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  • District Court clarifies law related to post-foreclosure RESPA communications

    Courts

    Recently, the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey ruled that obligations under RESPA extended beyond the issuance of a foreclosure judgment, but dismissed the plaintiff’s other claim under RESPA. The Court rejected the argument by the servicer-defendant that a loan’s “merger” with a foreclosure judgment under state law exempted them from RESPA’s loss mitigation rules. The Court pointed to the servicer’s active engagement with the borrower’s loan modification application post-judgment as a basis for maintaining the servicer’s liability under RESPA.

    Elaborating on the scope of RESPA, the Court addressed the nature of correspondence that can be classified as “qualified written requests” (QWRs). The Court held that the plaintiff’s letters regarding her loss mitigation efforts did not qualify as QWRs because a request for modification of loan terms did not align with the statutory purpose of a QWR, which was intended to facilitate information exchange or dispute resolutions specifically related to the servicing of the loan, such as payment history or charges on the account, rather than the negotiation of new loan terms. Therefore, the Court dismissed the plaintiff’s claim alleging a violation of RESPA due to a failure to respond to a QWR.

    The Court also allowed a claim under the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act (NJCFA) to move forward, signaling that foreclosure judgments do not render the NJCFA inoperative. Finally, the Court dismissed the plaintiff’s breach of good faith and fair dealing claims against the lender’s law firm and the servicer/lender due to the absence of a direct contractual relationship with the borrower and no evidence of denied mortgage agreement benefits.

    Courts RESPA New Jersey Qualified Written Request

  • New Jersey proposes disparate impact discrimination rule

    State Issues

    On June 3, New Jersey Attorney General, Matthew Platkin, and the state’s Division on Civil Rights announced a proposed rule that described and clarified prohibitions against disparate impact discrimination under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD), including employment, housing, places of public accommodation, credit, and contracting. The proposed rule provided examples of policies and practices that may result in a disparate impact on members of a protected class under the LAD.

    The proposed rule aimed to clarify that the LAD outlawed practices or policies that have an adverse impact on members of a protected class, regardless of whether there was intent to discriminate. Such practices or policies were only permissible if they were necessary to attain an important and legitimate non-discriminatory goal and there was no alternative method that was less discriminatory and equally effective in achieving that goal. The rule would codify largely the existing legal standard and burdens of proof used in New Jersey and Federal courts when reviewing claims of disparate impact discrimination pursuant to the LAD for determining whether a practice or policy was discriminatory unlawfully, along with the framework used in evaluating claims of disparate impact. Comments on the proposed rule must be received by August 2.

    State Issues New Jersey State Attorney General Discrimination

  • District court dismisses FDCPA class action for lack of standing

    Courts

    Recently, the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey granted defendant debt collectors’ motion to dismiss a FDCPA class action without prejudice. In 2016, the defendants obtained the plaintiff’s credit card debt and then settled that debt with plaintiff for approximately half of the original amount owed. Thereafter, plaintiff initiated a putative class action alleging defendants made false and misleading representations in the collection letter because they did not specify if the total amount owed included interest, costs, or fees. To establish Article III standing, the Court stated that plaintiff must “allege some form of detrimental reliance on the representations made by a defendant in a collection letter.” The Court found that the plaintiff ultimately failed to demonstrate that the alleged missing interest information in defendants' collection letter was detrimental, and that “informational statements in the [c]ollection [l]etter are not an actual injury unless [p]laintiff acted on them.” Accordingly, the Court concluded that the plaintiff failed to allege any adverse effects of the misleading information, and as a result, failed to establish standing.

    Courts New Jersey Debt Collection Consumer Finance FDCPA

  • District Court severs NJFCRA requirement that agencies must provide credit disclosures in 10 languages

    Courts

    On March 27, the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey granted in part and denied in part both the Attorney General for the State of New Jersey’s (AG) motion for summary judgment and a plaintiff international trade association’s motion for summary judgment. In particular, the court held that the New Jersey Fair Credit Reporting Act’s (NJFCRA) 2019 amendment requiring national consumer reporting agencies (NCRAs) to provide consumer reports in a language other than English (if requested) was not preempted by the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act. However, the court stopped short of requiring NCRAs to provide the disclosures in “at least ten languages” in addition to Spanish on First Amendment grounds, explaining that the requirement imposed under the NJFCRA only required a rational basis and while a rational basis existed for Spanish (due to, among other things, the high percentage of Spanish speaking constituents in New Jersey), it did not exist for the additional languages given the relatively lower prevalence of those other languages. Accordingly, the court severed the provision that mandated that credit file disclosures be provided in at least 10 languages.

