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  • Seila Law will not petition Supreme Court a second time

    Courts

    On October 8, counsel for the appellant in CFPB v. Seila Law LLC sent a letter to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit stating that, after further consideration, the law firm has decided not to seek further review from the U.S. Supreme Court in its long-running challenge with the Bureau. Seila Law’s last trip to the Court resulted in a decision that declared the director’s for-cause removal provision was unconstitutional but was severable from the statute establishing the Bureau (covered by a Buckley Special Alert). October 11 was the deadline for Seila Law to file a certiorari petition with the Court after the 9th Circuit granted the law firm’s request to stay a mandate ordering compliance with a 2017 civil investigative demand (CID) issued by the Bureau. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the order stayed the appellate court’s mandate (covered by InfoBytes here) for 150 days, or until final disposition by the Court if the law firm had filed its petition of certiorari. The letter did not explain Seila Law’s reasoning.

    This announcement follows the Court’s recent decision not to hear a petition filed by a New Jersey-based finance company accused by the CFPB and the New York attorney general of misleading consumers about high-cost loans allegedly mischaracterized as assignments of future payment rights (covered by InfoBytes here), and may mark the beginning of the end of litigation over former Director Kraninger’s July 2020 ratifications of the Bureau’s private actions (covered by InfoBytes here). Since the Court’s decision in Seila, several courts have heard challenges from companies claiming the Bureau could not use ratification to avoid dismissal of their lawsuits.

    Courts Ninth Circuit Appellate U.S. Supreme Court Seila Law CFPB Single-Director Structure Enforcement CIDs

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  • 8th Circuit lets GSE shareholders seek retrospective relief

    Courts

    On October 6, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit held that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac shareholders have standing to seek retrospective, but not prospective, relief related to their claims that they suffered damages as a result of the FHFA’s leadership structure. The shareholders alleged FHFA’s leadership structure and appointments violated the appointments clause, the separation of powers, and the non-delegation doctrine. Among other things, the shareholders claimed that (i) the Housing and Economic Recovery Act (Recovery Act), which created the agency, violated separation of powers principles because it only allowed the president to fire the FHFA director “for cause,” and (ii) FHFA acted outside its statutory authority when it adopted a third amendment to the Senior Preferred Stock Purchase Agreements, which replaced a fixed-rate dividend formula with a variable one requiring the GSEs to pay quarterly dividends equal to their entire net worth minus a specified capital reserve amount to the Treasury Department (known as the “net worth sweep”). The district court dismissed the claims for lack of standing, and in the alternative, rejected them on the merits.

    The 8th Circuit began by rejecting the district court’s holding that the shareholders lacked standing. Relying on the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Collins v. Yellen (covered by InfoBytes here), the appellate court held that the shareholders’ alleged injury flowed from the adoption of the agreement containing the net worth sweep by FHFA’s acting director, who did not properly hold office. However, the shareholders were limited to seeking retrospective relief, because prospective relief was mooted by the adoption of subsequent amendments to the agreement by validly-appointed directors.

    However, the appellate court went on to hold that the shareholders were not entitled to relief based on their argument that the acting director had been in office too long in an “acting” role when he adopted the agreement. Even if the shareholders were correct, the acting director’s decisions were valid under the de facto officer doctrine, which confers validity on the acts of persons operating “under the color of official title even though it is later discovered that the legality of that person’s appointment or election to office is deficient.” Moreover, even if the de facto officer doctrine did not control, “[a]ny defect was resolved when the subsequent FHFA directors—none of whose appointments were challenged—ratified the third amendment.”

    The 8th Circuit also rejected the argument that Congress unlawfully delegated authority to FHFA in the Recovery Act, finding that the statute directs FHFA “to act as a ‘conservator,’ with clear and recognizable instructions.”

    Finally, the 8th Circuit did agree with the shareholders that FHFA’s leadership structure was unconstitutional because, as the Court held in Collins, it limited the president’s ability to remove the director. But the appellate court rejected the shareholders’ request that it vacate the adoption of the agreement containing the net worth sweep as a result, noting that the acting director was always “removable at will,” and that there was no allegation that subsequent agency directors (who took actions to implement the agreement) were appointed improperly. Still, the appellate court noted that, in Collins, the Court had remanded the case for a determination whether the constitutional violation “caused compensable harm” to the plaintiffs, and it did the same here.

