Subscribe to our InfoBytes Blog weekly newsletter and other publications for news affecting the financial services industry.
2nd Circuit reverses district court, holds fair debt collection claim can proceed when dispute notice is included
On July 27, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit held that a lower court erred when it concluded that a consumer was prevented from alleging violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act where a debt collector sought payment on a previously settled debt because the debt collector had included a notice of the right to dispute the debt, which the consumer did not exercise. According to the 2nd Circuit panel, the consumer plausibly argued that consumers could be misled by collection notices that misstate debts whether or not there is an option to dispute the debt, especially because the debt collector told her it might report her account information to credit bureaus. “A least sophisticated consumer who was so advised might understand her right to dispute the misstated debt but, nevertheless, pay the debt out of fear that there was already an adverse effect on her credit that would continue as long as the obligation remained outstanding,” the panel opined. Moreover, a debt dispute notice does not preclude claims for misrepresenting the debt. The appellate court vacated the lower court’s judgment and remanded for further proceedings.
On July 24, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit affirmed a district court’s decision, holding that a group of securities investment firms (defendants-appellees) did not unlawfully hide concerns about a mortgage bundle it sold to a Luxemburg-based financial institution (plaintiff-appellant) when it marked down the value of certain junior securities within the bundle. The three judge panel affirmed the lower court’s decision to dismiss securities fraud and breach of contract claims, which alleged that the defendants-appellees’ undisclosed markdown concealed its view that the mortgage bundle would underperform. The defendants-appellees contended that the markdown was related to commonly-used accounting strategies designed to manage risk tied to the preference shares, to which the lower court agreed—ruling that the plaintiff-appellant had failed to show evidence proving its claims of fraud. The appellate court agreed, holding that the plaintiff-appellant “has thus failed to raise a material issue of fact as to [the defendants-appellees’] knowledge that there was anything wrong with the underlying assets, which is essential to establishing its theory of fraud.” The appellate court further upheld the breach of contract dismissal because the offering circular and marketing materials for the mortgage bundle did not specify the value of the preference shares.
On June 25, the U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-4 vote held that a credit card company did not unreasonably restrain trade in violation of the Sherman Act by preventing merchants from steering customers to other credit cards. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in September 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit considered the non-steering protections included in the credit card company’s agreements with merchants and concluded that such provisions protect the card company’s rewards program and prestige and preserve the company’s market share based on cardholder satisfaction. Accordingly, the 2nd Circuit concluded that “there is no reason to intervene and disturb the present functioning of the payment‐card industry.” In June 2017, a coalition of states, led by Ohio, petitioned the Supreme Court to review the 2nd Circuit decision, arguing the credit card industry’s services to merchants and cardholders are not interchangeable and therefore, the credit card market should be viewed as a two-sided market, not a single market. The Supreme Court disagreed with the petitioners’ arguments, finding that the credit card industry is best viewed as one market. The court reasoned that while there are two sides to the credit card transaction, credit card platforms “cannot make a sale unless both sides of the platform simultaneously agree to use their services,” resulting in “more pronounced indirect network effects and interconnected pricing and demand.” Accordingly, the two-sided transaction should be viewed as a whole for purposes of assessing competition. The court further concluded that the higher merchant fees the credit card company charges result in a “robust rewards program” for cardholders, causing the company’s anti-steering provisions to not be inherently anticompetitive, but in fact to have “spurred robust interbrand competition and has increased the quality and quantity of credit-card transactions.”
On June 25, the Supreme Court denied without comment an international bank’s petition for writ of certiorari to challenge the $806 million in damages awarded by the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) for selling allegedly faulty mortgage-backed securities to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in September 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit affirmed the New York District Court’s ruling requiring the $806 million payment. Both lower courts concluded that the marketing prospectus used to sell the mortgage securities to Fannie and Freddie between 2005 and 2007 contained “untrue statements of material fact,” including false statements regarding the underlying loans’ compliance with underwriting standards related to the creditworthiness of borrowers and appraisal value of the properties.
2nd Circuit affirms dismissal of class action against international bank for alleged AML control misrepresentations
On April 13, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit affirmed a district court’s dismissal of a proposed class action alleging an international bank misrepresented the effectiveness of internal controls to investors, during a time Russian traders were laundering more than $10 billion through the bank. In May 2016, investors filed a class action complaint against the bank alleging securities law violations for touting its compliance efforts while Russian clients were engaging in “mirror trades.” The district court dismissed the complaint for failing to sufficiently allege how the bank misled investors. Specifically, the district court noted that general statements about reputation and compliance amount to “puffery” and are regularly held to be non-actionable. In affirming the district court’s decision, the 2nd Circuit agreed that the plaintiffs failed to adequately allege scienter. The panel rejected the plaintiff’s reliance on, among other things, a consent order between the New York Department of Financial Services (NYDFS) and the bank (previously covered by InfoBytes here) as evidence the bank was aware of Russian wrongdoing during the time it made its alleged misrepresentations, stating “the consent order thus contradicts the plaintiffs’ argument that the individual defendants were aware of any wrongdoing at the time they made their alleged misrepresentations.”
