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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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  • California mortgage lender to pay $1 million to settle fraud allegations

    Federal Issues

    Recently, the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington announced a settlement with a California-based mortgage lender to resolve allegations that it “improperly and fraudulently” originated government-backed mortgage loans insured by FHA, resulting in losses to the government when borrowers defaulted on their mortgages. The settlement concludes a joint investigation conducted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Offices of Inspector General for the Department of Veterans Affairs and HUD, which commenced as required by the False Claims Act after a whistleblower (a former loan processor) filed a qui tam complaint against the lender in 2019. The whistleblower claimed that between December 2011 and March 2019, the lender knowingly underwrote certain FHA mortgages and approved some mortgages for insurance that failed to meet FHA requirements or qualify for insurance. The whistleblower further alleged that the lender “knowingly failed to perform quality control reviews that it was required to perform.”

    “By improperly originating ineligible mortgages, lenders take advantage of the limited resources of the FHA program and unfairly pass the risk of loss onto the public,” the U.S. Attorney said. According to the announcement, the lender agreed to pay more than $1.03 million under the terms of the settlement agreement. The whistleblower will receive $228,172 of the settlement proceeds, plus attorney’s fees, expenses, and costs.

    Federal Issues Courts DOJ FHA Mortgages HUD Department of Veterans Affairs False Claims Act / FIRREA Qui Tam Action

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  • District Court grants TRO and preliminary injunction in FDCPA case

    Courts

    On July 7, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois granted a motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against a defendant in an FDCPA case. In the motion, two individual plaintiffs claimed that the defendant called them 20 times in a three-day period and said he will continue calling “family, friends, and business interests until the [plaintiffs’] adult son’s debts are paid.” The plaintiffs’ attorney sent a notice to the defendant indicating that the plaintiffs were being represented and to not contact them directly. The defendant allegedly responded that he “does not intend to cease or desist.” After communicating with the plaintiffs’ attorney, the defendant allegedly called the plaintiffs’ business associates and employees over 40 times over a six-day period. The plaintiffs filed suit, claiming the defendant violated the FDCPA by, among other things, “using obscene language, and repeatedly and continuously calling Plaintiffs with the intent to abuse, annoy or harass,” and “threaten[ing] to sue them for debts that they do not owe.” According to the order, the defendant argued that the underlying debt is a business debt and thus not subject to the FDCPA. The district court found that the defendant “declined to present any evidence and refused the opportunity to testify under oath.” Ultimately, the district court stated that the plaintiffs “seek an injunction that only goes so far as to require Defendants’ compliance with the law.” Further, the district court noted that the defendant “will suffer no harm in that they are only being ordered to do that which is already legally required of them.”

    Courts FDCPA Debt Collection

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  • 4th Circuit says foreign debit fee contract language is ambiguous

    Courts

    On July 7, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held that a class action breach of contract suit related to foreign debit card fees charged by a credit union may proceed. Class members claimed that the credit union’s contract allows fees only when customers make debit card purchases in a foreign country—not when customers make a purchase while they are physically in the U.S. even if the merchant is abroad. According to the contract’s disclosure agreement and fee schedule, debit card transactions “made in a foreign country” and non-credit union “Point-of-sale and ATM transactions made in a foreign country” will incur a one percent fee.

    In vacating the district court’s ruling that the card contracts clearly prohibited these fees, the 4th Circuit concluded that the contract’s language is ambiguous and subject to different interpretations. While class members and the credit union both cited dictionary definitions in support of their arguments, the appellate court said the contract’s language “simply does not clarify whether the location of the account holder or the seller determines whether the transactions are made in foreign countries.” In an online context, the 4th Circuit pointed to questions posed by the 7th Circuit: “Where is the point of sale for such a purchase—the consumer’s computer? the vendor’s headquarters? the vendor’s server? cyberspace generally?” The 4th Circuit further noted that the contracts could have been clearly drafted to explain whether online transactions were “made in foreign countries” if they were between account holders physically in the U.S. and foreign sellers but “were not.”

