s home. The plaintiff executed a promissory note secured by a mortgage signed by both the plaintiff and her husband. After the borrowers defaulted on the mortgage, the defendant filed a foreclosure action and approved the plaintiff for a streamlined loan modification while the foreclosure action was pending. One of the conditions of the streamlined loan modification was that the plaintiff had to make required trial period plan payments and submit signed copies of the loan modification agreement within 14 days. Both individuals were expressly required to sign the modification agreement as borrowers on the mortgage. However, should one of the borrowers not sign, the bank required documentation as to why the signature is not required, as well as a recorded quit claim deed and a divorce decree. The plaintiff acknowledged that she refused to return a fully signed loan modification agreement or provide alternative supporting documentation, and during trial, both individuals admitted that the husband refused to sign. The borrowers eventually consented to final judgment in the foreclosure action and the property was sold.

    The plaintiff then brought claims under ECOA and RESPA. The district court granted summary judgment to the defendant on the ECOA discrimination claim and the RESPA claim. After a bench trial on the ECOA notice claim, the district court determined that because the defendant gave proper notice to the plaintiff as required by ECOA (i.e., she was provided required written notices within 30 days after being verbally informed that her modification agreement was not properly completed), plaintiff’s claim failed on the merits.

    On appeal, plaintiff argued, among other things, that the district court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of the defendant on her ECOA discrimination claim. The 11th Circuit explained that under ECOA it is unlawful for a creditor to discriminate against an applicant on the basis of marital status. However, ECOA and Regulation B also establish “exceptions for actions that are not considered discrimination, including when a creditor may require a spouse’s signature,” and include additional exceptions to creditor conduct constituting “adverse action” (i.e. “any action or forbearance taken with respect to an account that is delinquent or in default is not adverse action”). The appellate court held that because the plaintiff had defaulted on the mortgage at the time the loan modification was offered, ECOA and Regulation B’s anti-discrimination provision against requiring spousal signatures did not apply to her. Moreover, even if the provision was applicable in this instance, the appellate court held that “the district court correctly concluded that it was reasonable for [defendant] to require either [plaintiff’s] signature or a divorce decree in light of Florida’s homestead laws,” and that such a requirement does not constitute discrimination under ECOA.

    As to the notice claim, the appellate court found no error in the district court’s conclusion that the defendant had satisfied applicable notice requirements by timely sending a letter to the plaintiff that (i) specified the information needed from the plaintiff; (ii) designated a reasonable amount of time within which to provide the information; and (iii) informed the plaintiff that failure to do so would result in cancellation of the modification. This letter satisfied the “notice of incompleteness” requirements of 12 C.F.R. § 202.9(c)(2).

    Courts Consumer Finance Mortgages ECOA Regulation B Appellate Eleventh Circuit Foreclosure

  • CFPB says furnishers’ investigative duties include legal disputes

    Courts

    On April 20, the CFPB filed an amicus brief in a case before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit arguing that the duty to investigate a consumer’s credit dispute applies not only to factual disputes but also to disputes that can be labeled as legal in nature. The plaintiffs entered into a timeshare agreement with the defendant hotel chain and made monthly payments for nearly two years but then stopped. The plaintiffs disputed the validity of, and attempted to rescind, the agreement. The defendant did not agree to the rescission and continued to record the deed under the plaintiffs’ names. The plaintiffs later obtained copies of their credit reports, which showed past-due balances with the defendant, and subsequently submitted letters to a credit reporting agency (CRA) disputing the credit reporting. After the defendant certified the information was accurate, the plaintiffs sued the defendant and the CRA alleging that the defendant violated the FCRA by failing to conduct a proper investigation. The defendant moved for summary judgment, arguing that the issue of whether the debt is owed—the basis of the plaintiffs’ FCRA claim—constitutes a legal dispute and is not a factual inaccuracy. The defendant further maintained that there was no legal error because the plaintiffs owed the money as a matter of law. Last December, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida granted partial summary judgment in favor the defendant after concluding, among other things, that because the plaintiffs’ dispute centered on the legal validity of their debt, rather than a factual inaccuracy, the investigation requirement was not triggered and the claim was “not actionable under the FCRA.”

