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  • 10th Circuit: Extended overdraft fees do not qualify as interest under the NBA

    Courts

    On April 8, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit concluded that extended overdraft fees do not legally qualify as interest under the National Bank Act (NBA). According to the opinion, after the plaintiff overdrew funds from his checking account, the bank covered the cost of the item and charged an initial overdraft fee. The bank later began imposing an extended overdraft fee each business day following the initial overdraft, ultimately assessing 36 separate overdraft fees. The plaintiff filed a putative class action, contending that the bank’s extended overdraft fees qualify as interest under the NBA, and that the amount charged (which he claimed translated to an effective annualized interest rate between 501 and 2,462 percent) violated the NBA’s anti-usury provisions because it exceeded Oklahoma’s maximum annualized interest rate of 6 percent. While the plaintiff recognized that the initial overdraft fee qualifies as a “deposit account service,” he argued that the extended overdraft fee “‘is an interest charge levied by [the bank] for the continued extension of credit made in covering a customer’s overdraft’ and therefore cannot be considered connected to the same banking services that [the bank] provides to its depositors.” The district court disagreed and dismissed the action for failure to state a claim after determining that the bank’s extended overdraft fees were fees for “deposit account services” and were not “interest” under the NBA.

    In affirming the district court’s dismissal, the appellate majority (an issue of first impression in the 10th Circuit) agreed that the fees qualify as non-interest account fees rather than interest charges under the NBA. The majority deferred to the OCC’s 2007 Interpretive Letter, which addressed the legality of a similar overdraft program fee structure. The letter “represents OCC’s reasonable interpretation of genuinely ambiguous regulations, and OCC’s determination that fees like [the bank’s] extended overdraft fees are ‘non-interest charges’ is neither plainly erroneous nor inconsistent with the regulations it interprets,” the majority wrote. “As ‘non-interest charges’ under § 7.4002, [the bank’s] extended overdraft fees are not subject to the NBA’s usury limits, and [plaintiff] fails to state a claim,” the majority added.

    The dissenting judge countered that extended overdraft fees are interest, and that the OCC’s interpretation did not deserve deference because these fees “unambiguously” meet the definition of interest under 12 C.F.R. § 7.4001(a). According to the dissenting judge, this regulation provides that “‘interest’ ... includes any payment compensating a creditor ... for an extension of credit,” and that as such, the “definition maps onto extended overdraft fees like [the bank’s]” and thus the plaintiff had stated a claim.

    Courts Appellate Tenth Circuit Overdraft Interest National Bank Act Fees Consumer Finance OCC Class Action

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  • CSBS drops suit against OCC fintech charter after revised application

    State Issues

    On January 13, the Conference of State Bank Supervisors (CSBS) announced that it has withdrawn its complaint challenging the OCC’s Special Purpose National Bank (SPNB) Charters and a financial services provider’s application for an OCC nonbank charter. CSBS filed a notice of voluntary dismissal without prejudice in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia asking the court to close the case. According to its press release, CSBS voluntarily took this action after the company, which had previously filed an application for an OCC SPNB charter, “amended its application to include seeking FDIC deposit insurance, thus complying with the legal requirement that national banks obtain federal deposit insurance before operating as a bank.”

    As previously covered by InfoBytes, CSBS filed a complaint in December 2020, to oppose the OCC’s potential approval of the company’s SPNB charter application. CSBS argued that the company was applying for the OCC’s nonbank charter, which was invalidated by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in October 2019 (the court concluded that the OCC’s SPNB charter should be “set aside with respect to all fintech applicants seeking a national bank charter that do not accept deposits,” covered by InfoBytes here). At the time, CSBS argued that “by accepting and imminently approving” the company’s application, the “OCC has gone far beyond the limited chartering authority granted to it by Congress under the National Bank Act (NBA) and other federal banking laws,” as the company is not engaged in the “business of banking.” CSBS sought to, among other things, have the court declare the agency’s nonbank charter program unlawful and prohibit the approval of the company’s charter under the NBA without obtaining FDIC insurance.

    OCC acting Comptroller of the Currency Michael J. Hsu issued a statement following the withdrawal of the legal challenge. “We must modernize the regulatory perimeter as a prerequisite to conducting business as usual with firms interested in novel activities. Modernizing the bank regulatory perimeter cannot be accomplished by simply defining the activities that constitute ‘doing banking,’ but will also require determining what is acceptable activity to be conducted in a bank. Consolidated supervision will help ensure risks do not build outside of the sight and reach of federal regulators.”