    Courts Appellate Fourth Circuit Seventh Circuit Fees Class Action Consumer Finance

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  • District Court orders CFPB to issue Section 1071 rulemaking by March 31

    Federal Issues

    On July 11, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California issued an order setting March 31, 2023 as the deadline for the CFPB to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) on small business lending data. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Bureau is obligated to issue an NPRM for implementing Section 1071 of the Dodd-Frank Act, which requires the agency to collect and disclose data on lending to women and minority-owned small businesses. The requirement was established as part of a stipulated settlement reached in 2020 with a group of plaintiffs, including the California Reinvestment Coalition (CRC), who argued that the Bureau’s failure to implement Section 1071 violated two provisions of the Administrative Procedures Act, and harmed the CRC’s ability to advocate for access to credit, advise organizations working with women and minority-owned small businesses, and work with lenders to arrange investment in low-income and communities of color (covered by InfoBytes here).

    Find continuing Section 1071 coverage here.

    Federal Issues Courts Agency Rule-Making & Guidance CFPB Small Business Lending Section 1071 Consumer Finance Dodd-Frank

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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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  • Payday lender to pay $39 million in alleged misappropriated funds suit

    Courts

    On June 29, the U.S. District Court for the District of South Florida granted final judgment against a Florida-based payday loan company and an individual (collectively, “defendants”), resolving SEC allegations that the company fraudulently misappropriated funds from investors. According to the complaint, the SEC claimed that the defendants falsely represented to many Venezuelan-American investors that the company would use their funds to finance payday loans through the offer and sale of “safe and secured” promissory notes. However, the complaint noted that “the proceeds [the company] generated from its consumer loan business were woefully insufficient to cover principal and interest payments to investors,” and had been offered in violation of registration and anti-fraud provisions of the Securities Act and Exchange Act. The complaint also noted that the individual allegedly misappropriated $2.9 million for personal use and authorized the transfer of $3.6 million to friends and relatives for no apparent legitimate business purpose. According to the order, the company: (i) is permanently restrained and enjoined from violating sections of the Securities Act and Exchange Act; (ii) must pay $30.3 million in disgorgement; and (iii) must pay $2 million interest on disgorgement and a $7 million civil penalty. The individual is jointly liable for more than $4.6 million in disgorgement.

    Courts Securities Payday Lending Securities Act Securities Exchange Act SEC Enforcement

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  • District Court grants preliminary approval of contact tracing suit

    Courts

    On June 30, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California granted plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary approval of a class action settlement alleging that an internet platform (defendant) violated the California Confidentiality of Medical Information Act, as well as other state laws through its “contract tracing” system that operated on consumers’ mobile devices. According to the motion, the defendant co-designed a digital contact tracing system to “slow or stop the spread of COVID-19 on mobile devices using [the defendant’s mobile device] operating system.” The plaintiffs alleged that the defendant “unlawfully exposed confidential medical information and personally identifying information” through this system. Furthermore, the plaintiffs alleged that the defendant “fundamentally erred in its design and implementation of its [system] by leaving users’ private health information unprotected on [the mobile] device ‘system logs’ to which [the defendant] and third-party app developers had routine access.” Under the terms of the settlement, class counsel will seek an award of attorneys’ fees and reimbursement of expenses in a total amount exceeding $2 million. Additionally, the defendant must establish security measures to remedy vulnerabilities.

