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On February 11, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of a mortgage loan servicer, concluding that the consumer failed to establish that he was injured by the servicer’s alleged violation of RESPA. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota ruled on a motion for summary judgment concerning whether the Minnesota Mortgage Originator and Servicer Licensing Act’s (MOSLA) provision prohibiting “a mortgage servicer from violating ‘federal law regulating residential mortgage loans’” provides a cause of action under state law when a loan servicer violates RESPA but where the consumer ultimately has no federal cause of action because the consumer “sustained no actual damages and thus has no actionable claim under RESPA.” The 8th Circuit previously overturned the district court’s earlier ruling to grant summary judgment in favor of the consumer, concluding that while the loan servicer failed to (i) conduct an adequate investigation following the plaintiff’s request as to why there was a delinquency for his account, and (ii) failed to provide a complete loan payment history when requested, its failure did not cause actual damages.
In affirming the district court’s recent order, the 8th Circuit agreed that for the consumer to pursue a MOSLA cause of action when a loan servicer violates a federal law regulating mortgage loans, such as RESPA, there must be a federal cause of action. Even though the 8th Circuit previously concluded the servicer violated RESPA, the plaintiff must still prove actual damages to establish an injury in order to prevail under MOSLA.
On December 14, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit vacated a $4,000 judgment in favor of a consumer in an FDCPA action against a debt buyer (defendant), concluding that while the defendant qualifies as a debt collector, the actions of the subsequent debt collector cannot be imputed to the defendant. According to the opinion, the defendant brought a collection action against a consumer, which was dismissed by the district court after the consumer retained an attorney and the defendant failed to respond to the consumer’s dismissal motion. The defendant subsequently hired a collection agency to collect on the debt but failed to inform the collection agency that the consumer had previous retained an attorney. After the collection agency sent a settlement offer to the consumer, the consumer filed an action against the defendant alleging violations of the FDCPA and the Arkansas Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (AFDCPA) for contacting her directly when she was represented by an attorney. The district court granted partial summary judgment in favor of the consumer, concluding, among other things, that the defendant (i) qualified as a debt collector under federal and state law; (ii) the defendant was acting as an agent of the collection agency; and (ii) the defendant is liable for the violations arising out of the collection agency’s contact with the consumer. The consumer accepted a $4,000 offer of judgment, and the district court entered final judgment.
On appeal, the 8th Circuit agreed that the defendant qualified as a debt collector under the FDCPA and the AFDCPA, but determined that the consumer “did not present sufficient evidence to establish that [the collection agency]’s actions may be imputed to [the defendant] as a matter of law.” Specifically, the appellate court concluded that in order to establish the defendant’s liability under the FDCPA, the consumer needed to show that the defendant was responsible for the collection agency’s action. Because it was established that the collection agency did not know that the consumer was represented by an attorney, the appellate court noted that the consumer “cannot prevail against [the defendant] on a theory of vicarious liability,” and instead, must prove that an agency relationship existed for direct liability. Because the consumer failed to put into evidence an agreement between the defendant and the collection agency and the district court failed to address the agency relationship, the appellate court concluded the district court erred in granting partial summary judgment and vacated the $4,000 judgment and remanded the case.
On July 16, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit affirmed a district court’s decision to reduce a $1.6 billion award in statutory damages for TCPA violations to $32.4 million after the court determined the original award violated the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause. The named plaintiffs in the class action alleged that parties involved in the financing and marketing campaign of a film with religious and political themes violated the TCPA through the use of a telephone campaign in which approximately 3.2 million prerecorded robocalls were made in the course of a week. The plaintiffs—who received two of these messages on their answering machine—filed an appeal after the district court concluded that the original award was “‘obviously unreasonable and wholly disproportionate to the offense’” and reduced the statutory damages awarded by a jury from $500 per call to $10 per call.