    Courts Fannie Mae Freddie Mac GSE FHFA Single-Director Structure U.S. Supreme Court Shareholders

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  • Supreme Court won’t hear challenge to CFPB ratification

    Courts

    On October 4, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a petition filed by a New Jersey-based finance company accused by the CFPB and the New York attorney general of misleading first responders to the World Trade Center attack and NFL retirees about high-cost loans mischaracterized as assignments of future payment rights (see entry #20-1758). In 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit vacated a 2018 district court order, which had previously dismissed the case on the grounds that the Bureau’s single-director structure was unconstitutional, and that, as such, the agency lacked authority to bring claims alleging deceptive and abusive conduct by the company (covered by InfoBytes here). At the time, the district court also rejected an attempt by then-acting Director Mulvaney to salvage the Bureau’s claims, concluding that the “ratification of the CFPB’s enforcement action against defendants failed to cure the constitutional deficiencies in the CFPB’s structure or otherwise render defendants’ arguments moot.” The 2nd Circuit remanded the case to the district court, determining that the Court’s ruling in Seila Law LLC v. CPFB (which held that the director’s for-cause removal provision was unconstitutional but was severable from the statute establishing the Bureau, as covered by a Buckley Special Alert) superseded the 2018 ruling. The appellate court further noted that following Seila, former Director Kathy Kraninger ratified several prior regulatory actions (covered by InfoBytes here), including the enforcement action brought against the defendants, and as such, remanded the case to the district court to consider the validity of the ratification of the enforcement action.

    In its June petition for writ of certiorari, the company argued that the Bureau could not use ratification to avoid dismissal of the lawsuit. The company noted that while several courts, including the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (covered by InfoBytes here) have “appl[ied] ratification to cure the structural problem,” other courts have rejected the Bureau’s ratification efforts, finding them to be untimely (see a dismissal by the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware, as covered by InfoBytes here). As such, the company had asked the Supreme Court to clarify this contradictory “hopeless muddle” by clarifying the appropriate remedy for structural constitutional violations and addressing whether ratification is still effective if it comes after the statute of limitations has expired.

    As is customary when denying a petition for certiorari, the Supreme Court did not explain its reasoning.

    Courts U.S. Supreme Court CFPB Single-Director Structure Enforcement Appellate Seila Law Second Circuit

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  • Supreme Court says FHFA unconstitutionally structured, leaves net worth sweep intact

    Federal Issues

    On June 23, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a split opinion in Collins v. Yellen (previously Collins v. Mnuchin), holding that FHFA’s leadership structure, which only allows the president to fire the FHFA director for cause, is unconstitutional. The Court’s determination follows its decision in Seila Law LLC v. CFPB (covered by a Buckley Special Alert), in which the Court held that a similar clause in the Dodd-Frank Act that requires cause to remove the director of the CFPB violates the constitutional separation of powers. In Collins, the Court stated, “[a] straightforward application of our reasoning in Seila Law dictates the result here. The FHFA (like the CFPB) is an agency led by a single Director, and the [Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 (Recovery Act)] (like the Dodd-Frank Act) restricts the President’s removal power.”

    Last July, the Court agreed to review the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit’s en banc decision (covered by InfoBytes here) issued in a 2016 lawsuit brought by a group of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (GSEs) shareholders against the U.S. Treasury Department and FHFA. The shareholders claimed that the Recovery Act, which created the agency, violated the separation of powers principal because it only allowed the president to fire the FHFA director “for cause,” and that FHFA acted outside its statutory authority when it adopted a third amendment to the Senior Preferred Stock Purchase Agreements, which replaced a fixed-rate dividend formula with a variable one requiring the GSEs to pay quarterly dividends equal to their entire net worth minus a specified capital reserve amount to the Treasury Department (known as the “net worth sweep”). Following the en banc rehearing, the appellate court reaffirmed its earlier decision that FHFA’s structure violates the Constitution’s separation of powers requirements. However, the opinions differed on the appropriate remedy, with nine judges concluding that the remedy should be severance of the for-cause provision, not prospective relief invalidating the net worth sweep, stating that “the Shareholders’ ongoing injury, if indeed there is one, is remedied by a declaration that the “for cause” restriction is declared removed. We go no further.”