    State Issues Courts CSBS OCC Fintech Bank Regulatory Bank Charter National Bank Act Nonbank FDIC

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  • 5th Circuit: Extended overdraft charges are not interest

    Courts

    On September 29, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that the daily fees imposed on a consumer who failed to timely pay an overdraft were deposit-account service charges, not interest, and thus not subject to usury limits. The plaintiff allegedly overdrew her account and her bank paid the overdraft. The bank began charging a daily fee after the plaintiff did not repay the overdraft within five business days (called an “Extended Overdraft Charge”), which the plaintiff argued constituted interest on an extension of credit and was usurious in violation of the National Bank Act (NBA). In dismissing the plaintiff’s complaint for failure to state a claim, the district court reasoned that the bank does not make a loan to a customer when it covers the customer’s overdraft, and therefore the NBA’s limitations on interest charges do not apply. On appeal, the appellate court sided with the district court and deferred to the interpretation of the OCC that the fees at issue were not “interest” under the law. The court found the OCC’s interpretation to be reasonable and otherwise entitled to Auer deference, and on that basis affirmed.

    Courts Fifth Circuit Appellate National Bank Act Fees OCC Overdraft Usury Bank Regulatory

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  • District Court: Maryland escrow law does not confer private right of action

    Courts

    On September 22, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland granted a national bank’s motion for summary judgment in an action claiming the bank allegedly failed to pay interest on mortgage escrow accounts. The plaintiff filed a putative class action asserting various claims including for violation of Section 12-109 of the Maryland Consumer Protection Act (MCPA), which requires lenders to pay interest on funds maintained in escrow on behalf of borrowers. In response, the bank filed a motion to dismiss on the basis that the MCPA is preempted by the National Bank Act and by 2004 OCC preemption regulations. In 2020, the court denied the bank’s motion to dismiss after it determined, among other things, that under Dodd-Frank, national banks are required to pay interest on escrow accounts when mandated by applicable state or federal law. (Covered by InfoBytes here.) Citing previous decisions in similar escrow interest cases brought against the same bank in other states (covered by InfoBytes here and here), the court stated that Section 12-109 “does not prevent or significantly interfere with [the bank’s] exercise of its federal banking authority, because [Section] 12-109’s ‘interference’ is minimal, when compared with statutes that the Supreme Court has previously found were preempted.” The court further noted that state law—which “still allows [the bank] to require escrow accounts for its borrowers”—provides that the bank must pay a small amount of interest to borrowers if it chooses to maintain escrow accounts.

    However, in its most recent ruling, the court held that the MCPA does not authorize the plaintiff to sue either. “[T]his court finds that § 12-109 does not confer a private right of action,” the court wrote, adding that the plaintiff’s breach of contract claim could not get around a notice-and-cure provision in her mortgage agreement that she had not complied with before suing. The plaintiff argued that these requirements did not apply because “her self-styled breach of contract claim is actually a statutory claim because the allegedly breached contractual provision is one which pledges general adherence to applicable law.” The court disagreed, stating that under the plaintiff’s theory “any claim for breach of contract, which also violated a federal or state law, would be vaulted to a privileged hybrid status. Such claims would enjoy an unlimited private right of action (regardless of whether the underlying statute created one) and. . .would be unbounded by any of the provisions or conditions precedent detailed in the contract itself.” The court also ruled that the plaintiff’s escrow statements, which “correctly reflected that her account was not accruing interest,” are themselves “not rendered deceptive by the mere fact that Plaintiff believes such interest is owed.”

    Courts State Issues Escrow Mortgages Class Action Dodd-Frank National Bank Act Interest Rate Consumer Finance

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  • OCC cites preemption decision in valid-when-made rule challenge

