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On August 13, the Judicial Council of California voted to end two temporary emergency rules governing evictions and judicial foreclosures. The first rule prohibited the issuance of summons or entering of defaults in eviction actions unless the case involved public health and safety issues, and required that trials be set at least 60 days after a request for a trial. The second emergency rule stayed all pending judicial foreclosure actions other than those involving issues of public health and safety, tolled the statute of limitations on filing such actions, and extended the deadlines for election or exercise of rights relating to such actions. Pursuant to the vote, the rules end on September 1, 2020. The Judicial Council previously approved the temporary emergency rules staying eviction and foreclosure proceedings on April 6, 2020.
On September 3, the California Department of Business Oversight (CDBO) announced a formal investigation into a California auto title lender to determine whether the lender is evading state interest rate caps through a recent partnership with a Utah-based bank. The California Fair Access to Credit Act—enacted in 2019—caps annual simple interest rates on loans between $2,500 and $10,000 made by state-licensed lenders at around 36 percent (covered by InfoBytes here). The CDBO asserts that prior to the new interest rate caps taking effect, the auto title lender frequently made loans carrying interest rates in excess of 100 percent. Rather than reducing its interest rates to comply with the new law, the lender “stopped making state-licensed auto title loans in California,” and instead used “its existing lending operations and personnel” to market and service auto title loans purportedly made by the Utah-based bank. These loans, the CDBO claims, still carry interest rates greater than 90 percent, but because the Utah-based bank is not regulated or supervised by the CDBO it is not subject to the interest rate caps when lending in California. According to the CDBO, its investigation is intended to find out whether the auto title lender’s “role in the arrangement is so extensive as to require compliance with California’s lending laws” and if the arrangement is a “direct effort to evade the Fair Access to Credit Act,” which CDBO contends would be illegal.
Last month the California Department of Business Oversight (CDBO) released two new opinion letters covering aspects of the California Money Transmission Act (MTA) related to the sale of foreign currency and the agent of the payee exemption.
- Sale of Foreign Currency. The redacted opinion letter concludes that the company’s banknote replenishment service does not trigger the licensing requirements of the MTA because the company does not engage in “selling or receiving payment instruments, selling or receiving stored value, or receiving money for transmission.” Moreover, the CDBO determined that the company “does not issue anything to the business except for the foreign currency that was ordered, and does not receive money from the business for purpose of transmission.”
- Agent of Payee Exemption - Payment Processing Service. The redacted opinion letter concludes that neither the company’s pay-in services nor pay-out services are exempt from the MTA. According to the letter, the company provides payment processing services to online gaming operators (merchants), which allow the merchants’ customers to submit payments to engage in online gaming, such as sports betting and daily fantasy sports betting. The CDBO determined that the pay-in and pay-out services provided by the company “constitute ‘receiving money for transmission,’” as required for the MTA to apply, because the company “receives money from the [c]ustomers for transfer to the [m]erchants” for the pay-in service and “receives money from the [m]erchants for transfer to the [c]ustomers” for the pay-out service. However, the agent of the payee exemption does not apply to the pay-in services, despite an agreement that establishes the company as the merchant’s agent, because the funds received by the company are not owed to the merchant when they are received by the company. Instead, such funds are retained in an account for the benefit of the merchant until a gambling debt is owed to the merchant. For the pay-out services, the exemption does not apply because the merchant’s customer does not provide any goods or services to the merchant for which the merchant’s payment to the customer is owed. The CDBO also advised that some of the proposed payments described in the company’s request may involve sports betting, which is an illegal activity in the state, and cautioned that the opinion “applies only to activities that are currently legal in California and does not relieve [the company] from its obligation to comply with other applicable state and federal laws.” Furthermore, the CDBO stated that MTA licenses cannot be issued to companies engaged in the transmission of money to facilitate unlawful activities.
On August 31, the California governor signed AB 3088, which provides relief from eviction and foreclosure due to the economic impacts of Covid-19. Pursuant to AB 3088, a tenant may not be evicted before February 1, 2021 if a Covid-19-related hardship caused the tenant to miss a rent payment accruing between March 4 and August 31, 2020, if the tenant provides a declaration of hardship that complies with certain timelines set forth in the legislation. For hardships that accrue between September 1, 2020, and January 1, 2021, tenants must pay a portion of the rent due to avoid eviction. Among other things, the legislation also extends anti-foreclosure protections in the Homeowners Bill of Rights to small landlords.