    Courts FCRA Language Access Disclosures New Jersey

  • District Court: Plaintiff has standing but still dismisses FCRA case

    Courts

    On January 19, the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey granted a bank’s motion to dismiss an FCRA case. According to the opinion, after plaintiff’s credit report revealed monthly payments towards previously closed accounts with defendant, plaintiff alleged that because the accounts were closed, the entire balance was due and that she had neither the right nor the obligation to pay defendant in monthly installments. Plaintiff then disputed the debt with a credit reporting agency, which forwarded the dispute to defendant, but ultimately plaintiff’s credit report was never updated to $0 monthly payments as she requested. Three days later, plaintiff filed suit alleging defendant violated the FCRA by failing to investigate the dispute and failing to direct the credit reporting agency to report the tradelines with $0 monthly payments. Although plaintiff does not assert in her complaint that her credit reports have been distributed to any potential lender, plaintiff alleged that the tradelines listed in her credit report are inaccurate and “create a misleading impression of her consumer credit file.”

    In determining Article III standing, the court held that plaintiff sufficiently alleged injury in fact because defendant’s “false and misleading reporting to a credit bureau about Plaintiff’s obligation on a debt has a close relationship to reputational harms such as defamation and common law fraud.” The court acknowledged, however, that “[l]ower courts have split on the issue of whether dissemination of a defamatory statement to a credit reporting agency, as opposed to the potential creditors at issue.” On one hand, the U.S. Supreme Court found that class members whose misleading credit reports were not disseminated to a third party did not suffer concrete harm. In another case, the Seventh Circuit concluded that plaintiffs adequately proved third-party dissemination by presenting evidence that debt collectors reported false information about them to a credit reporting agency, dismissing any interpretation precedent that would demand the plaintiffs to additionally demonstrate that the third party shared the false information. The court agreed with the latter decision, citing that “dissemination to a credit reporting agency suffices to establish defamatory publication for standing purposes.”

    Although plaintiff established Article III standing, the court found that plaintiff failed to state a claim under the FCRA because she failed to allege that the tradelines issued by defendant contain inaccurate information. Furthermore, the court found that a report, as plaintiff requested, showing $0 monthly payments on the account would be more misleading, because it would purport that plaintiff does not owe a balance to defendant. 

    Courts FCRA New Jersey Litigation Debt Collection Credit Report

  • District Court denies motion to dismiss State Attorneys’ General case against “subprime lender”

    Courts

    On January 12, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania denied a defendant’s motion to dismiss a case brought by five State Attorneys General (State AGs) from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington, and D.C. seeking to enforce the CFPA. The State AGs allege the defendant engaged in “predatory lending practices” that violate state and federal law. As covered by InfoBytes, in Spring 2022, the CFPB issued an interpretive rule clarifying that states have the authority to enforce federal financial consumer protection laws, such as the CFPA. This interpretive rule led to partisan attacks claiming the CFPB was “colluding” with state regulators, as covered by InfoBytes here.

    The defendant is a state-licensed and regulated “subprime installment lender” operating in 28 states. As noted in the opinion, the defendant offers loans between $1,000 and $25,000, with terms between 12 and 60 months and charges interest at rates ranging from 18.99% to 35.99% with an average APR of 28%, and average loan size of around $3,650.

    In addition to the complaint regarding subprime loans, the State AGs assert that the defendant “deceptively ‘adds-on’” various insurance options to consumers’ loans and targets a financially vulnerable population: those with a credit score of 629 or less who “often already have significant… debt[.]”. The State AGs seek injunctive and other relief. 

    Courts Pennsylvania CFPB CFPA State Attorney General New Jersey Washington Oregon District of Columbia

  • District Court dismisses FDCPA suit; clarifies debt collector communication on identity theft

    Courts

    On December 5, the U.S. District Court of New Jersey dismissed an FDCPA suit brought against a debt collector. According to the opinion, plaintiff originally filed suit because they received a letter from defendant regarding an outstanding cell phone bill. The letter provided instructions on what to do if the recipient suspected identity theft. Additionally, the letter contained a summary of plaintiff’s account and a QR code that linked to defendant’s website for online payment. Plaintiff contended that the dual approach of offering assistance while simultaneously pursuing collection of a debt was false and misleading. A District Court judge, however, disagreed and dismissed the case, at which point the plaintiff filed an amended complaint.

    The amended complaint alleges that the debt collector breached the FDCPA by using false, deceptive or misleading representations regarding the rights of the plaintiff and the obligations of the debt collector with respect to communications concerning identity theft. Specifically, plaintiff argued defendant was in violation of § 1681m(g) of the FDCPA, which obligates a debt collector to take certain steps upon being notified of identity theft, but the court disagreed, finding that the collector’s specific steps taken were in accordance with the Act.

    The court emphasized that plaintiff did not introduce any new factual claims in the amended complaint, and merely clarified how the facts already outlined in the initial complaint breached the FDCPA. The judge ruled that the letter not only allows plaintiff to inform defendant about potential identity theft, but also may serve to bring potential identity theft to plaintiff’s attention. The ruling stated that there is no obligation to extensively explain recommended procedures in the case of an identity theft occurrence, and only an “idiosyncratic reading” of the letter would lead to the conclusion that the letter misrepresents defendant’s obligations.