On appeal, the 8th Circuit addressed several issues, including (i) whether the plaintiffs alleged a concrete injury under the TCPA; (ii) whether the district court abused its discretion concerning instructions on direct liability against one of the defendants; and (iii) whether the court erred in finding the amount of statutory damages to be unconstitutional. The appellate court first reviewed whether the plaintiffs had alleged a sufficiently concrete injury under the TCPA. According to the opinion, “[t]he harm to be remedied by the TCPA was ‘the unwanted intrusion and nuisance of unsolicited telemarketing phone calls and fax advertisements. . . .The [plaintiffs’] harm . . . was the receipt of two telemarketing messages without prior consent. These harms bear a close relationship to the types of harms traditionally remedied by tort law, particularly the law of nuisance.” However, the appellate court stated that the district court was correct to reject the plaintiffs’ direct liability instructions against the defendant who helped finance the film, writing that the plaintiffs “improperly blurred the line between direct and agency liability” and that “to be held directly liable, the defendant must be the one who ‘initiates’ the call,” which the financing defendant did not do. Finally, the appellate court agreed with the district court that the $1.6 billion award violated the Due Process Clause, and highlighted evidence that the advertiser “plausibly believed it was not violating the TCPA” and “had prior consent to call the recipients about religious liberty,” which was a predominant theme of the film being promoted. Moreover, the court noted,”[t]he call campaign was conducted for only about a week,” and recipients could only hear the message about the film if they voluntarily opted in during the call. The court further reasoned that “the harm to the recipients was not severe—only about 7% of the calls made it to the third question, the one about the film. Under these facts, $1.6 billion is ‘so severe and oppressive as to be wholly disproportioned to the offense and obviously unreasonable.’”
On April 22, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit affirmed a district court’s dismissal of a consumer’s FDCPA action. The plaintiff alleged that the credit collections bureau violated the FDCPA’s prohibition against false, misleading, or deceptive representations when it sent a collection letter that included, among other things, the words “PROFESSIONAL DEBT COLLECTORS” along with an acronym for the company, which the plaintiff claimed violated the FDCPA’s provision which states that a debt collection may not use “any business, company, or organization name other than the true name. . . .” The plaintiff further alleged that the defendant violated the FDCPA and Minnesota law by (i) representing that she could submit payments on-line or correspond with the company through a designated website; (ii) stating it may seek pre-judgment interest; and (iii) including the signature of an individual who was not licensed to engage in debt collection activities in the state. The district court dismissed the claims, concluding that the use of the aforementioned language was not false or misleading under the “unsophisticated consumer” standard, and that neither the signature nor the pre-judgment interest statement violated the FDCPA.
On appeal, the 8th Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the claims, holding that the collection letter did not violate the FDCPA, Minnesota law did not prohibit the defendant from seeking pre-judgment interest, and the Minnesota Supreme Court has yet to determine whether the law “allows for the recovery of pre-judgment interest in a case such as this.” Furthermore, the FDCPA “was not meant to convert every violation of a state debt collection law into a federal violation,” the appellate court wrote, and that even if one of the signatories was not licensed in the state to collect debt, the defendant was legally licensed and did not engage in unfair or unconscionable conduct under the statute.
On December 10, the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota ruled on a motion for summary judgment concerning whether the Minnesota Mortgage Originator and Servicer Licensing Act’s (MOSLA) provision prohibiting “a mortgage servicer from violating ‘federal law regulating residential mortgage loans’” provides a cause of action under state law when a loan servicer violates RESPA but where the consumer ultimately has no federal cause of action because the consumer “sustained no actual damages and thus has no actionable claim under RESPA.”
As previously covered by InfoBytes, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit reviewed the district court’s earlier decision to grant summary judgement in favor of a consumer who claimed the mortgage loan servicer failed to adequately respond to his qualified written requests concerning erroneous delinquency allegations. The 8th Circuit overturned that ruling, opining that while the loan servicer failed to (i) conduct an adequate investigation following the plaintiff’s request as to why there was a delinquency for his account, and (ii) failed to provide a complete loan payment history when requested, its failure did not cause actual damages.
Now, revisiting the issue on remand, the district court stated that any MOSLA violation or injury is predicated on the RESPA violation or injury. Reasoning that since there were “no actual damages under RESPA, then there are no actual damages under MOSLA,” the court concluded that the consumer did not have a viable cause of action under MOSLA and dismissed the action with prejudice.