The California Department of Business Oversight (CDBO) released several opinion letters issued throughout the summer covering virtual currency and agent of payee rules under the California Money Transmission Act (MTA). Highlights from the redacted letters include:
- Cryptocurrency - Escrow Accounts and Exchanges. The redacted opinion letter states that the CDBO has not yet determined whether cryptocurrencies are a form of money that triggers the application of the MTA and therefore, a business model that operates brokerage accounts using cryptocurrency exchanges would not need to be licensed and supervised under the MTA. As for a business model that the letter describes as a third-party repurchase transaction related to borrowing and lending cryptocurrency, the CDBO reminds the company that the activity may still be subject to California Escrow Law.
- Agent of Payee Exemption - Payment Processing Service. The redacted opinion letter concludes that the company’s payment processing services—which use mobile applications or card readers to capture customer information through merchants, and the payment funds flow first from the customer to the company, and then from the company to the merchant—“fall within the definition of ‘money transmission’ but are exempt from the MTA to the extent [the company], acting as the [m]erchant’s agent, receives money from [c]ustomers, via the relevant card company, as payment for goods or services.”
- Online Foreign Currency Exchange Service. The redacted opinion letter concludes the company’s online foreign currency exchange service is not subject to licensure under the MTA, because the service does not “involve ‘payment instruments’ or ‘stored value’” and there is no indication that the company would “receive money for transmission,” as customers would use the service to purchase foreign currency “like other online retail purchases.”
- Exemption for Operator of Payment System. The redacted opinion letter notes that California governmental entities are exempt from the MTA, and a company that provides payment processing services to facilitate the transfer from a California Department of Correction detainee’s cash at a detention facility to that detention facility’s bank account, is exempt from the MTA because it is processing payments between or among persons exempt from the MTA.
- MTA - Agent of Payee. The redacted opinion letter states that the company’s transactions by an agent of a merchant to collect funds from the merchant’s customer for payment of goods and services are exempt from the requirements of the MTA. The company is acting as an agent of the payee when a company is receiving money as an agent of a merchant pursuant to a preexisting written contract, and delivery of the money to the company satisfies the customer’s obligation to the merchant for a good or service provided by the merchant.
- Sending Instructions Not Money Transmission. The redacted opinion letter states that the company’s actions do not constitute money transmission under the MTA because “[the company] never ‘receives money for transmission.’” The company only “receives instructions from consumers and merchants to transmit money to each other and forwards these instructions for processing by their respective banks on the ACH network.” Because the banks are “solely responsible for payment and settlement in accordance with these instructions” the company’s payment system does not require an MTA license.
On July 29, the California, Illinois, and New York attorneys general filed an action in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California challenging the OCC’s valid-when-made rule, arguing the rule “impermissibly preempts state law.” As previously covered by a Buckley Special Alert, on June 2 the OCC issued a final rule designed to effectively reverse the Second Circuit’s 2015 Madden v. Midland Funding decision. The “true lender” rule provides that “[i]nterest on a loan that is permissible under [12 U.S.C. 85 for national bank or 12 U.S.C 1463(g)(1) for federal thrifts] shall not be affected by the sale, assignment, or other transfer of the loan.”
The attorneys general argue in their complaint that the rule is “contrary to the plain language” of section 85 (and section 1463(g)(1)) and “contravenes the judgment of Congress,” which declined to extend preemption to non-banks. Moreover, the complaint asserts that the OCC disregarded congressional procedures for preemption by failing to perform a case-by-case review of state laws and not consulting with the CFPB before “preempting such a state consumer-protection law.” The attorneys general further contend that the OCC “failed to give meaningful consideration” to the commentary received regarding the rule essentially enabling “‘rent-a-bank’ schemes.” The result of the OCC’s actions, according to the attorneys general, is a rule that would allow “predatory lenders to evade state law by partnering with a federally chartered bank to originate loans exempt from state interest-rate caps.” These structures “have long troubled state law-enforcement efforts,” according to the complaint, and the rule will exacerbate these issues by “decreas[ing] licensing fees received by the States and increase[ing] the cost and burden of future supervisory, investigative, and law-enforcement efforts by the States.”
The complaint requests the court declare that the OCC violated the Administrative Procedures Act in issuing the rule and hold the rule unlawful.
