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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

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  • OCC announces Tropical Storm Nicole disaster relief

    On November 9, the OCC issued a proclamation permitting OCC-regulated institutions, at their discretion, to close offices affected by Tropical Storm Nicole in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina “for as long as deemed necessary for bank operation or public safety.” The proclamation directs institutions to OCC Bulletin 2012-28 for further guidance on actions they should take in response to natural disasters and other emergency conditions. According to the OCC, only bank offices directly affected by potentially unsafe conditions should close, and institutions should make every effort to reopen as quickly as possible to address customers’ banking needs.

    Bank Regulatory Federal Issues OCC Disaster Relief Florida Georgia North Carolina South Carolina

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  • Agencies announce hurricanes Fiona and Ian disaster relief guidance

    On September 29, the FDIC, Federal Reserve Board, NCUA, OCC, and the Conference of State Bank Supervisors issued a joint interagency statement covering supervisory practices for financial institutions affected by Hurricanes Fiona and Ian. Among other things, the agencies informed institutions facing operational challenges that the regulators will expedite requests for temporary facilities, noting that in most cases, “a telephone notice to the primary federal and/or state regulator will suffice initially to start the approval process, with necessary written notification being submitted shortly thereafter.” The agencies also called on financial institutions to “work constructively” with affected borrowers, noting that “prudent efforts” to adjust or alter loan terms in affected areas “should not be subject to examiner criticism.” Institutions facing difficulties in complying with any publishing and reporting requirements should contact their primary federal and/or state regulator. Additionally, the agencies noted that institutions may receive Community Reinvestment Act consideration for community development loans, investments, or services that revitalize or stabilize federally designated disaster areas. Institutions are also encouraged to monitor municipal securities and loans impacted by Hurricanes Fiona and Ian.

    HUD also announced disaster assistance for areas in Puerto Rico affected by Hurricane Fiona. The disaster assistance follows President Biden’s major disaster declaration on September 21. According to the announcement, effective immediately, HUD is issuing 29 regulatory and administrative waivers intended to provide flexibility and relief to impacted communities. The waivers cover the following HUD programs: The Community Development Block Grant Program, HOME Investment Partnerships Program, Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS Program, Continuum of Care Program, and Emergency Solutions Grant Program. HUD is also providing an automatic 90-day moratorium on foreclosures of FHA-insured home mortgages for covered properties effective September 21, as well as for mortgages to Native American borrowers guaranteed under Section 184 Indian Home Loan Guarantee program and home equity conversion mortgages. HUD is also making various FHA insurance options available to victims whose homes require repairs or were destroyed or severely damaged. HUD’s Section 203(h) program allows borrowers from participating FHA-approved lenders to obtain 100 percent financing, including closing costs, for homes in which “reconstruction or replacement is necessary.” Additionally, HUD’s Section 203(k) loan program will allow individuals to finance the purchase of a house, or refinance an existing house and the costs of repair, through a single mortgage. The program also allows homeowners with damaged property to finance the repair of their existing single-family homes. HUD will also share information on housing providers and HUD programs with FEMA and the state, and will provide flexibility to public housing agencies. Similar disaster assistance measures were also announced (see here and here) for areas of Alaska affected by severe storms, flooding, and landslides from September 15-20, and areas in Florida impacted by Hurricane Ian.

    The FDIC also issued FIL-42-2022 to provide regulatory relief to financial institutions and help facilitate recovery in areas of Puerto Rico affected by Hurricane Fiona from September 17 and later. The FDIC acknowledged the unusual circumstances faced by institutions affected by the storms 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.” Additionally, the FDIC noted 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.

    Additionally, the OCC issued a proclamation permitting OCC-regulated institutions, at their discretion, to close offices affected by Hurricane Ian in Florida “for as long as deemed necessary for bank operation or public safety.” The proclamation directed institutions to OCC Bulletin 2012-28 for further guidance on actions they should take in response to natural disasters and other emergency conditions. According to the 2012 Bulletin, only bank offices directly affected by potentially unsafe conditions should close, and institutions should make every effort to reopen as quickly as possible to address customers’ banking needs.