8th Circuit holds employee failed to plead injuries in FCRA suit against employer, law firm, and credit reporting agency
On September 6, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit held that an employee lacked standing to bring claims under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) because she failed to sufficiently plead she suffered injuries. An employee brought a lawsuit against her former employer, a law firm, and a credit reporting agency (defendants) alleging various violations of the FCRA after the employee’s credit report that was obtained as part of the hiring process background check was provided to the employee in response to her records request in a wrongful termination lawsuit she had filed. The district court dismissed the claims against the employer and the law firm and granted judgment on the pleadings for the credit reporting agency. Upon appeal, the 8th Circuit, citing the Supreme Court’s 2016 ruling in Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins (covered by a Buckley Sandler Special Alert), concluded the former employee lacked Article III standing to bring the claims. The court found that the former employee authorized her employer to obtain the credit report and failed to allege the report was used for unauthorized purposes, therefore there was no intangible injury to her privacy. Additionally, the court determined that the injuries to her “reputational harm, compromised security, and lost time” were “‘naked assertion[s]’ of reputational harm, ‘devoid of further factual enhancement.’” As for claims against the law firm and credit reporting agency, the court found that the injury was too speculative as to the alleged failures to take reasonable measures to dispose of her information. Further, whether the credit reporting agency met all of its statutory obligations to ensure the report was for a permissible purpose was irrelevant, as she suffered no injury because she provided the employer with consent to obtain her credit report.
8th Circuit: Bank that discharged employees as a “business necessity” did not violate Section 19 of the FDI Act
On August 29, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit affirmed a lower court’s order granting summary judgment in favor of a national bank, holding that the bank did not violate the Federal Deposit Insurance Act’s Section 19 employment ban when it discharged African-American and Latino employees who previously had been convicted of crimes involving dishonesty. Under Section 19, individuals who have been convicted of a crime “involving dishonesty or a breach of trust” cannot be employed by a financial institution covered by federal deposit insurance. A bank that violates the ban is subject to criminal penalties, although an individual may request a waiver from the FDIC. According to the order, the bank screened all home mortgage division employees in 2012 and discharged anyone who was found to have a conviction without providing the option to apply for a waiver. The class members—who brought discrimination claims based on a disparate impact theory—complained that the bank’s automatic discharge of all affected employees impacted African Americans and Latinos at a higher rate than white employees, and contended that the bank could have prevented this result with an alternative such as giving employees “advance notice of the need for a Section 19 discharge, granting leave time to seek a waiver, and/or sponsoring a waiver.” The appellate court relied on data showing that approximately half of waiver applications are approved by the FDIC, and class members presented no data to show that sponsored waivers would ameliorate any racial disparity. In addition, the appellate court held that the bank’s decision to comply with the statute was a business necessity in light of the possibility of a $1 million-per-day fine “even if [the bank’s] policy of summarily terminating or not hiring any Section 19 disqualified individual creates a disparate impact.” Moreover, the appellate court stated that the class members “failed to establish a prima facie case of disparate impact,” and did not present a less discriminatory alternative that would serve the bank’s interests in compliance with the statute.
8th Circuit holds a garnishment notice sent after receiving a “cease” letter does not violate the FDCPA
On August 27, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit affirmed summary judgment for a law firm, holding that a garnishment notice sent after a consumer requested the company cease communication did not violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). The court held that sending a notice of garnishment was permissible because a “creditor may communicate with a debtor after receiving a cease letter to notify the consumer that the debt collector or creditor may invoke specified remedies which are ordinarily invoked by such debt collector or creditor.” The court further held that the notice’s inclusion of a contact phone number did not “transform” the notice into a communication regarding the debt because, while the notice was a “communication regarding the debt in a general sense . . . it still fits within the remedy exception” and it would have been “odd” for the notice not to provide contact information. The court also rejected the claim that the law firm violated the FDCPA by discussing possible resolution of the debt in a subsequent phone call initiated by the consumer, noting that the consumer had asked about the debt, and agreeing with the district court that the phone call was “an unsubtle and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to provoke [the law firm] into committing an FDCPA violation.” The court added that prohibiting debt collectors from responding to a consumer’s inquiries after a cease letter would often force debt collectors to file suit in order to resolve debts, which is “clearly at odds with the language and purpose of the FDCPA.”
