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Bank petitions for rehearing of 9th Circuit preemption decision; OCC to file amicus brief in support of bank
On April 13, a national bank filed a petition for an en banc rehearing of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit’s March decision, which held that a California law that requires the bank to pay interest on escrow funds is not preempted by federal law. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the 9th Circuit held that the Dodd-Frank Act of 2011 (Dodd-Frank) essentially codified the existing National Bank Act (NBA) preemption standard from the 1996 Supreme Court decision in Barnett Bank of Marion County v. Nelson. The panel cited to Section 1639d(g)(3) of Dodd-Frank, which, according to the opinion, expresses Congress’ view that the type of law at issue does not “prevent or significantly interfere with a national bank’s operations” because the law does not “prevent or significantly interfere” with the national bank’s exercise of its power. Additionally, the 9th Circuit concluded that the OCC’s 2004 preemption regulation had no effect on the preemption standard.
In its petition for rehearing, the bank argues that the 9th Circuit’s decision, if allowed to stand, “will create confusion regarding which state laws apply to national banks and restrict the terms on which they may extend credit” because the decision conflicts with previous decisions by the same court, the Supreme Court, and other circuits. The bank also acknowledges the OCC’s intent to file an amicus curiae brief in support of the petition no later than April 23.
On March 2, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that a national bank must comply with a California law that requires mortgage lenders to pay interest on the funds held in a consumer’s escrow account because the law does not “prevent or significantly interfere” with the national bank’s exercise of its power. The case results from a 2014 lawsuit in which a consumer sued the national bank for refusing to pay interest on the funds in his mortgage escrow account as required by a California state law. The district court dismissed the action, holding that the California state law interfered with the bank’s ability to perform its business making mortgage loans and therefore, was preempted by the National Bank Act (NBA).
In reversing the district court’s decision, the 9th Circuit held that the Dodd-Frank Act of 2011 (Dodd-Frank) essentially codified the existing NBA preemption standard from the 1996 Supreme Court decision in Barnett Bank of Marion County v. Nelson. The panel cited to Section 1639d(g)(3) of Dodd-Frank (“if prescribed by applicable State or Federal law, each creditor shall pay interest to the consumer on the amount held in any . . . escrow account that is subject to this section in the manner as prescribed by that applicable State or Federal law”), which, according to the opinion, expresses Congress’ view that the type of law at issue does not “prevent or significantly interfere with a national bank’s operations.” Moreover, the panel disagreed with the national bank’s reliance on the OCC’s 2004 preemption regulation, which interpreted the standard more broadly, by concluding that the regulation had no effect on the preemption standard. This decision could have significant implications for the rise of preemption by federally chartered banks.
On February 28, the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina dismissed a complaint from a consolidated class action against a national bank, which alleged that the bank’s $20 overdraft fee is an interest charge on credit and therefore exceeds usury limits under the National Bank Act (NBA). The plaintiffs in the consolidated class action challenged the bank’s methods for assessing overdraft fees, posting debit transactions, and assessing “sustained” overdraft fees, claiming they violated federal law. In granting the dismissal, the court noted that it had previously rejected a materially identical usury claim in December 2015 and that no new evidence or authority had been brought to light that would change its decision. In addition, the court concluded that “the law is still clear that sustained overdraft fees are not interest, and that assessing such fees cannot violate the usury provision of the NBA.”
On September 25, OCC Acting Comptroller of the Currency Keith Noreika spoke before the 2017 Online Lending Policy Summit in Washington, D.C. to discuss ways the maturing banking industry can respond to changing market conditions through the adoption of new business models and adjustments to long-term strategies. “Some pundits see the growth of the online lending industry as a response to the nation’s banking industry. And some say that if the industry had been sufficiently agile and fully met the need for lending, alternative lenders would not have grown so rapidly,” Noreika stated. “I do not share that view. I see the growth of online lending and marketplace lenders as the natural evolution of banking itself.”
