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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

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  • Fed updates legal interpretations related to several regulations

    On December 30, the Federal Reserve Board added several new frequently asked questions related to legal interpretations of the Board’s regulations, including Regulations H, O, W, and Y, as well as questions concerning covered savings associations. The Fed noted that, unless specified, the FAQs are staff interpretations and have not been approved by the Board. Future revisions or supplements may be released as necessary or appropriate.

    • Regulation H: Five new FAQs discuss (i) branch closing procedures and required notices; (ii) the ability to conduct branch activities should a bank relocate its main office; (iii) when a bank may acquire a debt obligation under its general powers to lend under state law; and (iv) public welfare investments made by state member banks involving housing projects with multiple residential buildings.
    • Regulation O: A revised FAQ states that banks may not offer discounts on loan origination fees to an insider if the discount is not available to members of the public with one exception: a bank is not prohibited from “extending credit to an insider as part of a benefit or compensation program that (i) is widely available to employees of the member bank and (ii) does not give preference to any insider of the member bank over other employees of the member bank.”
    • Regulation W: Thirty-four new FAQs address various topics related to (i) provisions concerning nonaffiliate and affiliate lending and extensions of credit under the attribution rule; (ii) valuation and timing principles; (iii) revolving credit facilities and loan commitments involving nonaffiliates; (iv) asset purchases from affiliates; (v) a bank’s acquisition of another company’s shares and liabilities; and (vi) exemptions.
    • Regulation Y: Nine new FAQs discuss (i) circumstances under the Bank Holding Company Act (BHC Act) where “a bank or company that holds bank shares in a fiduciary capacity [would] be considered to have sole discretionary authority to exercise voting rights”; (ii) tying restriction qualifications, exceptions, and safe harbor; (iii) factors considered in the acquisition of bank securities or assets; (iv) trustee powers; (v) filing requirements for persons acquiring ownership or control of shares; (vi) appraisal standards for federally-related transactions; and (vii) rules for engaging in an activity that is complementary to a financial activity. The Fed notes that while these FAQs refer at times to bank holding companies, the FAQs are also applicable to foreign banking organizations that are subject to the BHC Act in the same manner as a bank holding company under the International Banking Act of 1978.
    • Covered Savings Associations: Twenty-nine new FAQs address topics related to covered savings associations (CSAs) and companies that control a CSA pursuant to Section 5A of the Home Owners’ Loan Act. Among other things, the FAQs address (i) the scope of Section 5A; (ii) a CSA’s membership in the Federal Reserve System; (iii) filing requirements; (iv) requirements applicable to a CSA or a company controlling a CSA, as well as mutual CSAs and mutual holding companies controlling a CSA; (v) transactions involving a CSA or a company controlling a CSA; and (vi) the termination of an election to operate as a CSA.

    Bank Regulatory Federal Issues Federal Reserve Regulation H Regulation O Regulation W Regulation Y Covered Savings Association Of Interest to Non-US Persons Bank Holding Company Act Home Owners' Loan Act

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  • 7th Circuit denies CFPB’s request to reconsider attorney exemption in foreclosures

    Courts

    On November 29, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit denied the CFPB’s petition for panel or en banc rehearing of its earlier decision in an action taken against several foreclosure relief companies and associated individuals accused of violating Regulation O. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Bureau asked the appellate court to reconsider its determination “that practicing attorneys are categorically exempt from Regulation O,” claiming that the court’s holding strips the Bureau “of the authority given it by Congress to hold attorneys to account for violations not just of Regulation O, but of a host of other federal laws as well.” In July, the 7th Circuit vacated a 2019 district court ruling that ordered $59 million in restitution and disgorgement, civil penalties, and permanent injunctive relief against defendants accused of collecting fees before obtaining loan modifications, and inflating success rates and the likelihood of obtaining a modification, among other allegations (covered by InfoBytes here). The appellate court based its decision on the application of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Liu v. SEC, which held that a disgorgement award cannot exceed a firm’s net profits—a ruling that is “applicable to all categories of equitable relief, including restitution.” The appellate court also concluded that attorneys who are subject to liability for violating consumer laws “cannot escape liability simply by virtue of being an attorney.” However, the appellate court vacated the recklessness finding in the civil penalty calculation pertaining to certain defendants, writing that “[a]lthough we have found that they were not engaged in the practice of law, the question was a legitimate one. We consider it a step too far to say that they were reckless—that is, that they should have been aware of an unjustifiably high or obvious risk of violating Regulation O.” (Covered by InfoBytes here.) In its appeal, the Bureau did not challenge the vacated restitution award, but rather argued that a rehearing was necessary to ensure that the agency can bring enforcement actions against attorneys who violate federal consumer laws, including Regulation O. 

