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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations


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  • District Court addresses plain meaning of “pattern or practice of noncompliance” under RESPA.


    On February 7, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland granted in part and denied in part a defendant mortgage company’s motion to dismiss a class action lawsuit alleging RESPA violations related to escrow account management for borrowers. Class action plaintiffs claim that the defendant’s failure to pay their property taxes in a timely manner, resulting in their homes being potentially subject to local tax sale procedures for unpaid taxes, created a “pattern or practice of noncompliance” within the meaning of RESPA.

    In moving to dismiss, defendant argued that alleged violations of servicing obligations that fall under separate subsections of RESPA cannot create a “pattern or practice of noncompliance” for obligations of the section setting for the escrow-handling obligations.  While noting that “case law interpreting RESPA statutory damages claims is still developing,” the court found that the statute does not require identical violations from the same subsection of RESPA to state a “pattern or practice” claim.  The court reasoned that the absence of the word “subsection” from the statute is noteworthy, and it indicates that Congress did not intend to confine “pattern or practice” to a single subsection, and held that the plain meaning of the provision only requires plaintiffs to allege repeated violations of the “[s]ervicing of mortgage loans and administration of escrow accounts” section of RESPA (i.e., all of the obligations set forth in 12 U.S.C. § 2605). The court also rejected defendant’s argument that plaintiffs failed to state a claim because they “cannot rely upon their own allegations or the existence of public complaints and lawsuits which have not resulted in a judgment against it for violations of RESPA,” finding that allegations of servicing violations from multiple named plaintiffs in separate jurisdictions was sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss.

    Separately, the court dismissed allegations that defendant violated RESPA by failing to respond to plaintiffs’ qualified written requests, finding that plaintiffs’ claims of “emotional distress, without more, do[] not establish the causal link necessary to show actual damages,” and that  plaintiffs did not support claims that voluntary postage costs for sending correspondence to defendants could be recognized as economic damages.

    Courts Mortgages RESPA Maryland

  • Maryland finalizes money transmitter regulation; adds agent of the payee exemption

    State Issues

    On November 17, the Maryland Commissioner of Financial Regulation recently adopted edits to proposed regulations, Code Md. Code Regs., .03-.18, bringing Maryland generally in alignment with the CSBS Money Transmitter Model Law which has been recently adopted by several other states (covered by InfoBytes here, here, and here). Some provisions in the new regulation conform with the model law, while a few stand out as unique additions in Maryland.

    For example, among the newly adopted regulations, amended Regulation .03 provides an exemption for persons appointed as an agent of the payee if (i) there is a written agreement between the payee and agent for payment processing, aligning with Maryland law; (ii) there is public recognition of the agent collecting payments on behalf of the payee; (iii) upon the agent’s receipt of payment, the payor’s obligation ends without risk; (iv) the agent is not serving in an escrow capacity; (v) the agent is not acting as an agent to more than one party; and (vi) the agent mandates prompt, unconditional payment without tying it to future events or performances. This agent of the payee exemption deviates from the model law’s version of the same exemption.

    Additionally, amended Regulation .08 establishes corporate governance standards that require money transmitter licensees to maintain a framework that is commensurate with the size, operational complexity, and overall risk profile of the licensee. This standard also sets expectations around internal audit, external audit, and risk management functions of a license. While this concept is not provided for in the model money transmission law, it aligns with the CSBS model state regulatory prudential standards for nonbank mortgage servicers (covered by InfoBytes here).

    The final regulation will be effective December 11, 2023.

    State Issues Regulation Prudential Regulators Money Service / Money Transmitters Maryland CSBS

  • Maryland says crypto enforcement could affect money transmitter licensure

    On June 22, the Maryland Commissioner of Financial Regulation issued an advisory on recent enforcement actions by Maryland and federal securities enforcement agencies against cryptocurrency-related businesses that could potentially impact businesses pursuing money transmitter licensure. The actions allege certain businesses offered products constituting securities while they were only licensed as money transmitters by the Commissioner of Financial Regulation. The state takes “character and fitness” into consideration for licensure and although the Commissioner does not enforce securities laws, he or she must consider violations of law, including violations of Maryland securities law, when determining whether to grant licenses. The advisory reads, “compliance with law, particularly Maryland law, regardless of whether or not the law falls within the Commissioner’s purview, must be considered when determining whether a licensee warrants the belief that business will be conducted lawfully, and thus whether the licensee is, or remains, qualified for licensure.” Moreover, violations of securities laws could form the grounds for action by the Commissioner against a licensee, “including but not limited to, an action seeking to revoke a license.”

