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On May 5, the CFPB and FTC filed a joint amicus brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, seeking the reversal of a district court’s decision which determined that a consumer reporting agency (CRA) was not liable under Section 1681e(b) of the FCRA for allegedly failing to investigate inaccurate information because the inaccuracy was “legal” and not “factual” in nature. The agencies countered that the FCRA, which requires credit reporting companies to follow reasonable procedures to assure maximum possible accuracy of the information included in consumer reports, “does not contain an exception for legal inaccuracies.”
The plaintiff noticed that the CRA reported that she owed a balloon payment on an auto lease that she was not obligated to pay under the terms of the lease. After the plaintiff confirmed she did not owe a balloon payment, she filed a putative class action against the CRA contending that it violated the FCRA by inaccurately reporting the debt. The CRA countered that it could not be held liable because “it is not obligated to resolve a legal challenge to the validity of the balloon payment obligation reported by” the furnisher “and that it reasonably relied on [the furnisher] to report accurate information.” Moreover, the CRA argued that even if it did violate the FCRA, the plaintiff was not entitled to damages because the violation was neither willful nor negligent. The district court sided with the CRA, drawing a distinction between factual and legal inaccuracies and holding that whether the plaintiff actually owed the balloon payment was a “legal dispute” requiring “a legal interpretation of the loan’s terms.” According to the district court, “CRAs cannot be held liable when the accuracy at issue requires a legal determination as to the validity of the debt the agency reported.” The court further concluded that since the plaintiff had not met the “threshold showing” of inaccuracy, the information in the consumer report “was accurate,” and therefore the CRA was “entitled to summary judgment because ‘reporting accurate information absolves a CRA of liability.’”
In urging the appellate court to overturn the decision, the agencies argued that the exemption for legal inaccuracies created by the district court is unsupported by statutory text and is not workable in practice. This invited defense, the FTC warned in its press release, “invites [CRAs] and furnishers to skirt their legal obligations by arguing that inaccurate information is only legally, and not factually, inaccurate.” The FTC further cautioned that a CRA might begin manufacturing “some supposed legal interpretation to insulate itself from liability,” thus increasing the number of inaccurate credit reports.
Whether the plaintiff owed a balloon payment and how much she owed “are straightforward questions about the nature of her debt obligations,” the agencies stated, urging the appellate court to “clarify that any incorrect information in a consumer report, whether ‘legal’ or ‘factual’ in character, constitutes an inaccuracy that triggers reasonable-procedures liability under the FCRA.” The agencies also pressed the appellate court to “clarify that a CRA’s reliance on information provided by even a reputable furnisher does not categorically insulate the CRA from reasonable-procedures liability under the FCRA.”
The Bureau noted that it also filed an amicus brief on April 7 in an action in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit involving the responsibility of furnishers to reasonably investigate the accuracy of furnished information after it is disputed by a consumer. In this case, a district court found that the plaintiff, who reported several fraudulent credit card accounts, did not identify any particular procedural deficiencies in the bank’s investigation of her indirect disputes and granted summary judgment in favor of the bank on the grounds that the “investigation duties FCRA imposes on furnishers [are] ‘procedural’ and ‘far afield’ from legal ‘questions of liability under state-law principles of negligence, apparent authority, and related inquiries.’ Moreover, the district court concluded that there was no genuine dispute as to whether the bank conducted a reasonable investigation as statutorily required. The Bureau noted in its press release, however, that the bank “had the same duty to reasonably investigate the disputed information, regardless of whether the underlying dispute could be characterized as “legal” or “factual.” In its brief, the Bureau urged the appellate court to, among other things, reverse the district court’s ruling and clarify that the “FCRA does not categorically exempt disputes presenting legal questions from the investigation furnishers must conduct.” Importing this exemption would run counter to the purposes of FCRA, would create an unworkable standard that would be difficult to implement, and could encourage furnishers to evade their statutory obligations any time they construe the disputes as “legal.” The brief also argued that each time a furnisher fails to reasonably investigate a dispute results in a new statutory violation, with its own statute of limitations.