According to Noreika, about $40 billion in consumer and small business loans in the United States have been originated by marketplace lenders during the past decade, and since 2010, online lending has doubled each year. In fact, Noreika noted, “some analysts suggest that the market will reach nearly $300 billion by 2020, and others suggest as much as $1 trillion by 2025.” However, the online industry faces certain challenges and “adapting to new market conditions and effectively managing evolving risks” is pertinent to their success. Noreika highlighted recent innovation efforts by the OCC, such as the agency’s Office of Innovation’s “Office Hours,” which was created to facilitate discussions related to fintech and financial innovation. (See previous InfoBytes coverage here.) Another example is the OCC’s plan to develop “regulatory sandboxes” and bank pilot programs to “foster responsible innovation by OCC-supervised banks” as a means to expand the OCC’s own knowledge in this space. Importantly, Noreika addressed the OCC’s position concerning chartering of fintech companies that seek to expand into banking, along with the possibility of “offering special-purpose national bank charters to nondepository fintech companies engaged in the business of banking”—a concept currently being contested by both the Conference of State Bank Supervisors (CSBS) and the New York Department of Financial Services (NYDFS). According to Noreika, the OCC has not yet decided whether it will exercise its authority to issue special purpose bank charters. (See previous InfoBytes coverage of CSBS’ and NYDFS’ challenges here and here.)
Finally, Noreika offered support for a legislative approach that would clarify the “valid when made” doctrine central to Madden v. Midland Funding, LLC by reducing uncertainty in establishing that “the rate of interest on a loan made by a bank, savings association, or credit union that is valid when the loan is made remains valid after transfer of the loan” and serving to reestablish a legal precedent that had been in place prior to the Madden decision, in which an appellate panel held that a nonbank entity taking assignment of debts originated by a national bank is not entitled to protection under the National Bank Act from state law usury claims. (See previous InfoBytes coverage here.)
On July 27, a bipartisan group of senators introduced draft legislation (S. 1642), which would require bank loans, sold or transferred to another party, to maintain the same interest rate. As previously covered in InfoBytes, similar legislation (H.R. 3299) was introduced in the House earlier in July to reestablish a “legal precedent under federal banking laws that preempts a loan’s interest as valid when made.” Both measures come as a reaction to the 2015 Second Circuit decision in Madden v. Midland Funding, LLC, in which an appellate panel held that a nonbank entity taking assignment of debts originated by a national bank is not entitled to protection under the National Bank Act from state-law usury claims. The draft legislation seeks to amend the Revised Statutes, the Home Owners’ Loan Act, the Federal Credit Union Act, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Act.
On July 25, acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Joon H. Kim, filed a letter with the federal court in that district on behalf of the OCC, requesting a pre-motion conference to discuss its anticipated motion to dismiss the New York Department of Financial Service’s (NYDFS) suit against the OCC’s special purpose fintech charter. See Vullo v. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, Case 17-cv-03574 (S.D.N.Y., Jul. 25, 2017). As previously covered in InfoBytes, NYDFS filed the lawsuit May 12 on the grounds that the charter is unlawful and would grant preemptive powers over state law. Kim cites the following three reasons for dismissal of NYDFS’s complaint:
- NYDFS lacks standing to bring the suit because, although the OCC has “publically [sic] contemplated the possibility of issuing fintech charters…those public statements do not amount to a ‘final agency action’ subject to challenge under the [Administrative Procedure Act].” Indeed, since any harm NYDFS can identify is “conjectural or hypothetical,” and it has not suffered any “actual or imminent” injury, the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction.
- OCC’s interpretation of its statutory authority under the National Bank Act (NBA) refers to Section 5.20(e)(1), which “reasonably limits the issuance of charters to institutions that carry on at least one of three ‘core banking activities’ [such as] the receipt of deposits, the payment of checks, or the lending of money.” Thus, regulations that allow chartering approvals—even if the chartered companies don't take deposits—is reasonable because they carry on at least one core banking function.
- The Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution would protect fintech banks chartered under the relevant OCC rules and entitle them to NBA protections against state interference. Kim noted that it “is well established that the Supremacy Clause operates in concert with the NBA to displace state laws or state causes of action that conflict with federal law or that prevent or significantly interfere with national bank powers.”
The OCC faces a separate fintech lawsuit in the District Court for the District of Columbia brought by the Conference of State Bank Supervisors. (See previous Special Alert.)
On July 19, Representative Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), the Vice Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, and Representative Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) introduced legislation designed to make it unlawful to change the rate of interest on certain loans after they have been sold or transferred to another party. As set forth in a July 19 press release issued by Rep. McHenry’s office, the Protecting Consumers’ Access to Credit Act of 2017 (H.R. 3299) would reaffirm the “legal precedent under federal banking laws that preempts a loan’s interest as valid when made.”
Notably, a Second Circuit panel in 2015 in Madden v. Midland Funding, LLC overturned a district court’s holding that the National Bank Act (NBA) preempted state law usury claims against purchasers of debt from national banks. (See Special Alert on Second Circuit decision here.)The appellate court held that state usury laws are not preempted after a national bank has transferred the loan to another party. The Supreme Court denied a petition for certiorari last year. According to Rep. McHenry, “[t]his reading of the National Bank Act was unprecedented and has created uncertainty for fintech companies, financial institutions, and the credit markets.” H.R. 3299, however, will attempt to “restore consistency” to lending laws following the holding and “increase stability in our capital markets which have been upended by the Second Circuit’s unprecedented interpretation of our banking laws.”
