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New York Supreme Court Appellate Division says repurchase obligations not limited to defaulted loans
On September 17, the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, affirmed a trial court’s decision to grant partial summary judgment in favor of four residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) trusts (plaintiffs) on breach of contract allegations related to pooling and servicing agreement (PSA) repurchase obligations. The appellate court also concluded that the trial court correctly denied a motion for summary judgment filed by the seller of the mortgage loans (defendant). At issue were PSAs—entered between the plaintiffs and the defendant—containing a “repurchase protocol,” which dictate that the defendant is required to “cure, substitute, or repurchase” any defective loans “within 120 days of the earlier of the discovery by the defendant . . . or [the defendant’s] receipt of written notice from any party of a breach of any representation or warranty in the PSAs which ‘materially and adversely affects’ the interest of certificateholders in any mortgage loan.” The trial court denied the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, which, among other things, sought dismissal of claims related to the defective loans that the defendant argued were not specifically identified in timely breach notices. According to the appellate court, the trial court had correctly held that the trustee had delivered “timely presuit letters” concerning the defective loans that were placed in the trusts and had provided sufficient “notice that the breaches plaintiffs were investigating might uncover additional defective loans for which claims would be made.” The appellate court also agreed with the trial court’s decision to grant the plaintiffs’ motion for partial summary judgment to the extent that it sought a ruling that a breach that “materially and adversely” affects the certificateholders’ interest—as outlined in the repurchase protocol—is not limited to loans in default, but also “applies to any breach that ‘materially increased a loan’s risk of loss.’” Further, the appellate court also concurred with the trial court’s decision to grant the plaintiffs’ motion for partial summary judgment and deny the defendant’s motion concerning the use of statistical sampling to prove breach of contract claims for both liability and damages. However, both courts agreed that the defendant will have an opportunity to raise those arguments if it chooses to challenge the sample size or the loans chosen as part of the sample.
On September 17, the DOJ and the CFPB filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court arguing that the for-cause restriction on the president’s authority to remove the Bureau’s single Director violates the Constitution’s separation of powers. The brief was filed in response to a petition for a writ of certiorari by a law firm, contesting the May decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which held that (i) the Bureau’s single-director structure is constitutional, and that (ii) the district court did not err when it granted the Bureau’s petition to enforce a law firm’s compliance with a 2017 civil investigative demand (CID) (previously covered by InfoBytes here). The brief cites to a DOJ filing in opposition to a 2018 cert petition, which also concluded that the Bureau’s structure is unconstitutional by infringing on the president’s responsibility to ensure that federal laws are faithfully executed, but urged the Court to deny that writ as the case was a “poor vehicle” for the constitutionality consideration (previously covered by InfoBytes here).
In contrast to the December brief, the DOJ now asserts that the present case is a “suitable vehicle for resolving the important question,” noting that only the constitutional question was presented to the Court and the 9th Circuit has stayed its CID mandate until final disposition of the case with the Court. Moreover, the government argues that until the Court resolves the constitutionality question of the Bureau’s structure, “those subject to the agency’s regulation or enforcement can (and often will) raise the issue as a defense to the Bureau’s efforts to implement and enforce federal consumer financial law.” While the Bureau previously defended the single-director structure to the 9th Circuit, the brief notes that since the May decision was issued, “the Director has reconsidered that position and now agrees that the removal restriction is unconstitutional.”
On the same day, Director Kraninger sent letters (here and here) to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) supporting the argument that the for-cause restriction on the president’s authority to remove the Bureau’s single Director, violates the Constitution’s separation of powers. Kraninger notes that while she is urging the Court to grant the pending petition for certiorari to resolve the constitutionality question, her position on the matter “does not affect [her] commitment to fulfilling the Bureau’s statutory responsibilities” and that should the Court find the structure unconstitutional, “the [Consumer Financial Protection Act] should remain ‘fully operative,’ and the Bureau would ‘continue to function as before,’ just with a Director who “may be removed at will by the [President.]’”
