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  • CFPB to issue $95 million in redress to victims of student loan debt relief operation

    Federal Issues

    On December 13, the CFPB announced that it will distribute more than $95 million in redress to over 87,000 consumers harmed by a student loan debt relief operation. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the CFPB, along with the Minnesota and North Carolina attorneys general, and the Los Angeles City Attorney (together, the “states”), announced an action against the defendants for allegedly deceiving thousands of student loan borrowers and charging more than $71 million in unlawful advance fees. In the complaint filed October 21, 2019, and unsealed on October 29, 2019 in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, the Bureau and the states alleged that since at least 2015, the defendants have violated the CFPA, the TSR, and various state laws by charging and collecting improper advance fees from student loan borrowers prior to providing assistance and receiving payments on the adjusted loans. The CFPB also claimed that the defendants automatically put loans in forbearance and submitted false information to loan servicers to qualify customers for lower monthly payments.

    Federal Issues State Issues State Attorney General CFPB Consumer Redress Consumer Finance Enforcement Student Lending CFPA TSR Minnesota North Carolina

  • FTC seeks to restore Section 13(b) redress authority

    Federal Issues

    On May 19, acting FTC Chairwoman Rebecca Kelly Slaughter published a letter reaffirming the need to restore the Commission’s ability to return money to harmed consumers following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in FTC v. AMG Capital Management. As previously covered by InfoBytes, on April 22, the Court unanimously held that Section 13(b) of the FTC Act “does not authorize the Commission to seek, or a court to award, equitable monetary relief such as restitution or disgorgement.” Last month, Slaughter testified before both House and Senate subcommittees on the need for Congressional action to clarify Section 13(b) and affirmatively confirm the FTC’s authority to seek permanent injunctions and other equitable relief for violations of any law under its enforcement authority (covered by InfoBytes here).

    Slaughter’s letter, directed to Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Roger Wicker (R-MS)—the chair and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, respectively—addressed several issues raised by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce concerning recently introduce legislation (see H.R. 2668), which is intended to restore the FTC’s ability under Section 13(b) to seek consumer compensation in antitrust and consumer protection cases. Among other things, Slaughter disagreed with the Chamber’s position that Congress always intended for Section 13(b) to be used only in so-called “fraud cases.” She pointed to a 1994 action, in which Congress “directly ratified the FTC’s reliance on Section 13(b) in all manner of cases by expanding its venue and service of process provisions without placing any limitations on the types of cases to which Section 13(b) applies,” and noted that to date, the FTC has obtained billions of dollars of monetary relief for consumers, many of which were in non-fraud consumer protection cases. According to Slaughter, limiting the FTC’s ability to seek monetary relief to only “cases involving ‘egregious’ frauds” would allow companies and individuals “adjudicated to have engaged in unfair, deceptive, or anticompetitive practices” to keep money earned from unlawful conduct at the expense of harmed consumers.

    Slaughter also emphasized that limiting Section 13(b) to only ongoing or imminent conduct does not make sense. Waiting for violations to recur in order to obtain a federal court injunction, Slaughter argued, “creates weak incentives for compliance, and is an inefficient enforcement mechanism that will result only in more consumer harm.” In addressing the Chamber’s concern that statutory fix proposals lack a statute of limitations for monetary relief under Section 13(b), Slaughter emphasized that H.R. 2668 would provide a 10-year limit on monetary relief.

    Federal Issues FTC Enforcement FTC Act U.S. Supreme Court Consumer Redress Federal Legislation U.S. House U.S. Senate

  • FTC asks Congress to restore redress authority

    Federal Issues

    On April 27, acting FTC Chairwoman Rebecca Kelly Slaughter asked the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Commerce to pass legislation to clarify Section 13(b) of the FTC Act and restore the Commission’s ability to return money to harmed consumers following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in FTC v. AMG Capital Management. As previously covered by InfoBytes, on April 22, the Court unanimously reduced the FTC’s powers by holding that Section 13(b) of the FTC Act “does not authorize the Commission to seek, or a court to award, equitable monetary relief such as restitution or disgorgement.”

    Section 13(b), Slaughter testified, has been “the agency’s primary and most effective way of returning money to consumers,” as it authorizes the Commission to sue directly in federal court for violations of the FTC Act. Until recently, “seven of the twelve courts of appeals, relying on longstanding Supreme Court precedent, interpreted the language in Section 13(b) to authorize district courts to award the full panoply of equitable remedies necessary to provide complete relief for consumers, including disgorgement and restitution of money,” Slaughter emphasized, noting, however, that a shift in recent court interpretations of Section 13(b) has “significantly limited the Commission’s primary and most effective tool for providing refunds to harmed consumers.” Slaughter also stressed that “if Congress does not act promptly, the FTC will be far less effective in its ability to protect consumers and execute its law enforcement mission.”