    While the split Court agreed with the 5th Circuit that the agency’s structure violates the Constitution’s separation of powers, the justices left intact the net worth sweep. “Although the statute unconstitutionally limited the President’s authority to remove the confirmed Directors, there was no constitutional defect in the statutorily prescribed method of appointment to that office. As a result, there is no reason to regard any of the actions taken by the FHFA in relation to the third amendment as void,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the majority. “It is not necessary for us to decide—and we do not decide—whether the FHFA made the best, or even a particularly good, business decision when it adopted the third amendment,” the Court added. “[W]e conclude only that under the terms of the Recovery Act, the FHFA did not exceed its authority as a conservator, and therefore the anti-injunction clause bars the shareholders’ statutory claim.” The Court remanded the case to determine “what remedy, if any, the shareholders are entitled to receive on their constitutional claim.”

    Various concurring and dissenting opinions were issued as well. While concurring, Justice Elena Kagan noted that “[s]tare decisis compels the conclusion that the FHFA’s for-cause removal provision violates the Constitution. But the majority’s opinion rests on faulty theoretical premises and goes further than it needs to.” Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented, writing: “[t]he Court has proved far too eager in recent years to insert itself into questions of agency structure best left to Congress. In striking down the independence of the FHFA Director, the Court reaches further than ever before, refusing tenure protections to an Agency head who neither wields significant executive power nor regulates private individuals.”

    Shortly after the ruling, President Biden appointed Sandra L. Thompson as acting FHFA Director, effective immediately. Thompson has served at FHFA since March 2013 as Deputy Director of the Division of Housing Mission and Goals where she oversaw FHFA’s housing and regulatory policy, capital policy, financial analysis, fair lending, as well as all mission activities for the GSEs and the Federal Home Loan Banks. Former Director Mark Calabria issued a statement noting his respect for the Court’s decision and the authority of the president to remove the FHFA director.

    Federal Issues Courts FHFA Single-Director Structure Fannie Mae Freddie Mac U.S. Supreme Court GSE

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  • Court grants interlocutory appeal in CFPB student loan servicing action

    Courts

    On February 26, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania granted a student loan servicer’s request for interlocutory appeal as to whether questions concerning the CFPB’s constitutionality stopped the clock on claims that it allegedly misled borrowers. The court’s order pauses a 2017 lawsuit in which the Bureau claimed the servicer violated the CFPA, FCRA, and FDCPA by allegedly creating obstacles for borrower repayment options (covered by InfoBytes here), and grants the servicer’s request to certify a January 13 ruling. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the servicer argued that the Supreme Court’s finding in Seila Law LLC v. CFPB (covered by a Buckley Special Alert—which held that that the director’s for-cause removal provision was unconstitutional but was severable from the statute establishing the CFPB)—meant that the Bureau “never had constitutional authority to bring this action and that the filing of [the] lawsuit was unauthorized and unlawful.” The servicer also claimed that the statute of limitations governing the CFPB’s claims prior to the decision in Seila had expired, arguing that Director Kathy Kraninger’s July 2020 ratification came too late. The court disagreed, ruling, among other things, that “[n]othing in Seila indicates that the Supreme Court intended that its holding should result in a finding that this lawsuit is void ab initio.”

    The court’s order sends the ruling to the 3rd Circuit to review “[w]hether an act of ratification, performed after the statute of limitations has expired, is subject to equitable tolling, so as to permit the valid ratification of the original action which was filed within the statute of limitations but which was filed at a time when the structure of the federal agency was unconstitutional and where the legal determination of the presence of the structural defect came after the expiration of the statute of limitations.” Specifically, the court explained that this particular “question does not appear to have been addressed by any court in the United States. . . .Not only is there a lack of conflicting precedent, there is no supporting precedent; indeed, no party has identified any comparable precedent.” Further, “[i]f this court erred in applying the doctrine of equitable tolling, it would almost certainly lead to a reversal on appeal and dismissal of this action,” the court noted.

