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  • Third Circuit finds Pennsylvania lending law does not regulate collection of charged-off debt

    Courts

    On February 7, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed a lower court’s decision to grant a debt collector’s (the defendant) motion for judgment. The defendant argued that its efforts to collect plaintiff’s charged-off debt via a proof of claim in a bankruptcy proceeding was not limited by, or in violation of, the Pennsylvania Consumer Discount Company Act (CDCA).   The plaintiff, who obtained a loan from a third-party small-dollar lender licensed under the CDCA, defaulted on the loan and the licensed lender subsequently charged off and sold plaintiff’s debt to a company that was not licensed under the CDCA. 

    After filing for bankruptcy, the plaintiff sued the defendant and alleged a FDCPA violation when the defendant filed a proof of claim during the bankruptcy proceeding to collect the outstanding balance on the charged-off loan. The plaintiff’s argument was premised on claims that the defendant could not lawfully collect the debt because the CDCA dictates that a licensee may not sell CDCA-authorized contracts to an unlicensed person or entity. As such, the plaintiff argued the proof of claim violated the FDCPA’s prohibition against “false, deceptive, or misleading” representations in connection with the collection of a debt. The 3rd Circuit disagreed.   

    Relying in part on a letter from the Pennsylvania Department of Banking and Securities confirming that the CDCA does not apply to an unlicensed entity that purchases or attempts to collect on charged-off consumer loan accounts of debtors in bankruptcy, the appellate court held that “[t]he CDCA is a loan statute, not a debt collection statute,” and that “entities in the business of purchasing and collecting charged-off consumer debt are not subject to the CDCA’s regulatory scheme.” The 3rd Circuit held that selling charged-off obligations is not the same as selling the defaulted loan contract. Rather, it is selling unsecured debt, which falls outside of the CDCA’s scope. The court concluded that the CDCA’s prohibitions were inapplicable and could not be the basis for the FDCPA violation.

    Courts Third Circuit Appellate Pennsylvania FDCPA

  • DOJ announces settlement against Pennsylvanian bank for alleged redlining

    Federal Issues

    On February 5, the DOJ, together with the State of North Carolina, announced a settlement with a Pennsylvania-based bank (respondent) to resolve allegations that the bank engaged in a pattern or practice of lending discrimination by engaging in “redlining” in Charlotte and Winston-Salem, North Carolina, in violation of the Fair Housing Act and ECOA. The DOJ’s complaint alleged that from at least 2017 through 2021, the bank failed to provide mortgage lending services to predominantly Black and Hispanic neighborhoods in Charlotte and Winston-Salem and discouraged people seeking credit in those communities from obtaining home loans. The DOJ compared the respondent’s performance with other lenders, noting that other lenders generated applications in predominantly Black and Hispanic neighborhoods at two-and-a-half times the rate of respondents in Charlotte, and four times the rate of respondents in Winston-Salem.  

    Under the two proposed consent orders, the respondent will, among other things (i) invest at least $11.75 million in a loan subsidy fund to increase access to home mortgage, home improvement, and home refinance loans for residents of majority Black and Hispanic neighborhoods; (ii) spend $1 million on community partnerships; (iii) spend $750,000 for advertising, outreach, consumer financial education, and credit counseling focused on the areas at hand; (iv) open three new branches in the areas at hand, with at least one mortgage banker assigned to each branch; (v) hire a director of community lending who will oversee the continued development of lending in communities of color; (vi) retain independent consultants to enhance its fair lending program and better meet communities’ needs for mortgage credit; (vii) conduct a community credit needs assessment and offer a staff training; and (viii) evaluate its fair lending compliance management systems.  

    Federal Issues DOJ Redlining North Carolina Enforcement Pennsylvania Mortgages

  • 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

  • Title lender reaches settlement with Pennsylvania AG

    State Issues

    On January 10, Pennsylvania AG Michelle Henry announced a settlement with a national auto title lending company, resolving alleged violations of the Pennsylvania Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law and the Loan Interest and Protection Law (LIPL). According to the settlement, since 2016, the lender made thousands of vehicle title loans to Pennsylvania residents, with interest rates exceeding 100 percent without the necessary license required by the Consumer Discount Company Act.