    H.R. 2668, introduced by House Democrats, seeks to affirmatively confirm the FTC’s authority to seek permanent injunctions and other equitable relief for violations of any law under its enforcement authority. In her prepared statement, Slaughter told the Subcommittee that legislation such as H.R. 2668 is “urgently needed to address legal challenges to critical authority that enables the FTC to do its job of protecting consumers and competition.” She further noted that legislation is needed to ensure that the FTC is able to prevent harmful conduct from reoccurring. Slaughter pointed to two recent decisions issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit that reinterpreted Section 13(b) and “jeopardize[d] the FTC’s ability to enjoin illegal conduct in federal court.” The decisions “hamper the Commission’s longstanding ability to protect consumers by enjoining defendants from resuming their unlawful activities when the conduct has stopped but there is a reasonable likelihood that the defendants will resume their unlawful activities in the future,” she stated.

    Federal Issues FTC FTC Act U.S. Supreme Court Consumer Redress U.S. House Federal Legislation Enforcement

  • Supreme Court: FTC may not seek restitution or disgorgement under 13(b)

    Courts

    On April 22, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously reversed the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit’s decision in AMG Capital Management v. FTC, holding that Section 13(b) of the FTC Act “does not authorize the Commission to seek, or a court to award, equitable monetary relief such as restitution or disgorgement.” The opinion impacts petitioners who were ordered in 2018 to pay an approximately $1.3 billion judgment for allegedly operating a deceptive payday lending scheme and making false and misleading representations about loan costs and payments (covered by InfoBytes here). At the time, the 9th Circuit rejected the petitioner’s challenge to the judgment (based on, among other things, the argument that the FTC Act only allows the court to issue injunctions), concluding that a district court may grant any ancillary relief under the FTC Act, including restitution. As previously covered by InfoBytes, last year the Court granted review and consolidated two cases that had reached different conclusions regarding the availability of restitution under § 13(b): (i) the 9th Circuit’s decision in FTC v. AMG Capital Management; and (ii) the 7th Circuit’s ruling in FTC v. Credit Bureau Center (covered by InfoBytes here), which held that Section 13(b) does not give the FTC power to order restitution.

    In examining “whether Congress, by enacting §13(b) and using the words ‘permanent injunction,’ granted the Commission authority to obtain monetary relief directly from courts and effectively bypass the requirements of the administrative process,” the Court unanimously held that § 13(b) “does not explicitly authorize the Commission to obtain court-ordered monetary relief,” and that “such relief is foreclosed by the structure and history of the Act.” As such, the Court determined that it is “highly unlikely” that Congress would grant the FTC authority to circumvent traditional § 5 administrative proceedings by collecting restitution or disgorgement as an equitable relief power. Moreover, the Court discussed § 19 of the FTC Act, which was enacted two years after § 13(b) and “authorizes district courts to grant ‘such relief as the court finds necessary to redress injury to consumers,’ including through the ‘refund of money or return of property.’” The Court noted that since § 19 has limited authority and is only available against those who have engaged in an unfair or deceptive act or practice through which the FTC has issued a final cease and desist order (i.e. through an administrative proceeding), the Court found it “highly unlikely that Congress would have enacted provisions expressly authorizing conditioned and limited monetary relief if the Act, via §13(b), had already implicitly allowed the Commission to obtain that same monetary relief and more without satisfying those conditions and limitations.” Further, the Court stated that it was unlikely that Congress would have granted the FTC authority to “so readily” circumvent traditional § 5 administrative proceedings.

    The Court stated that nothing in its opinion, however, prohibits the FTC “from using its § 5 or § 19 authority to obtain restitution on behalf of consumers,” adding that if the Commission “believes that authority too cumbersome or otherwise inadequate, it is, of course, free to ask Congress to grant it further remedial authority”—a request that the FTC made before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation on Oversight of the Federal Trade Commission in 2020 and again on April 20, 2021 (covered by InfoBytes here). The Court reversed the judgment against the petitioners and remanded the case for further proceedings in line with its opinion.

    FTC acting Chairwoman Rebecca Kelly Slaughter issued a statement following the Court’s decision: “With this ruling, the Court has deprived the FTC of the strongest tool we had to help consumers when they need it most. We urge Congress to act swiftly to restore and strengthen the powers of the agency so we can make wronged consumers whole.”

    Courts U.S. Supreme Court FTC Enforcement Consumer Redress FTC Act Appellate Ninth Circuit

  • FTC restructures rulemaking as justices debate its limits on consumer redress

    Federal Issues

    On March 25, FTC acting Chairwoman Rebecca Kelly Slaughter announced a new rulemaking group within the FTC’s Office of the General Counsel created to streamline and strengthen the Commission’s rulemaking process and coordinate rulemaking among various units. The FTC’s current rulemaking process is decentralized, according to Slaughter, with individual bureaus and divisions responsible for particular rules. “The new structure will aid the planning, development, and execution of rulemaking,” she said, noting that with the “new group in place, the FTC is poised to strengthen existing rules and to undertake new rulemakings to prohibit unfair or deceptive practices and unfair methods of competition.” Slaughter also emphasized the critical importance of effective rulemaking “given the risk that the Supreme Court substantially curtails the FTC’s ability to seek consumer redress under Section 13(b)” through enforcement actions.

