Subscribe to our InfoBytes Blog weekly newsletter and other publications for news affecting the financial services industry.
On March 20, the CFPB released updated FAQs to support the implementation of the 2016 Mortgage Servicing Final Rule. Specifically, the updated FAQs pertain to the mortgage-servicing provisions regarding bankruptcy, which are effective April 19. The CFPB released ten bankruptcy-related question and answers. The bankruptcy topics include periodic statements, coupon books, reaffirmation, successors in interest, and timing of compliance.
On March 7, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit denied a bank’s motion to compel arbitration, holding that arbitration of the debtor’s claims would present an inherent conflict with the intent of the Bankruptcy Code because the dispute concerns a core bankruptcy proceeding. The debtor’s claims against the bank relate to a purported refusal to remove a “charge-off” status on the debtor’s credit file after the debtor was released from all dischargeable debts through a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The bankruptcy court allowed the debtor to reopen the proceeding in order to file a putative class action complaint against the bank alleging that the designation amounted to coercion to pay a discharged debt. The bank moved to compel arbitration, based on a clause in the debtor’s cardholder agreement, and the court denied the motion. On appeal, the district court affirmed the bankruptcy court’s decision. In affirming both lower courts’ decisions, the 2nd Circuit reasoned that a claim of coercion to pay a discharged debt is an attempt to undo the effect of the discharge order and, therefore, “strikes at the heart of the bankruptcy court’s unique powers to enforce its own orders.” The circuit court found the debtor’s complaint to be non-arbitrable based on a conclusion that it would create an inherent conflict with the intent of the bankruptcy code.
On March 8, the CFPB issued a final rule updating technical aspects of the upcoming periodic statement requirements for borrowers in bankruptcy under Regulation Z. The Bureau adopted the proposed rule, released in October 2017, without revision (previously covered by InfoBytes here). Specifically, the final rule changes the transition rules for borrowers who enter or leave bankruptcy by replacing the previous single-billing-cycle exemption with a single-statement exemption for the next periodic statement or coupon book that a servicer would otherwise have to provide, regardless of when in the billing cycle the triggering event occurs. The Bureau also added new commentary to clarify the operation of the single-statement exemption. The rule is effective April 19.
On February 21, the Department of Education published a Request for Information (RFI) seeking feedback on whether there is a need to clarify the threshold for “undue hardship” when evaluating bankruptcy cases in which borrowers seek to discharge student loans. According to the RFI, current U.S. Bankruptcy Code states that student loans can be discharged in bankruptcy claims only if “excepting the debt from discharge would impose an ‘undue hardship’ on the borrower and the borrower’s dependents.” However, according to the RFI, the term “Undue hardship” has never been defined by Congress in the Bankruptcy Code, nor has the Department been delegated the authority to do so. Instead, the context for proving a hardship claim falls under one of two tests summarized in the department’s 2015 Dear Colleague Letter (2015 Letter). The RFI requests comments on the following: (i) what factors should be considered when evaluating undue hardship claims; (ii) the weight to be given to any such factors; (iii) whether the use of two tests result in any “inequities among borrowers”; (iv) under what circumstances should loan holders “concede an undue hardship claim by the borrower”; and (v) whether and how changes should be made to the 2015 Letter. Comments on the RFI are due May 22.
On February 21, the U.S. Department of the Treasury released a report on the Orderly Liquidation Authority (OLA) and Bankruptcy Reform. The report is in response to the April 2017 Presidential Memorandum requiring the Treasury Department to review and provide recommendations for improving the OLA under the Dodd-Frank Act, previously covered by InfoBytes here. According to the Treasury Department’s announcement, the recommendations outlined in the report “ensure that taxpayers are protected by strengthening the bankruptcy procedure for a failed financial company and retaining OLA in very limited circumstances with significant reforms.” In addition to recommending a new Chapter 14 of the Bankruptcy Code for distressed financial companies, the report recommends significant reforms to the OLA process, such as (i) creating clear rules administered with impartiality, including restricting the FDIC’s ability to treat similarly situated creditors differently; (ii) ensuring market discipline and strengthening protection for taxpayers by, among other things, only allowing the FDIC to lend on a secured basis; and (iii) strengthening judicial review to provide a stronger check on the decision to invoke OLA.
On February 12, following a four-day trial, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Virginia entered a memorandum opinion to sanction and enjoin a national consumer bankruptcy law firm and its local partner attorneys (defendants) for “systematically engag[ing] in the unauthorized practice of law, provid[ing] inadequate representation to consumer debtor clients, and promot[ing] and participat[ing] in a scheme to convert auto lenders’ collateral and then misrepresent[ing] the nature of that scheme.” According to a DOJ press release, the combined order was entered in two actions consolidated for trial brought by the DOJ’s U.S. Trustee Program. The actions concern a Chicago-based law firm that offered legal services via its website to financially distressed consumers and allegedly had “non-attorney ‘client consultants’” engage in the unauthorized practice of law and employ “high-pressure sales tactics” when encouraging consumers to file for bankruptcy relief. Among other things, the defendants allegedly (i) refused to refund bankruptcy-related legal fees to clients for whom the firm failed to file bankruptcy cases; (ii) failed to have in place oversight and supervision procedures to prevent non-attorney salespeople from practicing law; and (iii) partnered with an Indiana-based towing company to implement a scheme that would allow clients to have their bankruptcy-related legal fees paid if they transferred vehicles “fully encumbered by auto lenders’ liens” to the towing company without lienholder consent. Under the “New Car Custody Program,” the towing company allegedly claimed rights to the vehicles, sold the vehicles at auction, paid the client’s bankruptcy fees to the defendants, and pocketed the proceeds. According to the release, this program “harmed auto lenders by converting collateral in which they had valid security interests,” and exposed clients to “undue risk by causing them to possibly violate the terms of their contracts with their auto lenders as well as state laws.”
Under the terms of the order, the court sanctioned the defendants $250,000, imposed additional sanctions totaling $60,000 against the firm’s managing partner and affiliated partner attorneys, ordered the defendants to disgorge all funds “collected from the consumer debtors in both bankruptcy cases,” and revoked the defendants’ privileges to practice in the Western District of Virginia for various specified periods of time. The court also sanctioned the towing company and “ordered the turnover of all funds it received in connection” with the program. The towing company did not respond to the filed complaints.