    Courts

    On August 24, the OCC filed a statement of recent decision in support of its motion for summary judgment in an action brought against the agency by several state attorneys general challenging the OCC’s final rule on “Permissible Interest on Loans that are Sold, Assigned, or Otherwise Transferred” (known also as the valid-when-made rule). The final rule was designed to effectively reverse the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit’s 2015 Madden v. Midland Funding decision and provide that “[i]nterest on a loan that is permissible under [12 U.S.C. § 85 for national bank or 12 U.S.C. § 1463(g)(1) for federal thrifts] shall not be affected by the sale, assignment, or other transfer of the loan.” (Covered by a Buckley Special Alert.) The states’ challenge argued that the rule “impermissibly preempts state law,” is “contrary to the plain language” of section 85 (and section 1463(g)(1)), and “contravenes the judgment of Congress,” which declined to extend preemption to non-banks. Moreover, the states contended that the OCC “failed to give meaningful consideration” to the commentary received regarding the rule, essentially enabling “‘rent-a-bank’ schemes.” (Covered by InfoBytes here.) Both parties sought summary judgment, with the OCC arguing that the final rule validly interprets the National Bank Act (NBA) and that not only does the final rule reasonably interpret the “gap” in section 85, it is consistent with section 85’s “purpose of facilitating national banks’ ability to operate their nationwide lending programs.” Moreover, the OCC asserted that 12 U.S.C. § 25b’s preemption standards do not apply to the final rule, because, among other things, the OCC “has not concluded that a state consumer financial law is being preempted.” (Covered by InfoBytes here.)

    In its August 24 filing, the OCC brought to the court’s attention a recent order issued by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Wisconsin court reviewed claims under the FDCPA and the Wisconsin Consumer Act (WCA) against a debt-purchasing company and a law firm hired by the company to recover outstanding debt and purported late fees on the plaintiff’s account in a separate state-court action. Among other things, the court examined whether the state law’s notice and right-to-cure provisions were federally preempted by the NBA, as the original creditor’s rights and duties were assigned to the debt-purchasing company when the account was sold. The court ultimately concluded that the WCA provisions “are inapplicable to national banks by reason of federal preemption,” and, as such, the court found “that a debt collector assigned a debt from a national bank is likewise exempt from those requirements” and was not required to send the plaintiff a right-to-cure letter “as a precondition to accelerating his debt or filing suit against him.”

    Courts State Issues OCC State Attorney General Valid When Made Interest Rate Consumer Finance National Bank Act Madden Preemption Fintech Nonbank Agency Rule-Making & Guidance Bank Regulatory

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  • District Court: State law right-to-cure provisions preempted by National Bank Act

    Courts

    On August 4, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin granted defendants’ motion for partial summary judgment in an action alleging claims under the FDCPA and the Wisconsin Consumer Act (WCA). The defendants were a debt-purchasing company and a law firm hired by the company to recover outstanding debt and purported late fees on the plaintiff’s account in a separate state-court action. After the plaintiff failed to make payments on his outstanding balance, the original creditor (a national bank) charged late fees and mailed him a “right to cure” letter advising him of the minimum payment due and the deadline to make the payment. The account was eventually sold to the debt-purchasing company after the plaintiff failed to make any minimum payments. The law firm sent the plaintiff two letters on behalf of the debt-purchasing company, one which outlined his right to dispute the debt and one which provided a “notice of right to cure default.” A small claims action was filed against the plaintiff in state court, in which the plaintiff argued for dismissal, contending in part that the notice of default failed to itemize delinquency charges as required under Wisconsin law. The plaintiff then filed this suit in federal court alleging violations of the FDCPA and the WCA, claiming that the defendants “falsely represented the status of his debt in violation of § 1692e by purporting to have properly accelerated his debt and filed suit against him despite [the plaintiff] never being provided an adequate right to cure letter pursuant to Wisconsin law.”

    First, in reviewing whether the plaintiff had standing to sue, the court determined that the “costs, time, and energy” incurred by the plaintiff to defend himself in the state-court action amounted to a “concrete injury in fact” that established his standing in the federal-court action. However, upon reviewing the WCA’s right-to-cure provisions as the basis for the plaintiff’s claims that the defendants violated federal and state laws by allegedly falsely representing that they could accelerate the plaintiff’s debt and sue him, the court examined whether the state law’s notice and right-to-cure provisions were federally preempted by the National Bank Act (NBA), as the original creditor’s rights and duties were assigned to the debt-purchasing company when the account was sold. The court determined that while the WCA right-to-cure provisions “do relate in part to debt collection,” they also “go beyond that by imposing conditions on the terms of credit within the lending relationship.” The court ultimately concluded that the WCA provisions “are inapplicable to national banks by reason of federal preemption,” and, as such, the court found “that a debt collector assigned a debt from a national bank is likewise exempt from those requirements” and was not required to send the plaintiff a right-to-cure letter “as a precondition to accelerating his debt or filing suit against him.”

