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Washington Court of Appeals affirms dismissal of suit accusing bank of collecting debt under a different name
On May 3, the Washington Court of Appeals, Division Three, affirmed the dismissal of an action accusing a defendant bank of violating the FDCPA by attempting to collect a debt in a name that differed from its own. The plaintiff obtained a credit card from the bank in 2006. Following a merger between the bank holding company (a separate legal entity at the time) and a card services company, the defendant bank merged with and under the charter of the card services company and notified credit card customers that the new issuer and administrator of their accounts would be the card services company. In 2014, the card services company merged into and under the charter of the national bank of the same name, who subsequently became issuer and administrator of the credit card portfolio and the named creditor of the plaintiff’s account. By 2012, the plaintiff had stopped making payments on his credit card and was sued by the card services company. While this action was pending, the 2014 merger occurred but the collection action was not updated to reflect this development. Eventually, the collection action was dismissed without prejudice, and the plaintiff sued the defendant in Washington state court, claiming the defendant violated the FDCPA because it continued its collection suit under the name of the card services company after the merger had taken place. The state court dismissed the case, and the plaintiff appealed. At issue was whether the national bank “falls under the FDCPA despite its status as a creditor because it used a name other than its own ‘which would indicate that a third person is collecting or attempting to collect’ the debt owed by” the plaintiff.
The Court of Appeals disagreed and held that even a least sophisticated consumer would not be confused and think that the debt had been transferred to a third-party collection agency. “Instead, a least sophisticated consumer (and even average-level consumer) might be led to believe that nothing had changed and [the card services company] was still collecting its credit card debt in its own right,” the Court of Appeals wrote. “There is no reason to think a least sophisticated consumer would be led to believe that [the bank] had acquired [the card services company’s] debt and then contracted with [it] to collect the debt.”
On April 26, the U.S District Court for the Northern District of California granted a defendant tech company’s motion for reconsideration to dismiss a plaintiffs’ Washington Privacy Act (WPA) claims that it shared customer data with third parties without first obtaining consent. According to the amended complaint, the defendant allegedly misrepresented its privacy and security practices in violation of federal and state law by, among other things, sharing customer data with unauthorized third parties (some of which suffered data breaches), using customer data to develop products and services to sell to other companies, and falsely promising it complied with privacy and confidentiality standards. Plaintiffs alleged the company scanned 400 billion customer emails to obtain insights for its API, which it then sold to others.
In its prior ruling, the court dismissed plaintiffs’ Wiretap Act and Stored Communications Act claims but allowed the WPA claims to proceed. The defendant then filed a motion for partial reconsideration, arguing that the WPA claim is also premised on the same scanned email theory as with the other two claims that were already dismissed. The court agreed that the plaintiffs failed to sufficiently allege that their emails were scanned and dismissed the WPA claims without leave to amend because the “interception or disclosure of a communication” was necessary “in order for the conduct to be actionable.”
District Court refuses to enforce choice-of-law provision, allows individual state data privacy claims to proceed
On March 30, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed a lower court’s dismissal of claims based on the FDCPA and the Washington Consumer Protection Act (WCPA). According to the memorandum, the complaint alleged that the defendants violated the FDCPA and WCPA when they sought to garnish plaintiff’s wages based a state court judgment that was not yet final. The district court dismissed the FDCPA claim, holding that “at worst, Defendants violated a state court procedural rule—not substantive law—when they applied for the writ of garnishment based on the valid, albeit, not final judgment.” In affirming that dismissal, however, the appellate court noted that “[t]he issue is not whether [the defendant] and [the defendant’s attorney] violated state law but whether they violated the FDCPA.” The 9th Circuit clarified that “[t]he [plaintiff] might have argued that [the defendant] and [the defendant’s attorney] falsely represented the legal status of their debt by implicitly claiming in the garnishment application that the debt was subject to a final judgment. But they [did] not make this argument, so it is waived.” With respect to the WCPA claim, while the district court’s dismissal was based on a determination that the garnishment did not “occur in trade or commerce” as required under that statute, the 9th Circuit pointed out that if the garnishment was “a violation of the Washington Collection Agency Act (WCAA), [it] would have established an unfair or deceptive act in trade or commerce for purposes of the WCPA,” but upheld dismissal because the plaintiff had waived that argument as well.
On January 12, HUD announced disaster assistance for certain areas in Missouri impacted by severe storms, straight-line winds, and tornadoes in December 2021. The disaster assistance supplements state, tribal, and local recovery efforts in specific counties, and provides foreclosure relief and other assistance to affected homeowners following President Biden’s major disaster declaration on January 11. According to the announcement, HUD is providing an automatic 90-day moratorium on foreclosures of FHA-insured home mortgages for covered properties and is making FHA insurance available to victims whose homes were destroyed or severely damaged, such that “reconstruction or replacement is necessary.” HUD’s Section 203(k) loan program allows individuals who have lost homes to finance the purchase of a house or refinance an existing house along with the costs of repair, through a single mortgage. The program also allows homeowners with damaged property to finance the rehabilitation of existing single-family homes. HUD also announced it is allowing applications for administrative flexibility waivers for Community Planning and Development Grantees and public housing authorities. Recently, HUD announced it will provide the same foreclosure relief and assistance to Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, and Washington state homeowners affected by severe storms, flooding, tornados, and wildfires in those states. (See press releases here, here, here, and here).
