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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations


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  • District Court dismisses breach of contract suit against Connecticut firm


    On May 1, the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut dismissed a malpractice suit brought against a Connecticut-based law firm for allegedly inducing a Boston-based mortgage/mezzanine lender and its Delaware-based trustee (plaintiffs) to enter into a contract resulting in a loss of approximately $13 million. The lender alleged that it entered into a $12 million mezzanine loan agreement in 2012 with a company that owned commercial property located in Connecticut (borrower). The plaintiffs asserted that the firm acted as counsel to various entities associated with the borrower, and issued an opinion letter to the lender concerning agreements memorializing the loan transaction and establishing borrower’s interest in the loan collateral. When the borrower defaulted on the loan due to allegedly misrepresenting ownership percentages, the plaintiffs filed suit against the firm claiming, among other things, (i) breach of contract for rendering an opinion letter, which the firm and borrower intended the lender to rely upon as part of the transaction; (ii) breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing; and (iii) negligent misrepresentation.

    The firm, however, argued that the lender’s claims lacked standing because (i) it was never a client of the firm and the opinion letter was not a contract; (ii) “a third-party beneficiary of a written contract [between the borrower and the firm] cannot recover for a breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing; and (iii) claims of negligent misrepresentation were barred by the statute of limitations.

    The court agreed with the firm and ruled that the opinion letter was not a contract that created a contractual obligation the firm could breach. Because the lender and related entities were “neither a party to a contract with [the firm] nor the intended third-party beneficiary of a contract between the borrower and [the firm] ... their breach of contract claim against [the firm] must be dismissed,” the judge stated. The court also dismissed the remaining allegations, stating the lender had not sufficiently alleged that it reasonably relied on the advice of the firm’s advice to make the loan to the borrower.

    Courts Lending Contracts

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  • Judge dismisses CSBS challenge to OCC fintech charter on ripeness grounds


    On April 30, a U.S. District Court judge dismissed the Conference of State Bank Supervisors’ (CSBS) challenge to the OCC’s proposed federal charter for fintech firms. (See previous InfoBytes coverage here.) According to the court, the suit is not “constitutionally or prudentially ripe for determination” and cannot proceed because the OCC has yet to issue a fintech charter to any firm. “This dispute would benefit from a more concrete setting and additional percolation. In particular, this dispute will be sharpened if the OCC charters a particular [f]intech—or decides to do so imminently,” the judge wrote.

    As previously covered in InfoBytes, last December the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York dismissed a lawsuit filed by the New York Department of Financial Services against the OCC, citing to lack of subject matter jurisdiction over the claims because the OOC had yet to finalize its plans to actually issue fintech charters.

    Fintech Courts OCC NYDFS Litigation Fintech Charter

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  • 7th Circuit affirms summary judgment for consumers in FDCPA suit


    On May 2, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit affirmed four district court decisions granting summary judgment in favor of consumers who alleged a debt collector violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) by communicating debts to credit reporting agencies without indicating the debts were disputed. According to the opinion, the debt collector sent the four consumers a debt validation notice regarding an alleged credit card debt. More than 30 days later, a local legal aid organization sent the debt collector’s general counsel a notice of representation for each of the four consumers, noting, “the amount reported is not accurate.” After the attorney letters were sent, the debt collector reported the debts to the credit reporting agencies. The consumers each filed a separate action in district court alleging a violation of the FDCPA, and each district court granted the consumer summary judgment, finding the debt collector did not handle the letters properly. In the consolidated appeal, the 7th Circuit agreed with the district courts, holding that the actions of the debt collector were “a clear violation of the statute” as each attorney letter stated the amount was inaccurate and the debt collector still reported the debts without noting they were disputed. While the panel noted that there is no clear definition of “dispute” under the FDCPA, the court concluded, “there is simply no other way to interpret [the] language” of the attorney letter, rejecting the debt collector’s “bona fide error defense.”

    Courts Seventh Circuit Appellate FDCPA Credit Reporting Agency Debt Collection

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  • PHH will not challenge CFPB’s constitutionality with Supreme Court


    PHH will not seek to appeal the January 31 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, which upheld the CFPB’s constitutionality in a 7-3 decision. (Covered by a Buckley Sandler Special Alert.) The Supreme Court requires petitions for writ of certiorari to be filed within 90 days of the decision, which would have put PHH’s deadline around May 1. According to reports, a PHH spokesperson confirmed the company did not file the petition but declined to provide further comment.

