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On March 18, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois denied a retailer’s motion to certify for interlocutory appeal the court’s earlier ruling denying, in part, the retailer’s motion to dismiss. This multi-district litigation involves allegations that the retailer used a database containing photographs of individuals and other information to identify people whose images appeared in its surveillance cameras, in violation of the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA), and California and New York laws. In denying the request for interlocutory appeal, the district court held that its earlier ruling had faithfully applied U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit precedent regarding standing of those who allege invasions of their personal privacy, and that the Supreme Court’s decision in TransUnion v. Ramirez (covered by InfoBytes here) did not undermine that precedent. It also held that the retailer’s disagreement with its prior application of the alleged facts to BIPA and its prior ruling that the plaintiffs had stated claims under California and New York laws did not warrant interlocutory review.
On February 2, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, in a consolidated case, affirmed summary judgment for one defendant’s FDCPA bona fide error defense and overturned summary judgment on the same defense for another. According to the opinion, the plaintiffs in each case disputed debts that appeared on their credit reports by notifying the defendants via fax. In the first case, an employee sent the fax dispute to the wrong department, and thus the dispute was never recorded on the account. In the second case, the defendant stopped monitoring the fax machine but had not disconnected it, and therefore did not even realize it received the dispute. The plaintiffs filed separate lawsuits, and the district courts in each case granted summary judgment for the defendants on the grounds that each was entitled to the FDCPA’s bona fide error defense.
The 7th Circuit consolidated the cases on appeal. The appellate court affirmed the first case, holding that the defendant’s procedures were “reasonably adapted” to avoid errors when receiving faxes because there were step-by-step instructions on which department to send faxes to. The court determined that the employee sent the fax to the wrong department by mistake. The plaintiff argued that the defendant nevertheless needed to have a policy in place for what to do when a fax ended up in the wrong department, but the 7th Circuit agreed with the district court that “[t]he absence of such a policy, however, does not mean that the defendant failed to maintain reasonably adapted procedures.” By contrast, the court found the procedures in the second case were not reasonably adapted and did not qualify for the bona fide error defense. While the defendant did remove its fax number from its website, it did not remove the number from the National Registry and did not announce that it would completely stop checking the machine, leaving it no way to prevent the relevant errors.
On December 22, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of a defendant debt collector in an FCRA action alleging a plaintiff’s credit information was acquired without a permissible purpose. The plaintiff and her husband jointly filed for bankruptcy protection. The bankruptcy court ordered a discharge of their debts, which included a debt incurred by the plaintiff’s husband that was being serviced by the defendant. The defendant was notified of the discharge (which included each of the four former last names used by the plaintiff) and scanned its system for affected accounts; however, by the time it received notice of the bankruptcy, it had already closed the account it had been servicing. Later, another account bearing one of the plaintiff’s former names was placed with the defendant. The defendant sent the account to a third-party vendor to see if the individual had filed for bankruptcy protection and did not received any bankruptcy results. It then ordered a “propensity-to-pay-score” from a credit reporting agency. The plaintiff’s records were eventually updated by the third-party vendor with information about the bankruptcy, and the defendant closed the account. However, the plaintiff noted the soft inquiry on her credit report and sued, alleging the defendant did not have a permissible purpose to make such an inquiry. The district court granted summary judgment to the defendant.
On appeal, the 7th Circuit determined that the plaintiff had suffered a concrete injury, concluding that an “unauthorized inquiry into a consumer’s propensity‐to‐pay score is analogous to the unlawful inspection of one’s mail, wallet, or bank account.” However, after reviewing the merits of the case, the appellate court held that an alleged invasion of privacy was not enough for it to overturn the district court’s ruling. There was no negligent violation of the FCRA “because no reasonable juror could conclude that the inquiry into [the plaintiff’s] propensity‐to‐pay score resulted in actual damages,” the appellate court wrote. Additionally, while the 7th Circuit acknowledged that the plaintiff’s debt was discharged by the time the defendant obtained her propensity-to-pay score, there was no willful violation of the FCRA because the defendant “lacked actual knowledge of the bankruptcy” and “did not recklessly disregard the possibility that debt had been discharged.” The appellate court added that the evidence showed that the defendant “had a reasonable basis for relying on its procedures.”
