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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.
Arizona Supreme Court holds statute of limitations for credit cards begins to accrue upon first missed payment
On July 27, the Arizona Supreme Court held that a cause of action to collect a credit card debt subject to an acceleration clause begins to accrue as of the date of the consumer’s first uncured missed payment. According to the opinion, the consumer was sued in 2014 by a debt collector for an unpaid balance of over $17,000 on a credit card issued in 2007. Throughout 2007 and 2008 the consumer routinely made late payments and completely missed the February 2008 payment. The consumer moved for summary judgment, arguing that the claim was barred by Arizona’s six-year statute of limitations, which began to accrue at the time of the first missed payment in February 2008. The motion was granted by the trial court. The appellate court reversed, agreeing with the debt collector that the cause of action for the entire debt does not accrue until the creditor accelerates the debt. Disagreeing with the appeals court, and affirming the trial court’s decision, the Arizona Supreme Court distinguished revolving credit card accounts from closed-end installment contracts, which have a set date that the debt must be paid in full. The court explained that with installment contracts, the accrual date can be no later than the date in which the entire balance must be paid, as compared to credit card accounts, which have no end date. On that basis, the court held that allowing a creditor to delay accrual by not accelerating the debt, would “functionally eliminate the protection provided to defendants by the statute of limitations.”
9th Circuit affirms dismissal of SCRA private action, applies federal four-year catch-all statute of limitations
On July 26, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a private suit alleging a mortgage servicer violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) prohibition on foreclosure on the grounds that the claim was time-barred, holding that the federal catchall four-year statute of limitations applies to private suits under the SCRA. The decision results from a 2016 lawsuit filed by a United States Marine veteran (the plaintiff) alleging that the August 2010 foreclosure sale on his home violated section 303(c) of the SCRA as it occurred within nine months of the end of his active military service. While the SCRA does not provide a specific statute of limitations for a private right of action, the defendants moved to dismiss the case as time-barred, arguing that the court should apply the closest state-law analogue to the SCRA. The plaintiff argued that the court should look to the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) as the most analogous statute, which does not limit the period for filing claims. In response to the plaintiff, the defendants added an alternative argument that the court should apply 28 U.S.C. § 1658(a), which establishes a four-year limitation period for any claims arising from a federal law enacted after 1990, which does not delineate a specific limitations period. The district court granted the motion to dismiss, rejecting the plaintiff’s arguments, and applied the four-year statute of limitations found in the Washington State Consumer Protection Act.
In affirming the dismissal of the plaintiff’s case on an alternate ground, the court noted that while the SCRA’s protection against foreclosure existed prior to 1990, Congress did not add a private right of action until 2010. The court rejected the plaintiff’s argument that the private right of action was “implied” prior to the 2010 because there was no evidence Congress intended to create one under the SCRA’s predecessor, the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Civil Relief Act. The court held that because a private right of action was not provided until 2010, the four-year catch-all provision of 28 U.S.C. § 1658(a) applied, and the plaintiff’s claim under the SCRA was time-barred.
- Amanda R. Lawrence to discuss "Navigating the challenges of the latest data protection regulations and proven protocols for breach prevention and response" at the ACI National Forum on Consumer Finance Class Actions and Government Enforcement
- Tim Lange to discuss "Ease your pain at the state level: Recommendations for navigating the licensing issues in the states" at the Online Lenders Alliance Compliance University
- Amanda R. Lawrence, Aaron C. Mahler, and Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Expanded role for the FTC ahead: Implications for bank and nonbank financial institutions" at an American Bar Association Banking Law Committee Webinar
- Buckley Webcast: Flirting with alternatives — Opportunities and challenges created by alternative data, modeling, and technology
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Reporting requirements for credit unions: CTRs and SARs" at the National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions BSA Seminar
- Daniel P. Stipano and Moorari K. Shah to discuss "Vendor management: What is the NCUA looking for?" at the National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions BSA Seminar
- Sasha Leonhardt and John B. Williams to discuss "Privacy" at the National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions Summer Regulatory Compliance School
- Warren W. Traiger to discuss "CRA modernization" at the National Association of Industrial Bankers and the Utah Association of Financial Services Annual Convention
- Benjamin W. Hutten to discuss "Requirements for banking inherently high-risk relationships" at the Georgia Bankers Association BSA Experience Program
- Hank Asbill to discuss "Ethical guidance in conducting internal investigations – The intersection of Yates and Upjohn" at the American Bar Association Southeastern White Collar Crime Institute
- Brandy A. Hood to discuss "RESPA Section 8/referrals: How do you stay compliant?" at the New England Mortgage Bankers Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Risk management in enforcement actions: Managing risk or micromanaging it" at the American Bar Association Business Law Section Annual Meeting
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- Tim Lange to discuss "Services and value" at the North American Collection Agency Regulatory Association Annual Conference
- Amanda R. Lawrence to discuss "Data privacy litigation" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference
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- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "HMDA data is out, now what?" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference
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- Amanda R. Lawrence to discuss "How to balance a successful (and stressful) career with greater personal well-being" at the American Bar Association Women in Litigation Joint CLE Conference