    Courts Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security Covid-19 Class Action Settlement

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  • N.J. appeals court says debt collector may file suit during the pandemic

    Courts

    On June 29, the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division affirmed a lower court’s granting of summary judgment in favor of a plaintiff debt collector in an action over whether a suit could be filed during the Covid-19 pandemic despite a clause in an agreement with the original creditor that barred collection actions in a disaster area. According to the opinion, the plaintiff purchased a portfolio of debts, including two credit card debts owned by the individual defendant. The plaintiff sued the defendant after attempts to collect on the debts were unsuccessful. The defendant filed a third-party complaint against the plaintiff asserting counterclaims accusing the plaintiff of violating the FDCPA, and stating that collection agencies were barred by an executive order that allegedly prohibited the initiation and adjudication of debt collection matters during the pandemic. A lower court granted the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment, after finding no genuine issue of material fact which would prevent summary judgment in favor of the plaintiff. Specifically, the lower court “found that plaintiff provided sufficient, credible evidence in the record that established the nexus between the accounts and defendant,” and “also found the executive order and FDCPA argument meritless,” as “no directive existed that prevented agencies from initiating debt collection matters during the COVID-19 pandemic.” The defendant appealed.

    On appeal, the defendant argued, among other things, that the lower court had “improperly relied on inadmissible hearsay documents” and erred in finding the executive order and FDCPA inapplicable. The defendant referred to a clause in an agreement she had with the original creditor, which said: “Without limiting the foregoing, [plaintiff] further represents and warrants that it shall: . . . (x) upon declaration by [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] or any appropriate local, state or federal agency that a location is a disaster area, [plaintiff] agrees to temporarily suspend its collection activities within said area until such time as is reasonable and practicable.” The appeals court agreed with the lower court’s reasoning, and called the defendant’s argument “baseless.” According to the appeals court, the defendant “failed to present evidence that an executive order prohibited the commencement and adjudication of debt collection matters during a state emergency related to the COVID-19 pandemic” and failed to establish “that there is a contractual bar to plaintiff filing a debt collection suit in a disaster area.”

    Courts State Issues Debt Collection FDCPA Consumer Finance Covid-19 Appellate New Jersey

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  • 8th Circuit says bank is entitled to proceeds from condo sale

    Courts

    On June 24, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed a trial court’s decision that a plaintiff bank is entitled to the proceeds from the sale of a condominium despite the defendant’s ex-husband’s bankruptcy and an outstanding balance owed to the bank on a business loan. When the defendant signed and initialed a mortgage securing the financing of a condominium, she consented to her ex-husband’s execution of the note but was not a signatory. The mortgage contained three provisions, including (i) a choice-of-law provision specifying that Iowa law governed the mortgage; (ii) a homestead waiver, in which the defendant and her ex-husband “waive[d] all appraisement and homestead exemption rights relating to” the condominium, except as prohibited by law; and (iii) a future advances clause or “dragnet clause,” which granted the plaintiff a security interest in the mortgage that covered future funds the ex-husband may borrow. The plaintiff initiated litigation against the defendant seeking a declaratory judgment that the defendant’s portion of the escrowed sale proceeds was subject to the mortgage’s future advances clause, and that the plaintiff could apply the proceeds to her ex-husband’s business loan. The trial court concluded that the bank was entitled to the proceeds.

    On appeal, the 8th Circuit concluded that the mortgage’s future advances clause encompassed and secured the defendant’s ex-husband's business loan. Among other things, the appellate court rejected the defendant’s arguments that (i) the plaintiff failed to make a prima facie case that it was entitled to the condo sale proceeds because it purportedly “did not prove the proceeds comported with the mortgage’s maximum obligation limit clause (finding “no miscarriage of justice in declining to analyze her claim”); and (ii) the mortgage forced “her to waive her homestead rights in contravention of public policy” and in violation of the FTC’s “unfair credit practices” regulation (16 C.F.R. § 444.2)—a regulation, the appellate court pointed out, that does not apply to “banks” by its own terms. The 8th Circuit also rejected defendant’s unconscionability claim under Iowa law, stating that the “doctrine of unconscionability does not exist to rescue parties from bad bargains.” The appellate court further rejected the defendant’s other “equitable arguments” as “untenable” primarily because the mortgage is a “credit agreement” regulated under Iowa Code § 535.17(5)(c), and that statute expressly displaces equitable remedies.

    Courts State Issues Iowa Appellate Eighth Circuit Bankruptcy Mortgages Consumer Finance

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