    Licensing State Issues Enforcement State Attorney General Maryland Money Service / Money Transmitters

  • Maryland says shared appreciation agreements are mortgage loans

    State Issues

    The Maryland governor recently signed HB 1150 (the “Act”), which subjects certain shared appreciation agreements (SAAs) to the Maryland Mortgage Lender Law. Under the Act, the term “loan” now “includes an advance made in accordance with the terms of a shared appreciation agreement.” An SAA is defined by the Act to mean “a writing evidencing a transaction or any option, future, or any other derivative between a person and a consumer where the consumer receives money or any other item of value in exchange for an interest or future interest in a dwelling or residential real estate, or a future obligation to repay a sum on the occurrence of [certain] events,” such as an ownership transfer, a repayment maturity date, a consumer’s death, or other events. The Act specifies that a loan is subject to the state’s mortgage lender law if the loan is an SAA and “allows a borrower to repay advances and have any repaid amounts subsequently readvanced to the borrower.”

    Interim guidance released by the Maryland Commissioner of Financial Regulation further clarifies that SAAs are mortgage loans, and that those who offer SAAs to consumers in the state are required to obtain a Maryland mortgage lender licensing unless exempt. Under the Act, the commissioner will issue regulations addressing enforcement and compliance, including SAA disclosure requirements. The Act takes effect July 1. However, for SAA applications taken on or after July 1 (and until regulations are promulgated and effective), the commissioner will not cite a licensee for disclosure requirement violations, provided the licensee makes a good faith effort to give the applicant specified information within ten days of receiving an application. Licensees will be required to provide the information again at least 72 hours before settlement if the actual terms of the SAA differ from those provided in the initial disclosure.

    State Issues Licensing State Legislation State Regulation Mortgages Maryland

  • Maryland eliminates separate licensing requirement for branches

    On May 8, the Maryland governor signed HB 686 to eliminate a requirement that collection agencies and certain non-depository financial institutions must maintain separate licenses for branch locations. The Act now allows such entities to conduct business at multiple licensed locations under a single license. The Act also amends and clarifies other provisions relating to application requirements, licensee information listed in the Nationwide Multi-State Licensing System and Registry, requirements when using trade names, examinations, Commissioner of Financial Regulation assessments, and surety bond requirements. The Act is effective July 1.

    Licensing State Issues State Legislation Maryland NMLS Debt Collection

  • Maryland amends student financing company registration

    On May 8, the Maryland governor signed HB 913 to amend certain provisions relating to student financing company registration and reporting requirements. Among other things, the Act defines the term “student financing company” to mean “an entity engaged in the business of securing, making, or extending student financing products, or any purchaser, assignee, or holder of student financing products.” Student financing companies seeking to provide services in the state will be required to register with the Commissioner of Financial Regulation beginning March 15, 2024. Additionally, the Act provides that a student financing company seeking to renew its registration on an annual basis may be required to pay a fee at the time of renewal. The Act also authorizes the Commissioner to adopt registration procedures for student financing companies, including the use of the Nationwide Multi-State Licensing System and Registry, and may impose certain fees for using the registry. Additionally, the Act makes several technical clarifying provisions to the reporting requirements for student financing companies to be filed with the Commissioner annually on or before March 15. Furthermore, on or before June 15, 2024 (and each June 15 thereafter), information reported by the student financing companies will be available on a publicly accessible website to be developed and maintained by the Commissioner. The Act is effective October 1.

    Licensing State Issues State Legislation Maryland Student Lending

  • District Court preliminarily approves $2.75 million autodialer TCPA settlement


    On January 31, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland preliminarily approved a class action settlement in which a cloud computing technology company agreed to pay $2.75 million to resolve alleged violations of the TCPA and the Maryland Telephone Consumer Protection Act. According to the plaintiff, the defendant violated the TCPA by, among other things, placing unsolicited telemarketing calls using an automated dialing system to class members on residential and cell phone numbers. Under the terms of the proposed settlement agreement, the defendant must establish a non-reversionary fund of $2.75 million to go to class members to whom the defendant (or a third party acting on its behalf) made (i) one or more phone calls to their cell phones; (ii) two or more calls while their numbers were on the National Do Not Call Registry; or (iii) one or more calls after the recipients asked the defendant or the third party to stop calling. “Plaintiff has also shown that a class action litigation is superior to other available methods for adjudicating this controversy,” the court wrote. “Plaintiff's counsel estimate that the average settlement payment to each Class Member would be approximately $30.00 to $60.00. Given this, the individual claims of each Class Member would be too small to justify individual lawsuits.” The court also approved proposed attorneys’ fees (not to exceed a third of the total settlement fund), as well as up to $60,000 for plaintiff’s out-of-pocket expenses and a $10,000 service fee award.

    Courts TCPA Autodialer Class Action State Issues Maryland Do Not Call Registry

  • District Court grants partial summary judgment to debt collector in credit reporting and debt collection action


    On September 21, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland partially granted a defendant debt collector’s motion for summary judgment in a credit reporting and debt collection action. The plaintiff disputed debt related to two electric bills for two different residences that were eventually combined into one account. After the plaintiff informed the electric company that she would not be paying the bill, the debt was eventually referred for collection to the defendant. The plaintiff disputed the debt, and the defendant conducted an investigation. The plaintiff continued to contend that the defendant was certifying the debt without proof and claimed the defendant’s agents called her a liar and incorrectly asserted that she had not made payments. The defendant argued that it was entitled to summary judgment on the plaintiff’s FCRA and FDCPA claims, contending, among other things, that FCRA 1681e(b) “expressly applies to [credit reporting agencies] and not to furnishers.”