    As previously covered by InfoBytes, last year the Court granted review in two cases that had reached different conclusions regarding the availability of restitution under Section 13(b) of the FTC Act: (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 ruling in FTC v. Credit Bureau Center (covered by InfoBytes here), which held that Section 13(b) 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.

    The same day, Acting Chairwoman Slaughter released the FTC’s 2020 Annual Highlights. Among other things, it discusses the Commission’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic and efforts to educate consumers about Covid-19-related scams, as well as businesses’ responsibilities concerning honest advertising.

    Federal Issues FTC Agency Rule-Making & Guidance U.S. Supreme Court Enforcement Consumer Redress

  • CFPB settles UDAAP allegations with Texas payday lender

    Federal Issues

    On February 5, the CFPB announced a settlement with a Texas-based payday lender and six subsidiaries (defendants) for allegedly assisting in the collection of online installment loans and online lines of credit that consumers were not legally obligated to pay based on certain states’ usury laws or licensing requirements. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Bureau filed a complaint in 2017—amended in 2018—against the defendants for allegedly violating the CFPA’s prohibitions on unfair, deceptive, and abusive acts and practices by, among other things, making deceptive demands and originating debit entries from consumers’ bank accounts for loans that the defendants knew were either partially or completely void because the loans were void under state licensing or usury laws. The defendants—who operated in conjunction with three tribal lenders engaged in the business of extending and collecting the online installment loans and lines of credit—also allegedly provided material services and substantial assistance to two debt collection companies that were also involved in the collection of these loans.

    Under the stipulated final consent order, the defendants are prohibited from (i) extending, servicing, or collecting on loans made to consumers in any of the identified 17 states if the loans violate state usury limits or licensing requirements; and (ii) assisting others engaged in this type of conduct. Additionally, the settlement imposes a $1 civil money penalty against each of the seven defendants. The Bureau’s press release notes that the order “is a component of the global resolution of the [defendants’] bankruptcy proceeding in the Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Texas, which includes settlements with the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office and private litigants in a nationwide consumer class action.” The press release also states that “[c]onsumer redress will be disbursed from a fund created as part of the global resolution, which is anticipated to have over $39 million for distribution to consumers and may increase over time as a result of ongoing, related litigation and settlements.”

    Federal Issues CFPB Consumer Finance Debt Collection Installment Loans UDAAP CFPA Courts Settlement Consent Order Unfair Deceptive Online Lending Payday Lending Civil Money Penalties Consumer Redress

  • House report blames CFPB "politicization" for drop in consumer relief

    Federal Issues

    On October 16, Maxine Waters, Chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee, released a majority staff report titled, “Settling for Nothing: How Kraninger’s CFPB Leaves Consumers High and Dry,” which details the results of the majority’s investigation into the CFPB’s handling of consumer monetary relief in enforcement actions since Richard Cordray stepped down as director in November 2017. The report argues that, under the leadership of Acting Director Mick Mulvaney and Director Kathleen Kraninger, the Bureau’s enforcement actions “have declined in volume and failed to compensate harmed consumers adequately.” Specifically, the report states that under Cordray’s leadership, “the average enforcement action by the [Bureau] returned $59.6 million to consumers, as compared to an average $31.4 million per action under Mulvaney,” but notes that $335 million of the $345 million in consumer relief obtained during Mulvaney’s tenure resulted from one settlement with a national bank (previously covered by InfoBytes here). With respect to Director Kraninger, the report acknowledges that the pace of enforcement actions increased compared to Mulvaney; however, the Bureau ordered “only $12 million in consumer relief” during her first six months, as compared to “approximately $200 million in consumer relief” during a similar six months of Cordray’s tenure.

    The report highlights specifics from the investigation into settlements announced in early 2019, which resulted in civil penalties but not consumer monetary relief. The report argues that, based on the review of the internal documents received from the Bureau, the lack of consumer relief was due to the “politicization of the [Bureau],” which “contributed to the decline in the [Bureau]’s enforcement activity” rather than the merits of the enforcement actions, notwithstanding that the internal documents reflect the assessment of certain weaknesses in the Bureau’s positions. The report attributes such politicization to the introduction of political appointee positions throughout the Bureau that oversee each of the divisions. The report concludes by urging Congress to pass the Consumers First Act (HR 1500), which, among other things, seeks to limit the number of political appointees at the Bureau.

    Federal Issues CFPB Settlement Enforcement House Financial Services Committee Civil Money Penalties Consumer Redress

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