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CFPB Succession: Leandra English steps down, seeks to dismiss appeal; Mulvaney selects close advisor to be new deputy
On July 9, Leandra English filed a motion for voluntary dismissal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, effectively ending her eight-month legal battle over the appointment of Mick Mulvaney as acting director of the CFPB. The motion follows an announcement released via Twitter on July 6 that English will be stepping down from her position as deputy director of the Bureau “in light of the recent nomination of a new Director.” (As previously covered by InfoBytes, President Trump nominated Kathy Kraninger, currently serving as the associate director for general government at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), to be the director of the Bureau for a five-year term.) In April, the D.C. Circuit heard oral arguments in English’s litigation. Unlike previous arguments, which focused on the president’s authority to appoint Mulvaney under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act (FVRA), the court spent considerable time discussing Mulvaney’s concurrent role as head of the OMB, and whether that dual role is inconsistent with the Bureau’s independent structure as established by the Dodd-Frank Act. A decision was pending at the time English submitted her dismissal of the case.
Following English’s resignation, Mulvaney announced the selection of Brian Johnson as the Bureau’s acting deputy director. Johnson was Mulvaney’s first advisor hire at the Bureau, and he currently serves as a principal policy director. Prior to joining the Bureau, Johnson was a senior counsel at the House Financial Services Committee.
CFPB Succession: Mulvaney pleads for Congress to restructure the CFPB; oral arguments held in English litigation
On April 11 and 12, acting Director of the CFPB, Mick Mulvaney, testified before the House Financial Services Committee and the Senate Banking Committee regarding the Bureau’s semi-annual report to Congress. (Previously covered by InfoBytes here). Mulvaney’s prepared testimony, which was submitted to both committees, covers the salient points of the semi-annual report but also includes the same request to Congress that he made in the report: change the law “in order to establish meaningful accountability for the Bureau.” This request, which includes four specific changes (such as, subjecting the Bureau to the Congressional appropriations process and creating an independent Inspector General for the Bureau), was the focus of many of Mulvaney’s responses to questions posed by members of each committee. Specifically, during the House Financial Services hearing, Mulvaney encouraged the members of the committee to include the CFPB restructure in negotiations with the Senate regarding the bipartisan regulatory reform bill, S.2155, which passed the Senate last month. (Previously covered by InfoBytes here).
Mulvaney also fielded many questions regarding the Bureau’s announcement that it plans to reconsider the final rule addressing payday loans, vehicle title loans, and certain other extensions of credit (Rule); however, his responses gave little indication of what the Bureau’s specific plans for the Rule are. As previously covered by InfoBytes, resolutions have been introduced in the House and the Senate to overturn the rule under the Congressional Review Act. Additionally, on April 9, two payday loan trade groups filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas asking the court to set aside the Rule because, among other reasons, the CFPB is unconstitutional and the Bureau’s rulemaking failed to comply with the Administrative Procedure Act. The complaint alleges that the Rule is “outside the Bureau's constitutional and statutory authority, as well as unnecessary, arbitrary, capricious, overreaching, procedurally improper and substantially harmful to lenders and borrowers alike.” The complaint also argues that the rule is a product of an agency that violates the Constitution’s separation of powers due to the Bureau’s structure of a single director who may only be removed by the president “for cause.” A similar argument in CFPB v. PHH Corporation was recently rejected by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit (covered by a Buckley Sandler Special Alert).
Additionally, on April 12, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit heard oral arguments in English v. Trump. In this suit, Leandra English, the current deputy director of the CFPB, challenges Mulvaney’s appointment as acting director. Unlike previous arguments, which focused on the president’s authority to appoint Mulvaney under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act (FVRA), the court spent considerable time discussing Mulvaney’s concurrent role as head of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and whether that dual role is inconsistent with the independent structure of the Bureau, as established by the Dodd-Frank Act.