Finally, the court rejected the argument that the garnishment notice deceived consumers into contacting the law firm to discuss the legal aspects of the garnishment process, when in fact they would be subjected to debt collection efforts. Applying the unsophisticated consumer standard, the court held that the garnishment notice was not deceptive because it did not state that phone calls would be answered by attorneys prepared to answer questions solely about garnishment, and the consumer’s belief to the contrary was “the exact sort of peculiar interpretation against which debt collectors are protected by the objective element of the unsophisticated consumer standard.”
8th Circuit rules Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac net worth sweep payments acceptable under FHFA statutory authority
On August 23, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit affirmed a lower court’s dismissal of claims brought by shareholders of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (GSEs) against the GSEs’ conservator, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), alleging that FHFA exceeded its powers under the Housing and Economic Recovery Act (HERA) and “acted arbitrarily and capriciously” when it entered an agreement with the Treasury Department requiring the GSEs to pay their entire net worth, minus a small buffer, as dividends to the Treasury every quarter. In so holding, the 8th Circuit joined the 5th, 6th, 7th, and D.C. Circuits, each of which has previously “rejected materially identical arguments” presented by other GSE shareholders. (See previous InfoBytes coverage on the 5th Circuit decision here.) The shareholders sought an injunction to set aside the so-called “net worth sweep,” asserting that “HERA’s limitation on judicial review does not apply when FHFA exceeds its statutory powers under the Act . . . [and] that the net worth sweep exceeds, and is antithetical to, FHFA’s statutory powers.” However, the appellate court agreed with the lower court and found, among other things, the net worth sweep payments to be acceptable because HERA “grant[s] FHFA broad discretion in its management and operation of Fannie and Freddie” and permits, but does not require, the agency “to preserve and conserve Fannie’s and Freddie’s assets and to return [them] to private operation.” The court also noted that HERA “authorize[d] FHFA to act ‘in the best interests’ of either Fannie and Freddie or itself,” thus affording FHFA more discretion than common law conservators. Finally, the appellate court held that HERA’s anti-injunction provision, which states that “no court may take any action to restrain or affect the exercise of powers or functions of the [FHFA] as a conservator or a receiver,” also precludes enjoining the Treasury Department from participating in the net worth sweep because doing so would “restrain or affect” FHFA.
8th Circuit reverses district court’s decision, rules compound interest not contractually agreed upon violates FDCPA
On July 16, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit reversed a district court’s decision, holding that under Minnesota law, compound interest cannot be collected unless specifically agreed to in a contract. The decision results from a suit filed by a consumer alleging that a law firm violated the Fair Debt Collection Practice Act (FDCPA) when it sent a debt collection letter seeking payment of credit card debt while asserting that the consumer owed compound interest. The consumer’s suit alleged that the debt’s owner, debt collector, and law firm (defendants) “used a false, deceptive, or misleading representation or means . . . and an unfair or unconscionable means” when attempting to collect the debt. Specifically, the consumer alleged the principal balance included interest on the contractual interest—which he claimed he did not agree to in the underlying credit card agreement—and that as a result, the defendants misrepresented the amount of debt and attempted to collect interest that was not permitted under Minnesota law. The district court dismissed the consumer’s claim, finding that he failed to state an FDCPA claim because he did not allege a materially false statement in the collection letter. The 8th Circuit reversed however, finding that the consumer stated a claim under the FDCPA because a demand to pay an amount of debt that is unauthorized under state law is actionable as a false statement or unfair collection attempt, and that a false representation of the amount of a debt that overstates what is owed under state law is a material violation of the FDCPA. The appellate court also rejected the law firm’s argument that there was no FDCPA violation because the agreement authorized the total amount of interest stated in the letter, further declining to calculate the interest under the credit-card terms provided by the law firm because the consumer had contested the terms as unauthenticated.
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