    The court first reviewed the plaintiff’s FCRA claims as to whether the defendant conducted a reasonable investigation. The court stated that the plaintiff bore the burden to establish whether the defendant failed to conduct a reasonable investigation, and noted that because she failed to provide certain evidence to the defendant “there is no genuine dispute that the investigation conducted by [defendant] was not unreasonable” or that the defendant reported accurate information to the CRAs about the debt. With respect to some of the FDCPA claims, the court denied the defendant summary judgment on the basis that the plaintiff created a genuine dispute about whether the defendant violated § 1692d (the provision prohibiting a debt collector from engaging in harassment or abuse). According to the opinion, evidence suggests that the defendant’s agents incorrectly informed the plaintiff that she had never made a payment on one of the accounts, called her a liar when she protested this information, and used a “demeaning tone” in their communications. “[A] reasonable jury could conclude that the language would have the natural consequence of abusing a consumer relatively more susceptible to harassment, oppression, or abuse,” the court wrote.

    Additionally, the court ruled on Maryland state law claims introduced in the plaintiff’s opposition to summary judgment. The court ruled against her Maryland Consumer Debt Collection Act claim regarding the alleged use of abusive language, writing that the agents were not “grossly abusive” and that the plaintiff failed to generate a genuine dispute on this issue. Nor did the plaintiff show a genuine dispute as to whether the debt was inaccurate or that the defendant knew the debt was invalid. The court also entered summary judgment in favor of the defendant on the plaintiff’s Maryland Consumer Protection Act and Maryland Collection Agency Licensing Act claims.

    Courts FCRA FDCPA Consumer Finance State Issues Maryland Debt Collection Credit Report

  • District Court says tech company not liable for app in crypto theft


    On September 2, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California granted a defendant California tech company’s motion to dismiss a putative class action filed by users who claimed their cryptocurrency was stolen after they downloaded a “phishing” program that posed as a legitimate digital wallet. Plaintiffs alleged that the illegitimate app (developed by a third-party and not the defendant) caused them to lose thousands of dollars in cryptocurrency. Claiming that the app was a spoofing and phishing program that obtained consumers’ cryptocurrency account information and routed that information to hackers’ personal accounts, plaintiffs sued, asserting claims under the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, Electronic Communications Privacy Act, California Consumer Privacy Act, California’s Unfair Competition Law, California Consumer Privacy Act, California Consumer Legal Remedies Act, Maryland Wiretap and Electronic Surveillance Act, Maryland Personal Information Protection Act, and Maryland Consumer Protection Act. The defendant moved to dismiss, arguing that it was immune from liability under § 230(c)(1) of the Communications Decency Act. The court agreed with the defendant, ruling that it is granted protection under the Act because it qualifies as an “interactive computer service provider” within the meaning of the statute, is treated as a publisher, and provides information from another information content provider. “Here, plaintiffs’ computer fraud and privacy claims are based on [defendant’s] reproduction of an app [] intended for public consumption, via the App Store,” the court wrote. “But, as [defendant] notes, its review and authorization of the [] app for distribution on the App Store is inherently publishing activity.” Moreover, the court concluded that, among other things, the defendant’s liability provision contained within its terms, which states that it is not liable for conduct of a third party, is valid and enforceable.

    Courts Digital Assets Privacy, Cyber Risk & Data Security Class Action Cryptocurrency State Issues California Maryland

  • Maryland orders debt-consolidation operation to pay more than $2 million in penalties and restitution

    State Issues

    On August 22, the Maryland attorney general issued a final order against a debt-consolidation operation, resolving allegations that the respondents collected hundreds of thousands of dollars from consumers to help them consolidate and pay off outstanding debt but failed to provide the promised services. According to the AG, the respondents deceptively promised that their services would save consumers money, allow consumers to pay off outstanding debts in a shorter timeframe than the original loan terms, and improve consumers’ credit scores. Consumers were charged upfront fees ranging from $11,000 to $118,000 for services plus additional amounts that were supposed to go toward paying off their outstanding debts. However, instead of providing the promised services, the respondents allegedly used most of the funds for their own personal use while consumers were threatened with foreclosure and had their cars repossessed. The final order permanently enjoins the respondents from violating the Maryland Consumer Protection Act, the Maryland Mortgage Assistance Relief Services Act, the Maryland Credit Services Business Act, and the Maryland Debt Management Services Act. The respondents are also required to pay a $1.2 million penalty and must refund all monies collected from consumers who did not receive the promised services. The AG estimates that total payments will exceed $2 million.

    State Issues State Attorney General Enforcement Maryland Debt Relief Consumer Finance


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