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On July 20, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia certified a “rent-a-tribe” class action alleging an individual who orchestrated an online payday lending scheme violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act (RICO), engaged in unjust enrichment, and violated Virginia’s usury law by partnering with federally-recognized tribes to issue loans with allegedly usurious interest rates. The plaintiffs alleged the defendant partnered with the tribes to circumvent state usury laws even though the tribes did not control the lending operation. The court ruled that, as there was “no substantive involvement” by the tribes in the lending operation and evidence showed that the defendant was “functionally in charge,” the lending operation—which allegedly charged interest rates exceeding Virginia’s 12 percent interest cap—could not claim tribal immunity. The plaintiffs moved to certify two RICO classes, distinguished from each other based on the lending entity, each with two sub-classes of borrowers: (i) a usury sub-class of borrowers who either paid any principal, interest, or fees on their loans; and (ii) a unjust enrichment subclass of borrowers who paid any amount on their loans. The defendant challenged class certification, arguing that “due to his changing roles” in the lending operation over the class period “differences between class members will result in a need for a series of complicated mini-trials.” In certifying the two RICO classes, the court called the defendant’s recommendation to bring individual lender suits “an unnecessary and untenable burden on the judicial system.” Furthermore, the court wrote that “[w]ith respect to [p]laintiffs’ unjust enrichment claims, [the defendant] also attempts to argue that some [p]laintiffs did not confer a benefit on [the defendant] because they paid back less than they received on their loans.” However, the court noted that because Virginia law states that any contract in violation of the state’s usury law is void, “any money paid on a void contract could constitute a benefit for the purposes of an unjust enrichment.”
On July 13, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California denied defendants’ motion for summary judgment in a consolidated class action concerning whether a now-defunct online lender can use tribal immunity to circumvent state interest rate caps. The plaintiffs took out short-term loans carrying allegedly usurious interest rates from entities run through several federally recognized tribes. While the defendants attempted to rely on tribal immunity as a defense, the court determined that California law applies to the plaintiffs and class members who took out loans in the state. According to the court, “California, with its strong history of prohibiting usury, has the materially greater interest in enforcing its usury laws and protecting its consumers from usurious conduct than either of the relevant [t]ribal [e]ntities whose connection to the loans—while not insignificant—was temporal and whose aims were to avoid state usury laws.” Calling tribal immunity “irrelevant,” the court added that the “claims here hinge on the personal conduct of the defendants. While that conduct is based in significant part on the services defendants personally engaged in or approved to be provided to the [t]ribes, the claims do not impede on the sovereignty of the [t]ribes where the [t]ribes are not defendants in this case and no [t]ribal [e]ntities remain.”
On June 30, FHFA announced changes to loan modification terms for borrowers impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic with mortgages backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac who need payment reduction. According to FHFA, flex modification terms will be adjusted for Covid-19 hardships, which will make “interest rate reduction possible for eligible borrowers, regardless of the borrower’s loan-to-value ratio.” Previously, only borrowers with mark-to-market loan-to-value ratios (which compare the balance remaining on a mortgage to the current market value of a home) greater than or equal to 80 percent were eligible for an interest rate reduction. FHFA acting Director Sandra L. Thompson noted that more families qualifying for interest rate reduction will “prevent unnecessary foreclosures, help strengthen the Enterprises’ books of business, and make sustainable homeownership a reality for more families currently living with the uncertainty of forbearance.”
On June 17, eight state attorneys general (from California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, and the District of Columbia) filed an opposition to the FDIC’s motion for summary judgment and reply in support of their motion for summary judgment in a lawsuit challenging the FDIC’s “valid-when-made rule.” As previously covered by InfoBytes, last August the AGs filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California arguing, among other things, that the FDIC does not have the power to issue the rule, and asserting that the FDIC has the power to issue “‘regulations to carry out’ the provisions of the [Federal Deposit Insurance Act]” but not regulations that would apply to non-banks. The AGs also claimed that the rule’s extension of state law preemption would “facilitate evasion of state law by enabling ‘rent-a-bank’ schemes,” and that the FDIC failed to explain its consideration of evidence contrary to its assertions, including evidence demonstrating that “consumers and small businesses are harmed by high interest-rate loans.” The complaint asked the court to declare that the FDIC violated the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) in issuing the rule and to hold the rule unlawful. The FDIC countered in May (covered by InfoBytes here) that the AGs’ arguments “misconstrue” the rule, which “does not regulate non-banks, does not interpret state law, and does not preempt state law.” Rather, the FDIC argued that the rule clarifies the FDIA by “reasonably” filling in “two statutory gaps” surrounding banks’ interest rate authority.