    Courts CFPB Appellate Seventh Circuit Regulation O Enforcement Mortgages U.S. Supreme Court Liu v. SEC

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  • CFPB petitions 7th Circuit to reconsider Regulation O attorney exemption

    Courts

    On October 7, the CFPB filed a petition for panel or en banc rehearing with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, asking the appellate court to reconsider its recent determination “that practicing attorneys are categorically exempt from Regulation O,” as it strips the CFPB “of the authority given it by Congress to hold attorneys to account for violations not just of Regulation O, but of a host of other federal laws as well.” (Covered by InfoBytes here.) In 2014, the CFPB, FTC, and 15 state authorities took action against several foreclosure relief companies and associated individuals, alleging that they made misrepresentations about their services, failed to make mandatory disclosures, and collected unlawful advance fees (covered by InfoBytes here). A ruling issued by the district court in 2019 (covered by InfoBytes here) ordered nearly $59 million in penalties and restitution against several of the defendants for violations of Regulation O, but was later vacated by the 7th Circuit based on the application of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Liu v. SEC, which held that a disgorgement award cannot exceed a firm’s net profits—a ruling that is “applicable to all categories of equitable relief, including restitution.” (Covered by InfoBytes here.)

    In its appeal, the Bureau did not challenge the vacated restitution award, but rather argued that a rehearing is necessary to ensure that the agency can bring enforcement actions against attorneys who violate federal consumer laws, including Regulation O. “The panel’s conclusion. . .threatens to disrupt the existing federal regulatory scheme for multiple consumer laws and expose ordinary people across the country to an increased risk of harm from illegal practices,” the Bureau stated, adding that 12 U.S.C. § 5517(e) does not limit the Bureau’s ability to pursue a civil enforcement action against practicing attorneys who are subject to Regulation O. According to the Bureau, Paragraph 3 of § 5517(e) states that the limitation on the Bureau’s authority “‘shall not be construed’ to limit the Bureau’s authority with respect to an attorney ‘to the extent that such attorney is otherwise subject’ to an enumerated consumer law or transferred authority.” The Bureau asked the 7th Circuit to reconsider its decision on this issue or, in the alternative, withdraw that portion as unnecessary to the outcome.

    Courts CFPB Appellate Seventh Circuit Enforcement Regulation O Mortgages Liu v. SEC U.S. Supreme Court

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  • 7th Circuit vacates $59 million CFPB penalty against mortgage-assistance relief companies

    Courts

    On July 23, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit vacated a 2019 restitution award in an action brought by the CFPB against two former mortgage-assistance relief companies and their principals (collectively, “defendants”) for violations of Regulation O. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in 2014, the CFPB, FTC, and 15 state authorities took action against several foreclosure relief companies and associated individuals, including the defendants, alleging they made misrepresentations about their services, failed to make mandatory disclosures, and collected unlawful advance fees. The district court’s 2019 order (covered by InfoBytes here) held one company and its principals jointly and severally liable for over $18 million in restitution, while another company and its same principals were held jointly and severally liable for nearly $3 million in restitution. Additionally, the court ordered civil penalties totaling over $37 million against company two and four principals.

    In 2021, the principals urged the 7th Circuit to vacate the judgment, arguing, among other things, that the restitution order used the company’s net revenues instead of net profits in determining restitution and that they were exempt from liability because Regulation O exempts properly licensed attorneys engaged in providing mortgage-assistance relief services as part of the practice of law, provided they comply with state law and regulations. The principals also disagreed with the district court’s finding that they acted recklessly in calculating the civil penalty amount, contending that “they were not aware of a risk that their conduct was illegal.”

    The 7th Circuit reviewed the application of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Liu v. SEC, which held that a disgorgement award cannot exceed a firm’s net profits (covered by InfoBytes here). While the Bureau argued that Liu focused on disgorgement and not restitution, the appellate court held that the Bureau’s interpretation was “too narrow a reading of Liu.” According to the appellate court, “Liu’s reasoning is not limited to disgorgement; instead, the opinion purports to set forth a rule applicable to all categories of equitable relief, including restitution.” The appellate court vacated the restitution award and remanded the suit for recalculation based on net profits.