    Courts Appellate Third Circuit Student Lending Student Loan Servicer CFPB Single-Director Structure Seila Law

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  • Court says CFPB unconstitutionality argument strays from Supreme Court ruling in Seila

    Courts

    On January 13, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania denied a student loan servicer’s motion for judgment on the pleadings, ruling that the servicer’s argument that the CFPB is unconstitutional “strays afar” from the U.S. Supreme Court’s finding in Seila Law LLC v. CFPB. The servicer previously argued that the Supreme Court’s finding in Seila (covered by a Buckley Special Alert)—which held that that the director’s for-cause removal provision was unconstitutional but was severable from the statute establishing the CFPB—meant that the Bureau “never had constitutional authority to bring this action and that the filing of [the] lawsuit was unauthorized and unlawful.” The servicer also claimed that the statute of limitations governing the CFPB’s claims prior to the decision in Seila had expired, arguing that Director Kathy Kraninger’s July 2020 ratification came too late. However, the court determined, among other things, that “[n]othing in Seila indicates that the Supreme Court intended that its holding should result in a finding that this lawsuit is void ab initio.” The court further noted that the servicer’s assertion that the Bureau “‘never had constitutional authority to bring this action’ is belied by Seila’s implicit finding that the CFPB always had the authority to act, despite the Supreme Court’s finding that the removal protection was unconstitutional.”

    Courts CFPB Seila Law Single-Director Structure U.S. Supreme Court

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  • 9th Circuit reaffirms order enforcing Seila CID

    Courts

    On December 29, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reaffirmed a district court’s order granting the CFPB’s petition seeking to enforce a civil investigative demand (CID) sent to Seila Law. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Bureau filed a supplemental brief arguing that the formal ratifications of then-Acting Director Mick Mulvaney and current Director Kathy Kraninger, paired with the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Seila v. CFPB, are sufficient for the appellate court to enforce the CID previously issued against the law firm, and that “[s]etting aside the CID at this point would serve no valid purpose.” In reaffirming the order, the appellate court wrote that “Director Kraninger’s ratification remedied any constitutional injury that Seila Law may have suffered due to the manner in which the CFPB was originally structured. Seila Law’s only cognizable injury arose from the fact that the agency issued the CID and pursued its enforcement while headed by a Director who was improperly insulated from the President’s removal authority. Any concerns that Seila Law might have had about being subjected to investigation without adequate presidential oversight and control had now been resolved. A Director well aware that she may be removed by the President at will had ratified her predecessors’ earlier decisions to issue and enforce the CID.” The 9th Circuit also rejected Seila Law’s argument that the ratification occurred outside the limitations period for bringing an enforcement action against the law firm, determining that the “statutory  limitations period pertains solely to the bringing of an enforcement action, which the CFPB had not yet commenced against Seila Law.”

    Courts Ninth Circuit Appellate CFPB Seila Law Single-Director Structure

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  • District court denies dismissal and stay of CFPB action

    Courts

    On November 30, the U.S. District Court of the District of Maryland denied a motion to dismiss an action brought by the CFPB against a debt collection entity, its subsidiaries, and their owner (collectively, “defendants”), rejecting the defendants’ argument that the Bureau lacked standing to bring the action. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in September 2019, the Bureau alleged the defendants violated the FCRA, FDCPA, and the CFPA by, among other things, failing to (i) establish or implement reasonable written policies and procedures to ensure accurate reporting to consumer-reporting agencies; (ii) incorporate appropriate guidelines for the handling of indirect disputes in its policies and procedures; (iii) conduct reasonable investigations and review relevant information when handling indirect disputes; and (iv) furnish information about accounts after receiving identity theft reports about such accounts without conducting an investigation into the accuracy of the information. The defendants moved to dismiss the action arguing, among other things, that (i) the Bureau lacks standing to bring the action; and (ii) Director Kraninger’s ratification of the litigation was invalid. In the alternative, the defendants moved to stay the lawsuit until the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling in Collins v. Mnuchin (covered by InfoBytes here).

    The court denied the motion to stay, concluding that the issues pending before the Supreme Court in Mnuchin may not necessarily apply to the Bureau, as they are different agencies and further, there is no issue of ratification in Mnuchin. Thus, given the “uncertainty surrounding the effect a decision in Collins v. Mnuchin will have on the present case,” the court denied the motion to stay. The court also denied the motion to dismiss, concluding, among other things, that the Supreme Court’s finding in Seila Law LLC v. CFPB (covered by a Buckley Special Alert) that the Bureau had a constitutional defect in its leadership structure under Article II does not diminish the agency’s Article III standing. Moreover, the court concluded that the decision in Seila Law does not mean that the Bureau “lacked authority during the time in which it was led by an improperly removable Director,” and therefore the Bureau had the authority to initiate the September 2019 lawsuit against the defendants. Further, the court held that the July 2020 ratification of the enforcement action was proper.

