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On February 10, the CFPB denied a debt collection law firm’s request to modify or set aside a third-party Civil Investigative Demand (CID) issued to the firm by the Bureau while investigating possible violations of the FDCPA, CFPA, and the FCRA. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Bureau also denied a request by a debt collection company to modify or set aside a CID, which sought information about the company’s business practices and its relationship with the firm in the same investigation. The firm’s petition asserted arguments largely based on the theory that the CFPB’s structure is unconstitutional, and that the Dodd-Frank Act provides the Bureau’s director with “overly broad executive authority.” Alternatively, the firm argued that if the CID is not set aside, it should be modified, stating, among other things, that the CID’s scope exceeds applicable statutes of limitation.
As it did in the debt collection company’s request to set aside or modify the CID, the Bureau rejected the firm’s constitutionality argument, stating that “[t]he administrative process for petitioning to modify or set aside CIDs is not the proper forum for raising and adjudicating challenges to the constitutionality of provisions of the Bureau’s statute.” Additionally, the Bureau’s Decision and Order discounts the firm’s statute of limitations argument, contending that “the Bureau is not limited to gathering information only from the time period in which conduct may be actionable. Instead, what matters is whether the information is relevant to conduct for which liability can be lawfully imposed.” The Bureau also directed the firm to comply with the CID within ten days of the Order.
Indiana Supreme Court: Statute of limitations begins when lender exercises optional acceleration clause
On February 17, the Indiana Supreme Court reversed a trial court’s decision to dismiss a lender’s action as time-barred, holding that under the state’s two statutes of limitation, “a cause of action for payment upon a promissory note with an optional acceleration clause can accrue on multiple dates”—one of which “is when a lender exercises its option to accelerate before a note matures.” According to the opinion, the consumer executed a promissory note and mortgage in 2007 and stopped making payments in 2008. The note was subsequently transferred to the lender, and in 2016, the lender accelerated the debt and demanded payment in full. The lender sued to recover the note in 2017. The consumer argued that the claim was barred by a six-year statute of limitations for a cause of action upon a promissory note under Ind. Code Ann. § 34-11-2-9, and the trial court agreed, granting the consumer’s motion to dismiss. The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the decision, finding that the lender did not accelerate the debt within six years of the initial default, and clarified, on rehearing, that the relevant Uniform Commercial Code statute of limitations (Ind. Code Ann. § 26-1-3.1-118(a)) should also apply.
The Indiana Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s ruling, determining, among other things, that the six-year statute of limitations did not start running until the lender exercised the optional acceleration clause in 2016, which was well within the applicable statutes of limitations. “We find that. . .under either applicable statute of limitations, [the lender’s] claim is timely,” the Court wrote. “We thus reverse the trial court’s order dismissing [the lender’s] complaint and remand.”
On February 6, the CFPB released a Decision and Order denying a debt collection company’s (petitioner) request to set aside or modify a third-party Civil Investigative Demand (CID) issued by the Bureau, and directing the petitioner to provide all information required by the CID. The CID in dispute was issued to the petitioner by the CFPB in November and seeks documents and written responses pertaining to the petitioner’s business practices and its relationship with a New York-based debt collection law firm. The CID requests information regarding whether “debt collectors, furnishers, or associated persons” had, among other things, (i) violated the Consumer Financial Protection Act by ignoring warnings regarding debts resulting from identity theft “in a manner that was unfair, deceptive or abusive”; (ii) violated the FDCPA by disregarding cease-and-desist requests or by failing to provide required notices or making false or misleading statements; or (iii) violated the FCRA by “fail[ing] to correct and update furnished information, or fail[ing] to maintain reasonable policies and procedures.”
In its petition to set aside or modify the CID, the petitioner set out four primary arguments: (i) the structure of the CFPB is unconstitutional, and it therefore “lacks authority to proceed with enforcement activity”; (ii) the CID improperly seeks attorney-client privileged information; (iii) the CID is “overly broad,” does not apply to the petitioner, and does not sufficiently provide the “nature of the conduct under investigation and the applicable provisions of law”; and (iv) the CID improperly seeks information beyond the applicable statute of limitations.