In response, the AGs argued that the rule violates the APA because the FDIC’s interpretation in its “Non-Bank Interest Provision” (Provision) conflicts with the unambiguous plain-language statutory text, which preempts state interest-rate caps for federally insured, state-chartered banks and insured branches of foreign banks (FDIC Banks) alone, and “impermissibly expands the scope of § 1831d to preempt state rate caps as to non-bank loan buyers of FDIC Bank loans.” Additionally, the AGs challenged the FDIC’s claim that its Provision “does not implicate rent-a-bank schemes or the true lender doctrine because the Provision only applies ‘if a bank actually made the loan,’” emphasizing that the FDIC’s “mere statement that it does not condone rent-a-bank schemes” is insufficient and that “choosing to not address true-lender issues is an insufficient response to comments that the Provision creates significant uncertainty about those issues.” Moreover, the AGs claimed that the Provision is “arbitrary and capricious” and fails to meaningfully address valid concerns and criticisms raised by commenters, and that the rule constitutes “in substance if not form, a reversal of the FDIC’s previous stance” that the FDIC is “obligated to acknowledge and explain.”
Last month, the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) published proposed regulations in the state register to implement the Illinois Predatory Loan Prevention Act (Act). As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Act was signed into law in March and prohibits lenders from charging more than 36 percent APR on all non-commercial consumer loans under $40,000, including closed-end and open-end credit, retail installment sales contracts, and motor vehicle retail installment sales contracts. Violations of the Act constitute a violation of the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act, and carry a potential fine up to $10,000. Additionally, any loan with an APR exceeding 36 percent will be considered null and void “and no person or entity shall have any right to collect, attempt to collect, receive, or retain any principal, fee, interest, or charges related to the loan.”
The IDFPR’s notice of proposed rules provides definitions and loan terms, including (i) general conditions; (ii) limits on the cost of a loan; (iii) how to calculate and compute the APR for the purposes of the Act; (iv) how to determine bona fide fees charged on credit card accounts, including outlining ineligible items, providing standards for assessing whether a bona fide fee is reasonable, and specifying bona fide fee safe harbors and “[i]ndicia of reasonableness for a participation fee”; and (iii) the effect of charging fees on bona fide fees.
Additionally, the IDFPR proposes several amendments related to rate cap disclosure notices. These specify that (i) all loan applications must include a separate rate cap disclosure signed by the consumer (disclosures must be provided in English and in the language in which the loan was negotiated); (ii) lenders must “prominently display” a rate cap disclosure in both English and Spanish in any physical location and on all websites, mobile device applications, or any other electronic mediums owned or maintained by the lender; and (iii) lenders must disclose the rate cap in any written loan solicitations or advertisements.
On May 20, the FDIC filed a motion for summary judgment in response to a challenge brought by eight state attorneys general to the FDIC’s valid-when-made rule. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the FDIC’s final rule clarifies that, under the Federal Deposit Insurance Act (FDIA), whether interest on a loan is permissible is determined at the time the loan is made and is not affected by the sale, assignment, or other transfer of the loan. The AGs filed a lawsuit last year (covered by InfoBytes here) arguing, among other things, that the FDIC does not have the power to issue the rule, and asserting that while the FDIC has the power to issue “‘regulations to carry out’ the provisions of the FDIA,” it cannot issue regulations that would apply to nonbanks. The AGs also claimed that the rule’s extension of state law preemption would “facilitate evasion of state law by enabling ‘rent-a-bank’ schemes,” and that the FDIC failed to explain its consideration of evidence contrary to its assertions, including evidence demonstrating that “consumers and small businesses are harmed by high interest-rate loans.”