On March 29, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit held that a debt collection letter, which does not disclose that the balance due is not accruing interest or fees is not misleading under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). The decision results from a 2016 lawsuit filed by two debtors who alleged that the debt collection notices they received from the defendants were “false, deceptive, or misleading” under Section 1692e of the FDCPA because the notices did not state whether the balances were accruing interest or fees. The district court awarded summary judgment in favor of the defendants after unrebutted evidence was produced to show that the debtor’s balances did not accrue interest or fees during the collection period. In affirming the district court’s decision, the 2nd Circuit applied the “least sophisticated consumer” standard and found that even if a consumer interpreted the debt collection notice to believe the balance due was accruing interest or fees, the only harm that would exist is “being led to think that there is a financial benefit to making repayment sooner rather than later.” The panel also noted that the notice was consistent with Section 1692g of the FDCPA because interest and fees were not accruing, the balance due stated the accurate amount of the debt.
On March 7, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit denied a bank’s motion to compel arbitration, holding that arbitration of the debtor’s claims would present an inherent conflict with the intent of the Bankruptcy Code because the dispute concerns a core bankruptcy proceeding. The debtor’s claims against the bank relate to a purported refusal to remove a “charge-off” status on the debtor’s credit file after the debtor was released from all dischargeable debts through a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The bankruptcy court allowed the debtor to reopen the proceeding in order to file a putative class action complaint against the bank alleging that the designation amounted to coercion to pay a discharged debt. The bank moved to compel arbitration, based on a clause in the debtor’s cardholder agreement, and the court denied the motion. On appeal, the district court affirmed the bankruptcy court’s decision. In affirming both lower courts’ decisions, the 2nd Circuit reasoned that a claim of coercion to pay a discharged debt is an attempt to undo the effect of the discharge order and, therefore, “strikes at the heart of the bankruptcy court’s unique powers to enforce its own orders.” The circuit court found the debtor’s complaint to be non-arbitrable based on a conclusion that it would create an inherent conflict with the intent of the bankruptcy code.
On November 14, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed a Southern District of New York dismissal of a lawsuit against a debt collection law firm regarding actions taken during state court collection proceedings. Concluding that the plaintiff had stated a claim against the law firm under two sections of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), a three-judge panel vacated the dismissal and remanded for further proceedings consistent with its decision.
The appeal stems from the law firm’s actions in attempting to collect on a default judgment entered against the plaintiff. After receiving a restraining notice from the law firm, the plaintiff’s bank placed a restraint on his checking account and the law firm told plaintiff that, unless he made a payment, he would have to get a court order to lift the restraint. The plaintiff sought such an order on the grounds that all the money in his checking account was Social Security Retirement Income (SSRI) and, therefore, exempt from restraint. The plaintiff claimed that the law firm’s objection to his request contained false statements in violation of the FDCPA and New York law because the plaintiff had earlier provided the law firm with documents supporting his exemption claim.
In finding the complaint states a claim under FDCPA section 1692e, the Court rejected, among other arguments made by the law firm, the notion that FDCPA liability cannot be imposed based on conduct in litigation; the opinion contrasts bankruptcy court proceedings—where the Second Circuit has found the filing of false statements of claim does not violate the FDCPA—with those of state courts, “where . . . the consumer, often unfamiliar with the law governing garnishment of bank accounts, has the benefit of neither counsel nor a bankruptcy trustee.” The Court also held that “a debt collector engages in unfair or unconscionable litigation conduct in violation of [FDCPA] section 1692f when . . . it in bad faith unduly prolongs legal proceedings or requires a consumer to appear at an unnecessary hearing.”
On September 28, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed a New York District Court’s 2015 ruling, which requires a major international bank to pay $806 million for selling allegedly faulty mortgage-backed bonds to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. In the original suit brought by the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), FHFA alleged that the bank overstated the reliability of the loans for sale. In upholding the lower court’s decision, the Second Circuit concluded that the marketing prospectus used to sell the mortgage securities to Fannie and Freddie between 2005 and 2007 contained “untrue statements of material fact.” Specifically, the prospectus falsely stated that the loans were compiled with the underwriting standards described therein, including standards related to assessing the creditworthiness of the borrowers and appraising the value of properties.
On September 19, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued an opinion ruling that a merchant who had printed the first six numbers of a consumer’s credit card on a receipt violated the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA), but that because the violation did not cause a concrete injury, the consumer did not have standing to sue the merchant. Under FACTA, merchants are prohibited from including more than the final five digits of a consumer’s credit card number on a receipt. In this instance, the plaintiff filed a complaint in 2014, followed by an amended complaint later that same year, in which he alleged that he twice received printed receipts containing the first six digits of his credit card number, in violation of FACTA. The plaintiff claimed that the risk of identity theft was a sufficient injury to establish standing. The defendants argued that that the first six digits of the credit card account only identified the card issuer and did not reveal any information about the consumer, which did not “raise a material risk of identity theft.” Citing a Supreme Court ruling in Spokeo v. Robins, the district court opined that a procedural violation of a statute is not enough to allow a consumer to sue, because it must be shown that the violation caused, or at least created a material risk of, harm to the consumer—which, in this case, was not present. Accordingly, the appellate court affirmed the district court’s dismissal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, but found that the district court erred in dismissing the suit with prejudice.
- Hank Asbill to discuss "The federal fraud sentencing guidelines: It's time to stop the madness" at a New York Criminal Bar Association webinar
- Daniel P Stipano to moderate "Digital identity: The next gen of CIP" at the American Bankers Association/American Bar Association Financial Crimes Enforcement Conference