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  • 3rd Circuit: Each premium payment could violate RESPA’s prohibition on kickbacks

    Courts

    On June 19, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a RESPA class action against a national bank, concluding the suit was not timely filed. According to the opinion, two consumers took out mortgages with the bank in 2005 and 2006. In 2011, the consumers were part of the putative class in a separate class action, alleging the bank violated RESPA by referring homeowners to mortgage insurers that then obtained reinsurance from a subsidiary of the bank, which the consumers claimed amounted to a kickback. After the class action was dismissed as untimely in 2013 and while it was pending appeal, the consumers filed a new class action as the named plaintiffs, which alleged the same violation of RESPA. The consumers argued that, while RESPA has a one-year statute of limitations, (i) RESPA makes each kickback a separately accruing wrong and that the insurers paid a kickback for each insurance premium payment, therefore, the suit is timely up to one year after the last premium payment and kickback; and  (ii) the filing of the first class action tolled the limitation period for their claims and because the class action continued until November 2013, tolling extended their limitations period until then.

    The appeals court upheld the district court’s dismissal of the action, agreeing with the consumers’ separate-accrual theory, but noting that the consumers paid no premiums in the year before they filed their complaint, so the limitations period had expired before the consumers filed the new action. Specifically, the appellate court rejected the bank’s argument that RESPA’s statute of limitations runs only from the mortgage closing, not from each later premium payment, holding that under RESPA the limitations period accrues separately for each kickback, stating “[s]o a party violates the Act anew each time it takes the discrete act of giving or receiving a kickback under an agreement to make referrals.”

    As for whether the 2011 class action tolled the consumers’ claims, the appellate court cited the Supreme Court’s 2018 opinion in China Agritech, Inc. v. Resh, noting that the Court in that case held that such tolling is only available for individual claims, not class claims. The appellate court rejected the consumers’ arguments that China Agritech does not apply to new class claims filed before the first action has officially ended, stating, “[t]olling new class actions filed while the first one was pending would encourage more plaintiffs to seek second bites at the apple.” Because the consumers’ action was not timely filed, the appellate court affirmed the district court’s dismissal.

     

    Courts RESPA Appellate Third Circuit Statute of Limitations Kickback Class Action

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  • 3rd Circuit: Commercial purpose does not make unsolicited fax an advertisement under TCPA

    Courts

    On May 28, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, in a consolidated action, affirmed summary judgment that a health care provider database company’s (defendant) unsolicited fax did not violate the TCPA. According to the opinion, the defendant updated its database by sending unsolicited faxes to healthcare providers, requesting that they voluntarily update their contact information, if necessary. The fax included disclaimers that there was no cost to the recipient for participating in the database maintenance initiative and that it was not an attempt to sell a product. The plaintiff sued the defendant alleging a state law claim and that the fax violated the TCPA’s prohibition on sending unsolicited advertisements by fax. The district court entered summary judgment in favor of the defendant and declined to exercise jurisdiction over the state law claim.

    On appeal, the 3rd Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment, rejecting the plaintiff’s third-party liability argument that the fax should be regarded as an advertisement, even though he was not a purchaser of the company’s services. The 3rd Circuit held that to establish third-party based liability under TCPA, the “plaintiff must show that the fax: (1) sought to promote or enhance the quality or quantity of a product or services being sold commercially; (2) was reasonably calculated to increase the profits of the sender; and (3) directly or indirectly encouraged the recipient to influence the purchasing decisions of a third party.” The appellate court found that, even though the defendant had a “profit motive” in sending the fax because it wanted to improve the quality of its product by making its database more accurate, “the faxes did not attempt to influence the purchasing decisions of any potential buyer,” nor did the fax encourage the recipient to influence the purchasing decisions of a third party.

    Courts Appellate Third Circuit TCPA

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  • 3rd Circuit holds trustee not liable for RMBS losses

    Courts

    On May 21, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of an investor action against Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities (RMBS) trustees, concluding the investors failed to show that the trustees breached any duties owed under the governing documents. According to the opinion, investors filed suit against the owner trustee for fifteen RMBS trusts, which became “worthless in the wake of widespread loan defaults,” claiming breach of contract and the implied covenant of good faith. The investors argued the trustee (i) abdicated its responsibilities relating to the loan files; (ii) failed to provide written notice of default; and (iii) failed to intervene when other parties exercised their duties carelessly. The trial court dismissed all claims against the trustee.

    On appeal, the appellate court concluded the trial court correctly dismissed the claims. Specifically, the appellate court noted that under the trusts’ governing documents, the trustee was acting as an “owner trustee,” which was “primarily ministerial, involving limited duties such as executing documents on behalf of the trusts and accepting service of legal process.” The trustee did not have an overarching duty to protect the trusts, as it agreed “to perform only the modest functions” under the governing agreements and therefore, was shielded from that general liability. The appellate court concluded that the investors failed to show the trustee breached any actual duties owed under the governing agreements, rejecting the investors’ three specific claims for breach of contract. Moreover, the court emphasized that the governing agreement “forecloses the implied duty [the investors] propose,” noting that the trustee negotiated for limited liability and received a fee in exchange for modest functions, making it “difficult to imagine” the trustee would willingly agree to “sweeping supervisory responsibility.”