On September 5, the CFPB filed an amicus brief in a case on appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit concerning a debt collector’s use of language or symbols other than the collector’s address on an envelope sent to a consumer. Under section 1692f(8) of the FDCPA, debt collectors are barred from using any language or symbol other than the collector’s address on any envelope sent to the consumer, “except that a debt collector may use his business name if such name does not indicate that he is in the debt collection business.” In the case at issue, a consumer received a debt collection letter enclosed in an envelope stamped with the words “TIME SENSITIVE DOCUMENT” in bold font. The consumer filed a complaint against the defendant asserting various claims under the FDCPA, including that inclusion of “TIME SENSITIVE DOCUMENT” on the envelope was a violation of section 1692f(8). The defendant argued that an exception should be carved out for “benign” language in this instance, and the district court agreed, ruling that the language “‘does not create any privacy concerns for [the consumer] or expose potentially embarrassing information by giving away the fact that the letter is from a debt collector.’”
On appeal, the 7th Circuit invited the Bureau to file an amicus brief on whether there is a benign language exception to section 1692f(8)’s prohibition, and, if so, whether the phrase “TIME SENSITIVE DOCUMENT” falls within that exception. The Bureau asserted that there is no benign language exception, and stressed that while section 1692f(8) recognizes that debt collectors may be permitted to include language and symbols on an envelope that facilitate the mailing of an envelope, section 1692f(8), by its own terms, does not allow for benign language. Additionally, the Bureau commented that section 1692f’s prefatory text does not “provide a basis for reading a ‘benign language’ exception into section 1692f(8),” nor does the prefatory text suggest that the prohibition applies only in instances where it may be “‘unfair or unconscionable’” in a general sense. Moreover, if Congress wanted to allow for markings on envelopes provided they did not reveal the debt-collection purpose, then it would have done so, the Bureau argued, concluding that if the court did adopt a benign language exception, then whether “TIME SENSITIVE DOCUMENT” would fall within that exception would be a question of fact.
On September 12, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held that the False Claims Act (FCA) does not guarantee relators an automatic in-person hearing before a case can be dismissed. According to the opinion, a relator filed a qui tam action against a Delaware non-profit organization, asserting claims on behalf of the United States and the State of Delaware under the FCA and the Delaware False Claims Act (DFCA), alleging the organization received funding from state and federal governments by misrepresenting material information. Delaware and the federal government declined to intervene and, three years later, both moved to dismiss the case. Both governments argued that the relator’s allegations were “factually incorrect and legally insufficient.” The district court granted the motions without conducting an in-person hearing. The relator appealed, arguing that the FCA guarantees an automatic in-person hearing before a case can be dismissed.
On appeal, the 3rd Circuit disagreed with the relator. The appellate court noted that the government “has an interest in minimizing unnecessary or burdensome litigation costs,” and, once the government moved to dismiss, the burden shifted to the relator to prove that dismissal would be “fraudulent, arbitrary and capricious, or illegal.” The appellate court concluded that the relator failed to do so, and rejected his argument that he should have been allowed to introduce evidence during a hearing to satisfy his burden. While the FCA and the DFCA state that a relator has an “‘opportunity for a hearing’ when the government moves to dismiss,” it is the relator’s responsibility to avail himself or herself of this opportunity, according to the appellate court. The court concluded that the FCA and DFCA do not guarantee an automatic in-person hearing and, because the relator failed to request a hearing and his motions failed to prove the dismissal was fraudulent, arbitrary, capricious, or illegal, the district court did not err in dismissing the action.
