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On July 15, the FDIC filed a reply in support of its motion for summary judgment in a lawsuit challenging the agency’s “valid-when-made rule.” As previously covered by InfoBytes, last August state attorneys general from California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, and the District of Columbia 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 that the AGs’ arguments “misconstrue” the rule because it “does not regulate non-banks, does not interpret state law, and does not preempt state law,” but rather clarifies the FDIA by “reasonably” filling in “two statutory gaps” surrounding banks’ interest rate authority (covered by InfoBytes here).
The AGs disagreed, arguing, among other things, 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 [12 U.S.C.] § 1831d to preempt state rate caps as to non-bank loan buyers of FDIC Bank loans.” (Covered by InfoBytes here.) In its reply in support of the summary judgment motion, the FDIC’s arguments included that the rule is a “reasonable interpretation of §1831d” in that it filled two statutory gaps by determining that “the interest-rate term of a loan is determined at the time when the loan is made, and is not affected by subsequent events, such as a change in the law or the loan’s transfer.” The FDIC further claimed that the rule should be upheld under Chevron’s two-step framework, and that §1831d was enacted “to level the playing field between state and national banks, and to ‘assure that borrowers could obtain credit in states with low usury limits.’” Additionally, the FDIC refuted the AGs’ argument that the rule allows “non-bank loan buyers to enjoy § 1831d preemption without facing liability for violating the statute,” pointing out that “if a rate violates § 1831d when the loan is originated by the bank, loan buyers cannot charge that rate under the Final Rule because the validity of the interest is determined ‘when the loan is made.’”
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.”
On February 8, state attorneys general from Pennsylvania, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and North Carolina entered into an assurance of voluntary compliance with a national bank to resolve allegations that it overcharged credit card interest for certain consumers. According to the investigating states, between February 2011 and August 2017, the bank allegedly failed to properly reevaluate and reduce the annual percentage rate (APR) for certain consumer credit card account holders who were entitled to a reduction, as required by the CARD Act and state consumer protection laws. The announcement follows a 2018 CFPB settlement, in which the bank agreed to provide $335 million in restitution to affected consumers (covered by InfoBytes here). At the time, the Bureau noted that it did not assess civil monetary penalties due to efforts undertaken by the bank to self-identify and self-report violations to the Bureau. The states also acknowledged that the bank self-identified issues with its APR reevaluation process through an internal compliance program. The bank denied liability or that it violated the states’ consumer protection laws and has agreed to pay $4.2 million to approximately 25,000 current and former affected consumers, which will be limited to consumers who received a payment of $500 or more in restitution from the bank for the original violation.
Washington amends and extends proclamations regarding state of emergency, garnishments, and accrual of interest
On October 2, the Washington governor issued Proclamation 20-49.9, which amends and extends proclamations 20-49.5, (which amends and extends garnishment proclamations) 20-05 (declaring a state of emergency) 20-49, 20-49.1, 20-49.2, 20-49.3, and 20-49.4 (regarding garnishments and accrual of interest). These proclamations were previously covered here, here, and here. The referenced proclamations are amended to (1) recognize the extension of statutory waivers and suspensions by the Washington legislature until the termination of the Covid-19 state of emergency or 11:59 p.m. on November 9, 2020, whichever is first, and (2) similarly extend the prohibitions therein until the termination of the Covid-19 state of emergency or 11:59 p.m. on November 9, 2020, whichever is first.
On September 28, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York dismissed a putative class action alleging a national bank’s subsidiaries and trustee (collectively, “defendants”) violated New York usury and banking laws by charging and receiving payments at interest rates above the state’s 16 percent limits. The defendants moved to dismiss the action, arguing that the claims are preempted by the National Bank Act (NBA) because the national bank parent company, which is located in a state that does not impose interest rate limits so long as the rate is disclosed to the borrower, owned the credit card accounts underlying the securitization, and would therefore not be subject to New York’s limitations. The court agreed with the defendants, concluding that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit’s decision in Madden v. Midland Funding LLC (covered by a Buckley Special Alert) supported the premise that the NBA preempts the usury claims. Specifically, the court noted that the case is distinguishable from Madden in that the national bank retained ownership of the credit card accounts throughout securitization and thus, “maintains a continuous relationship with the customer accounts that goes beyond its designation as originator of those accounts.” The court also rejected the plaintiffs’ unjust enrichment claim, because it was duplicative of the usury claim and therefore was also preempted. Thus, the court dismissed the action in its entirety with prejudice, noting that “any pleading amendment would be futile.”