CFPB Succession: Senators express concern over CFPB’s investigation into data breach; Otting praises Mulvaney; & more
On February 7, a bipartisan group of 32 senators wrote to the CFPB expressing concerns over reports that the Bureau may have halted an investigation into a large credit reporting agency’s significant data breach. The letter requests specific information related to agency’s oversight over the issue, such as, (i) whether the CFPB has stopped an on-going investigation into the data breach and if so, why; (ii) whether the CFPB intends to conduct on-site exams of the credit reporting agency at issue; and (iii) if an investigation is on-going, details related to the steps taken in that investigation. Additionally, on February 6, during a House Financial Services Committee hearing on the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC), Representative David Scott, D-Ga., addressed rumors that the CFPB has scaled back its investigation of a large credit reporting agency’s significant data breach. In response to Scott, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin noted that, while he has not done so yet, he intends to discuss the matter with acting Director Mulvaney and at FSOC. According to reports, a spokesperson for the Bureau noted that Mulvaney takes data security issues “very seriously” but that the Bureau does not comment on open enforcement or supervisory matters. It has also been reported that the CFPB may be deferring to the FTC’s on-going investigation.
Comptroller of the Currency, Joseph Otting, issued a statement on February 6 after meeting with Mulvaney about ways the CFPB and the OCC can work together to pursue each agency’s mission. Otting praised Mulvaney’s leadership of the agency and noted that the recent announcements regarding HMDA compliance and the payday rule reconsideration have “helped to reduce the burden on the banking system.” (Previously covered by InfoBytes here and here).
On the same day, the CFPB announced that Kirsten Sutton Mork was selected as the new chief of staff for the agency. Mork had been serving as staff director of the House Financial Services Committee under Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas. Leandra English previously held the role of chief of staff, prior to her appointment as deputy director in late November. English’s litigation against the appointment of Mulvaney as acting director continues with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and oral arguments have been set for April 12.
CFPB Succession: Mulvaney removes Fair Lending office enforcement power; Warren sends payday congressional inquiry
On February 1, it was reported that Mulvaney has moved The Office of Fair Lending and Equal Opportunity from the Supervision, Enforcement and Fair Lending division (SEFL) of the CFPB to the Office of the Director. According to sources, Mulvaney sent an email which states that the Fair Lending office will now be focused on “advocacy, coordination and education” as opposed to the day-to-day responsibility of enforcement and supervision oversight, which will remain in the SEFL division. A spokesperson for the acting director stated, “by elevating the Office of Fair Lending to the Director’s Office, we have enhanced its ability to focus on its other important responsibilities...by combining these efforts under one roof, we gain efficiency and consistency without sacrificing effectiveness.”
On January 31, Senator Elizabeth Warren and five other Democratic members of congress sent a letter to the CFPB inquiring about the Bureau’s decision to reconsider its final rule addressing payday loans, vehicle title loans, and certain other extensions of credit, as previously covered by InfoBytes. The letter expresses dissatisfaction with the lack of explanation for this decision and for the CFPB’s decision to end a multiyear investigation into a national installment loan lender (previously covered by InfoBytes here). The letter requests specific information related to the payday rule decision, such as, (i) lists of personnel involved in providing legal advice and lists of meetings attended by political appointees related to the payday decision; (ii) an explanation of the analysis that lead to the decision; and (iii) information related to communications with certain members of the payday loan industry. Interestingly, the letter is addressed to Leandra English as “Acting Director” of the CFPB and Mick Mulvaney as “Director” of the Office of Management and Budget.
As for Leandra English’s litigation, on January 31, English filed her corrected Appellant’s Brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The brief does not raise any significantly new arguments. The government’s response is due by February 23. Additionally, on February 1, a judge for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York dismissed a similar complaint brought by a NY credit union (previously covered by InfoBytes here). In granting the government’s motion to dismiss, the judge agreed that the credit union did not allege a “concrete and particularized injury caused by CFPB actions under Mulvaney’s leadership” and therefore, did not have standing to bring the action.