    Courts Debt Collection FDCPA State Issues Consumer Finance National Bank Act

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  • District Court stays CSBS’s fintech charter challenge while OCC reviews framework

    Courts

    On June 16, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia entered an order staying litigation in a lawsuit filed by the Conference of State Bank Supervisors (CSBS) challenging the OCC’s authority to issue Special Purpose National Bank Charters (SPNB). (Covered by InfoBytes here.) Earlier this year, the OCC responded to CSBS’s opposition to the agency’s alleged impending approval of an SPNB for a financial services provider (proposed bank), in which CSBS argued that the OCC was exceeding its chartering authority (covered by InfoBytes here). The OCC countered that the same fatal flaws that pervaded CSBS’s prior challenges, i.e., that its challenge is unripe and CSBS lacks standing, still remain (covered by InfoBytes here). Moreover, the agency argued, among other things, that the cited application (purportedly curing CSBS’s prior ripeness issues) is not for an SPNB (the proposed bank that has applied for the charter would conduct a full range of services, including deposit taking), but that even it if was an application for an SPNB charter, there are multiple additional steps that need to occur prior to the OCC issuing the charter, which made the challenge unripe.

    According to CSBS’s unopposed motion to stay litigation, a “90-day stay would conserve the [p]arties’ and the [c]ourt’s resources by avoiding potentially unnecessary briefing and oral argument.” Further, in referring to acting Comptroller Michael Hsu’s testimony to the U.S. House of Representatives—in which he stated that “the OCC is currently reviewing various regulatory standards and pending actions, including the OCC’s framework for chartering national banks”—CSBS noted that the OCC has represented that it anticipates this review period will take approximately 90 days and that it does not intend to take any action towards granting a charter to the proposed bank during this period. Following the conclusion of the 90-day stay, the parties agreed to confer and submit to the court a joint status report on or before September 27 “addressing the status of the OCC’s plans with respect to processing applications for uninsured national bank charters, including the [proposed bank’s] charter application, and the [p]arties’ proposed schedule for proceeding with or resolving the present case.”

    Courts Federal Issues State Issues CSBS OCC Fintech Charter Fintech National Bank Act Preemption Agency Rule-Making & Guidance Bank Regulatory

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  • OCC supports national bank’s challenge to state law requiring interest payments on escrow accounts

    Courts

    On June 15, the OCC filed an amicus curiae brief in support of a defendant-appellant national bank in an appeal challenging a requirement under New York General Obligation Law § 5-601 that a defined interest rate be paid on mortgage escrow account balances. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the bank argued that the National Bank Act (NBA) preempts the state law, but the district court disagreed and issued a ruling in 2019 concluding that there is “clear evidence that Congress intended mortgage escrow accounts, even those administered by national banks, to be subject to some measure of consumer protection regulation.” The district court also determined that, with respect to the OCC’s 2004 real estate lending preemption regulation (2004 regulation), there is no evidence that “at this time, the agency gave any thought whatsoever to the specific question raised in this case, which is whether the NBA preempts escrow interest laws,” citing to and agreeing with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit’s decision in Lusnak v. Bank of America (which held that a national bank must comply with a California law that requires mortgage lenders to pay interest on mortgage escrow accounts, previously covered by InfoBytes here). The district court further applied the preemption standard from the 1996 Supreme Court decision in Barnett Bank of Marion County v. Nelson, and found that the law does not “significantly interfere” with the bank’s power to administer mortgage escrow accounts, noting that it only “requires the [b]ank to pay interest on the comparatively small sums” deposited into the accounts and does not “bar the creation of mortgage escrow accounts, or subject them to state visitorial control, or otherwise limit the terms of their use.”

    In its amicus brief filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, the OCC wrote that it “respectfully submits that the [appellate court] should reverse the decision of the [d]istrict [c]ourt and find that application of Section 5-601 to [the bank] is preempted by federal law,” adding that the 2019 ruling “upsets…settled legal principles” and “creates uncertainty regarding national banks’ authority to fully exercise real estate lending powers under the [NBA].” In addressing the district court’s application of Barnett, the OCC argued that the district court had incorrectly concluded that state laws cannot be preempted unless they “practical[ly] abrogat[e] or nullif[y] a national bank’s exercise of a federal banking power—a “stark contrast to the preemption standard set forth in Barnett and the OCC’s—as well as many other federal courts’—interpretation of that standard.” The OCC urged the appellate court to “conclude that a state law that requires a national bank to pay even a nominal rate of interest on a particular category of account impermissibly conflicts with a national bank’s power by disincentivizing the bank from continuing to offer the product. This is sufficient to trigger preemption under Barnett.”