The Bureau’s denial of the petitioner’s request addresses each of the petitioner’s arguments. Regarding the constitutionality of the CFPB’s structure, the order asserts that “the administrative process set out in the [B]ureau’s statute and regulations for petitioning to modify or set aside a CID is not the proper forum for raising and adjudicating challenges to the constitutionality of the [B]ureau’s statute.” In response to the petitioner’s attorney-client privilege argument, the order states that the petitioner “does not ask…to modify the CID to avoid seeking privileged information—it only asks that the CID be quashed in its entirety.” The Bureau states that because the petitioner makes a “blanket assertion” of attorney-client privilege rather than providing the required privilege log in order to properly claim privilege over materials requested in the CID before filing its petition, the petitioner’s argument is “procedurally improper” and does not show that the “CID should be set aside on these grounds.” To the petitioner’s lack of specificity argument, the order states that the CID “sets forth in detail both the conduct under investigation and applicable laws,” adding that there is no requirement that the Bureau disclose the targets of its “ongoing and confidential law-enforcement investigations.” The order also rejects the petitioner’s statute of limitations argument, explaining that the Bureau is not limited to the three years preceding the CID, but “instead what matters is whether the information is relevant to conduct for which liability can be lawfully imposed.”
On June 19, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a RESPA class action against a national bank, concluding the suit was not timely filed. According to the opinion, two consumers took out mortgages with the bank in 2005 and 2006. In 2011, the consumers were part of the putative class in a separate class action, alleging the bank violated RESPA by referring homeowners to mortgage insurers that then obtained reinsurance from a subsidiary of the bank, which the consumers claimed amounted to a kickback. After the class action was dismissed as untimely in 2013 and while it was pending appeal, the consumers filed a new class action as the named plaintiffs, which alleged the same violation of RESPA. The consumers argued that, while RESPA has a one-year statute of limitations, (i) RESPA makes each kickback a separately accruing wrong and that the insurers paid a kickback for each insurance premium payment, therefore, the suit is timely up to one year after the last premium payment and kickback; and (ii) the filing of the first class action tolled the limitation period for their claims and because the class action continued until November 2013, tolling extended their limitations period until then.
The appeals court upheld the district court’s dismissal of the action, agreeing with the consumers’ separate-accrual theory, but noting that the consumers paid no premiums in the year before they filed their complaint, so the limitations period had expired before the consumers filed the new action. Specifically, the appellate court rejected the bank’s argument that RESPA’s statute of limitations runs only from the mortgage closing, not from each later premium payment, holding that under RESPA the limitations period accrues separately for each kickback, stating “[s]o a party violates the Act anew each time it takes the discrete act of giving or receiving a kickback under an agreement to make referrals.”
As for whether the 2011 class action tolled the consumers’ claims, the appellate court cited the Supreme Court’s 2018 opinion in China Agritech, Inc. v. Resh, noting that the Court in that case held that such tolling is only available for individual claims, not class claims. The appellate court rejected the consumers’ arguments that China Agritech does not apply to new class claims filed before the first action has officially ended, stating, “[t]olling new class actions filed while the first one was pending would encourage more plaintiffs to seek second bites at the apple.” Because the consumers’ action was not timely filed, the appellate court affirmed the district court’s dismissal.
On June 14, the Texas governor signed HB 996, which prohibits debt buyers from commencing an action against or initiating arbitration with a consumer for the purpose of collecting a consumer debt after the statute of limitations (SOL) has expired. The bill defines “debt buyer” as “a person who purchases or otherwise acquires a consumer debt from a creditor or other subsequent owner of the consumer debt, regardless of whether the person collects the consumer debt, hires a third party to collect the consumer debt, or hires an attorney to pursue collection litigation in connection with the consumer debt.” Additionally, the bill (i) prevents a collection action on a debt that is passed the SOL from being revised by any activity on the debt, including payment; and (ii) requires a debt buyer to provide a specific written notice in the initial collection communication, including a statement that the debt is time-barred and the debt collector would not sue the consumer for it. The bill is effective September 1.