    As previously covered by InfoBytes, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit recently agreed to hear a similar challenge to the constitutionality of the CFPB’s single-director structure by two Mississippi-based payday loan and check cashing companies.

    Courts PHH v. CFPB CFPB Dodd-Frank Federal Issues D.C. Circuit Appellate CFPB Succession Single-Director Structure

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  • Florida District Court of Appeal holds contract for used car not covered by state usury law


    On April 25, a Florida District Court of Appeal held that a Florida usury law did not apply to the purchase of a used car because the contract for purchase was a retail installment sales contract covered under the Florida Motor Vehicle Retail Sales Finance Act (the Finance Act). According to the opinion, a consumer filed a lawsuit against a used car seller and a lender claiming violations of Florida’s general usury law, which prohibits interest of more than 18 percent per year, because the contract for purchase of a used car had a 27.81 percent interest rate. In affirming the trial court’s decision to grant summary judgment for the car seller and lender, the appeals court found that the contract for purchase met the state’s definition of a retail installment sales contract and,  therefore, was governed by the Finance Act (which both the seller and lender were licensed under) rather than the general usury statute. Additionally, because the car was financed over a four-year period, the appeals court found that the finance charge per year was permissible under the Finance Act at $16.48 for every $100. The court also held that the general usury law did not apply to a contract to secure the price of personal property sold, as opposed to a contract for the “loan of money.”

    Courts State Issues Auto Finance Interest Rate Usury Consumer Finance

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  • District court grants partial summary judgment, rules bank did not violate federal and state fair credit reporting laws


    On April 25, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California granted a bank’s partial motion for summary judgment, holding that a Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) disclosure and authorization form (disclosure form) completed by the plaintiff as part of the bank’s background check hiring process did not violate federal and state fair credit reporting laws. The plaintiff—who brought the proposed class action suit following the bank’s decision not to hire plaintiff following an offer of employment that was contingent upon a satisfactory background check—asserted claims under the FCRA, the California Investigative Consumer Reporting Agencies Act (ICRA), and the California Consumer Credit Reporting Agencies Act (CCRA), including that (i) the disclosure form was not a standalone document; (ii) the disclosure did not accurately identify the investigative consumer reporting agency; and (iii) the bank failed to comply with CCRA disclosure requirements.

    Addressing whether the disclosure form, which “appeared as a separate and distinct web page separated from the rest of the documents,” violated the FCRA, the court ruled that because it “was a stand-alone document that contained no extraneous information or liability waiver” it was in compliance. The court also determined that the bank did not violate the ICRA because it was only required to disclose the agency it engaged to provide an investigative consumer report, not the various sources the agency itself may have used when conducting its investigation. Finally, the court ruled that the plaintiff’s argument that the disclosure form failed to comply with the CCRA lacked merit because—although the bank could not apply an exemption under state law to the section allegedly violated—the bank’s disclosure form complied with the CCRA’s disclosure requirements, and furthermore, the bank was not required to disclose the reasons for requesting the report nor the “various repositories” of information the disclosed source used when compiling the report.

    Courts State Issues FCRA Credit Reporting Agency Disclosures

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  • 11th Circuit denies motion to compel arbitration; rules claims relate to BSA violations and not to terms of user agreement


    On April 23, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit upheld a district court’s decision to deny a global money services business’s motion to compel arbitration under the doctrine of equitable estoppel. According to the unpublished opinion, the plaintiff-appellee—a customer of a now defunct cryptocurrency exchange (defunct exchange)—filed a proposed class action against the money services business and the CEO of the defunct exchange, alleging that when the money services business liquidated bitcoin into cash for two accounts that the CEO opened, it aided and abetted the defunct exchange’s breach of fiduciary duty and the CEO’s theft of customer assets. The customer claimed that the money services business had a duty under the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) to monitor or investigate the CEO’s actions, detect the CEO’s theft of customer assets, and report the CEO’s suspicious activity to appropriate authorities. However, the business argued that when the CEO opened his accounts, he agreed to be bound by an arbitration clause in the user agreement, and that therefore, under the doctrine of equitable estoppel, the customer was bound by the arbitration clause because the customer’s claims were based on the user agreement. The district court rejected the business’s argument and found that the customer was not asserting any rights or benefits that arose out of the user agreement but rather on duties created under the BSA. The 11th Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision, stating that the customer’s claims were predicated on duties the defendant-appellant owed under federal statutes and regulations as well as state common law and not on enforcing the terms of the user agreement, and, therefore, the customer could not be compelled to arbitrate the claim.