    The Bureau argued in favor of the plaintiffs-appellants. According to the Bureau, the district court “unduly narrow[ed] the scope of a furnisher’s obligations by holding that furnishers categorically need not investigate indirect disputes involving ‘legal’ inaccuracies.” This position, the Bureau maintained, contradicts the purpose of the FCRA’s requirement to conduct a reasonable investigation of consumer disputes and “could reduce the incentive of furnishers to resolve ‘legal’ disputes, and, in turn, could increase the volume of consumer complaints about credit reporting issues that the Bureau receives and devotes resources to address.”

    Explaining that the FCRA does not distinguish between legal and factual disputes, the Bureau stated that the district court’s conclusion “is not supported by the statute, risks exposing consumers to more inaccurate credit reporting, conflicts with the decision of another circuit, and undercuts the remedial purpose of the FCRA.” The Bureau presented several arguments to support its position, including that a reasonable investigation is required under the FCRA, and that while the reasonableness of an investigation is case specific, it “can be evaluated by how thoroughly the furnisher investigated the dispute (e.g., how well its conclusion is supported by the information it considered or reasonably could have considered).”

    The Bureau also claimed that the Congress did not intend to exclude disputes that involve legal questions. “[M]any inaccurate representations pertaining to an individual’s debt obligations arguably could be characterized as legal inaccuracies, given that determining the truth or falsity of the representation could require the reading of a contract,” the Bureau wrote. Moreover, an “atextual exception for legal inaccuracies will create a loophole that could swallow the reasonable investigation rule,” the Bureau stressed. The agency urged the court to “reject a formal distinction between factual and legal investigations because it will likely prove unworkable in practice” and said that allowing such a distinction would “curtail the reach of the FCRA’s investigation requirement in a way that runs counter to the purpose of the provision to require meaningful investigation to ensure accuracy on credit reports.”

    As previously covered by InfoBytes, the CFPB and the FTC filed an amicus brief presenting the same arguments last December in a different FCRA case on appeal to the 11th Circuit involving the same defendant.

    Courts Appellate Eleventh Circuit CFPB FCRA Dispute Resolution Consumer Finance Credit Report Credit Reporting Agency

  • 11th Circuit advances TILA suit weighing agency theory of liability

    Courts

    On February 6, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reversed a district court’s finding of summary judgment in favor of a financing company concerning alleged violations of TILA. The plaintiff agreed to purchase air conditioning repairs by taking out a loan with a company that finances home-improvement loans for heating and air conditioning products. According to the plaintiff, the repair company lied about the price of the loan and prevented him from viewing the loan paperwork. The plaintiff sued the defendants for violations of TILA and various state consumer protection laws, claiming he was not provided certain required disclosures and maintaining that had he received the disclosures he would not have accepted the loan. The plaintiff eventually decided to cancel the order before the work was commenced and was told he would have to contact the financing company to cancel the loan. The plaintiff was not released from the unpaid loan for work that never happened, and the negative payment history was reported to the credit bureaus.

    The financing company argued that the plaintiff’s injuries are not traceable to the disclosure paperwork because the repair company never showed him the paperwork. The plaintiff countered that the repair company was not independent of the financing company because it was acting as the financing company’s agency. Under the “agency theory of liability,” the plaintiff argued that the financing company is liable under TILA for the repair company’s failure to provide the required disclosures. The district court ruled, however that the plaintiff lacked standing based on the finding that his injuries were not traceable to the financing company’s TILA violation, and that the plaintiff had not alleged that the repair company was acting as the financing company’s agent to provide the required disclosures.

    On appeal, the 11th Circuit concluded that the plaintiff had standing to raise his agency-based TILA claim against the financing company. As a threshold matter, the appellate court first recognized that the plaintiff suffered a concrete injury (e.g., time spent disputing his debt; the impact on his credit; money spent sending documents to his attorney; and feelings of anxiousness), noting that injury and traceability were separate analyses. With respect to traceability, the appellate court next reviewed whether there was “a causal connection” between the plaintiff’s injuries and the challenged action of the financing company. The 11th Circuit accepted one theory of traceability—a theory of agency. “TILA liability attaches not only to the provision of incorrect disclosures, but also to the failure to provide any disclosures at all,” the appellate court explained, stating that in this case, the plaintiff argued that the repair company was acting as an agent of the financing company for the purpose of providing the disclosures. While expressing no opinion on the merits of the claim, the 11th Circuit concluded that the plaintiff had adequately pled that the financing company contracted with the repair company “who at all times acted as its agent” and that the financing company “is vicariously liable for the harms and losses” caused by the repair company’s misconduct by virtue of this agency relationship.