On May 13, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit held that the FDCPA’s statute of limitations period starts when the violation occurs, rather than when the plaintiff receives notice of the violation. According to the opinion, a law firm (defendant) seeking to collect a debt against a borrower sent a restraining notice to a national bank, which erroneously referenced the plaintiff’s social security number and address. The bank froze the plaintiff’s accounts on December 13, 2011. The bank lifted the freeze two days later after the plaintiff contacted the bank about the freeze. On December 14, 2012, the plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the debt collector, alleging FDCPA violations. The plaintiff claimed the action was filed within the one-year statute of limitations because he did not learn about the restraining notice until December 14, 2011. In 2016, the district court, however, held that the statute of limitation was triggered when the defendant mailed the restraining notice (December 6), and thus the complaint was time-barred. The plaintiff appealed, and the 2nd Circuit held that an FDCPA violation occurs when an individual is injured by unlawful conduct and not when the notice is mailed. On remand, the parties conducted limited discovery, which confirmed that the bank placed a freeze on the plaintiff’s accounts on December 13, which was also the date that the plaintiff learned about the freeze. The defendant then moved for summary judgment, arguing that the complaint is time barred given that it was filed one year and one day after the date of the account freeze. The district court agreed, and the plaintiff filed a second appeal.
On the second appeal, the 2nd Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision. The appellate court reminded the plaintiff that a violation of the FDCPA occurs when an individual is injured by unlawful conduct—which in this case was the date the accounts were frozen—and emphasized that the panel’s earlier holding was not intended to “expand the FDCPA’s statute of limitations by requiring that individuals also receive ‘notice of the FDCPA violation.’” Because the plaintiff’s suit was filed one year and one day after the bank froze his accounts, his claim was time-barred.
On April 26, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit reversed a district court’s dismissal of five plaintiffs’ putative class actions alleging RESPA violations, concluding that the claims were not time-barred due to the fraudulent concealment tolling doctrine. According to the opinion, between 2009 and 2014, several banks and mortgage companies (collectively, “defendants”) referred plaintiffs to a title company to procure title insurance and obtain settlement services, which allegedly provided the defendants with “several forms of ‘unearned fees and kickbacks’ to induce those referrals” in violation of RESPA. The plaintiffs alleged the kickbacks came in the form of payments to advertising and marketing shell companies for the referrals, which would then make payments to brokers or loan officers of the defendants. The district court dismissed the class actions because the first of the five class actions was not filed until June 2016, which was well beyond the one-year statute of limitations under RESPA.
On appeal, the plaintiffs argued that they were entitled to relief under RESPA because the kickback scheme was allegedly “fraudulently concealed” by the defendants by using “sham” entities and not reporting the payments on the plaintiffs’ HUD-1 settlement statements. The 4th Circuit agreed, concluding that the district court erred in dismissing the plaintiffs’ claims. The appellate court noted that Congress did not intend to “allow individuals and entities that conceal their unlawful kickback schemes and other RESPA violations to reap the benefit of the statute of limitations as a defense.” Rejecting the defendants’ assertion that publicly-available information, including earlier court filings, should have “‘excited further inquiry’” by the plaintiffs to timely file the action, the appellate court emphasized that the fraudulent concealment doctrine requires only “reasonable diligence” and does not “necessarily hold individual borrowers to the diligence standard of combing court filings in potentially related cases, particularly when the borrower has no reason to be aware of the related cases.”