OCC Chief Issues Remarks on Fintech Charter Plan; Federal Reserve Governor Highlights Virtual Currency Risks
On March 6, Thomas Curry, Comptroller of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) spoke at the LendIt USA 2017 conference and addressed arguments against the regulator’s authority to provide charters to Fintech firms as presented in its December 2016 white paper, Exploring Special Purpose National Bank Charters for Fintech Companies (see InfoBytes Special Alert). Curry stated, “[T]he National Bank Act  give[s] the OCC the legal authority to grant national bank charters to companies engaged in the business of banking,” and added that “[i]t is not circumscribed just because a company delivers banking services in new ways with innovative technology.” Curry says the OCC plans to publish a supplemental document to clarify ways it will evaluate Fintech companies that apply for charters.
Regarding the risks posed by institutions creating their own virtual currencies, Federal Reserve’s lead governor, Jerome Powell, said in remarks made to Yale University on March 3 that the risks and technological challenges are far too high for central banks to undertake. “Any central bank actively considering issuing its own digital currency would need to carefully consider the full range of the payments system and other policy issues, which do seem substantial, as well as the potential societal benefits,” said Powell. “I would expect private-sector systems to be more forward-leaning than central banks in providing new features to the public through faster payments systems as they compete to attract retail customers,” Powell said. “A central bank-issued digital currency would compete with these and other innovative private-sector products and may stifle innovation over the long run.”
On February 27, a U.S. District Court in White Plains, N.Y. issued an Order ruling on motions for summary judgment and class certification in a consumer class-action against a debt collection company that purchased defaulted consumer debt from a national bank, and its affiliate, which sought collection of debt charged at a rate in excess of New York state usury limits. Midland Funding v. Madden, [Opinion & Order] No. 11-CV-8149 (CS) (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 1, 2017).
As previously covered by InfoBytes, the district court had originally ruled in Defendants’ favor, holding that the National Banking Act (NBA) preempted state law usury claims against purchasers of debt from national banks. The Second Circuit, however, overturned that ruling in a May 2015 opinion to the extent it relied on the NBA, but remanded the case for a determination whether Delaware choice of law provisions in the credit agreement precluded the Plaintiff’s claims because the rates were not usurious in Delaware.
Now, revising the issue on remand, the District Court held that New York’s criminal usury cap (but not the civil usury) applies to Plaintiff’s defaulted debt, notwithstanding the Delaware choice of law provision. The Court reasoned that New York does not follow the “rule of validation” (calling for courts to assume the parties intended to enter into a valid contract and apply the law of the state whose usury law would sustain it). The Court concluded, therefore, that the Plaintiff could predicate her FDCPA claims on a violation of New York’s criminal usury cap. Based on the foregoing, the Court granted partial summary judgment for the Defendant. The court also granted, but modified, Plaintiff’s request for class certification.
On September 13, the OCC published a proposed rule under the authority of the National Bank Act, to provide a framework for receiverships for national banks that are not insured by the FDIC. For years the OCC has not placed uninsured banks into receivership, but the agency claims that establishing a clear and efficient process for handling failed uninsured banks would “contribute to the broader stability of the federal banking system.” Intended to “provide clarity to market participants about how they will be treated in receivership,” the OCC’s proposed framework outlines processes parallel to that of the FDIC’s receivership capacities. The proposal describes, among other things, (i) certain powers the receiver would hold, as well as the receiver’s duties in “winding up” an uninsured bank’s affairs; (ii) the process for submitting claims against the uninsured bank in receivership, and the receiver’s responsibilities to review such claims; (iii) the payment of dividends on claims and the distribution to shareholders of residual proceeds; and (iv) the receiver’s powers and duties related to the status of fiduciary and custodial accounts. Comments on the proposal are due November 14, 2016.
- Buckley Webcast: CRA modernization — All eyes turn to the Fed
- Daniel R. Alonso to discuss "How to become an AUSA" at the New York City Bar Association Minorities in the Courts Committee “How To” series
- Michelle L. Rogers and Kathryn L. Ryan to discuss “Fintech U.S. expansion” at the Tech Nation 3.0 cohort meeting
- Melissa Klimkiewicz to discuss "Flood insurance basics" at the NAFCU Virtual Regulatory Compliance School