On January 23, acting CFPB Director Mick Mulvaney sent an email to staff (a similar version was later published as an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal) outlining his vision for how the CFPB will enforce consumer protection laws. In the email, Mulvaney emphasizes that the CFPB will no longer “push the envelope” in pursuit of the agency’s mission, a phrase which he attributes to former CFPB Director Richard Cordray. While Mulvaney acknowledges that there will be times the agency will need to take “dramatic action to protect consumers,” he states that this will only be done as “the most final of last resorts,” after all other resolutions have failed. In terms of what this means for the Bureau’s current work, Mulvaney states that enforcement will be focused on “quantifiable and unavoidable harm to the consumer.” As for regulation, there will be “more formal rulemaking on which financial institutions can rely, and less regulation by enforcement.” Mulvaney also suggests that prioritization will be guided by complaint data, specifically noting that, in 2016, debt collection accounted for almost a third of complaints received by the CFPB whereas prepaid cards and payday lending accounted for nine-tenths of a percent and two percent respectively.
The statements in Mulvaney’s letter to staff are in line with many of the CFPB’s recent actions, including last week’s announcement that the Bureau intends to reconsider its final rule addressing payday loans and its December 21 announcement that it will be amending its prepaid card rule (previously covered by InfoBytes here and here). Additionally, on January 23, a national installment loan lender announced an end to a multi-year investigation by the CFPB, stating that the Bureau does not intend to recommend an enforcement action into the company’s practices. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the CFPB also recently dismissed its case against four online installment lenders.
Leandra English’s challenge to Mulvaney’s authority to serve as acting director of the CFPB continues. On January 23, a three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit agreed to the expedited appeal of English’s case, ordering English’s brief due by January 30 and the government’s response due by February 23.
On January 10, Judge Timothy Kelley denied CFPB Deputy Director Leandra English’s request for a preliminary injunction to prevent OMB Director Mick Mulvaney from serving as the acting director of the CFPB. In his opinion, Judge Kelley emphasized that English failed to show a likelihood of success on the merits because, among other reasons, “[t]he best reading of the two statutes [at issue] is that Dodd-Frank requires that the Deputy Director ‘shall’ serve as acting Director, but that under the [Federal Vacancies Reform Act] the President ‘may’ override that default rule.” Additionally, in finding that English failed to demonstrate irreparable harm, Judge Kelley stated that “[t]he CFPB is not and will not be shuttered; it continues to operate with Mulvaney functioning as acting director” with “the backing of the CFPB’s General Counsel and senior management.” He concluded his opinion by stating:
There is little question that there is a public interest in clarity here, but it is hard to see how granting English an injunction would bring about more of it…. The President has designated Mulvaney the CFPB’s acting Director, the CFPB has recognized him as the acting Director, and it is operating with him as the acting Director. Granting English an injunction would not bring about more clarity; it would only serve to muddy the waters.
The decision follows a hearing on December 22, 2017, where Judge Kelley heard arguments from both parties, as previously covered by InfoBytes. While English’s requests have now been denied twice, as expected, she has filed an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, which is also currently considering the challenge to the CFPB’s constitutionality by PHH Corporation.
In addition to the English litigation, Mulvaney and President Trump face similar arguments in a complaint brought by a credit union in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, as previously covered by InfoBytes here. On December 22, 2017, the defendants responded to the complaint with a motion to dismiss, arguing that the credit union does not have standing to sue, will not succeed on the merits, and will not suffer irreparable harm from the appointment. In its reply, the credit union added an additional argument that the CFPB’s decision to slow HMDA enforcement will remove the compliance incentive and HMDA data “will cease being reliable” to show compliance with the Community Reinvestment Act (“CRA”). The credit union asserts that banks deposit at their institution to meet CRA objectives but may cease to do so without an incentive to comply with HMDA. A hearing is scheduled for January 12.
As previously covered by InfoBytes, the CFPB issued a statement that supervisory examinations of 2018 HMDA data will be “diagnostic” to help “identify compliance weaknesses, and will credit good-faith compliance efforts” and that it does not intend to impose penalties with respect to errors reported in the 2018 data.
Arguments Heard in English Litigation; CFPB Announces Relaxed Compliance Requirements for HMDA; Other Proposed Rulemakings
On December 22, Judge Timothy Kelley heard arguments from both parties related to Leandra English’s litigation against President Trump and Mick Mulvaney. Judge Kelley did not rule on the matter at the close of the hearing. As previously covered by InfoBytes, English filed an amended complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief and a motion for preliminary injunction on December 6.