    The AG also noted that some of the loans resulted from leads that they bought from third parties who purported to have physical offices in Pennsylvania, when in fact, neither the lender nor its lead generators were in Pennsylvania. The AG also said that most Pennsylvania-based borrowers drove to one of the lender’s Delaware locations. Nonetheless, the AG said, “Pennsylvania usury laws apply because [the lender] collected money from Pennsylvania consumers and repossessed vehicles in Pennsylvania.” In the settlement, the lender denies all allegations of unlawful conduct, including the assertion that it knowingly acquired leads from third parties leading to loans for Pennsylvania residents. The lender explained its position that until the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit rendered its opinion in another matter in January 2022, it held a “good faith and reasonable belief” based on then-existing law, particularly the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, that its operations were lawful.

    Among other things, the settlement (i) requires the lender to pay $2.2 million in consumer restitution; (ii) requires the lender to cancel approximately $3.7 million in existing loans; (iii) enjoins and prohibits the lender from violating the LIPL; and (iv) requires the lender to return any repossessed vehicles at no charge and refund consumers of all repossession fees previously charged.

    State Issues Settlement Enforcement Pennsylvania State Attorney General Lending Title Loans Interest

  • FTC temporarily halts business opportunity scheme

    Federal Issues

    On December 19, the FTC announced that the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania granted a temporary restraining order against a business opportunity scheme for allegedly engaging in deceptive acts. The court’s order barred the defendants from making misrepresentations about any business or money-making opportunity and froze the defendant’s assets. According to the FTC’s complaint, the business opportunity scheme violated the FTC Act’s prohibition of “unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce” and the Telemarketing Sales Rule by, among other things, (i) making misrepresentations regarding earnings from their products and services; (ii) furnishing “success coaches” with marketing materials to be used for new member recruitment, thus providing the means for the commission of deceptive acts or practices; (iii) making misrepresentations regarding profitability to persuade consumers to pay for membership, digital products, and marketing packages; (iv) making misrepresentations regarding material aspects of an investment opportunity; and (v) facilitating outbound calls that deliver prerecorded messages to encourage consumers to purchase its products, also known as robocalls. Beyond the temporary restraining order and asset freeze, the FTC is seeking a permanent injunction and other equitable relief.

    Federal Issues FTC Enforcement FTC Act Deceptive Pennsylvania Robocalls

  • Pennsylvania reaches $11 million settlement with rent-to-own company

    State Issues

    On May 15, the Pennsylvania attorney general announced a $11.4 million settlement with a rent-to-own lender and its subsidiaries accused of engaging in predatory practices targeting low-income borrowers and employing deceptive collection practices. According to the AG, the lender disguised one-year rent-to-own agreements as “100-Day Cash Payoffs” and then concealed the balances owed. The AG maintained that consumers were locked into binding 12-month agreements that included high leasing fees (equal to 152 percent APR interest). The AG explained that consumers entitled to restitution and relief “had already satisfied the cash price, the sales tax on the cash price, and the processing fees associated with their purchase – yet still owed [the lender] a balance.” Additionally, the AG accused the lender of using a web-based portal for creating and signing contracts, which made it easy for persons other than the consumer to sign the agreements.

    The order requires the lender to pay $7.3 million in restitution that will be distributed to affected consumers, $200,000 in civil penalties, and $750,000 in costs to be paid to the AG to be used for public protection and education purposes. Additionally, the lender is required to reduce the balances of delinquent lease-to-own accounts for certain rental purchase agreements, resulting in a $3.15 million aggregate reduction in balances. The lender has also agreed to, among other things, not represent or imply that failure to pay a debt owed or alleged to be owed “will result in the seizure, attachment or sale of any property that is the subject of the debt unless such action is lawful” or that the lender’s subsidiary intends to take such actions. The lender is also prohibited from collecting any amount, including interest, fees, charges, or expenses incidental to the principal obligation, unless the amount is expressly authorized by the agreement creating the obligation or permitted by law. Furthermore, the lender’s subsidiaries must clearly and conspicuously disclose customer balances during servicing calls and through a customer portal.