    Courts CFPB U.S. Supreme Court Seila Law FDCPA FCRA Enforcement Single-Director Structure CFPA Debt Collection

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  • 2nd Circuit vacates dismissal of CFPB action following Seila

    Courts

    On October 30, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit summarily vacated a 2018 district court order that had dismissed CFPB and New York attorney general claims against a New Jersey-based finance company accused of misleading first responders to the World Trade Center attack and NFL retirees about high-cost loans mischaracterized as assignments of future payment rights (covered by InfoBytes here). The district court found that the Bureau’s single-director structure was unconstitutional, and that, as such, the agency lacked authority to bring deceptive and abusive claims under the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA). The district court also rejected an attempt by then-acting Director Mulvaney to salvage the Bureau’s claims, concluding that the “ratification of the CFPB’s enforcement action against defendants failed to cure the constitutional deficiencies in the CFPB’s structure or otherwise render defendants’ arguments moot.”

    The 2nd Circuit remanded the case to the district court, determining that the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Seila Law LLC v CPFB (covered by a Buckley Special Alert, holding that the director’s for-cause removal provision was unconstitutional but was severable from the statute establishing the Bureau) superseded the 2018 ruling. Following Seila, Director Kathy Kraninger also ratified several prior regulatory actions (covered by InfoBytes here), including the enforcement action brought against the defendants. “In light of these developments, we affirm the district court's holding that the for-cause removal provision is unconstitutional, we reverse the district court's holding that the for-cause removal provision is not severable from the remainder of the CFPA, and we remand for the district court to consider in the first instance the validity of Director Kraninger’s ratification of this enforcement action,” the appellate court wrote.

    Courts CFPB Appellate Second Circuit Single-Director Structure Seila Law

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  • Supreme Court to review FHFA structure, FTC restitution, and TCPA autodialing

    Courts

    On July 9, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to review the following cases:

    • FHFA Constitutionality. The Court agreed to review the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit’s en banc decision in Collins. v. Mnuchin (covered by InfoBytes here), which concluded that the FHFA’s structure—which provides the director with “for cause” removal protection—violates the Constitution’s separation of powers requirements. As previously covered by a Buckley Special Alert last month, the Court held that a similar clause in the Dodd-Frank Act that requires cause to remove the director of the CFPB violates the constitutional separation of powers. The Court further held that the removal provision could—and should—be severed from the statute establishing the CFPB, rather than invalidating the entire statute.
    • FTC Restitution Authority. The Court granted review in two cases: (i) the 9th Circuit’s decision in FTC V. AMG Capital Management (covered by InfoBytes here), which upheld a $1.3 billion judgment against the petitioners for allegedly operating a deceptive payday lending scheme and concluded that a district court may grant any ancillary relief under the FTC Act, including restitution; and (ii) the 7th Circuit’s FTC v. Credit Bureau Center (covered by InfoBytes here), which held that Section 13(b) of the FTC Act does not give the FTC power to order restitution. The Court consolidated the two cases and will decide whether the FTC can demand equitable monetary relief in civil enforcement actions under Section 13(b) of the FTC Act.
    • TCPA Autodialer Definition. The Court agreed to review the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit’s decision in Duguid v. Facebook, Inc. (covered by InfoBytes here), which concluded the plaintiff plausibly alleged the social media company’s text message system fell within the definition of autodialer under the TCPA. The 9th Circuit applied the definition from their 2018 decision in Marks v. Crunch San Diego, LLC (covered by InfoBytes here), which broadened the definition of an autodialer to cover all devices with the capacity to automatically dial numbers that are stored in a list. The 2nd Circuit has since agreed with the 9th Circuit’s holding in Marks. However, these two opinions conflict with holdings by the 3rd, 7th, and 11th Circuits, which have held that autodialers require the use of randomly or sequentially generated phone numbers, consistent with the D.C. Circuit’s holding that struck down the FCC’s definition of an autodialer in ACA International v. FCC (covered by a Buckley Special Alert).

    Courts FHFA Single-Director Structure TCPA Appellate FTC Restitution FTC Act Autodialer Ninth Circuit Seventh Circuit Fifth Circuit D.C. Circuit Third Circuit Eleventh Circuit U.S. Supreme Court

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