In response to English’s new arguments, the defendants filed an opposition motion on December 18. Among other things, the response counters an argument—raised by English for the first time in her amended complaint—that the Federal Vacancies Reform Act (FVRA) cannot be used to appoint an acting CFPB Director because the Director is also a member of the FDIC. Defendants responded that the FVRA provision excluding appointments to independent multi-member boards or commissions only applies to direct appointments and not to positions that serve as “ex officio” members, as the CFPB Director does on the FDIC. The defendants go on to explain that English’s interpretation would prevent the use of FVRA to fill multiple Cabinet and other high-ranking Executive Branch positions that serve as ex officio members of independent agencies. The defendants also alleged that English failed to satisfy the requirements of the federal quo warranto statute – the exclusive means, according to the defendants, for directly challenging Mulvaney’s authority to perform as Acting Director of the CFPB. English replied to the defendant’s opposition motion on December 21.
Throughout the week, the CFPB took action regarding current and future rulemakings:
HMDA. On December 21, the CFPB issued a statement regarding compliance with the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA) final rule and amendments to the HMDA final rule. Although the Bureau did not delay the January 1, 2018 effective date as some had hoped, it acknowledged the difficulties of coming into compliance with the new requirements, stating that the Bureau “does not intend to require data resubmission unless data errors are material or assess penalties with respect to errors for data collected in 2018 and reported in 2019.” According to the CFPB, compliance with the HMDA requirements pose “significant system and operational challenges” and therefore, institutions should focus the 2018 data collection on identifying areas for improvement in their HMDA compliance management systems for future years. The Bureau further advised that it expects that supervisory examinations of 2018 HMDA data will be “diagnostic” to help “identify compliance weaknesses, and will credit good-faith compliance efforts.” However, institutions will still use the CFPB’s new HMDA Platform for data collected in 2017. The FDIC and the OCC issued similar announcements, Financial Institution Letter FIL-63-2017 and OCC Bulletin 2017-62 respectively, and other regulators are expected to do the same.
The Bureau’s stated intent to focus on “good-faith compliance efforts” and “material” errors in the early days of the new HMDA requirements is similar to the approach taken for implementation of the Ability-to-Repay/Qualified Mortgage Rule and the TILA-RESPA Integrated Disclosure Rule. While this flexible approach is generally beneficial for lenders and consumers, it does produce some uncertainty over what will be considered “good faith” or “material.”
The Bureau also announced its intent to engage in additional HMDA rulemaking that may (i) re-examine the criteria determining whether institutions are required to report data; (ii) adjust the requirements related to reporting certain types of transactions; and (iii) re-evaluate the required reporting of additional information beyond the data points required in HMDA, as amended by the Dodd-Frank Act.
Prepaid Accounts. On December 21, the CFPB also issued a statement on the final rule covering prepaid accounts and the proposed amendments to that rule. In the statement, the CFPB announced that it intends to adopt final amendments “soon after the new year” and that it expects to further extend the April 1, 2018 effective date to allow more time for implementation. The Bureau did not give details on the nature of the amendments or the length of the expected extension.
Debt Collection. On December 14, OMB released a Notice of Action, which reflected that the CFPB withdrew its plan to conduct a survey related to debt collection disclosures of 8,000 individuals. According to OMB’s notice, the CFPB withdrew the plan because “Bureau leadership would like to reconsider the information collection in connection with its review of the ongoing related rulemaking.”
English Litigation Continues as Mulvaney Delays CFPB Enforcement Cases and Lawmakers Begin New Payday CRA Action
On December 6, Deputy Director of the CFPB, Leandra English, filed an amended complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief and a motion for preliminary injunction with a supporting memorandum. In her amended complaint, English adds, among other things, a constitutional claim alleging that President Trump’s appointment of Mulvaney violates Article II, section 2 of the U.S. Constitution, which empowers the President to appoint “Officers of the United States,” subject to “the Advice and Consent of the Senate.” According to English, since Mulvaney was appointed without Senate approval and the Federal Vacancies Reform Act (FVRA) allegedly does not provide the President with a separate authority, President Trump does not have the constitutional authority to appoint Mulvaney in the manner he chose.