    Courts Appellate Third Circuit RMBS Mortgages

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  • District court denies arbitration in FDCPA action

    Courts

    On May 13, the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey denied a debt collector’s motion to compel arbitration in an FDCPA action, concluding that the existence of an arbitration agreement was not yet apparent based on the amended complaint. According to the opinion, a consumer brought a putative class action against a debt collector alleging the three collection letters it sent were “deceptive and misleading” under the FDCPA because the letters contained language regarding the possibility of IRS reporting, even though the debt was under the $600 threshold required for reporting. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the district court dismissed the action on its merits, without reaching the defendant’s motion to compel arbitration. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit reversed, finding “the least sophisticated debtor could be left with the impression that reporting could occur” and therefore the language could signal a potential FDCPA violation, notwithstanding the letter’s qualifying statement that reporting is not required every time a debt is canceled or settled.

    On remand, the debt collector moved to compel arbitration of the claims arising from the three letters on an individual basis, arguing that the credit agreement between the consumer and the original creditor contained an arbitration provision and providing an example of the original creditor’s credit card agreement. The plaintiff rejected the example agreement, arguing that it was merely a generic exemplar that did not “demonstrate its applicability” to the consumer. In denying the debt collector’s motion, the court directed the parties to conduct limited discovery on the existence of an enforceable arbitration agreement between the parties. The court also denied the debt collector’s motion to dismiss new claims added to the amended complaint as time-barred because they “relate back” to the original complaint.

    Courts FDCPA Arbitration Debt Collection Third Circuit Appellate

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  • 3rd Circuit: District court erred in voiding all cash advance agreements in NFL concussion settlement litigation

    Courts

    On April 26, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, in a consolidated class action, concluded that a district court went “too far” in voiding all of the cash advance arrangements between NFL concussion class members and third party lenders in their entirety. According to the opinion, in December 2017, the district court “issued an order purporting to void in their entirety all assignment agreements” where class members assigned a portion of their settlements from the 2015 NFL concussion injury litigation, concluding that it was “necessary to protect vulnerable class members from predatory funding companies.”

    On appeal, the 3rd Circuit addressed the merits in three of the four timely appeals, noting that the fundamental question was whether the district court had the authority to void the agreements. The appellate court held that the district court retained the authority to enforce and administer the settlement because there was an anti-assignment language in the settlement agreement. The appellate court upheld on the district court’s interpretation of the anti-assignment provision, holding that “any true assignments contained within the cash advance agreements—that is, contractual provisions that allowed the lender to step into the shoes of the player and seek funds directly from the settlement fund were void.” However, the appellate court concluded that the district court “went beyond its authority” by purportedly voiding the agreements in their entirety, because there are portions of some of the cash advance agreements that may still be enforceable after the true assignments are voided, such as ones structured as a non-assignment loan agreement. Since the district court’s authority “does not extend to how class members choose to use their settlement proceeds after they are disbursed,” the appellate court reversed in part the December 2017 order, leaving certain cash advance agreements enforceable to the extent rights are retained after the true assignments are voided.

    Courts Third Circuit Appellate Lending Structured Settlement Class Action

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  • 3rd Circuit affirms no actual harm in FACTA suit

    Courts

    On March 8, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit issued a precedential opinion holding that, without concrete evidence of harm, a consumer lacks standing under the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA) to sue a merchant for including too many digits of his credit card account number on a receipt. According to the opinion, the plaintiff claimed that he received receipts from three different stores owned by the defendant, all of which included both the final four digits and the first six digits of his account number. The plaintiff filed a class action lawsuit alleging the defendant willfully violated FACTA, which prohibits printing more than the last five digits of credit card number on a receipt. The plaintiff alleged that this violation, which he also claimed increased the risk of identity theft, constituted an injury-in-fact sufficient to confer Article III standing as required under the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2016 ruling in Spokeo v. Robins (covered by a Buckley Special Alert). The district court dismissed the suit.

    On appeal, the 3rd Circuit agreed with the lower court, holding that the plaintiff failed to allege actual harm from the defendant’s practice. The appellate court held that the defendant’s technical violation of FACTA did not give the plaintiff standing to sue. Moreover, in the absence of actual harm, or a material risk of actual harm (the plaintiff did not allege that anyone—aside from the cashier—saw the receipt, that his credit card number had been misappropriated, or that his identity was stolen), the plaintiff would not have suffered the injury-in-fact that created federal court jurisdiction.

    Courts Third Circuit Appellate FACTA Credit Cards Consumer Finance Spokeo

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  • 3rd Circuit: Debt buyer qualifies as debt collector under FDCPA

    Courts

    On February 22, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit issued a precedential order affirming a district court’s ruling that an entity that purchases charged-off receivables and outsources the collection activity to a third party still qualifies as a debt collector and, therefore, may be bound by the dictates of the FDCPA. According to the opinion, a consumer filed a lawsuit against the debt-buying company alleging voicemail messages she received from the company’s contractor failed to identify the contractor as a collection agency. The consumer further alleged that a letter the contractor sent did not inform her how to exercise her validation rights, in violation of the FDCPA. The district court ruled that the defendant, which identifies itself as a creditor, meets the “principal purpose” definition of a debt collection under the FDCPA and therefore must comply with its provisions. On appeal, the defendant argued that debt collection and purchasing are “mutually exclusive,” and that the district court's ruling should be reversed under the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Henson v. Santander Consumer USA, which held that the FDCPA does not necessarily apply to a company collecting debts in default that it purchased for its own account. (See previous Buckley Special Alert on the decision here.)