    NYDFS also issued an industry letter advising state-regulated financial institutions to take reasonable and prudent measures to assist consumers and businesses affected by Hurricane Fiona in Puerto Rico. The guidance recommends that financial institutions (i) waive ATM and overdraft fees; (ii) increase ATM withdrawal limits; (iii) ease restrictions on cashing out-of-state and non-customer checks; (iv) ease credit terms for new loans; (v) increase credit card limits for creditworthy customers; (vi) waive late fees on credit card and other loan balances; (vii) work with customers to defer payments or extend payment due dates on loans to help prevent delinquencies and negative credit reporting caused by disaster-related disruptions; and (viii) work with money transmitters and money services businesses to facilitate and expedite the transmission of funds. The actions are intended to help ease financial burdens for New Yorkers seeking to support individuals located in Puerto Rico, as well as consumers in Puerto Rico who hold New York bank accounts. 

    Bank Regulatory Federal Issues State Issues FDIC HUD NYDFS Disaster Relief Puerto Rico Consumer Finance Mortgages Florida Alaska

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  • 11th Circuit says wasted time, distress can confer FDCPA standing

    Courts

    On September 7, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit vacated the dismissal of an FDCPA action after determining that wasted time and emotional distress can be sufficiently concrete as to confer Article III standing. After the plaintiff fell behind on his monthly condo association payments, the association referred the matter to a law firm (collectively, “defendants”). The defendant law firm eventually filed a claim of lien against the plaintiff’s condo and threatened foreclosure if the plaintiff did not pay more than $10,000 in past-due fees, interest, late fees, attorney’s fees, and costs. The plaintiff sued for violations of the FDCPA and state law, claiming, among other things, that the debt collection letters and claim of lien overstated the amount due by including interest, late fees, and other charges not permitted under Florida law. He also alleged that the law firm violated the FDCPA by filing the claim of lien in the public record, thereby communicating with a third party about his debt without permission. These actions, the plaintiff contended, caused him emotional distress and cost him time, money, and effort when “trying to ‘determine, verify, and dispute the amounts being sought against him.’” The plaintiff eventually voluntarily dismissed the claims against the association, and the law firm moved to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction. The district court determined that the plaintiff lacked standing because the law firm’s actions did not cause him any concrete injury and dismissed the suit.

    On appeal, the 11th Circuit disagreed after finding that the time the plaintiff spent trying to determine the correct amount of debt and the emotion distress he suffered during the process were adequate to satisfy constitutional standing requirements. “[Plaintiff] presented evidence that he suffered injuries—including an inaccurate claim of lien against his property; time spent trying to determine the correct amount of his debt, resolve the lien, and avoid the threatened foreclosure; and emotional distress manifesting in a loss of sleep—which are sufficiently tangible to confer Article III standing,” the appellate court wrote. The 11th Circuit explained that while the time and money spent on the FDCPA lawsuit itself could not give rise to a concrete injury for standing purposes, the time and money spent by the plaintiff defending against a legal action taken by a debt collector was “separable” from the costs of bringing the FDCPA suit. Moreover, the appellate court determined that the defendants refusing to release the lien against the plaintiff’s home unless he paid more than what was actually owed “was a tangible harm sufficient to give [plaintiff] standing for his claims that the defendants’ conduct in filing the lien and threatening to foreclose on it violated the FDCPA.”

    Courts State Issues Appellate Eleventh Circuit Debt Collection Consumer Finance FDCPA Florida

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  • Florida appeals court: Injury required for FACTA standing

    Courts

    On July 13, a Florida District Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA) class claims brought against a defendant shoe company after determining that the lead plaintiff lacked standing because he suffered no “distinct or palpable” injury. The plaintiff first filed a class action suit in federal court, claiming a receipt he received from the company included 10 digits of his credit card number—a violation of FACTA’s truncation requirement, which only permits the last five digits to be printed on a receipt. The plaintiff did not allege that his credit card was used, lost, or stolen in any way, nor was evidence presented to show there was any danger of his credit card being used. The suit was stayed pending the resolution of a different FACTA dispute in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. As previously covered by InfoBytes, a split en banc 11th Circuit concluded that the plaintiffs in that separate action lacked standing because they did not allege any concrete harm and vacated a $6.3 million settlement. Specifically, the en banc majority rejected the named plaintiff’s argument that “receipt of a noncompliant receipt itself is a concrete injury,” and noted that “nothing in FACTA suggests some kind of intrinsic worth in a compliant receipt.”