    Courts Appellate Eleventh Circuit TILA Disclosures Consumer Finance

  • CFPB, FTC say furnishers’ investigative duties extend to legal disputes

    Courts

    On December 16, the CFPB and FTC filed an amicus brief in a case on appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit concerning two related FCRA cases in support of plaintiffs-appellants and reversal of their suits involving a defendant hotel chain’s summary judgments. Both cases involve the same defendant company. In one case, the plaintiff entered into a timeshare agreement with the defendant for a property and made monthly payments for approximately three years. When the plaintiff stopped making payments, the plaintiff mailed the defendant letters that disputed the validity of, and purported to rescind, the agreement, while permitting the defendant to retain all prior payments as liquidated damages. The plaintiff obtained a copy of his credit report from a credit reporting agency (CRA), which stated that he had an open account with the defendant with a past-due balance. In three letters to the CRA, the plaintiff disputed the credit reporting. The letters stated that the plaintiff had terminated his agreement with the defendant and that he did not owe a balance. After the CRA communicated each dispute to the defendant, the defendant certified that the information for the defendant’s account was accurate. The plaintiff sued alleging the defendant violated the FCRA when it verified the accuracy of his credit report without conducting reasonable investigations following receipt of his indirect disputes. The defendant moved for summary judgment, alleging, among other things, that the plaintiff’s claim that he was not contractually obligated to make the payments to the defendant that are reported on his credit report as being due “is inherently a legal dispute and is not actionable under the FCRA.” The district court granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, which the plaintiff appealed.

    In the other case, the plaintiff entered into a timeshare agreement with the defendant. She made a down payment and the first three installment payments, but did not make any additional payments. The plaintiff sent letters to the defendant disputing the validity of, and attempted to cancel, the agreement. The defendant reported the plaintiff’s delinquency to the CRA. In three letters to the CRA, the plaintiff disputed the credit reporting. After the CRA communicated the disputes to the defendant, the defendant determined there was no inaccuracy in the reporting. The plaintiff sued alleging the defendant violated the FCRA when it verified the accuracy of her credit report without conducting reasonable investigations following receipt of her indirect disputes about credit reporting inaccuracies. The district court granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, which the plaintiff appealed.

    The CFPB and FTC argued in favor of the plaintiffs-appellants. According to the agencies, furnishers’ duty under the FCRA to reasonably investigate applies not only to factual disputes, but also to disputes that can be labeled as legal in nature. The agencies made three arguments to support their contention. First, a reasonable investigation is required under the FCRA to comport with its goal to “protect consumers from the transmission of inaccurate information about them.” The agencies argued that reasonableness is case specific, but it can “be evaluated by how thoroughly the furnisher investigated the dispute (e.g., how well its conclusion is supported by the information it considered or reasonably could have considered).”

    Second, the agencies argued that Congress did not intend to exclude disputes that involve legal questions. The FCRA describes the types of indirect disputes that furnishers need to investigate, which are “those that dispute ‘the completeness or accuracy of any item of information contained in a consumer’s file.’” The agencies said nothing suggests that Congress intended to exclude information that is inaccurate on account of legal issues. Furthermore, the agencies noted that a lot of “inaccuracies in consumer reports could be characterized as legal, which would create an exception that would swallow the rule.” Consumer reports generally include information regarding an individual’s debt obligations, which are generally creatures of contract. Therefore, “many inaccurate representations pertaining to an individual’s debt obligations arguably could be characterized as legal inaccuracies, given that determining the truth or falsity of the representation could require the reading of a contract.”