2nd Circuit remands case to determine whether loans that violate New York’s criminal usury law are void ab initio
On March 15, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit vacated a district court ruling that had declined to treat an option that permits a lender, in its sole discretion, to convert an outstanding balance to shares of stock, at a fixed discount, as interest for purposes of New York’s criminal usury law. The district court had also observed, though it had no need to reach the issue, that even if the loan was usurious, it would not necessarily be void ab initio. After the case was appealed, the 2nd Circuit certified both issues to the New York Court of Appeals, which concluded, contrary to the district court, that such an option should be treated as interest for purposes of the usury statute and that loans made in violation of the usury statute are void ab initio. In light of the New York Court of Appeals holdings on these issues of state law, the 2nd Circuit vacated the district court’s order, and remanded to the district court to determine, in the first instance, whether the value of the option rendered the loan usurious.
On March 16, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled that the CFPB can proceed with its 2017 enforcement action against a New Jersey-based finance company alleging, among other things, that it misled first responders to the World Trade Center attack and NFL retirees about high-cost loans mischaracterized as assignments of future payment rights. In 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit vacated a 2018 district court order dismissing the case on the grounds that the Bureau’s single-director structure was unconstitutional, and that, as such, the agency lacked authority to bring claims alleging deceptive and abusive conduct by the company (covered by InfoBytes here). The 2nd Circuit remanded the case to the district court, determining that the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Seila Law LLC v. CPFB (holding that the director’s for-cause removal provision was unconstitutional but severable from the statute establishing the Bureau, as covered by a Buckley Special Alert) superseded the 2018 ruling. The appellate court further noted that following Seila, former Director Kathy Kraninger ratified several prior regulatory actions (covered by InfoBytes here), including the enforcement action brought against the defendants, and as such, remanded the case to the district court to consider the validity of the ratification of the enforcement action. The defendants later filed a petition for writ of certiorari, arguing that the Bureau could not use ratification to avoid dismissal of the lawsuit, but the Supreme Court declined the petition. (Covered by InfoBytes here.)
In 2021, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss the Bureau’s enforcement action on the grounds that “it was brought by an unconstitutionally constituted agency” and that the Bureau’s “untimely attempt to subsequently ratify this action cannot cure the agency’s constitutional infirmity.” After narrowly reviewing whether the Bureau had the authority to bring claims under the Consumer Financial Protection Act, the district court turned to the Supreme Court’s June 2021 majority decision in Collins v. Yellen, which held that “‘an unconstitutional removal restriction does not invalidate agency action so long as the agency head was properly appointed[.]’” Accordingly, the agency’s actions are not void and do not need to be ratified, unless a plaintiff can show that “the agency action would not have been taken but for the President’s inability to remove the agency head.” (Covered by InfoBytes here.) The district court’s March 16 opinion applied Collins and ruled that “the CFPB possessed the authority to bring this action in February 2017 and, hence, that ratification by Director Kraninger was unnecessary.”
On February 8, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York issued an opinion granting in part and denying in part defendants’ motion for summary judgment and denying plaintiffs’ motions for partial summary judgment in parallel actions concerning pre-2008 residential mortgage-back securities (RMBS) trusts. In both cases, plaintiffs—RMBS certificateholders—filed suit alleging breaches of contractual, fiduciary, statutory, and common law duties with respect to certificates issued by RMBS trusts for which two of the defendants’ units served as trustee. Both plaintiffs alleged that the defendants failed to follow through on obligations to monitor the pre-2008 RMBS trusts that they administered. However, the court partially ruled in favor of the defendants, concluding that one set of plaintiffs could not avoid their loss in an RMBS trustee case brought against a different national bank, in which the court deemed the plaintiffs lacked a valid legal right to sue. In that matter, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued an opinion last October, agreeing with a different New York judge that “found the assignments champertous under New York law, rendering them invalid and leaving Plaintiffs without standing.” According to the 2nd Circuit, district court findings showed it was clear that the assignments were champertous “as they were made ‘with the intent and for the primary purpose of bringing a lawsuit.’”
The district court noted that the assignments of all the claims in the current matter were essentially identical to the issue already decided by the 2nd Circuit, and saw sufficient overlap to find the plaintiffs’ vehicles “collaterally estopped” from relitigating the issues of prudential standing and champerty. “The issues decided by the court of appeals relating to champerty and prudential standing are dispositive of the present action,” the court wrote. “Without prudential standing, the  plaintiffs cannot assert claims arising out of the certificates and the entire  action must be dismissed.” With respect to the other set of plaintiffs, while the court allowed certain claims to stand, it declined to grant any portion of the joint partial summary judgment related to the defendants’ alleged responsibilities as trustee, ruling that plaintiffs must prove those claims at trial.