On September 21, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York dismissed allegations against two entities affiliated with a national bank, and a trust acting as trustee of one of the entities, ruling that a plaintiff’s “state-law usury claims are expressly preempted by the [National Banking Act].” The court noted that, “[e]ven before the OCC issued its rule clarifying that interest permissible before a transfer remains permissible after the transfer, [the plaintiff’s] claims would have been preempted” because the national bank “continues to possess an ‘interest in the account.’” The plaintiff contended he was charged usurious interest rates that exceeded New York’s interest rate cap on unsecured credit card loans originated by the national bank. According to the opinion, one of the entities contracted with the bank to service the credit card loans, with the bank retaining ownership of the accounts. The plaintiff argued that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit’s decision in Madden v. Midland Funding LLC (covered by a Buckley Special Alert) supported his claims against the affiliated entities, but the court disagreed, ruling that the national bank retained interest in the loans, which included the right to “change various terms and conditions” as well as interest rates.
On May 19, the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut granted in part and denied in part parties’ motions for summary judgment in an FDCPA action concerning post-judgment interest. According to the ruling, the defendants—a debt buyer and an attorney who represents creditors, including the debt buyer, in collection actions—obtained a judgment from the Connecticut State Superior Court (state court) for the plaintiff’s unpaid credit card debt. The judgment awarded the defendant $33,921.25 plus post judgment interest under state law. While the complaint requested post-judgment interest of 10 percent—the maximum amount allowed by state law—the judgment did not reference a specific interest rate. After the defendants began charging post-judgment interest at 10 percent, the plaintiff filed suit alleging the defendant violated the FDCPA by using false, deceptive, or misleading representations or means in connection with the collection of any debt. The defendants sought clarification of the rate of post-judgment interest from the state court and received a clarification order stating that the state court “intended that the interest rate be set at the allowable rate of ten percent per year in accordance with the statute.” In its defense, the defendants asserted a bona fide error defense under the FDCPA, arguing, among other things, that they “erroneously believed that application of post-judgment interest at a rate of ten percent was neither false nor misleading because they relied on the state court’s judgment and Clarification Order, which explicitly provided for post-judgment interest at a rate of ten percent.”
The court partially granted summary judgment in favor of the plaintiff on her FDCPA claim, stating that the unilateral imposition of post-judgment interest at a rate of 10 percent per year, which was not awarded in the judgment, is a “clear violation” of the FDCPA that is not subject to the bona fide error defense. The court stated that the bona fide error defense does not apply in this situation because “the FDCPA violation resulted from the defendants’ mistaken belief that, absent a rate of post-judgment interest expressly set by the state court, defendants were entitled to set a rate at the maximum amount allowed under the statute.” According to the court, when a state court “fails to include a specific rate of interest based on the state law,” a debt collector may not apply a default interest rate. In holding that the FDCPA’s bona fide error defense is inapplicable here, the court extended the holding of the U.S. Supreme Court in Jerman v. Carlisle, McNellie, Rini, Kramer & Ulrich, L.P.A. that the “bona fide error defense . . . is not available to debt collectors who misinterpret the legal requirements of the FDCPA,” to include misinterpretations of state law as well.
The court did, however, partially grant the defendant’s motion for summary judgment with respect to the application of pre-judgment interest.
On May 22, Washington governor Jay Inslee issued Proclamation 20-49.2 amending and extending proclamations 20-05 (declaring a state of emergency) and 20.49, and 20.49.1 (regarding garnishments and accrual of interest) until the earlier of the termination of the Covid-19 state of emergency or 11:59pm on May 27. Proclamations 20.49 and 20.49.1 were previously covered here and here.