On December 16, the CFPB filed a joint amicus brief with the DOJ, Federal Reserve Board, and the FTC arguing that the term “applicant” as used in ECOA and its implementing rule, Regulation B, includes both those seeking credit as well as persons who have sought and have received credit (i.e., current borrowers). (See also a Bureau blog post discussing the brief.) The amicus brief is in support of a plaintiff in an action where the plaintiff consumer sued a national bank for closing his credit card account without providing an explanation for the adverse action as required by ECOA. The case is currently on appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit after a district court determined that ECOA protections only apply “during the process of requesting credit and do not protect those with existing credit accounts.”
The central issue identified in the brief revolves around whether ECOA applies beyond persons seeking credit to persons who have already received credit. The brief focused on this issue by analyzing (i) ECOA’s text, history and purpose; (ii) the application of Regulation B; and (iii) alleged incorrect interpretations in the underlying defendant’s arguments. In looking at the text of ECOA, the brief asserted that ECOA applies to “applicants” without regard to how their credit is resolved because ECOA defines “applicant” as “any person who applies to a creditor directly for an extension, renewal, or continuation of credit, or applies to a creditor indirectly by use of an existing credit plan for an amount exceeding a previously established credit limit.” In further analyzing the statutory text, the brief further explained that ECOA also gives consumers the right to adverse action notices, which include the “revocation of credit” as well as a “change in the terms of an existing credit arrangement”—actions, the brief stated, “that can be taken only with respect to persons who have already received credit.” The brief also stated that legislative history shows it was Congress’s intent to reach discrimination “in any aspect of a credit transaction.”
In looking at the context of Regulation B, the brief asserted, among other things, that ECOA’s protections continue to apply after an applicant receives credit, explaining that Regulation B “did so by defining ‘applicant’ to include, ‘[w]ith respect to any creditor[,] … any person to whom credit is or has been extended by that creditor.’” Moreover, the brief asserted, ECOA provides a private right of action, which allows aggrieved applicants to file suits for alleged ECOA/Regulation B violations. In this instance, the term “applicant” cannot be meant to refer only to consumers with pending credit applications because otherwise a consumer whose application was denied on a prohibited basis would have no private right of action recourse. These references, the brief emphasized, “further confirm that the term “applicant” is not limited to those currently applying for credit.”
On November 29, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit denied the CFPB’s petition for panel or en banc rehearing of its earlier decision in an action taken against several foreclosure relief companies and associated individuals accused of violating Regulation O. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Bureau asked the appellate court to reconsider its determination “that practicing attorneys are categorically exempt from Regulation O,” claiming that the court’s holding strips the Bureau “of the authority given it by Congress to hold attorneys to account for violations not just of Regulation O, but of a host of other federal laws as well.” In July, the 7th Circuit vacated a 2019 district court ruling that ordered $59 million in restitution and disgorgement, civil penalties, and permanent injunctive relief against defendants accused of collecting fees before obtaining loan modifications, and inflating success rates and the likelihood of obtaining a modification, among other allegations (covered by InfoBytes here). The appellate court based its decision on the application of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Liu v. SEC, which held that a disgorgement award cannot exceed a firm’s net profits—a ruling that is “applicable to all categories of equitable relief, including restitution.” The appellate court also concluded that attorneys who are subject to liability for violating consumer laws “cannot escape liability simply by virtue of being an attorney.” However, the appellate court vacated the recklessness finding in the civil penalty calculation pertaining to certain defendants, writing that “[a]lthough we have found that they were not engaged in the practice of law, the question was a legitimate one. We consider it a step too far to say that they were reckless—that is, that they should have been aware of an unjustifiably high or obvious risk of violating Regulation O.” (Covered by InfoBytes here.) In its appeal, the Bureau did not challenge the vacated restitution award, but rather argued that a rehearing was necessary to ensure that the agency can bring enforcement actions against attorneys who violate federal consumer laws, including Regulation O.