On January 6, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that an unsolicited fax asking recipients to participate in a market research survey in exchange for money does not constitute as an “unsolicited advertisement” under the TCPA. According to the opinion, the plaintiff medical services company claimed the defendant sent two unsolicited faxes seeking participants for its market research surveys in exchange for an “honorarium of $150,” and filed a putative class action alleging violations of the TCPA, as amended by the Junk Fax Prevention Act of 2005 (JFPA). The district court agreed with the defendant that an unsolicited faxed invitation to participate in a market research survey is not an “unsolicited advertisement” under the TCPA and dismissed the case.
The TCPA, as amended by the JFPA, defines an “unsolicited advertisement” as “any material advertising the commercial availability or quality of any property, goods, or services which is transmitted to any person without that person’s prior express invitation or permission.” On appeal, the 2nd Circuit found that the defendant’s faxes asking participants to take part in a market survey “plainly do not advertise the availability of any of those three things, and therefore cannot be ‘advertisements’ under the TCPA.” The 2nd Circuit added that “[t]his is not to say that any communication that offers to pay the recipient money is thereby not an advertisement. One could imagine many examples of communications, including faxed surveys, offering the recipient both money and services, that might incur liability under the TCPA.” The 2nd Circuit recognized that its decision disagrees with the 3rd Circuit’s ruling in Fischbein v. Olson Research Group, which held that faxes such as the ones at issue are advertisements because “an offer of payment in exchange for participation in a market survey is a commercial transaction, so a fax highlighting the availability of that transaction is an advertisement under the TCPA.” The 2nd Circuit held that in Fischbein the 3rd Circuit mistakenly relied “on an encyclopedia definition of what constitutes a ‘commercial transaction’. . . rather than focusing on the definition of ‘advertisement’ that the TCPA and FCC regulations provide.”
On November 17, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed its earlier determination that class members had standing to sue a national bank for allegedly violating New York’s mortgage-satisfaction-recording statutes, which require lenders to record borrowers’ repayments within 30 days. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the plaintiffs filed a class action suit alleging the bank’s recordation delay harmed their financial reputations, impaired their credit, and limited their borrowing capacity. While the bank did not dispute that the discharge was untimely filed, it argued that class members lacked Article III standing because they did not suffer actual damages and failed to plead a concrete harm under the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Spokeo Inc. v. Robins. At the time, the majority determined, among other things, that “state legislatures may create legally protected interests whose violation supports Article III standing, subject to certain federal limitations.” The alleged state law violations in this matter, the majority wrote, constituted “a concrete and particularized harm to the plaintiffs in the form of both reputational injury and limitations in borrowing capacity” during the recordation delay period. The majority further concluded that the bank’s alleged failure to report the plaintiffs’ mortgage discharge “posed a real risk of material harm” because the public record reflected an outstanding debt of over $50,000, which could “reasonably be inferred to have substantially restricted” the plaintiffs’ borrowing capacity.
In withdrawing its earlier opinion, the 2nd Circuit found that the Supreme Court’s June decision in TransUnion v. Ramirez (which clarified what constitutes a concrete injury for the purposes of Article III standing in order to recover statutory damages, and was covered by InfoBytes here) “bears directly on our analysis.” The parties filed supplemental briefs addressing the potential impacts of the TransUnion ruling on the 2nd Circuit’s previous decision. The bank argued that while “New York State Legislature may have implicitly recognized that delayed recording can create [certain] harms,” the plaintiffs cannot allege that they suffered these harms. Class members challenged that “the harms that the Legislature aimed to preclude need not have come to fruition for a plaintiff to have suffered a material risk of real harm sufficient to seek the statutory remedy afforded by the Legislature.” Citing the Supreme Court’s conclusion of “no concrete harm; no standing,” the appellate court concluded, among other things, that class members failed to allege that delayed recording caused a cloud on the property’s title, forced them to pay duplicate filing fees, or resulted in reputational harm. Moreover, while publishing false information can be actionable, the appellate court pointed out that the class “may have suffered a nebulous risk of future harm during the period of delayed recordation—i.e., a risk that someone (a creditor, in all likelihood) might access the record and act upon it—but that risk, which was not alleged to have materialized, cannot not form the basis of Article III standing.” The appellate court further stated that in any event class members may recover a statutory penalty in state court for reporting the bank’s delay in recording the mortgage satisfaction.