The FDIC countered that the AGs’ arguments “misconstrue” the rule, which “does not regulate non-banks, does not interpret state law, and does not preempt state law.” Rather, the FDIC argued that the rule clarifies the FDIA by “reasonably” filling in “two statutory gaps” surrounding banks’ interest rate authority. “The rule, which enjoys widespread support from the banking industry, represents a reasonable interpretation of [the FDIA], and should be upheld under Chevron’s familiar two-step framework,” the FDIC stated. Moreover, the FDIC contended, among other things, that the rule is appropriate because the FDIA does not address at what point in time the validity of a loan’s interest rate should be determined and is “silent” about what effect a loan’s transfer has on the validity of the interest rate. The FDIC also challenged the AGs’ argument that it is improperly trying to regulate non-banks, pointing out that the rule “regulates the conduct and rights of banks when they sell, assign, or transfer loans” and that “any indirect effects the rule has on non-banks do[es] not place the rule outside the agency’s authority.”
On May 20, the Connecticut Supreme Court held that a lender accused of issuing usurious consumer loans without being properly licensed is protected by tribal sovereign immunity. In 2014, the Connecticut Department of Banking initiated an enforcement action against two lenders and a tribal officer of one of the lenders, claiming the lenders violated Connecticut’s banking and usury laws by making high-interest consumer loans over the internet without a license. The commissioner issued cease-and-desist orders and imposed civil penalties on the lenders. The lenders filed a motion in Connecticut Superior Court to dismiss the administrative proceedings for lack of jurisdiction, claiming they were arms of a federally recognized tribe and entitled to tribal sovereign immunity. The Superior Court vacated the orders against the lenders and remanded the case for an evidentiary hearing on whether the lenders are entitled to sovereign immunity.
The Connecticut Supreme Court reversed in part the Superior Court’s order, finding that the lower court should have applied the “Breakthrough factors” adopted by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth, Ninth, and Tenth Circuits to determine whether the lenders were arms of the tribe. These factors include analysis of (i) “the method of creation” of the entities; (ii) the stated purpose of the entities; (iii) “the structure, ownership, and management of the entities,” which includes the amount of control the tribe has over them; (iv) the tribe’s intent with respect to extending its sovereign immunity to the entities; and (v) “the financial relationship between the tribe and the entities.” Applying these factors, the Connecticut Supreme Court found that one of the lenders was entitled to sovereign immunity because the lender was created under tribal law, is controlled by directors appointed by the tribal council for the purpose of promoting tribal economic development and welfare, and there was a “significant financial relationship” between the tribe and the lender. With respect to the other lender, the court found that there was insufficient evidence to show that it is an arm of the tribe and that further proceedings were necessary to determine its right to sovereign immunity.
On April 9, the Pennsylvania attorney general announced settlements with the former CEO of a since-dissolved lender and a debt collector to resolve claims that the collector charged borrowers interest rates as high as 448 percent on loans and lines of credit. The AG alleged that the former CEO “participated in, directed and controlled” business activities related to the allegedly illegal online payday lending scheme, while the debt collector collected more than $4 million related to Pennsylvania consumers’ loan accounts. The terms of the settlement require the individual defendant to comply with relevant consumer protection laws and limits the individual defendant’s ability to work in the consumer lending industry in Pennsylvania for the next nine years. Additionally, the individual defendant is required to pay the Commonwealth $3 million.
The AG’s office noted that the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania also approved a settlement with the debt collector, which requires the company to comply with relevant consumer protection laws and, among other things, undertake the following actions: (i) ensure that all acquired debts, for which it attempts to collect, comply with applicable laws and regulations; (ii) cancel all balances on applicable accounts, take no further action to collect debts allegedly owed by Pennsylvania consumers on these accounts, and notify consumers of the cancellations; (iii) “refrain from engaging in [c]ollections on any [d]ebts involving loans made over the internet by [n]on-bank lenders that violate Pennsylvania laws,” including its usury laws; and (iv) will not sell, re-sell, or assign debt related to applicable accounts, including accounts subject to a previously-negotiated nationwide class action settlement agreement and Chapter 11 bankruptcy plan. Previous InfoBytes coverage related to the payday lending scheme can be found here, here, and here.
