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  • District Court partially affirms summary judgment in interest case

    Courts

    On April 28, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York granted in part and denied in part parties’ motions for summary judgment in a suit challenging the retroactive application of a New York statute reducing the state’s statutory interest rate on money judgments arising out of consumer debt. In doing so, the court considered S5724A, the Fair Consumer Judgment Interest Act. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the New York governor signed S5724A in December 2021, which amended the civil practice law and rules relating to the rate of interest applicable to money judgments arising out of consumer debt. Specifically, the bill provides that the interest rate that can be charged on unpaid money judgments is 2 percent and applies to judgments involving consumer debt, which is defined as “any obligation or alleged obligation of any natural person to pay money arising out of a transaction in which the money, property, insurance or services which are the subject of the transaction are primarily for personal, family or household purposes […], including, but not limited to, a consumer credit transaction, as defined in [section 105(f) of the civil practice law and rules].” The bill became effective April 30. According to the suit, a group of credit unions (plaintiffs) filed a federal class action lawsuit seeking to enjoin the enforcement or implementation of S5724A. The plaintiffs sought to invalidate the retroactive portion of S.5724A, arguing that it is an unconstitutional taking in violation of the Fifth Amendment and violative of their substantive due process rights guaranteed under the Fourteenth Amendment. The plaintiffs claimed that they are collectively owed about $3.8 million of outstanding consumer judgments, which includes approximately $1 million in interest, and sought a preliminary injunction enjoining the effective date of S572A. The plaintiffs brought suit against the Chief Administrative Judge of the New York State Courts, and the sheriffs of three New York counties in their official capacity on the basis that those parties “will be involved in enforcement of the Amendment.” The district court issued the preliminary injunction with respect to the sheriffs, relying on the credit unions’ arguments that retroactive application will “eradicate millions of dollars from the balance of judgments lawfully due and owing to judgment creditors.” The district court noted that “[r]egulatory takings … involve government regulation of private property [that is] . . . so onerous that its effect is tantamount to a direct appropriation or ouster. Thus, ‘while property may be regulated to a certain extent, if regulation goes too far it will be recognized as a taking.’”

    Courts New York Credit Union Interest State Issues Interest Rate Class Action

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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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  • New York reduces judgment interest on debts

    State Issues

    On December 31, the New York governor signed S5724A, which amends the civil practice law and rules relating to the rate of interest applicable to money judgments arising out of consumer debt. Specifically, the bill provides that the interest rate that can be charged on unpaid money judgments is 2 percent and applies to judgments involving consumer debt, which is defined as “any obligation or alleged obligation of any natural person to pay money arising out of a transaction in which the money, property, insurance or services which are the subject of the transaction are primarily for personal, family or household purposes […], including, but not limited to, a consumer credit transaction, as defined in [section 105(f) of the civil practice law and rules].” The bill is effective April 30.

    State Issues New York State Legislation Consumer Finance Debt Collection Interest

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  • 4th Circuit: Tribal lenders must face usury claims

    Courts

    On November 16, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld a district court’s ruling denying defendants’ bid to dismiss or compel arbitration of a class action concerning alleged usury law violations. The plaintiffs—Virginia consumers who defaulted on short-term loans received from online lenders affiliated with a federally-recognized tribe—filed a putative class action against tribal officials as well as two non-members affiliated with the tribal lenders, alleging the lenders violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) and Virginia usury laws by charging interest rates between 544 and 920 percent. The defendants moved to compel arbitration under a clause in the loan agreements and moved to dismiss on various grounds, including that they were exempt from Virginia usury laws. The district court denied the motions to compel arbitration and to dismiss, ruling that the arbitration provision was unenforceable as a prospective waiver of the borrowers’ federal rights and that the defendants could not claim tribal sovereign immunity. The district court also “held the loan agreements’ choice of tribal law unenforceable as a violation of Virginia’s strong public policy against unregulated lending of usurious loans.” However, the district court dismissed the RICO claim against the tribal officials, ruling that RICO only authorizes private plaintiffs to sue for money damages and not injunctive or declaratory relief.

    On appeal, the 4th Circuit concluded that the arbitration clauses in the loan agreements impermissibly force borrowers to waive their federal substantive rights under federal consumer protection laws, and contained an unenforceable tribal choice-of-law provision because Virginia law caps general interest rates at 12 percent. As such, the appellate court stated that the entire arbitration provision is unenforceable. “The [t]ribal [l]enders drafted an invalid contract that strips borrowers of their substantive federal statutory rights,” the appellate court wrote. “[W]e cannot save that contract by revising it on appeal.” The 4th Circuit also declined to extend tribal sovereign immunity to the tribal officials, determining that while “the tribe itself retains sovereign immunity, it cannot shroud its officials with immunity in federal court when those officials violate applicable state law.” The appellate court further noted that the “Supreme Court has explicitly blessed suits against tribal officials to enjoin violations of federal and state law.” The 4th Circuit ultimately affirmed the district court’s judgment, noting that the loan agreement provisions were unenforceable because “tribal law’s authorization of triple-digit interest rates on low-dollar, short-term loans violates Virginia’s compelling public policy against unregulated usurious lending.”

    The appellate court also agreed with the district court that RICO does not permit private plaintiffs to seek an injunction. “Congress’s use of significantly different language” to define the scope of governmental and private claims under RICO “compels us to conclude” that “private plaintiffs may sue only for treble damages and costs,” the appellate court stated. While plaintiffs “urge us to consider by analogy the antitrust statutes,” provisions outlined in the Clayton Act (which explicitly authorize injunction-seeking private suits) have “no analogue in the RICO statute,” the appellate court wrote, adding that “nowhere in the RICO statute has Congress explicitly authorized private actions for injunctive relief.”

    Courts Fourth Circuit Appellate Tribal Lending Tribal Immunity RICO State Issues Interest Usury Online Lending Class Action Consumer Finance

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  • FDIC argues “valid-when-made rule” fills statutory gaps

    Courts

    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.’”

    Courts Agency Rule-Making & Guidance State Issues State Attorney General FDIC Madden Interest Valid When Made 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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  • States reach $4.2 million settlement to resolve credit card interest overcharges

    State Issues

    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.

    State Issues State Attorney General Enforcement Credit Cards Interest CARD Act

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  • Washington amends and extends proclamations regarding state of emergency, garnishments, and accrual of interest

    State Issues

    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) 20-4920-49.1, 20-49.2, 20-49.3, and 20-49.4 (regarding garnishments and accrual of interest). These proclamations were previously covered herehere, 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.

    State Issues Covid-19 Washington Debt Collection Interest

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  • District court dismisses credit card usury claims

    Courts

    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.”

    Courts Credit Cards National Bank Act Preemption Interest Madden State Issues

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  • District court: Usury claims preempted by National Bank Act

    Courts

    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.

    Courts Credit Cards Usury Interest National Bank Act Madden

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