On April 12, the Appellate Court of Illinois published an opinion affirming the dismissal of a consumer’s counterclaims against a lender in a lawsuit seeking to collect the consumer’s alleged debt from a store credit card. According to the opinion, in January 2017, the lender filed a small claims action seeking to collect credit card debt on which the consumer allegedly defaulted in July 2012. The consumer filed a putative class action counterclaim against the lender alleging, among other things, that the lender’s collection action violated the FDCPA and various Illinois laws because it was time-barred under the four-year statute of limitations period provided to enforce a sale of goods under Section 2-725 of the UCC. The lender moved to dismiss the counterclaims, alleging that its complaint was timely filed within the five-year statute of limitations period applicable to credit card agreements under Section 13-205 of the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure. The lower court granted the lender’s motion to dismiss, holding that the credit card agreement was governed by the five-year statute of limitations applicable to credit card agreements under Section 13-205 of the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure, rather than the four-year statute of limitations under the UCC’s sale of goods provisions. On appeal, the appellate court affirmed the lower court’s decision, rejecting the consumer’s argument that the UCC should apply to the agreement because the consumer could only use the credit card to purchase goods at a single retailer. Specifically, the appellate court held that the type of credit card was immaterial to the analysis and that Section 13-205 of the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure clearly controlled in this case because a tripartite relationship existed among the bank, the cardholder, and the merchant, and the payments made by the bank to the merchant pursuant to the cardholder agreement constituted a loan to the cardholder. As a result, the lender’s complaint was timely filed.
On March 5, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois denied defendants’ motion to dismiss a class action lawsuit alleging the defendants violated the FDCPA by failing to mention that payment on a settlement offer would restart the statute of limitations on the underlying “legally unenforceable debt.” According to the opinion, the defendants sent the plaintiff a letter outlining three discount program payment options, with a post-script stating that “[d]ue to the age of this debt, we will not sue you for it or report payment or non-payment of it to a credit bureau.” However, the plaintiff claimed that the letter’s failure to disclose that the statute of limitations could be restarted if a payment was made was a concrete information injury sufficient for Article III standing. The court rejected the defendants’ argument that the plaintiff alleged only a bare statutory violation and failed to identify a particularized injury in fact. Instead, the court ruled that even though the plaintiff has a complete defense because the statute of limitations had expired, the alleged injury is clear because the letter “seems to bait the consumer into paying money on a time-barred debt, either by settling for sixty cents on the dollar . . . or by unwittingly renewing the statute of limitations by making a new payment on the debt.”
Maryland Court of Appeals holds state licensing requirement is a “statutory specialty” with 12-year statute of limitations
On December 18, the Court of Appeals of Maryland held that the licensing requirement, §12-302, of the Maryland Consumer Loan Law (MCLL) is a “statutory specialty” and causes of action under it are accorded a 12-year statute of limitations period. The decision results from a question of law posed to the appeals court by the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland after consumers brought an action in the district court against a lender for alleged violations of the MCLL that occurred over three years before the lawsuit was filed. The lender claimed the action was time-barred under the state’s three-year general statute of limitations for civil actions, while the consumers argued the MCLL was an “other specialty,” which would provide a 12-year statute of limitations under state law. To answer the question, the appeals court applied a three-part test to determine whether the statute constituted an “other specialty”: (i) if the obligation sought to be enforced is imposed solely by statute; (ii) if the remedy pursued is authorized solely by statute; and (iii) if the civil damages sought are liquidated, fixed, or, by applying clear statutory criteria, are readily ascertainable. The appeals court analyzed the first and third prongs of the test as the parties agreed the second was not an issue. For the first prong, the court concluded that the MCLL’s licensing requirement was created and imposed solely by statute and not by common law. As for the third prong, the court agreed with the consumers that the need for fact-finding with regard to the monetary liability does not preclude “ready ascertainment.” Because all three elements of the test were satisfied, the court concluded the licensing requirement is a “statutory specialty” and is afforded a 12-year statute of limitations period.
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