    With respect to the alleged violations of Regulation O, the appellate court affirmed the district court’s ruling, concluding that attorneys who are subject to liability for violating consumer laws “cannot escape liability simply by virtue of being an attorney.” However, the appellate court vacated the recklessness finding in the civil penalty calculation pertaining to certain of the defendants, writing that “[a]lthough we have found that they were not engaged in the practice of law, the question was a legitimate one. We consider it a step too far to say that they were reckless—that is, that they should have been aware of an unjustifiably high or obvious risk of violating Regulation O.” The appellate court ordered the district court to apply the penalty structure for strict-liability violations. Additionally, the 7th Circuit remanded an injunction which permanently banned the principals from providing “debt relief services,” finding that the injunction requires “some tailoring” as the violations at issue involved mortgage-relief services and not debt-relief services.

    Courts CFPB Enforcement Appellate Seventh Circuit Regulation O Mortgages

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  • Fed continues to allow bank insiders access to PPP loans

    Federal Issues

    On May 14, the Federal Reserve Board announced the third extension of a temporary exception from the requirements of section 22(h) of the Federal Reserve Act and corresponding provisions of Regulation O to allow certain bank directors and shareholders to apply for Small Business Administration (SBA) Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans from their affiliated banks. The extension is effective immediately and applies to PPP loans made from March 31 through June 30. If the PPP is extended, the rule change will ultimately end on March 31, 2022. The Fed reiterated that any PPP loans extended to bank directors and shareholders must be consistent with SBA’s PPP lending restrictions and done without favoritism from the bank. The original extension was announced on April 17 (covered by InfoBytes here).

    Federal Issues Federal Reserve SBA Covid-19 Agency Rule-Making & Guidance CARES Act Regulation O Bank Regulatory

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  • Fed further extends temporary exception to allow bank insiders access to PPP

    Federal Issues

    On February 9, the Federal Reserve Board announced the second extension of a temporary exception from the requirements of section 22(h) of the Federal Reserve Act and corresponding provisions of Regulation O to allow bank directors and shareholders to apply for Small Business Administration (SBA) Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans from their affiliated banks. The extension is effective immediately and goes through March 31. The Fed reiterated that any PPP loans extended to bank directors and shareholders must be consistent with SBA’s PPP lending restrictions and done without favoritism from the bank. The original extension was announced on April 17 and already extended once (covered by InfoBytes here).

    Federal Issues Federal Reserve SBA Covid-19 Agency Rule-Making & Guidance CARES Act Regulation O Bank Regulatory

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  • Foreclosure relief operation ordered to pay $40,000 penalty in CFPB action

    Courts

    On July 23, the CFPB announced that the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California entered a stipulated final judgment and order against a foreclosure relief services company, along with the company’s president/CEO (defendants), resolving CFPB allegations that the defendants engaged in deceptive and abusive acts and practices in connection with the marketing and sale of purported financial-advisory and mortgage-assistance-relief services to consumers. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in September 2019, the CFPB filed a complaint alleging that since 2014, the defendants violated the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA) and Regulation O by, among other things, making deceptive and unsubstantiated representations about the efficacy and material aspects of its mortgage assistance relief services, as well as making misleading or false claims about the experience and qualifications of its employees. The Bureau also alleged the defendants’ misrepresentations constituted abusive acts and practices because consumers “generally did not understand and were not in a position to evaluate the accuracy of [the defendants’] marketing representations or the quality of the mortgage-assistance-relief services that [the defendants] sold.” Moreover, the Bureau claimed the defendants further violated Regulation O by charging consumers advance fees before rendering services.

    The stipulated final judgment suspends $3 million in consumer redress based upon the defendants’ sworn financial statements and disclosures of material assets that detailed their inability to pay, but orders the defendants to pay $40,000 in civil money penalties. Additionally, the judgment permanently restrains the defendants from offering mortgage relief and financial advisory services and subjects the defendants to certain reporting and recordkeeping requirements.