On October 22, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld a district court’s ruling against a Turkish state-owned commercial bank (defendant) denying its bid for immunity based on its characterization of an “instrumentality” of a foreign service, which is not entitled to immunity from criminal prosecution at common law. The U.S. government alleged that the bank converted Iranian oil money into gold and hid the transactions as purchases of goods to avoid conflicting sanctions against Iran. The district court denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss and partially concluded that the defendant was not immune from prosecution because the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) confers immunity on foreign services only in civil proceedings. Furthermore, the district court concluded that, “even assuming arguendo that FSIA did confer immunity to foreign sovereigns in criminal proceedings, [the defendant’s] conduct would fall within FSIA’s commercial activity exception.” Additionally, the district court rejected the defendant’s “contention that it was entitled to immunity from prosecution under the common law, noting that [the defendant] failed to cite any support for its claim on this basis.” The district court found that the defendant’s characterization of its activities as sovereign in nature “conflates the act with its purpose,” finding that the lender's alleged money laundering was the type of activity regularly carried out by private businesses. The fact that the defendant is majority-owned by the Turkish Government is irrelevant under FSIA even if it is related to Turkey’s foreign policy because “literally any bank can violate sanctions.”
On appeal, the 2nd Circuit noted that it was unnecessary to resolve a question presented in the case—if foreign governments can assert immunity against criminal, as well as civil, charges—since money laundering would qualify as a commercial activity exception. The appellate court noted that, “[t]he gravamen of the Indictment is not that [the bank] is the Turkish Government’s repository for Iranian oil and natural gas proceeds in Turkey,” but that “it is [the bank’s] participation in money laundering and other fraudulent schemes designed to evade U.S. sanctions that is the ‘core action.’” And, “because those core acts constitute ‘an activity that could be, and in fact regularly is, performed by private-sector businesses,’ those acts are commercial, not sovereign, in nature.” The opinion also notes that “[e]ven assuming the FSIA applies in criminal cases—an issue that we need not, and do not, decide today—the commercial activity exception to FSIA would nevertheless apply to [the defendant’s] charged offense conduct.” The appellate court agreed with the district court, concluding that the bank must face criminal charges in the U.S. for allegedly assisting Iran evade economic sanctions by laundering approximately $20 billion in Iranian oil and gas revenues.
On October 13, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York denied a relator’s motion seeking indicative relief, ruling that post-ruling news reports were insufficient to reverse the dismissal of a qui tam suit accusing a UK-based bank and related entities (collectively, “defendants”) of violating U.S. sanctions against Iran. In 2020, the court dismissed the complaint after finding that the government “had articulated multiple valid purposes served by dismissal, and that relator had not carried its burden to show that a dismissal would be ‘fraudulent, arbitrary or capricious, or illegal.’” The relator’s appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit is pending. At the district court, the relator moved for indicative relief based on the premise that if the court had jurisdiction, it would have vacated the dismissal based on disclosures in post-dismissal media reports.
According to the opinion, the defendants entered into a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) with the DOJ in 2012 following a multi-year, multi-agency investigation concerning allegations that defendants deceptively facilitated U.S. dollar transactions by Iranian clients between 2001 and 2007 in violation of U.S. sanctions and various New York and federal banking regulations. The defendants admitted to the violations and paid hundreds of millions of dollars in fines and penalties. The relator subsequently filed a qui tam action alleging the defendants misled the government in negotiating the DPA. A government investigation found no support for the allegations. In 2019, the DOJ entered a new DPA with defendants. The relator amended its complaint alleging improper conduct related to the 2019 DPA, which the court dismissed.
The relator then filed the instant motion to reopen the case, arguing that news reports published in 2020 showed that the defendants engaged in transactions with sanctioned Iranian entities after 2007, which was contrary to the government’s representations when it moved to dismiss the case. The relator claimed that the government incorrectly asserted that it closely examined records before seeking dismissal and failed to honestly conclude that the allegations were meritless. In denying the relator’s motion, the court explained that the relator failed to show that the news reports would be admissible or were important enough to change the outcome of the earlier motion to dismiss. The court held that news reports are inadmissible and further concluded that none of the suspicious activity reports discussed in the news reports contradicted the government’s representations in its motion to dismiss.