On March 23, the Illinois Governor signed the Predatory Loan Prevention Act, SB 1792, which prohibits lenders from charging more than 36 percent APR on all non-commercial consumer loans under $40,000, including closed-end and open-end credit, retail installment sales contracts, and motor vehicle retail installment sales contracts. For purposes of calculating the APR, the act requires lenders to use the system for calculating a military annual percentage rate under the Military Lending Act. Any loan with an APR exceeding 36 percent will be considered null and void “and no person or entity shall have any right to collect, attempt to collect, receive, or retain any principal, fee, interest, or charges related to the loan.” Additionally, a violation constitutes a violation of the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act, and carries a potential fine up to $10,000. The act also contains an anti-evasion provision that prohibits persons or entities from “making loans disguised as a personal property sale and leaseback transaction; disguising loan proceeds as a cash rebate for the pretextual installment sale of goods or services; or making, offering, assisting, or arranging a debtor to obtain a loan with a greater rate or interest, consideration, or charge than is permitted by this Act through any method including mail, telephone, internet, or any electronic means regardless of whether the person or entity has a physical location in the State.”
The same day, the governor also signed SB 1608, which, among other things, creates a state version of the Community Reinvestment Act. The act will allow the state to assess whether covered financial institutions, including state-chartered banks, credit unions and non-bank mortgage lenders, are meeting the needs of local communities, including low-income and moderate-income neighborhoods. Financial institutions’ lending practices and community development/redevelopment program investments will be examined by the Secretary of Financial and Professional Regulation, who is granted the authority to conduct examinations in compliance with other state and federal fair lending laws including, but not limited to, the Illinois Human Rights Act, ECOA, and HMDA.
Both acts are effective immediately.
On February 22, the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina granted the CFPB’s motion for default judgment and appointment of receiver in an action alleging defendants violated the CFPA and TILA by falsely representing that their lump-sum pension advances were not loans and that they carried no applicable interest rate. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Bureau filed a complaint against the defendants in 2018 claiming that consumers were actually required to pay back advances with interest and were charged various fees for the product. The Bureau also alleged, among other things, that the defendants failed to provide customers with TILA closed-end-credit disclosures, and provided income streams from the advance payments as 60- or 120-month cash flow payments to third-party investors, promising between 6 and 12 percent interest rates.
In its decision, the court upheld a magistrate judge’s report and recommendations, which concluded that the Bureau’s complaint sufficiently stated “a deception claim” under the CFPA, as well as violations of TILA and Regulation Z by the corporate defendants. The magistrate judge recommended that the court grant the Bureau “a permanent injunction to prevent future violations of the law,” redress and a civil money penalty awarded jointly and severally against the defendants, and appointment of a receiver. The court overruled various objections raised by the individual defendant’, including for failure to timely raise the objection before the magistrate judge, and because certain claims were without merit. Ultimately, the court granted the Bureau a default judgment against the defendants and adopted the report and recommendations of the magistrate judge for injunctive relief, consumer redress, a civil money penalty, and the appointment of a receiver.
- Jeffrey P. Naimon to provide “Fair lending update” at the Colorado Mortgage Lenders Association Operational and Compliance Forum
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Justice for all: Achieving racial equity through fair lending” at CBA Live
- Warren W. Traiger to discuss “On the horizon for CRA modernization” at CBA Live
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Fair lending" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Michelle L. Rogers to discuss “State law regulatory and enforcement trends” at the Mortgage Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Government investigations, and compliance 2021 trends” at the Corporate Counsel Women of Color Career Strategies Conference
- Max Bonici to discuss “BSA/AML trends: What to expect with the implementation of the AML Act of 2020” at the American Bar Association Banking Law Fall Meeting
- H Joshua Kotin to discuss “Modifications and exiting forbearance” at the National Association of Federal Credit Unions Regulatory Compliance Seminar
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Fintech trends” at the BIHC Network Elevating Black Excellence Regional Summit
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Consumer financial services" at the Practising Law Institute Banking Law Institute