    Courts CFPB Enforcement CFPA UDAAP Regulation O Foreclosure Civil Money Penalties

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  • Court rejects dismissal of CFPB claims against foreclosure relief services company

    Courts

    On May 20, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California denied a foreclosure relief services company and its owner’s (collectively, “defendants”) motion to dismiss an action by the CFPB accusing the defendants of violating the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA) and Regulation O. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in September 2019, the CFPB filed a complaint against the defendants, alleging that since 2014 the defendants made deceptive and unsubstantiated representations about the efficacy and material aspects of its mortgage assistance relief services, and made misleading or false claims about the experience and qualifications of its employees. The Bureau alleged that the defendants’ representations constituted abusive acts and practices because, among other things, consumers “generally did not understand and were not in a position to evaluate the accuracy of [the defendants’] marketing representations or the quality of the mortgage-assistance-relief services that [the defendants] sold.” Moreover, the Bureau claimed the defendants further violated Regulation O by charging consumers advance fees before rendering services. The defendants moved to dismiss the action.

    The district court rejected all of the defendants’ arguments, concluding that the Bureau “as an organization and its establishment” are constitutionally permissible, and therefore, can bring enforcement actions against the company. The court also held that the Bureau adequately pleaded that the defendants’ were covered by the CFPA and Regulation O, as providers of “[a]udit and litigation documents to consumers, which Defendants claim will prevent foreclosure or modify the terms of [consumers] mortgage[s].” And lastly, the court held that the Bureau sufficiently alleged that the defendants took “unreasonable advantage of the consumer’s lack of understanding” of the material terms of the product they were selling.

    Courts CFPB Enforcement UDAAP Regulation O Foreclosure CFPA

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  • FDIC releases April enforcement actions

    Federal Issues

    On May 29, the FDIC released a list of administrative enforcement actions taken against banks and individuals in April. The FDIC issued 23 orders and 2 notices of changes, which “consisted of 12 Section 19 orders, 3 orders of prohibition, 1 order to pay, 3 consent orders, 1 order to cease and desist, 4 orders terminating consent orders, and 1 order terminating an order of restitution.” Among the actions is a cease and desist order and civil money penalty issued against a Louisiana-based bank for allegedly violating the Bank Secrecy Act, EFTA, RESPA, TILA, the National Flood Insurance Program, and HMDA. The order follows the issuance of a 2019 recommended decision on remand by an FDIC administrative law judge (ALJ), who also found that the bank failed to comply with a majority of the provisions outlined in a 2011 memorandum of understanding entered into with the FDIC two years prior to the filing of this action. Specifically, the recommended decision found that the bank, among other things, “violated the independence requirement of the FDIC’s rules and regulations pertaining to appraisals by allowing a lending officer originating loans to appraise the collateral underlying the loan,” and “allow[ing] a high ranking officer to repeatedly overdraw his bank account without being charged overdraft fees” in violation of Regulation O of the Federal Reserve Board. Other violations included that the bank failed to: (i) conduct independent property evaluations and appraisals; (ii) disclose unauthorized fees or investigate reports of erroneous charges; (iii) assess flood insurance needs or inform borrowers of force-placed flood insurance rules; (iv) file suspicious activity reports and currency transaction reports; (v) implement a “meaningful compliance program” to ensure the bank did not engage in foreign financial transactions with prohibited persons identified by the Office of Foreign Assets Control; and (v) “conduct proper compliance training or maintain an effective audit program for consumer compliance matters.” The FDIC’s order affirmed the ALJ’s recommended decision to subject the bank to an order to cease and desist and pay a $500,000 civil money penalty.

    Additionally, the FDIC entered a consent order against an Illinois-based bank relating to alleged weaknesses in its Bank Secrecy Act compliance program.

    Federal Issues FDIC Enforcement Bank Secrecy Act EFTA RESPA TILA National Flood Insurance Program HMDA Regulation O

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  • Indiana amends certain financial institution and consumer credit provisions

    State Issues

    On March 18, the Indiana governor signed House Enrolled Act No. 1353, which amends various provisions concerning financial institutions and consumer credit, including those related to first lien mortgage lenders, credit unions, and surety bond requirements for licensed mortgage loans originators, pawnbrokers, and money transmitters, among others. Among other things, the act also amends a provision in the state statute governing credit unions, which provides that loans made by a credit union to the credit union’s individual officers (and to the immediate family members of an officer, director, or supervisory committee member) must be made in accordance with Regulation O of the Federal Reserve Board. The act also stipulates that required appraisals connected to mortgage loans made to credit union members must be “consistent with the appraisal standards and transaction value limitations” outlined in the National Credit Union Administration’s appraisal regulations. The amendments take effect July 1.

    State Issues State Legislation Consumer Credit Mortgage Lenders Federal Reserve NCUA Regulation O Appraisal

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