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Louisiana Commissioner of Financial Institutions advises non-depository institutions on temporary closures
On March 18, Louisiana’s Commissioner of Financial Institutions released emergency advisories for non-depository institutions, specifically repossession agents and bond for deed escrow agents, check cashers, pawnbrokers, licensed consumer lenders/brokers, and residential mortgage lenders. The advisories authorized the temporary closure or relocations of licensed locations and waived the standard 30-day notice requirement for such closures. Licensees should notify the Office of Financial Institutions as soon as possible regarding any temporary closures or relocations and may submit requests for waiver of the standard change of location fee by email. Unless otherwise instructed, temporary location changes should not be submitted through NMLS. In addition, the advisory for residential mortgage lenders confirms that licensed MLOs may work from their homes.
On January 27, the North Carolina attorney general announced that a Florida-based payday lender (lender) agreed to pay $825,000 to settle allegations of usury, lending without a license, unlawful debt collection and unfair and deceptive practices in violation of state consumer protection laws. According to the announcement, though the lender was not licensed in the state, it advanced “more than 400 loans online to financially distressed North Carolina consumers at interest rates between 78 to 252 percent,” which is markedly higher than the state interest rate limit of 30 percent. The AG claimed that the lender tried to skirt North Carolina laws by requiring some borrowers to collect their loan funds outside of the state. The AG also alleged that the lender required borrowers to secure the loans with their vehicle titles, which enabled the lender to repossess and sell the borrowers’ vehicles when they defaulted or were late on payments. In the settlement, without admitting to the AG’s allegations, the lender agreed to return to North Carolina borrowers (i) all fees and interest paid on the loans by the borrowers; (ii) all the auction proceeds exceeding the loan principal to borrowers whose vehicles were repossessed and sold at auction; and (iii) cars owned by borrowers that were repossessed but not sold at auction. Among other things, the lender will also be permanently barred from making loans to, and collecting payments from, North Carolina borrowers, and is prohibited from putting liens on and repossessing vehicles owned by borrowers.
On May 6, the Indiana governor signed HB 1183, which amends the state statute concerning the release of an abandoned motor vehicle that has been towed to a storage yard or towing facility. Among other things, the bill revises notification requirements for towed vehicles, providing that a public agency or towing service must conduct a search of the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System or an equivalent database to attempt to obtain the name of the person who owns or holds a lien on the vehicle and contact that person within three days regarding charges and the potential to auction the vehicle if not claimed. The bill also provides inspection rights for owners and lienholders of vehicles and allows for a towing service or storage yard to charge an inspection fee for inspections or retrievals from the vehicle. The bill is effective July 1.
On March 6, the DOJ announced it reached a proposed $80,000 settlement with a California-based indirect auto lending company for allegedly repossessing servicemembers’ vehicles in violation of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). As previously covered by InfoBytes, the DOJ filed a lawsuit against the company in March 2018, alleging that an investigation revealed the company failed to have policies or practices in place to verify borrowers’ military status before repossessing vehicles. As such, the DOJ argued that the defendant may have repossessed vehicles of other servicemembers without obtaining the necessary court orders or verifying military status. The investigation was triggered after an Army Private submitted a complaint about the company to the DOJ in 2016. The proposed consent order would require the company to pay a $50,000 civil penalty and issue $30,000 in compensation to a different Army Specialist, whose credit, according to the DOJ, was severely damaged as a result of a repossession by the company. In addition, the company would be required to develop policies and procedures to ensure compliance with the SCRA in the future. The consent order has not yet been approved by the court.
7th Circuit affirms summary judgment for repossession company, holds property-retrieval fee is not subject to FDCPA
On October 31, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit affirmed summary judgment for a third-party repossession company and an auto lender, holding that a fee that the repossession company required to process personal items left in a repossessed car did not constitute an impermissible demand for repayment under the FDCPA. According to the opinion, after a consumer fell behind on her auto payments, the third-party company repossessed her vehicle on behalf of the auto lender. The repossession company, according to the consumer, demanded a $100 payment in order to retrieve personal property she had left in the car. The consumer sued the company and the lender arguing that the retrieval fee was an impermissible debt collection in violation of the FDCPA. In response, the repossession company and the lender moved for summary judgment, arguing that the fee was an administrative handling fee that the lender had agreed to pay to the repossession company—not a fee assessed to the consumer. The lower court agreed.
On appeal, the 7th Circuit determined that the documentary evidence showed that the $100 fee was an administrative fee that the lender agreed to pay to the repossession company, stating “[t]here is no way on this record to view the handling fee as some sort of masked demand for principal payment to [the lender].” The appellate court concluded the consumer did not establish a genuine issue of fact as to whether the repossession company demanded the $100 payment on behalf of the lender and, therefore, affirmed summary judgment in favor of the repossession company and the lender.
On March 28, the DOJ filed a complaint in the Central District of California against a California-based indirect auto lending company (defendant) for allegedly repossessing servicemembers’ vehicles in violation of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). The allegations stem from an investigation into the defendant’s practices after an Army Private submitted a complaint to the DOJ in 2016. The DOJ’s investigation concluded that the defendant repossessed the vehicle without obtaining a court order or confirming whether the servicemember was SCRA-protected. According to the DOJ’s complaint, its investigation revealed that the defendant allegedly failed to have policies or practices in place to verify borrowers’ military status before repossessing vehicles. As such, the DOJ believes that the defendant may have repossessed vehicles of other servicemembers without obtaining the necessary court others or verifying military status. The DOJ contends that the defendant’s conduct was “intentional, willful, and taken in disregard for the rights of servicemembers.” In addition to monetary damages, the DOJ seeks civil monetary penalties and injunctive relief.
On January 29, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania granted a motion to compel arbitration, finding that an arbitration clause set forth under extension agreements with an automobile finance company to refinance and extend the plaintiff’s loan obligation is “valid and enforceable.” Additionally, the court ruled that alternative motions to dismiss filed by other defendants were moot, and then stayed and administratively closed the matter pending the resolution of the claims subject to arbitration. The plaintiff alleged violations of her Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act, and several other state and federal credit statutes, when defendants—including the automobile finance company—repossessed her vehicle despite having signed extension agreements. In response to the defendants’ assertion that her claims were subject to the arbitration clause, the plaintiff argued that the extension agreements were unenforceable due to the unavailability of the “designated arbitrators,” and that defendants were barred from trying to obtain “alternative relief” by relying on additional terms outlined in a second extension agreement that released defendants from liability. However, the court ruled that the plaintiff’s failure to dispute the scope of the arbitration clause meant that the defendants were “entitled to enforcement of the arbitration clause with respect to all claims and defenses asserted,” so long as the designated arbitrators are available.
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