The amended complaint also alleges that the appointment of Mulvaney under the FVRA is illegal because that act cannot be used to make an appointment to an “independent multi-member board or commission without Senate approval,” and the CFPB Director is, by law, a member of the FDIC’s board. This argument mirrors the argument made in a new complaint filed on December 5 by a New York-based credit union against President Trump and Acting CFPB Director Mick Mulvaney in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York to contest the legality of Mulvaney’s appointment. The defendants have yet to respond to the credit union’s complaint.
With respect to English’s litigation, the defendants are set to respond to the motion for preliminary injunction, which builds off the arguments in the amended complaint, by December 18, and a hearing on the motion is set for December 22.
Mulvaney has continued his work as Acting Director at the CFPB. On December 4, according to sources, he met with reporters to announce his decision to delay at least two active litigation cases as part of his plan to reevaluate the Bureau’s enforcement and litigation practices. The first case concerns a district court dispute between the Bureau and an immigration bond company over whether the CFPB has the authority to enforce a civil investigative demand for personal information about the company’s customers. The second case involves Mulvaney’s decision to withdraw the Bureau’s demand that a mortgage payment company post bond after being ordered to pay a $7.9 million civil money penalty (see previous InfoBytes coverage here). Mulvaney’s December 4 statements also included a freeze on the Bureau’s collection of consumers’ personally identifiable information. These actions follow directions issued by Mulvaney during his first week at the Bureau as previously covered by InfoBytes here.
Mulvaney has also suggested that he would not seek to repeal the Bureau’s final rule concerning payday loans, vehicle title loans, deposit advance products, and longer-term balloon loans but expressed his support for resolution H.J. Res. 122, which was introduced December 1 by a group of bipartisan lawmakers to override the rule under the Congressional Review Act (CRA). The final rule is set to take effect January 16, 2018, but compliance is not mandatory until August 19, 2019. A press release issued by the House Financial Services Committee in support of the resolution stated, “small-dollar loans are already regulated by all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Native American tribes. The CFPB’s rule would mark the first time the federal government has gotten involved in the regulation of these loans.”
On December 5, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a letter to Senator Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) stating that CFPB Bulletin 2013-02 (Bulletin) on indirect auto lending and compliance with the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) is a “general statement of policy and a rule” that is subject to override under the CRA. According to GAO, the CRA’s definition of a “rule” includes both traditional rules, which typically require notice to the public and an opportunity to comment, and general statements of policy, which do not. GAO concluded that the Bulletin meets this definition “since it applies to all indirect auto lenders; it has future effect; and it is designed to prescribe the Bureau’s policy in enforcing fair lending laws.” GAO’s decision may allow Congress to repeal the four year old Bulletin through a House and Senate majority vote under the CRA, followed by the President’s signature. Sen. Toomey issued a statement saying, “I intend to do everything in my power to repeal this ill-conceived rule using the [CRA].”
Additionally, and as expected, on December 5, former Director Richard Cordray officially announced his candidacy for governor of Ohio.
In his first week at the Bureau, Mulvaney ordered freezes on hiring and any new regulations for 30 days, and also announced a halt to payouts from the enforcement fund. It is also reported that Mulvaney has put new enforcement actions on hold as he reviews on-going matters. Additionally, on December 1, the White House appointed Brian Johnson, an aide to House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), to assist Mick Mulvaney in his role as the Acting Director of the CFPB. Johnson was a featured speaker at Buckley Sandler’s CFPB Today conference at the end of October.
As previously covered by InfoBytes, Judge Timothy Kelly, denied CFPB Deputy Director Leandra English’s request for a temporary restraining order preventing Mulvaney from acting as the Acting Director. English is expected to continue the litigation; a briefing schedule is due in the case by December 1.
On November 28, Judge Timothy Kelly denied a request by Leandra English, who was appointed Deputy Director of the CFPB by Richard Cordray on the same day as his resignation, for a temporary restraining order preventing the President from appointing anyone other than English as Acting Director and preventing Mick Mulvaney from serving as the Acting Director (see previous InfoBytes coverage for details).
English’s counsel, in remarks to reporters outside the courtroom, stated they may seek an appeal, may move for a preliminary injunction, or may move for an expedited final decision on the merits.