On October 4, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a petition filed by a New Jersey-based finance company accused by the CFPB and the New York attorney general of misleading first responders to the World Trade Center attack and NFL retirees about high-cost loans mischaracterized as assignments of future payment rights (see entry #20-1758). In 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit vacated a 2018 district court order, which had previously dismissed the case on the grounds that the Bureau’s single-director structure was unconstitutional, and that, as such, the agency lacked authority to bring claims alleging deceptive and abusive conduct by the company (covered by InfoBytes here). At the time, the district court also rejected an attempt by then-acting Director Mulvaney to salvage the Bureau’s claims, concluding that the “ratification of the CFPB’s enforcement action against defendants failed to cure the constitutional deficiencies in the CFPB’s structure or otherwise render defendants’ arguments moot.” The 2nd Circuit remanded the case to the district court, determining that the Court’s ruling in Seila Law LLC v. CPFB (which held that the director’s for-cause removal provision was unconstitutional but was severable from the statute establishing the Bureau, as covered by a Buckley Special Alert) superseded the 2018 ruling. The appellate court further noted that following Seila, former Director Kathy Kraninger ratified several prior regulatory actions (covered by InfoBytes here), including the enforcement action brought against the defendants, and as such, remanded the case to the district court to consider the validity of the ratification of the enforcement action.
In its June petition for writ of certiorari, the company argued that the Bureau could not use ratification to avoid dismissal of the lawsuit. The company noted that while several courts, including the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (covered by InfoBytes here) have “appl[ied] ratification to cure the structural problem,” other courts have rejected the Bureau’s ratification efforts, finding them to be untimely (see a dismissal by the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware, as covered by InfoBytes here). As such, the company had asked the Supreme Court to clarify this contradictory “hopeless muddle” by clarifying the appropriate remedy for structural constitutional violations and addressing whether ratification is still effective if it comes after the statute of limitations has expired.
As is customary when denying a petition for certiorari, the Supreme Court did not explain its reasoning.
On August 30, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that a district court did not err in denying an investment firm’s motion to hold a group of Chinese banks in contempt for failure to implement certain asset restraints. According to the opinion, in 2015, an athletic apparel corporation and one of its subsidiaries won a more than $1 billion default judgment against hundreds of participants in several Chinese counterfeiting networks (counterfeiters). The judgment enjoined the counterfeiters “and all persons acting in concert or in participation with any of them . . . from transferring, withdrawing or disposing of any money or other assets into or out of [the counterfeiters’ accounts] regardless of whether such money or assets are held in the U.S. or abroad.” The investment firm (the corporation’s successor-in-interest) moved to hold the Chinese banks in contempt for failing to implement the asset restraints and asked the district court to impose a $150 million penalty, claiming, among other things, that the Chinese banks allowed the counterfeiters to transfer more than $32 million from their accounts after the Chinese banks were informed of the asset restraints. The investment firm further claimed that the Chinese banks also failed to produce documents during discovery. The district court denied the motion.
In agreeing with the district court, the 2nd Circuit concluded that (i) until the contempt motion was filed, the corporation and the investment firm never sought to enforce the asset restraints against the Chinese banks; (ii) “there is a fair ground of doubt as to whether, in light of New York’s separate entity rule and principles of international comity, the orders could reach assets held at foreign bank branches”; (iii) “there is a fair ground of doubt as to whether the [b]anks’ activities amounted to ‘active concert or participation’ in Defendants’ violation of the asset restraints that could be enjoined under Federal 16 Rule of Civil Procedure 65(d)”; and (iv) the investment firm failed to provide clear and convincing evidence of a discovery violation.
- Buckley Webcast: Fifth Circuit muddles CFPB’s plans to use in-house judges in enforcement proceedings
- Steven vonBerg to discuss “Regulatory plenary” at the Information Management Network’s Non-QM Forum
- Jeffrey P. Naimon to discuss “Understanding the ESG impact on compliance” at the ABA’s Regulatory Compliance Conference