    Courts Financial Crimes Fintech Virtual Currency Arbitration Class Action Appellate Eleventh Circuit Bank Secrecy Act

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  • 5th Circuit will hear CFPB constitutionality challenge


    On April 24, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit agreed to hear a challenge by two Mississippi-based payday loan and check cashing companies to the constitutionality of the CFPB’s single-director structure. The CFPB filed a complaint against the two companies in May 2016 alleging violations of the Consumer Financial Protection Act for practices related to the companies’ check cashing and payday lending services, previously covered by InfoBytes here. The district court denied the companies’ motion for judgment on the pleadings, rejecting their arguments that the structure of the CFPB is unconstitutional and that the CFPB’s claims violate due process. However, the district court granted the companies’ motion to certify an interlocutory appeal as to the question of the constitutionality of the CFPB’s structure, referencing the D.C. Circuit’s decision in PHH Corp. v. CFPB, (covered by a Buckley Sandler Special Alert here), and noting the “substantial ground for difference of opinion as to this issue as exhibited by the differences of opinion amongst the jurists in the [D.C. Circuit] who have considered this issue.” The district court emphasized that the question is a “controlling question of law” that the 5th Circuit has yet to decide and, if the CFPB were determined to be an unconstitutional entity, this would materially advance the underlying action’s termination. A panel of the 5th Circuit has now granted the companies’ motion for leave to appeal from the interlocutory order on the issue of the constitutionality of the CFPB’s structure.

    Courts Fifth Circuit Appellate Federal Issues CFPB PHH v. CFPB CFPB Succession Dodd-Frank CFPA Payday Lending Single-Director Structure

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  • OCC files amicus brief in support of rehearing in 9th circuit preemption decision


    On April 24, the OCC filed an amicus curiae brief in support of an en banc rehearing of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit’s March decision, which held that a California law that requires the bank to pay interest on escrow funds is not preempted by federal law.  As previously covered by InfoBytes, the 9th Circuit held that the Dodd-Frank Act of 2011 (Dodd-Frank) essentially codified the existing National Bank Act (NBA) preemption standard from the 1996 Supreme Court decision in Barnett Bank of Marion County v. Nelson. 

    In a strongly worded brief, the OCC states that the court “errs in matters of fundamental importance to the national banking system” and “comprehensively misinterpreted” Barnett Bank and the cases upon which that decision rests.  The OCC specifically argues that the court misinterpreted the legal standard for preemption articulated by Barnett Bank, ignored applicable Supreme Court standards prescribing a test for reviewing preemptive regulations, improperly created a burden of proof on national banks to demonstrate Congressional intent as to preemption, and inappropriately imposed a higher bar for “large corporate banks” to show state law interference.  The OCC also argues that the court’s reliance on the effective dates of the Dodd-Frank provisions relied upon by the Court pre-date the transactions that were at issue in the case, and would therefore have no application to the facts of the case.

    This filing supports the national bank’s petition for en banc rehearing filed April 13 and previously covered by InfoBytes here.

    Courts Ninth Circuit Appellate Mortgages Escrow Preemption National Bank Act Dodd-Frank OCC State Issues

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  • 8th Circuit affirms dismissal of FDCPA claims, rules false or misleading statements must be material to be actionable


    On April 19, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit affirmed a district court’s decision to grant a debt collector’s motion for judgment on the pleadings, concluding that false or misleading statements under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) must be material to be actionable. According to the opinion, the Conciliation Court for the 4th Judicial District of Minnesota previously issued a judgment finding that the debt collector failed to demonstrate “an entitlement to relief” when the debt collector sought payment (including statutory interest) for unpaid medical services. The plaintiff-appellant subsequently filed suit against the debt collector alleging that the debt collector’s conduct before the conciliation court violated the FDCPA. The district court issued a decision—which the 8th Circuit affirmed—holding that the debt collector’s “inadequate documentation of the assignment did not constitute a materially false representation” and, although the debt collector was ultimately unable to collect on the debt, loss of a collection action, standing alone, did not establish a violation of the FDCPA under the materiality standard. Additionally, the 8th Circuit held that the debt collector did not engage in unfair practices under the FDCPA when the debt collector attempted to collect interest on the debt under a Minnesota statute simply because the debtor may have had a legal defense to application of the statute.


    Courts Eighth Circuit Appellate FDCPA Debt Collection

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