On March 30, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed multiple orders issued by a district court in favor of an assignee mortgage holder (plaintiff), concluding that a borrower (defendant) was liable for interest at a default rate of 24 percent per year. After the defendant fell behind on his mortgage payments, the debt ultimately was assigned to the plaintiff, who initiated a foreclosure action. The plaintiff alleged a default date of February 1, 2008, and contended that the defendant was liable for interest at the 24 percent per year default rate. The district court granted the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment, holding that the motion was supported by record evidence and that defendant’s affirmative defenses were meritless. The defendant’s motion for reconsideration was denied. A court-appointed Referee issued a report calculating the amount due on the note and mortgage, which the defendant appealed on several grounds, arguing, among other things, that (i) the plaintiff is a “debt collection agency” under New York City Administrative Code, and is precluded from taking action without being licensed; (ii) the 24 percent default interest rate applied by the Referee violates New York’s civil usury stature (which caps interest rates at 16 percent); and (iii) “the Referee erred by applying the default interest rate from the date of default rather than from the date of acceleration.”
On appeal, the 2nd Circuit concluded that, regardless of whether the plaintiff allegedly failed to obtain a debt collection agency license, the plaintiff was not necessarily barred from foreclosing on the mortgage and collecting the debt at issue. The appellate court also determined that New York’s civil usury statute “‘do[es] not apply to defaulted obligations . . . where the terms of the mortgage and note impose a rate of interest in excess of the statutory maximum only after default or maturity.” The appellate court further held that the mortgage note and agreement clearly stated that a lender is “entitled to interest at the [d]efault [r]ate . . . from the time of said default. . . .”
On March 12, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed a district court’s decision that a debt collector (defendant) did not violate the FDCPA by mentioning that interest may accrue on an unpaid debt in a collection letter. In this case, the plaintiff alleged that the defendant violated the FDCPA’s prohibition on false, deceptive, or misleading representations in connection with the collection of a debt when it sent him a letter that included line items detailing the amount owed, separate line items that showed interest and fees as $0, and a disclosure that stated “[i]n the event there is interest or other charges accruing on your account, the amount due may be greater than the amount shown above after the date of this notice.” The plaintiff contended that the defendant was not allowed to collect interest on debts placed by the original creditor and that the original agreement between the plaintiff and the creditor “‘does not allow’ for interest to accrue or for other charges to be added.” The district court granted summary judgment for the defendant, stating that the letter accurately conveyed what was possible under the Texas Finance Code—that interest could accrue—and was therefore not false, deceptive, or misleading.
On appeal, the 5th Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling, holding that “[t]he challenged statement in the letter is not false, deceptive or misleading because it merely expresses a common-sense truism about borrowing—if interest is accruing on a debt, then the amount due may go up.” [Emphasis in the original.] According to the appellate court, the “simple statement would have been clear even to an unsophisticated borrower. . . .” Moreover, the appellate court concluded that it did not matter whether the plaintiff’s agreement with the creditor prohibited interest or other charges “because the language at issue does not state that [the defendant or the creditor] would—or even could—collect interest.”
- Daniel R. Alonso to moderate an interactive roundtable at the Latin Lawyer and GIR Connect: Anti-Corruption & Investigations Conference
- APPROVED Checkpoint Webcast: You have license renewal questions, we have answers
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Fintech trends” at the BIHC Network Elevating Black Excellence Regional Summit
- Jeffrey P. Naimon to discuss "Truth in lending” at the American Bar Association National Institute on Consumer Financial Services Basics
- Daniel R. Alonso to discuss anti-money-laundering at FELABAN Spanish-language webinar “Perspective for banks: LAFT, FINCEN, OFAC, Cryptocurrency”
- Daniel R. Alonso to discuss "What’s new in BSA/AML compliance?" at the Institute of International Bankers Regulatory Compliance Seminar
- Marshall T. Bell and John R. Coleman to speak at 2021 AFSA Annual Meeting
- Jon David D. Langlois to discuss "Regulatory update: What you need to know under the new boss; It won’t be the same as the old boss" at the IMN Residential Mortgage Service Rights Forum (East)
- Daniel R. Alonso to discuss internal investigations at the Institute of Internal Auditors of Argentina Spanish-language webinar
- Benjamin B. Klubes to discuss “Creating a Fantastic Workplace Culture”
- John R. Coleman and Amanda R. Lawrence to discuss “Consumer financial services government enforcement actions – The CFPB and beyond” at the Government Investigations & Civil Litigation Institute Annual Meeting
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Consumer financial services" at the Practising Law Institute Banking Law Institute
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Regulators always ring twice: Responding to a government request” at ALM Legalweek