    Following the 11th Circuit decision, the parties agreed to dismiss the federal action and remanded a later-filed action to state court where the plaintiff argued that “state standing was plenary and therefore less restrictive than federal standing.” The trial court disagreed and granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss, ruling that “Florida requires a concrete injury to have standing,” and “alleging a mere statutory violation does not convey standing per se.” The trial court ruled that “obtaining a receipt in alleged violation of FACTA does not satisfy this requirement,” and the appeals court agreed, holding that, among other things, no actual damages occurred since nothing was alleged to have been charged to the plaintiff’s account, nor was there the imminent possibility of injury because the plaintiff retained possession of the receipt. In its opinion, the appellate court cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions in Spokeo and TransUnion with approval, noting that “individuals ‘must allege some threatened or actual injury resulting from the putatively illegal action.’”

    Courts State Issues Florida FACTA Privacy, Cyber Risk & Data Security Class Action U.S. Supreme Court Standing Appellate

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  • 11th Circuit: Statements indicating accrual of debt balance following settlement are enough to state a claim

    Courts

    On July 1, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit overturned a district court’s dismissal of an FDCPA case, holding that statements sent to plaintiffs indicating that a debt balance was accruing after a settlement had been reached is enough to state a claim. According to the opinion, the plaintiffs defaulted on a mortgage and a servicer sued for foreclosure. While the foreclosure suit was pending, the defendant took over servicing of the loan. A “disagreement” arose, which led the plaintiffs to sue the defendant. A settlement was reached and it was agreed that the plaintiffs owed $85,790.99, which was to be paid in one year. However, four months later, the defendant sent a mortgage statement notifying the plaintiffs that their loan had “been accelerated” because they were “late on [their] monthly payments.” On the defendant’s “fast-tracked timetable,” the plaintiff owed $92,789.55 to be paid in a month, and if they did not pay, the defendant’s statement stated that they risked more fees and “the loss of [their] home to a foreclosure sale.” The plaintiffs continued to receive statements and the amount due increased monthly. The plaintiffs sued, saying the defendant violated the FDCPA by sending statements with incorrect balances. A district court ruled the periodic statements were unrelated to debt collection because the defendant was required to send monthly updates under TILA. The district court further determined that the plaintiffs failed to state an FDCPA claim, declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the Florida law claims, and dismissed the complaint.

    On appeal, the 11th Circuit ruled that statements must comply with the FDCPA, even if they are not required to be sent under the statute. The 11th Circuit reiterated that the respective requirements of TILA and the FDCPA can be approached in a “harmonized” fashion, stating that “a periodic statement mandated by [TILA] can also be a debt-collection communication covered by the FDCPA.” The appellate court reversed the district court’s dismissal because “the complaint here plausibly alleges that the periodic statements sent to the plaintiffs aimed to collect their debt.”

    Courts Appellate Eleventh Circuit FDCPA TILA State Issues Florida Debt Collection

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  • FTC, Florida file complaint against grant funding operation

    Federal Issues

    On June 27, the FTC and the Florida attorney general filed a complaint against a Florida-based grant funding company and its owner (collectively, “defendants”) alleging that the defendants violated the Consumer Protection Act, the FTC Act, and the Florida Deceptive Unfair Trade Practices Act. According to the complaint, the defendants deceptively marketed grant writing and consulting services to minority-owned small businesses by, among other things, (i) promising grant funding that did not exist and/or was never awarded; (ii) misleading customers about the status of grant awards; and (iii) failing to honor a “money-back guarantee” and suppressing customer complaints. The complaint also alleged that the owner relied on funds that she acquired through the federal Paycheck Protection Program Covid-19 stimulus program to start the company. The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida issued a restraining order with asset freeze, appointment of a temporary receiver, and other equitable relief order against the defendants, which also prohibits them from engaging in grant funding business activities.