On October 7, the CFPB filed a petition for panel or en banc rehearing with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, asking the appellate court to reconsider its recent determination “that practicing attorneys are categorically exempt from Regulation O,” as it strips the CFPB “of the authority given it by Congress to hold attorneys to account for violations not just of Regulation O, but of a host of other federal laws as well.” (Covered by InfoBytes here.) In 2014, the CFPB, FTC, and 15 state authorities took action against several foreclosure relief companies and associated individuals, alleging that they made misrepresentations about their services, failed to make mandatory disclosures, and collected unlawful advance fees (covered by InfoBytes here). A ruling issued by the district court in 2019 (covered by InfoBytes here) ordered nearly $59 million in penalties and restitution against several of the defendants for violations of Regulation O, but was later vacated by the 7th Circuit based on the application of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Liu v. SEC, which held that a disgorgement award cannot exceed a firm’s net profits—a ruling that is “applicable to all categories of equitable relief, including restitution.” (Covered by InfoBytes here.)
In its appeal, the Bureau did not challenge the vacated restitution award, but rather argued that a rehearing is necessary to ensure that the agency can bring enforcement actions against attorneys who violate federal consumer laws, including Regulation O. “The panel’s conclusion. . .threatens to disrupt the existing federal regulatory scheme for multiple consumer laws and expose ordinary people across the country to an increased risk of harm from illegal practices,” the Bureau stated, adding that 12 U.S.C. § 5517(e) does not limit the Bureau’s ability to pursue a civil enforcement action against practicing attorneys who are subject to Regulation O. According to the Bureau, Paragraph 3 of § 5517(e) states that the limitation on the Bureau’s authority “‘shall not be construed’ to limit the Bureau’s authority with respect to an attorney ‘to the extent that such attorney is otherwise subject’ to an enumerated consumer law or transferred authority.” The Bureau asked the 7th Circuit to reconsider its decision on this issue or, in the alternative, withdraw that portion as unnecessary to the outcome.
On September 13, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois reimposed a more than $5 million restitution award in an action dating back to 2018, this time under Section 19 of the FTC Act. The court originally granted the FTC’s motion for summary judgment against a credit monitoring service and its sole owner in an action filed under Section 13(b) of the FTC Act, after concluding that no reasonable jury would find that the defendants’ scheme of using false rental property ads to solicit consumer enrollment in credit monitoring services without their knowledge could occur without engaging in unfair or deceptive practices (covered by InfoBytes here). However, as previously covered by InfoBytes, in 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held that Section 13(b) does not grant the FTC authority to order restitution—a position that the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately agreed with when issuing its decision in AMG Capital Management, LLC v. FTC (which unanimously held that Section 13(b) of the FTC Act “does not authorize the Commission to seek, or a court to award, equitable monetary relief such as restitution or disgorgement”—covered by InfoBytes here).
In its current ruling, the court agreed to reimpose the damages under the Restore Online Shopper Confidence Act (ROSCA) and Section 19. The court noted that because ROSCA incorporates all the enforcement tools of the FTC Act, the FTC could seek remedies using Section 19 of the FTC Act instead of relying on Section 18. Further, the court noted that the FTC indicated that the FTC may seek remedies under Section 19 when it brought the action under Section 5(a) of ROSCA, which the court ultimately agreed was correct. “The FTC has the better of this dispute,” the court wrote, adding, among other things, that “the court is unmoved by [the defendant’s] claims of unfair prejudice. Aside from the particular route to an award of restitution, nothing will materially change. The FTC seeks the same remedy, for the same reasons, and for the same victims under section 5(a) via section 19 as it did under section 13(b).”
On July 23, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit vacated a 2019 restitution award in an action brought by the CFPB against two former mortgage-assistance relief companies and their principals (collectively, “defendants”) for violations of Regulation O. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in 2014, the CFPB, FTC, and 15 state authorities took action against several foreclosure relief companies and associated individuals, including the defendants, alleging they made misrepresentations about their services, failed to make mandatory disclosures, and collected unlawful advance fees. The district court’s 2019 order (covered by InfoBytes here) held one company and its principals jointly and severally liable for over $18 million in restitution, while another company and its same principals were held jointly and severally liable for nearly $3 million in restitution. Additionally, the court ordered civil penalties totaling over $37 million against company two and four principals.
In 2021, the principals urged the 7th Circuit to vacate the judgment, arguing, among other things, that the restitution order used the company’s net revenues instead of net profits in determining restitution and that they were exempt from liability because Regulation O exempts properly licensed attorneys engaged in providing mortgage-assistance relief services as part of the practice of law, provided they comply with state law and regulations. The principals also disagreed with the district court’s finding that they acted recklessly in calculating the civil penalty amount, contending that “they were not aware of a risk that their conduct was illegal.”