    However, the 3rd Circuit agreed with the district court’s decision, and rejected the defendant’s arguments that the Henson decision renders it a creditor rather than a debt collector. “The Supreme Court went out of its way in Henson to say that it was not opining on whether debt buyers could also qualify as debt collectors” under certain provisions of the FDCPA, and moreover, “[a]n entity qualifies under the definition if the ‘principal purpose’ of its ‘business’ is the ‘collection of any debts,’” the panel wrote. “As long as a business’s raison d’etre is obtaining payment on the debts that it acquires, it is a debt collector. Who actually obtains the payment or how they do so is of no moment,” the 3rd Circuit wrote.

    The appellate court’s opinion, however, did not address the actual question of liability asserted against the defendant, but rather remanded the case for consideration as to whether the defendant is vicariously liable for claims related to the contractor’s actions.

    Courts Third Circuit Appellate Debt Collection FDCPA

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  • 3rd Circuit: Enrollment packet e-signature requires student to arbitrate claims

    Courts

    On January 10, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit held that a student (plaintiff) attending an online school (defendant) consented to an arbitration agreement and waiver of jury trial when she electronically signed an enrollment packet. According to the opinion, when the defendant moved to dismiss the plaintiff’s lawsuit and compel arbitration, the plaintiff argued that she did not realize the enrollment packet contained an arbitration agreement. She maintained that her e-signature was applied to the agreement without her permission. The lower court, however, granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss and entered an order to compel arbitration.

    On appeal, the 3rd Circuit agreed with the lower court in a non-precedential decision that her contentions that she was never presented with the agreement and that the defendant had applied an e-signature on file were insufficient to create an issue of material fact. It observed, “[t]he most reasonable inference we can draw from the evidence presented is that [the plaintiff] simply did not read or review the [e]nrollment [p]acket PDF closely before she e-signed it, which will not save her from her obligation to arbitrate.” The 3rd Circuit further noted that Pennsylvania allows electronic signatures as a valid way to register assent, and that a “physical pen and ink signature” is not required.

    Courts Third Circuit Appellate E-Signature Arbitration

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  • 3rd Circuit: Enrollment packet e-signature requires student to arbitrate claims

    Courts

    On January 10, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit held that a student (plaintiff) attending an online school (defendant) consented to an arbitration agreement and waiver of jury trial when she electronically signed an enrollment packet. According to the opinion, when the defendant moved to dismiss the plaintiff’s lawsuit and compel arbitration, the plaintiff argued that she did not realize the enrollment packet contained an arbitration agreement. She maintained that her e-signature was applied to the agreement without her permission. The lower court, however, granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss and entered an order to compel arbitration.

    On appeal, the 3rd Circuit agreed with the lower court in a non-precedential decision that her contentions that she was never presented with the agreement and that the defendant had applied an e-signature on file were insufficient to create an issue of material fact. It observed, “[t]he most reasonable inference we can draw from the evidence presented is that [the plaintiff] simply did not read or review the [e]nrollment [p]acket PDF closely before she e-signed it, which will not save her from her obligation to arbitrate.” The 3rd Circuit further noted that Pennsylvania allows electronic signatures as a valid way to register assent, and that a “physical pen and ink signature” is not required.

    Courts Third Circuit Appellate E-Signature Arbitration

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  • District Court concludes company’s dialing system is not an autodialer under TCPA

    Courts

    On December 20, the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey granted a student loan company’s motion for summary judgment, holding that the plaintiff failed to establish the company’s phone system qualified as an automated telephone dialing system (autodialer) under the TCPA. The plaintiff alleged the company violated the TCPA by using an autodialer to call his cell phone without his prior express consent. Each party filed cross-motions for summary judgment with the plaintiff arguing that the company’s system “had the present capacity without modification to place calls from a stored list without human intervention.” The company disagreed with the plaintiff’s assertions, arguing that it used separate systems for land lines and cell phones, and that the system which dialed the cell phone “contains no features that can be activated, deactivated, or added to the system to enable autodialing.” Citing to the opinion of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit in Dominguez v. Yahoo (previously covered by InfoByres here), which held that it would interpret the definition of an autodialer as it would prior to the FCC’s 2015 Declaratory Ruling, the court noted that the term “capacity” in the TCPA’s autodialer definition refers to the system’s current functions, not its potential capacity. Because the plaintiff failed to establish that the system used to dial his cell phone had the “present capacity” to initiate autodialed calls without modifications, the court concluded the claim failed as a matter of law.

    Courts TCPA Autodialer Student Lending Appellate Third Circuit

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