On September 10, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas granted a motion to compel arbitration in a putative class action alleging violations of the Arkansas Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (AFDCPA) and the FDCPA. According to the order, the plaintiffs contended that the defendants—a debt buyer and its law firm—attempted to collect charged-off credit card debts “through standardized, form debt collection complaints . . . that fraudulently and falsely averred that [the debt buyer] ‘holds in due course a claim . . . pursuant to a defaulted [bank] credit card account.” While the plaintiffs did not dispute that the arbitration provision contained within the cardholder agreement entered into with the bank was valid and that their state and federal claims fell within its scope, they argued that the debt buyer was not a “holder in due course” of the accounts in questions, and as such, the arbitration provision contained within the cardholder agreement was not assigned to the defendants. The court disagreed, ruling that the cardholder agreements specifically permitted the original creditors to assign their rights to a third party, which includes the right to arbitration and the right to enforce the class action prohibition.
On September 11, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California denied a mortgage company’s motion to dismiss an action by the U.S. government alleging the company violated the False Claims Act by falsely certifying compliance with FHA mortgage insurance requirements. According to the opinion, the government intervened in a former employee’s suit against the company and alleged that the company, a participant in HUD’s Direct Endorsement Lender program, had failed to report loans to HUD that presented “material risk and ‘[f]indings of fraud or other serious violations’ discovered during the ‘normal course of business and by quality control staff during reviews/audits of FHA loans.’” The company moved to dismiss the action, arguing that the government failed to allege a scheme that was designed to flout specific FHA requirements. In denying the motion, the court concluded that the government sufficiently alleged the “who, what, where, how, and why” of the company’s misconduct, noting that the company “knew, or should have known, that the certifications of compliance it made at the time of endorsement were false because the falsities were facially apparent from the loan files that it was required to underwrite in accordance with HUD’s requirements.” The court also concluded that the government sufficiently pleaded its breach of fiduciary duty and breach of contract claims.
On September 10, the FDIC and the OCC filed an amicus brief in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, supporting a bankruptcy judge’s ruling, which refused to disallow a claim for a business loan that carried a more than 120 percent annual interest rate, concluding the interest rate was permissible as a matter of federal law. After filing bankruptcy in 2017, a Denver-based business sought to reject the claim under Section 502 of the Bankruptcy Code, and sought equitable subordination under Section 510 of the Code, arguing that the original promissory note, executed by the debtor and a Wisconsin state chartered bank, and subsequently assigned to a nonbank lender, was invalid under Colorado’s usury law. The bankruptcy judge disagreed, declining to follow Madden v. Midland Funding, LLC (covered by a Buckley Special Alert here). The judge concluded that the promissory note was valid under Wisconsin law when executed as that state imposes no interest rate cap on business loans, and the assignment to the nonbank lender did not alter this, stating “[i]n the Court’s view, the ‘valid-when-made’ rule remains the law.” The debtor appealed the ruling to the district court.
In support of the bankruptcy judge’s opinion, the FDIC and the OCC argue that the valid-when-made rule is dispositive. Specifically, the agencies assert that the nonbank assignee may lawfully charge the 120 percent annual rate, because the interest rate was non-usurious at the time when the loan was made by the Wisconsin state chartered bank. Moreover, the agencies state that it is a fundamental rule of contract law that “an assignee succeeds to all the assignor’s rights in the contract, including the right to receive the consideration agreed upon in the contract—here, the interest rate agreed upon.” Hence, the nonbank lender inherited the same contractual right to charge the annual interest rate. The agencies also argue that the Federal Deposit Insurance Act’s provisions regarding interest rate exportation (specifically 12 U.S.C. § 1831d) requires the same result, noting that “Congress intended to confer on banks a meaningful right to make loans at the rates allowed by their home states, which necessarily includes the ability to transfer those rates.” The agencies conclude that the bankruptcy judge correctly rejected Madden, calling the 2nd Circuit’s decision “unfathomable” for disregarding the valid-when-made doctrine and the “stand-in-the-shoes-rule” of contract law.
On September 9, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California entered a final judgment against a debt collection agency that was found guilty of violating the TCPA by making more than 500,000 unsolicited robocalls using autodialers. The court’s final judgment is consistent with the jury’s verdict from last May, which identified four classes of individuals: two involving consumers who received skip-tracing calls or pre-recorded messages, and two involving non-debtor consumers who never had debt collection accounts with the defendant but received calls on their cell phones. In a February 2018 order, the court resolved cross motions for summary judgment, affirming that the dialers used by the defendant to place the calls constituted autodialers within the meaning of the TCPA and that the defendant lacked prior express consent to place the calls. Under the more than $267 million final judgment, class members will each receive $500 per call, with one of the named plaintiffs receiving $7,000 for his individual TCPA claim.