On January 12, the FDIC issued FIL-05-2022 to provide regulatory relief to financial institutions and help facilitate recovery in areas of Washington state affected by flooding and mudslides. The FDIC acknowledged the unusual circumstances faced by institutions and their customers affected by the severe weather events in certain counties of Washington and suggested that institutions work with impacted borrowers to, among other things, (i) extend repayment terms; (ii) restructure existing loans; or (iii) ease terms for new loans to those affected by the severe weather, provided the measures are done “in a manner consistent with sound banking practices.” The FDIC noted that it will consider the unusual circumstances when examining efforts to work with borrowers in affected communities and that institutions “may receive favorable Community Reinvestment Act consideration for community development loans, investments, and services in support of disaster recovery.” The FDIC will also consider regulatory relief from certain filing and publishing requirements. Earlier on January 5, the FDIC also issued FIL-01-2022 and FIL-02-2022 to provide the same regulatory relief to financial institutions and help facilitate recovery in areas of Arkansas and Colorado affected by severe storms, tornados, winds, and wildfires.
On December 27, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington granted class certification and preliminarily approved a putative class action settlement alleging two Washington cannabis companies violated the TCPA by sending unsolicited promotional text messages without consumer consent. According to the plaintiff’s unopposed motion for preliminary approval of the settlement, the plaintiff contended that she did not consent to receiving commercial texts from defendants, and alleged violations of the TCPA as well as Washington’s Consumer Protection Act predicated on the defendants’ alleged violations of Washington’s Commercial Electronic Mail Act. The preliminarily approved settlement would give affected consumers vouchers totaling up to $618,000. Class counsel also intends to move for a class representative award and attorneys’ fees and expenses. The proposed settlement class includes anyone in Washington who received at least one unsolicited commercial text message from or on behalf of the defendants after June 22, 2015, and through the date of class certification.
The court granted final approval to the settlement on April 11.
On September 8, the Washington attorney general announced that a Renton-based debt collector (defendant) will pay over $1.6 million in a settlement to resolve allegations that it violated the Washington Consumer Protection Act by misleading consumers with offers for “settlements” of debts. According to the AG, the defendant sent letters titled “settlement offers,” but failed to disclose that because the debt was older than the six year statute of limitations for filing a suit to collect, it could not enforce the debt in court. The term “settlement offer” allegedly deceptively suggested the defendant could potentially litigate to collect the debt. Under the terms of the settlement, the defendant is required to: (i) pay full restitution to 1,400 Washingtonians, a total of nearly $710,000; (ii) pay $1,675,000 to the attorney general’s office, including payment to cover the costs of the case and fund future investigations and enforcement of the Consumer Protection Act; (iii) cease using the words “settle” or “settlement” when attempting to collect on time-barred debts; and (iv) disclose that the statute of limitations to sue on the debt has passed.
On May 30, the Maryland governor signed HB 1213, which requires “certain credit grantors to adhere to certain rules concerning evaluations of applications and, under certain circumstances, consider alternative methods of evaluating an applicant’s creditworthiness when evaluating an application for a primary residential mortgage loan or an extension of credit.” Under HB 1213, an entity must, among other things: (i) adhere to the rules concerning evaluations of applications including history of rent or mortgage payments and utility payments, school attendance, and work attendance; and (ii) consider other verifiable alternative indications of creditworthiness if requested by the applicant. The law is effective October 1.
On June 8, the Washington attorney general announced a settlement with a Colorado-based collection agency for alleged unlawful debt collection practices in violation of Washington’s Consumer Protection Act and Collection Agency Act, including assessing fees and costs on consumers even when no funds were captured in the garnishment, operating without a license for over a year, and failing to provide legally required garnishment exemptions to state residents. Under the terms of the consent decree, the debt collection agency must pay back approximately $475,000 in restitution to as many as 5,000 state residents and forgive up to $250,000 in fees and costs to resolve the lawsuit. The debt collection agency must also pay $414,000 to the AG’s office for the cost of the investigation and to fund the ongoing work of the office’s Consumer Protection Division. In addition to paying the fines, the agency is also required to: (i) discontinue assessing fees on consumers from whom the company has not collected funds; (ii) provide legally required garnishment exemptions to consumers; and (iii) incorporate legally required evidence when submitting garnishment judgment applications to the court.
- Kathryn L. Ryan and Jedd R. Bellman to discuss “Risk and compliance management: Are you covered?” at a Mortgage Bankers Association webinar
- Melissa Klimkiewicz and Daniel A. Bellovin to discuss “Things to know about flood insurance” at a NAFCU webinar
- Hank Asbill to discuss “Ethical issues at sentencing” at the 31st Annual National Seminar on Federal Sentencing
- Max Bonici will moderate a panel on “Enforcement risk and other regulatory and compliance issues related to crypto and digital assets” at the American Bar Association’s 2022 Annual Meeting
- John R. Coleman to provide a “CFPB Update” at MBA’s 2022 Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Amanda R. Lawrence to discuss “The shifting data privacy and data protection landscape” at MBA’s 2022 Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Jeffrey P. Naimon to provide “An update on key fair lending cases and the CRA and UDAAP rules” at MBA’s 2022 Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Benjamin W. Hutten to discuss “Fundamentals of financial crime compliance” at the Practicing Law Institute
- Benjamin W. Hutten to discuss “Ongoing CDD: Operational considerations” at NAFCU’s Regulatory Compliance & BSA Seminar
- James C. Chou to discuss ransomware at NAFCU’s Regulatory Compliance & BSA seminar
- Elizabeth E. McGinn, Benjamin W. Hutten, and James C. Chou to discuss “The Evolving Regulatory Landscape: Third-party and cyber risk management” at the 2022 mWISE Conference
- James T. Parkinson to present a “Global anti-corruption update” at IBA’s annual conference