    Federal Issues State Issues FTC Enforcement State Attorney General Florida Covid-19 FTC Act Deceptive UDAP

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  • Florida amends money service businesses provisions to define “control persons”

    On May 26, the Florida governor signed HB 389, which amends provisions related to money service businesses and related licensing requirements. The bill, among other things, replaces the term “officers” with “control person” and expands the definition of “control person” to designate the type of individuals that may be considered to control a licensee. As a result of this amendment, the bill sets forth and clarifies various requirements related to the vetting and reporting of control persons, as opposed to officers generally, going forward. The law is effective October 1.

    Licensing State Issues Money Service / Money Transmitters State Legislation Florida

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  • Florida amends consumer finance loan provisions

    On May 20, the Florida governor signed SB 546, which amends certain provisions related to the making of consumer finance loans. The provisions allow persons applying for a license to make and collect loans under the Florida Consumer Finance Act (FCFA) “to provide certain documents in lieu of evidence of liquid assets,” including a surety bond, certificate of deposit, or irrevocable letter of credit. The bill also prohibits licensees from charging borrowers a prepayment penalty for paying all or part of a loan’s principle before the payment due date. Additionally, provisions related to the grounds for denying a license or taking disciplinary action for certain violations for the FCFA are modified to include “[f]ailure to maintain liquid assets of at least $25,000 or a surety bond, certificate of deposit, or letter of credit in the amount required by s. 516.05(10) at all times for the operation of business at a licensed location or proposed location.” SB 546 takes effect October 1.

    Licensing State Issues State Legislation Florida Consumer Finance

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  • Florida amends MSB provisions to define “control persons”

    On May 12, the Florida governor signed HB 273, which amends provisions related to money services business activities. The bill, among other things, revises provisions related to prohibited activities without a license and other requirements for written contracts between a money transmitter or payment instrument seller and an authorized vendor, and provides requirements for a money transmitter that receives virtual currency, among other things. The bill also establishes that “each money transmitter that receives virtual currency, either directly or through an authorized vendor, for the purpose of transmitting such virtual currency from one person to another location or person must at all times, until the transmission obligation is completed, hold virtual currency of the same type and amount owed or obligated to the other location or person.” The bill is effective January 1, 2023.

    Licensing State Issues State Legislation Florida Money Service / Money Transmitters

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  • Florida Court of Appeal: Bank may seek attorney’s fees as a condition of loan reinstatement

    Courts

    On May 4, the Florida Court of Appeal, Fourth District, held that a borrower cannot sue a law firm for sending a letter seeking to collect attorney’s fees because the mortgage contract gave the bank the right to seek attorney’s fees from a prior foreclosure action as a condition of reinstating the loan. Previously, a trial court had awarded the borrower attorney’s fees following dismissal of a prior foreclosure action. The bank later brought a new foreclosure action against the borrower concerning the same property, and the law firm representing the bank sent the borrower a reinstatement letter requiring payment of attorney’s fees incurred by the bank in the prior foreclosure action in order to reinstate the loan. The trial court, citing a 2019 decision in U.S. Bank Trust, N.A. v. Leigh, granted summary judgment in favor of the law firm on the grounds that “the law firm was entitled to immunity under the litigation privilege because the Florida Consumer Collection Practices Act (FCCPA) claim was based on the reinstatement letter the law firm sent during the foreclosure proceedings” and because the borrower lacked standing.

    On appeal, the Court of Appeal agreed with the law firm that it was entitled to collect attorney fees and costs and that the borrower lacked standing to bring his FCCPA claim. According to the Court of Appeal, a provision in the mortgage contact included language that “if the borrower defaulted and the lender accelerated the loan, the borrower would have the right to reinstate the loan if certain conditions were met.” Among these conditions was that the borrower would agree to “pay all expenses incurred in enforcing this Security Instrument, including, but not limited to, reasonable attorneys’ fees.” Applying the rationale of Leigh, the Court of Appeal found “that the law firm did not violate the FCCPA because it sought to recover a legitimate expense it was entitled to recover pursuant to a contract, that being the expense of attorney’s fees the lender incurred in the prior foreclosure action.”

    Courts Consumer Finance Foreclosure Florida State Issues Appellate Attorney Fees

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