On September 10, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York issued a final order and judgment to approve a class action settlement agreement, which ends litigation dating back to 2011 concerning alleged violations of state usury limitations. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the plaintiffs brought claims against a debt collection firm and its affiliate alleging violations of the FDCPA and New York state usury law when the defendants attempted to collect charged-off credit card debt with interest rates above the state’s 25 percent cap that was purchased from a national bank. In 2017, upon remand following the 2nd Circuit’s decision that a nonbank entity taking assignment of debts originated by a national bank is not entitled to protection under the National Bank Act from state-law usury claims (covered by a Buckley Special Alert here), the district court certified the class and allowed the FDCPA and related state unfair or deceptive acts or practices claims to proceed.
Following a fairness hearing, the court granted the parties’ joint motion for final approval, which divides the approximately 58,000 class members into two subclasses: claims alleging state-law violations, and claims alleging FDCPA violations. Under the terms of the settlement, the defendants are required to, among other things, (i) provide class members with $555,000 in monetary relief; (ii) provide $9.2 million in credit balance reductions; (iii) pay $550,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs; (iv) pay class representatives $5,000 each; and (v) agree to comply with all applicable laws, regulations, and case law regarding the collection of interest, including the collection of usurious interest.
On September 6, the Illinois Appellate Court, 5th District, vacated a circuit court’s $4.3 million settlement in a class action brought against a merchant for allegedly violating the Fair and Accurate Credit Transaction Act (FACTA) when it printed the first six and last four digits of customers’ 16-digit credit card account numbers on receipts. The appeals court held, among other things, that the “record is devoid of facts that would have permitted a reasoned judgment that the class settlement was fair, reasonable and in the best interests of all affected.” Under FACTA, merchants are prohibited from including on a receipt more than the last five digits of a consumer’s credit card number, and a credit card’s expiration date. A class action suit claiming the merchant violated the restriction was originally filed in New York federal court, but the preliminarily approved settlement was later dismissed after objectors argued that the plaintiffs lacked standing. The named plaintiff requested dismissal of the federal action and subsequently filed suit immediately after in Illinois state court, asking the court to adopt a settlement agreement identical to the one that had been preliminarily approved by the federal court. The objector appealed once again, challenging, among other things, (i) the named plaintiff’s ability to adequately represent the settlement class; (ii) the original class notice, which she argued was insufficient to cover the state court settlement; and (iii) the “fairness, reasonableness, and adequacy of the ‘coupon settlement,’” in which class members received $12 merchant gift cards, while the named plaintiff received $4,000 and class counsel was awarded $500,000.
On appeal, the appeals court disagreed with the objector’s contention that the named plaintiff lacked standing to represent the class because he kept his receipt and therefore had not been injured under FACTA, but found “a number of red flags” regarding the sub-class of more than 350,000 members of the merchant’s loyalty program, questioning whether the named plaintiff was an adequate representative for those class members since there was nothing in the record indicating whether he was a member of the program. Moreover, the appeals court agreed with the objector that the original class notice provided under the federal settlement did not sufficiently protect the due process rights of the settlement class, and that “due process requires the giving of notice anew of the pending state court settlement to absent class members so that they have the opportunity to protect their own interests.” The appeals court remanded the case to allow the trial court to more carefully scrutinize the terms of the settlement, stating that “we are unable to determine whether the trial court evaluated the merits of the cause of action, the prospects and problems of litigating the cause or the fairness of the terms of compromise.” The appeals court also ordered the trial court to further explain its findings that the $500,000 attorneys’ fee award and $4,000 lead plaintiff award are reasonable given the possibility that not every class member will use the coupon.
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