    Courts Debt Collection FDCPA New Jersey Identity Theft Disclosures

  • Credit reporting agency, collector granted MTD in FCRA and FDCPA case

    Courts

    On October 26, the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey dismissed without prejudice a FCRA and FDCPA lawsuit filed against a law firm and credit reporting agency. The plaintiff alleged that the defendants published inaccurate and incomplete information regarding a trade line for debt allegedly owed to a healthcare facility. The plaintiff claimed that the credit reporting agency refused to validate the debt. The judge held that the FDCPA did not apply to the credit reporting agency because it was not a debt collector, and that plaintiff did not provide any facts that the tradeline was inaccurate. The judge also found that plaintiff failed to state a claim under the FDCPA against the law firm because “merely furnish[ing] a trade line to a credit reporting agency does not violate any provision of the FDCPA.” The plaintiff is allowed to move for leave to file an amended complaint within thirty (30) days if a stronger factual basis for the claims is provided.

    Courts Consumer Finance Debt Collection New Jersey Credit Reporting Agency

  • New Jersey says realty company misled consumers about homeowner program

    State Issues

    On June 6, the New Jersey attorney general and the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs filed an action against a realty company and its principals (collectively, “defendants”) for allegedly violating the state’s Consumer Fraud Act by making deceptive misrepresentations about its “Homeowner Benefit Program” (HBP). Concurrently, the New Jersey Real Estate Commission in the Department of Banking and Insurance filed an order to show cause alleging similar misconduct and taking action against the real estate licenses belonging to the company and certain related individuals.

    According to the complaint, the defendants’ HBP was marketed to consumers as a low-risk opportunity to obtain quick, upfront cash between $300 and $5000 in exchange for giving defendants the right to act as their real estate agents if they sold their homes in the future. The HBP was not marketed as a loan and consumers were told they were not obligated to repay the defendants or to ever sell their home in the future. However, the press release alleged that the HBP functions as a high-interest mortgage loan giving the defendants the right to list the property for 40 years, and that the loan survives the homeowner’s death and levies a high early termination fee against the homeowners. The complaint further charged the defendants with failing to disclose the true nature of the HBP and failing to present the terms upfront. Moreover, in order to sell the HBP, the defendants allegedly placed unsolicited telephone calls to consumers despite not being licensed as a telemarketer in New Jersey. The complaint seeks an order requiring defendants to discharge all liens against homeowners, pay restitution and disgorgement, and pay civil penalties and attorneys’ fees and costs.

    The order to show cause alleges violations of the state’s Real Estate License Act and requires defendants to show why their real estate licenses should not be suspended or revoked, as well as why fines or other sanctions, such as restitution, should not be imposed. Defendants have agreed to cease any attempt to engage New Jersey consumers in an HBP agreement pending resolution of the order to show cause.

    State Issues Licensing Enforcement New Jersey Consumer Finance Predatory Lending State Attorney General State Regulators

  • 3rd Circuit: Now-invalid default judgment still in effect when debt collection attempts were made

    Courts

    On January 11, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed a district court’s decision to grant summary judgment in favor of defendants accused of violating the FDCPA when attempting to collect on a judgment that was later vacated. According to the opinion, the plaintiff was sued in state court for an unpaid debt. Contradictory orders were entered by the Superior Court, one which dismissed the action due to one of the defendant’s failure to attend trial, and another that entered default judgment against the plaintiff (which was confirmed two years later by the state court).

    A few years later, an attempt was made to collect on the debt. The plaintiff disputed the debt and later sued, claiming the defendants “knew or should have known” that the debt was unenforceable. The plaintiff later filed a motion in state court to vacate the default judgment and declare it “void ab initio,” which was eventually granted by the state court after it determined that the judgment was erroneously entered by the clerk after the court had already dismissed the case due to the debt collector’s failure to appear for trial. The plaintiff filed a cross-motion for summary judgment in the district court.

    The district court, however, found that the defendants’ alleged efforts to collect the debt were not false or misleading because the now-invalid default judgment at issue was technically still valid and existed when the collection attempts were made. The plaintiff appealed, arguing that the summary judgment violated the Rooker-Feldman doctrine because the district court “‘could not have reached the decision that it did without necessarily supplanting’ the Superior Court’s order vacating the judgment against her.” The plaintiff also argued that the district court erred when it found the Superior Court judgment against the plaintiff to be “in effect . . . until such time as it was vacated, . . . rather than ‘per se not valid’” when the defendants engaged in their efforts to collect the debt.

    On appeal, the 3rd Circuit disagreed with the plaintiff’s assertions. According to the appellate court, the plaintiff satisfied none of the four requirements to trigger the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, adding that regardless of whether the state court declared the judgment “void ab initio,” it was in effect when the defendant attempted to collect on the debt. Moreover, the appellate court noted that the plaintiff “failed to present a triable issue that any communication from Defendants to [the plaintiff] regarding the collection of the default judgment was made unlawful retroactively upon the Superior Court vacating its default judgment order.”

    Courts State Issues Appellate FDCPA Debt Collection Consumer Finance New Jersey

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