On June 29, California Governor, Gavin Newsom, signed SB 74, Budget Act of 2020 (and accompanying budget summary), which allocates $10.2 million in 2020-21 growing to $19.3 million in 2022-23 to the Department of Business Oversight, contingent on the enactment of the California Consumer Financial Protection Law (Law). As previously covered by a Buckley Special Alert (which details an earlier version of the proposal), the Law was originally proposed as a trailer bill to the state’s budget, but was not finalized by lawmakers prior to the June 15th budget deadline. In this version, the proposed budget and Law would: (i) revamp and rename the state’s Department of Business Oversight (DBO) to the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation (DFPI); (ii) establish an Office of Financial Technology Innovation to study emerging technologies in the financial industry; (iii) expand the DFPI’s authority to protect consumers from predatory practices by, among other things, prohibiting unlawful, unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts (consistent with Section 17200); and (iv) foster the responsible development of new financial products. California lawmakers now have until August 31 (end of session) to finalize “the statutory framework needed to implement the [Law].”
Notably, on August 6, the Assembly is holding a hearing to discuss the proposal and is seeking public feedback. Written comments should be submitted to BudgetSub6@asm.ca.gov prior to the hearing date.
The California attorney general recently published a set of frequently asked questions providing general consumer information on the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). The CCPA—enacted in June 2018 (covered by a Buckley Special Alert) and amended several times—became effective January 1. Final proposed regulations were submitted by the AG last month as required under the CCPA’s July 1 statutory deadline (covered by InfoBytes here), and are currently with the California Office of Administrative Law for review. The FAQs—which will be updated periodically and do not serve as legal advice, regulatory guidance, or as an opinion of the AG—are intended to provide consumers guidance on exercising their rights under the CCPA.
- General CCPA information. The FAQs address consumer rights under the CCPA and reiterate that these rights apply only to California residents. This section also clarifies the definition of “personal information,” outlines businesses’ compliance thresholds, and states that the CCPA does not apply to nonprofit organizations and government agencies. The FAQs also remind consumers of their limited ability to sue businesses for CCPA violations and details the conditions that must be met before a consumer may sue a business for a data breach. The FAQs remind consumers that if they believe a business has violated the CCPA, they may file a complaint with the AG’s office.
- Right to opt-out of sale. The FAQs answer common questions related to consumers’ requests for businesses not to sell their personal information. The FAQs provide information on the steps for submitting opt-out requests, as well as explanations for why a business may deny an opt-out request. It also address circumstances where a consumer receives a response from a service provider that says it is not required to act on an opt-out request.
- Right to know. The FAQs discuss a consumer’s right to know what personal information is collected, used, shared, or sold, and clarifies what consumers should do to submit requests to know, how long a business may take to respond, and what steps should be taken if a business requests more information, denies a request to know, or claims to be a service provider that is not required to respond.
- Request to delete. The FAQs address several questions related to consumers’ right to delete personal information, including how to submit a request to delete, businesses’ responses to and denials of requests to delete, and why a debt collector may make an attempt to collect a debt or a credit reporting agency may provide credit information even after a request to delete has been made.
- Right to non-discrimination. Consumers are reminded that a business “cannot deny goods or services, charge. . .a different price, or provide a different level or quality of goods or services just because [a consumer] exercised [his or her] rights under the CCPA.”
- Data brokers. The FAQs set forth the definition of a data broker under California law and outline steps for consumers interested in finding data brokers that collect and sell personal information, as well as measures consumers can take to opt-out of the sale of certain personal information.
California Department of Business Oversight will monitor licensees’ compliance with face covering guidance
The California Department of Business Oversight announced that it will monitor licensees’ compliance with face covering guidance issued by the California governor and the California Department of Public Health. All customers must be required to wear appropriate face coverings under circumstances outlined in the guidance, and those who refuse to comply and do not meet the outlined exemptions should be refused entry to banks, credit unions, and other places of business.
On June 30, the California governor signed Executive Order N-71-20 (previously discussed here), which extends authorization for local governments to halt evictions for renters impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic through September 30. Among other things, the executive order also extends the deadlines in connection with certain licenses, including real estate licenses, which we previously covered here.
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Getting your company ready: Managing fair lending for IMBs” at the Mortgage Bankers Association Independent Mortgage Bankers Conference
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Be Your Compliance Best in 2022” at the California Mortgage Bankers Association webinar
- Lauren R. Randell to discuss “Significant legal developments in the Northeast” at the 37th Annual National Institute on White Collar Crime
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Small business & regulation: How fair lending has evolved & where it is heading?” at the Consumer Bankers Association Live program
- Jonice Gray Tucker and Kari Hall to discuss “Equity, equality, regulation and enforcement – The evolving regulatory landscape of fair lending, redlining, and UDAAP” at the ABA Business Law Committee Hybrid Spring Meeting