The 7th Circuit reviewed the application of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Liu v. SEC, which held that a disgorgement award cannot exceed a firm’s net profits (covered by InfoBytes here). While the Bureau argued that Liu focused on disgorgement and not restitution, the appellate court held that the Bureau’s interpretation was “too narrow a reading of Liu.” According to the appellate court, “Liu’s reasoning is not limited to disgorgement; instead, the opinion purports to set forth a rule applicable to all categories of equitable relief, including restitution.” The appellate court vacated the restitution award and remanded the suit for recalculation based on net profits.
With respect to the alleged violations of Regulation O, the appellate court affirmed the district court’s ruling, concluding that attorneys who are subject to liability for violating consumer laws “cannot escape liability simply by virtue of being an attorney.” However, the appellate court vacated the recklessness finding in the civil penalty calculation pertaining to certain of the defendants, writing that “[a]lthough we have found that they were not engaged in the practice of law, the question was a legitimate one. We consider it a step too far to say that they were reckless—that is, that they should have been aware of an unjustifiably high or obvious risk of violating Regulation O.” The appellate court ordered the district court to apply the penalty structure for strict-liability violations. Additionally, the 7th Circuit remanded an injunction which permanently banned the principals from providing “debt relief services,” finding that the injunction requires “some tailoring” as the violations at issue involved mortgage-relief services and not debt-relief services.
On July 15, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed the rulings from a district court in a consolidated appeal finding that it is up to the court, not a consumer reporting agency, to decide if a creditor possesses the proper legal relationship to a debt. In each case, the plaintiff allegedly had a debt that was purchased by a debt buyer, who reported the unpaid debts to the credit reporting agencies. The plaintiffs contacted the debt buyers and disputed the information being furnished on the basis that the creditors did not actually own the debts. The plaintiffs also contacted the consumer reporting agencies to request that they reinvestigate the accuracy of their credit reports. The reporting agencies contacted the creditors, confirming that they were the legitimate owners of the debts but did not provide additional information. The plaintiffs sued, alleging that the defendants violated the FCRA by not fully investigating the disputes. The district court, relying on a 2020 decision in Denan v. TransUnion LLC (previously covered by Infobytes), held that determining ownership of a debt is a legal question, not a duty imposed on the furnishers under the FCRA.
On appeal, the 7th Circuit affirmed the district courts’ decisions, establishing that the key inquiry is “whether the alleged inaccuracy turns on applying law to facts or simply examining the facts alone.” because “consumer reporting agencies are competent to make factual determinations, but they do not make legal conclusion like courts and other tribunals do.” The appellate court further noted that “[b]ecause the plaintiffs in these cases asked the consumer reporting agencies to make primarily legal determinations, they have not stated claims under the [FCRA].”
On April 26, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois granted a defendant debt collector’s request for summary judgment and vacated a class certification order following recent decisions issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, in which the appellate court held that “the state of confusion is not itself an injury.” The court’s order reversed an earlier ruling that granted class certification and partial summary judgment in favor of a class of Illinois consumers who alleged that the defendant sent misleading or confusing dunning letters that violated the FDCPA by incorrectly identifying the name of the creditor. However, after reconsidering several 7th Circuit holdings (see InfoBytes coverage of Pennell v. Global Trust Management, LLC here), the court concluded that in the absence of any evidence showing that the plaintiff suffered a concrete injury, the plaintiff lacked standing to bring his FDCPA claims. Specifically, the court held that the plaintiff failed to claim that his confusion led him to take any actions to his detriment. Being merely confused is not a concrete injury, the court ruled, emphasizing that the plaintiff “needed to do more than demonstrate a threat that he would fail to exercise his rights because he deemed the letter a scam—he must have actually failed to exercise those rights and suffered some tangible adverse consequence as a result.”
- Kathryn L. Ryan to discuss "State licensing and NMLS challenges" at MBA’s Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Fair lending and equal opportunity laws” at the MBA Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Jeffrey P. Naimon to discuss “Contemplating the boundaries of UDAAP” at the MBA Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Steven vonBerg to speak at closing “super session“ on compliance topics at MBA Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Buckley Webcast: Fifth Circuit muddles CFPB’s plans to use in-house judges in enforcement proceedings
- Jeffrey P. Naimon to discuss “Understanding the ESG impact on compliance” at the ABA’s Regulatory Compliance Conference