    The OCC further stated, among other things, that the district court also incorrectly disregarded the agency’s 2004 regulation, which the OCC said “specifically authorizes national banks to exercise their powers to make real estate loans ‘without regard to state law limitations concerning…[e]scrow accounts, impound accounts, and similar accounts….’” The agency further cautioned that the district court’s determination that the OCC’s 2004 regulation was not entitled to any level of deference was done in error and warned that “[i]f the OCC’s regulation regarding escrow accounts is rendered ineffective, this result could cause disruption within the banking industry by upsetting long-settled law regarding the applicability of state laws to national bank powers.”

    Courts Appellate Second Circuit State Issues Escrow OCC National Bank Act Preemption Interest Mortgages Bank Regulatory

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  • 2nd Circuit says challenge to OCC’s fintech charter is unripe

    Courts

    On June 3, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed a 2019 district court ruling, holding that NYDFS lacked Article III standing to pursue claims that the OCC’s policy to issue Special Purpose National Bank charters (SPNB charters) to non-depository fintech companies exceeded its statutory authority. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the district court entered final judgment in favor of NYDFS after concluding that the OCC’s SPNB policy should be set aside “with respect to all fintech applicants seeking a national bank charter that do not accept deposits,” rather than only those that have a nexus to New York State. Among other things, the district court, in denying the OCC’s motion to dismiss, determined that the OCC exceeded its authority under the National Bank Act because the Act “unambiguously requires receiving deposits as an aspect of the business,” and that “absent a statutory provision to the contrary, only depository institutions are eligible to receive [a SPNB] from [the] OCC.” The OCC appealed, and both parties filed briefs addressing issues related to ripeness and standing (covered by InfoBytes here).

    On appeal, the 2nd Circuit concluded that NYDFS lacked Article III standing to pursue its claims because it failed to show that it had suffered an actual or imminent injury from the OCC’s decision to issue SPNB charters. The appellate court also found NYDFS’s claims to be “constitutionally unripe,” holding that NYDFS’s challenge is too speculative since no non-depository fintech companies have applied for or have been granted an SPNB charter. “It is unclear at this juncture whether New York law will ever be preempted in the ways [NYDFS] fears,” the appellate court wrote. However, the 2nd Circuit determined it lacked jurisdiction to decide the remaining issues on appeal and did not address the district court’s finding that “the ‘business of banking’ under the NBA unambiguously requires the receipt of deposits.” The appellate court remanded the case to the district court with instructions to enter a judgment of dismissal without prejudice.

    NYDFS Superintendent Linda Lacewell issued a statement following the 2nd Circuit’s decision, in which she reiterated the importance of “guarding against any encroachment on the state regulatory system” and urged the OCC to reconsider its policy.

     

    Courts Appellate Second Circuit Fintech Charter OCC NYDFS National Bank Act Bank Regulatory

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  • OCC counters CSBS’s arguments in fintech charter challenge

    Courts

    On April 29, the OCC responded to the Conference of State Bank Supervisors’ (CSBS) most recent challenge to the OCC’s authority to issue Special Purpose National Bank Charters (SPNB). As previously covered by InfoBytes, CSBS filed a complaint last December opposing the OCC’s alleged impending approval of an SPNB for a financial services provider, arguing that the OCC is exceeding its chartering authority.

    The OCC countered, however, that the same fatal flaws that pervaded CSBS’s prior challenges (covered by InfoBytes here), i.e., that its challenge is unripe and CSBS lacks standing, still remain. According to the OCC, the cited application (purportedly curing CSBS’s prior ripeness issues) is not for an SPNB—the proposed bank would conduct a full range of services, including deposit taking. Further, the OCC stated, even it if was an application for a SPNB charter, there are multiple additional steps that need to occur prior to the OCC issuing the charter, which made the challenge unripe. As to standing, the OCC asserted that any alleged injury to CSBS or its members is purely speculative. Finally, the OCC contended that CSBS’s challenge fails on the merits because the challenge relies on the premise that the company’s application must be for a SPNB, not a national bank, because the company is not going to apply for deposit insurance but there is no requirement in the National Bank Act, the Federal Deposit Insurance Act, or the Federal Reserve Act that requires all national banks to acquire FDIC insurance.

    Courts State Issues CSBS OCC Fintech National Bank Act Preemption Fintech Charter Bank Regulatory FDIC FDI Act

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