    State Issues State Attorney General Settlement Enforcement Pennsylvania Consumer Finance Consumer Lending Debt Collection

  • FTC, Pennsylvania ban debt collection operation

    Federal Issues

    On April 26, the FTC and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania announced that the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania recently entered an order permanently banning a debt collection firm and two associated individuals from the industry. The FTC and Pennsylvania sued the defendants in 2020 for their involvement in a telemarketing operation that allegedly misrepresented “no obligation” trial offers to organizations and then enrolled recipients in subscriptions for several hundred dollars without their consent (covered by InfoBytes here). The complaint charged the defendants with violating the FTC Act by, among other things, illegally threatening the organizations if they did not pay for the unordered subscriptions and claimed the debt collection firm handled collections nationwide despite not having a valid corporate registration in any state and only being licensed to collect debt in Washington State. In addition to permanently enjoining the defendants from participating in the debt collection industry (whether directly or through an intermediary), the court order requires the defendants’ continued cooperation as the case proceeds against the other defendants.

    Federal Issues Courts State Issues Pennsylvania Consumer Finance Debt Collection FTC Act

  • District Court says debtor bears the burden of asserting a garnishment exemption

    Courts

    On December 15, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania granted a defendant’s motion for judgment on the pleadings in a debt collection garnishment suit. One of the plaintiffs was referred to collections after he defaulted on his credit card debt, and a judgment was entered against him by the original creditor. The defendant filed for a writ of execution, seeking to garnish funds that were in a joint bank account maintained by both plaintiffs. The writ outlined major exemptions under Pennsylvania and federal law, noting that the plaintiff may also be able to rely on other exemptions, and instructed him to complete a claim for exemption. Plaintiffs sued for violations of the FDCPA, claiming, among other things, that the defendant should have known that the account was a joint account, and therefore exempt, before seeking the writ of execution. According to the plaintiffs, the defendant should have known or reasonably known “that the funds in the joint account were immune from execution because it ‘performed its own private asset search to discover’ the account.” The court disagreed, holding, that under Pennsylvania’s garnishment procedures, the debtor bears the burden of asserting an exemption. This assertion, the court said, must be more than a “self-serving statement that an exemption applies.”

    The court cited a ruling issued by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, in which the court determined that “[t]he bottom line here is that, right or wrong, a judgment creditor has no duty under either California or federal law to investigate, much less confirm, that a judgment debtor’s bank accounts contain only non-exempt funds prior to authorizing a levy on those accounts. It is unreasonable to conclude that a judgment creditor’s failure to conduct a pre-levy debtor’s exam, when there is no legal obligation or requirement to do so, constitutes unfair or unconscionable action.”

    Courts State Issues Pennsylvania Consumer Finance FDCPA Debt Collection

  • Pennsylvania amends remote work definition

    On November 3, the Pennsylvania governor signed HB 2667, which amends the definition of “remote location” in the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes. In order for a mortgage loan originator sponsored by a licensee to be permitted to work from a “remote location,” the location must meet certain criteria. The amended definition includes a prohibition against “in-person consumer interaction” that is limited to “in-person consumer interaction” at a mortgage loan originator’s personal residence. It also removes a requirement for a “remote location” to maintain “physical records regarding the licensee’s mortgage loan business . . . at the location.” The bill is effective immediately.

    Licensing State Issues Pennsylvania State Legislation Mortgages Mortgage Origination

  • Pennsylvania amends privacy bill

    Privacy, Cyber Risk & Data Security

    On November 3, the Pennsylvania governor signed SB 696 to amend the Breach of Personal Information Notification Act. The bill, among other things, prohibits employees of the Commonwealth from using non-secured Internet connections. The bill also includes data storage policy provisions, which establish that an entity that maintains, stores, or manages computerized data on behalf of Pennsylvania that constitutes personal information must develop a policy to govern reasonably proper storage of the personal information. The bill further notes that a goal of the policy must be to reduce the risk of future breaches of the security of the system. The bill is effective 180 days after approval by the governor.

    Privacy, Cyber Risk & Data Security State Issues State Legislation Pennsylvania Data Breach

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