    Lastly, the agencies argued that an “atextual exception for legal inaccuracies would create a loophole that could swallow the reasonable investigation rule.” The agencies urged that “[g]iven the difficulty in distinguishing ‘legal’ from ‘factual’ disputes,” the court “should hold that there is no exemption in the FCRA’s reasonable investigation requirement for legal questions” because it would “curtail the reach of the FCRA’s investigation requirement in a way that runs counter to the purpose of the provision to require meaningful investigation to ensure accuracy on credit reports.”

    Courts CFPB FTC Amicus Brief Credit Furnishing Appellate Eleventh Circuit Credit Report Credit Reporting Agency Dispute Resolution Consumer Finance FCRA

  • FTC, CFPB weigh in on servicemembers’ right to sue under the MLA

    Courts

    On November 22, the FTC and CFPB (agencies) announced the filing of a joint amicus brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit seeking the reversal of a district court’s decision that denied servicemembers the right to sue to invalidate a contract that allegedly violated the Military Lending Act (MLA). (See corresponding CFPB blog post here.) The agencies countered that the plain text of the MLA allows servicemembers to enforce their rights in court. Specifically, the agencies argued that Congress made it clear that when a lender extends a loan to a servicemember that fails to comply with the MLA, the loan is rendered void in its entirety. Moreover, Congress amended the MLA to unambiguously provide servicemembers certain legal rights, including an express private right of action and “the right to rescind and seek restitution on a contract void under the criteria of the statute.”

    The case involves an active-duty servicemember and his spouse who financed the purchase of a timeshare from the defendants. Plaintiffs entered into an agreement with the defendants, made a down payment, and agreed to pay the remaining balance in monthly installments carrying an interest rate of 16.99 percent, in addition to annual assessments and club dues. None of the loan documents provided to the plaintiffs discussed the military annual percentage rate, nor did the defendants make any supplemental oral disclosures. Additionally, the agreement contained a mandatory arbitration clause (the MLA prohibits creditors from requiring servicemembers to submit to arbitration) and purportedly waived plaintiffs’ right to pursue a class action and their right to a jury trial. Plaintiffs filed a putative class action lawsuit alleging the agreement violated the MLA on several grounds, and sought an order declaring the agreement void. Plaintiffs also sought recission of the agreement, restitution, statutory, actual, and punitive damages, and an injunction requiring defendants to comply with the MLA going forward.

    Defendants moved to dismiss, countering “that the plaintiffs lacked standing because they had not suffered any concrete injury and, even if they had, whatever injury they suffered was not traceable to the alleged MLA violations.” Defendants also argued that the loan was exempt under the MLA’s exemption for residential mortgages, and claimed that the MLA does not authorize statutory damages, nor did the plaintiffs state a claim for declaratory or injunctive relief. Further, defendants stated the court lacked jurisdiction to hear the case. The district court dismissed the lawsuit for lack of standing, agreeing with the magistrate judge that, among other things, plaintiffs “failed to allege ‘that the inclusion of the arbitration provision impacted [their] decision to accept the contract,’ and that they could not ‘seek[] relief based on a mere technicality that has not impacted them in any way.’”

    Disagreeing with the district court’s ruling, the agencies argued that plaintiffs have a legal right to challenge the contract in court because (i) they made a down payment on an illegal and void loan; (ii) the injuries are traceable to the challenged conduct since “their monetary losses are the product of the illegal and void loan"; and (iii) their injuries “are redressable by an order of the court awarding restitution for the amounts that plaintiffs have already paid on the loan, and by a declaration confirming that the loan is void and that the plaintiffs have no obligation to make additional payments going forward.” The agencies asserted that courts have recognized that economic injury is exactly the sort of injury that courts have the power to redress. 

    Moreover, the agencies pointed out that the district court’s ruling “risks substantially curtailing private enforcement of the MLA and limiting servicemembers’ ability to vindicate their rights under the statute. It does so by reading the MLA’s voiding provision out of the statute and reading into the statute an atextual materiality requirement. But it may be very difficult, if not impossible, for servicemembers to demonstrate that certain MLA violations had a direct effect on their decision to procure a financial product or caused them to pay money they would not otherwise have paid.”

    Courts FTC CFPB Servicemembers Military Lending Act Appellate Eleventh Circuit Consumer Finance Disclosures Arbitration

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