Subscribe to our InfoBytes Blog weekly newsletter and other publications for news affecting the financial services industry.
District Court denies debt collector’s motion for summary judgment FDCPA action concerning a consumer who filed for bankruptcy
On May 29, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio denied a debt collector’s motion for summary judgment in an action alleging the debt collector violated the FDCPA by sending a collection letter three days after the consumer filed for bankruptcy. According to the opinion, the debt collector confirmed that the consumer had not yet filed for bankruptcy following placement of the consumer’s account for collection and, thus, sent an initial communication to the consumer’s attorney. Thereafter, the consumer filed for bankruptcy, but before the collector learned of the bankruptcy, it sent a collection letter to the consumer’s counsel. As a result, the consumer filed a lawsuit claiming that the debt collector violated the FDCPA by sending a collection letter to the consumer’s attorney after the bankruptcy proceeding had been initiated. The debt collector moved for summary judgment, arguing that it could not be held liable under the FDCPA because, at the time it sent the collection letter, it had not yet received notice of the bankruptcy proceeding. The court, however, rejected this argument, citing to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit in stating that “‘[t]he FDCPA is a strict-liability statute: A plaintiff does not need to prove knowledge or intent . . . and does not have to have suffered actual damages.’” Because the debt collector did present arguments or evidence relating to FDCPA’s bona fide error provision, which provides an affirmative defense for a violation that is not intentional and is the result of a bona fide error, the court said that it was essentially being asked by the debt collector “to read an intent or knowledge requirement into the FDCPA,” something it could not do, and, thus, it denied the motion for summary judgment.
On May 30, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit denied a plaintiff’s writ of mandamus challenging the district court’s order compelling arbitration of the plaintiff’s claims against a national shipping company. According to the opinion, a customer filed a putative class action complaint alleging the company “systematically overcharges” customers by applying delivery surcharge rates through third-parties, which are higher than the company’s advertised rates. The company moved to compel arbitration because the customer enrolled in a free, optional program offered by the company that provides tracking and managing services of packages; and that enrollment in the program required the customer to agree to arbitrate all claims related to the company’s shipping services. The customer argued that while he checked the box agreeing to the service terms and technology agreement when enrolling, he should not be bound by the arbitration agreement because it was, among other things “so inconspicuous that no reasonable user would be on notice of its existence.” The district court rejected the customer’s arguments and granted the motion to compel arbitration.
On review of the writ of mandamus, the appellate court acknowledged that “locating the arbitration clause at issue here requires several steps and a fair amount of web-browsing intuition,” detailing that “...the first hyperlink [is] to the 96-page Technology Agreement. The user must then read the [service terms] and understand that they incorporate [additional terms and conditions of service]…. the user must visit the full [company] website, intuitively find the link [to the additional terms and conditions of service] at the bottom of the webpage, select it, and locate yet another link to the [terms and conditions of service]” in order to read the document and locate the arbitration clause. The appellate court held that the “extraordinary remedy of mandamus” could not be awarded because it could not say “with ‘definite and firm conviction’ that the district court erred by finding the incorporation [of the terms and conditions of service] valid” and found that there is no question the customer affirmatively assented to the terms. While it did not impact its analysis, the appellate court noted that the company’s service terms document now includes a hyperlink to the terms and conditions of service and expressly informs the user that the terms contain an arbitration provision.
On May 30, the OCC filed a letter with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York notifying the court that it intends to work with NYDFS to issue a proposed final order to the court in the action challenging the OCC’s decision to allow fintech companies to apply for a Special Purpose National Bank Charter (SPNB). As previously covered by InfoBytes, in May, the court denied the OCC’s motion to dismiss, concluding that, among other things, the OCC failed to rebut NYDFS’s claims that the proposed national fintech charter posed a threat to the state’s ability to establish its own laws and regulations, and therefore, the challenge “is ripe for adjudication.” In its letter, the OCC states that while it “disagrees with the Court’s decision, and reserves its right to appeal, it believes that the decision renders entry of final judgment in this matter appropriate.” An entry of final judgment, would allow the OCC to challenge the decision with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit.
On May 30, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania reversed an order by the Pennsylvania Department of Banking and Securities Commission (Commission) issued against a mobile giving app and two of its executives (petitioner), holding that the petitioner was not required to be licensed by the Commission because it was not transmitting money under the court’s interpretation of the Pennsylvania Money Transmitter Act (Act). In 2016 the Compliance Office of the Department of Banking and Securities (Department) issued an order to cease and desist against the petitioner for transmitting money in the state without a license as required under the Act. At issue was whether petitioner’s activities constituted “transmitting money” under the Act, or merely involved collecting and supplying information. The Department claimed the petitioner’s app was “an indispensable part of a chain of events through which money was transferred from the donors to the recipients of the donations.” However, the petitioner argued that the app simply connected donors to the recipients, and that the actual transmission of money was outsourced to a payment processor who conducted the actual transactions.
The six-judge majority stated that the Commission’s interpretation of the Act was too broad, holding that “[o]n a basic and critical level, the Commission erroneously interpreted the terminology ‘engage in the business’ in an overly expansive manner and essentially read it as prohibiting any conduct that contributes toward—or has a tangential involvement with—the concrete and real act of ‘transmitting money.’” Moreover, “the key term in ascertaining the defining characteristic of the conduct that is proscribed by the statute is ‘transmitting,’” and while the petitioner’s “software application can be deemed to have acquired and ‘transmitted’ information vital to the donative transactions to [the payment processor], by no means was [the petitioner] ‘transmitting money’ itself, or transmitting some other ‘method for the payment’ of the donation, ‘from one person or place to another.’”
On May 28, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida ruled that customers who financed a vehicle through a Florida car dealership were bound by the arbitration provision contained within a signed purchase order and retail installment sale contact. The customer plaintiffs contended that the defendant car dealership violated the FCRA and state law when it ran a “hard” credit inquiry on them instead of the “soft” credit inquiry they had authorized on a pre-approval financing form completed on the defendant’s website. As a result, the plaintiffs’ credit scores were affected. Based on the arbitration provisions contained in the purchase order and retail sale installment contract, the defendant filed a motion to compel arbitration. The plaintiffs argued that they were not bound by the arbitration agreements because they were signed a few days after the dealership ran the unauthorized credit check. However, the court held that it did not matter when the agreement was signed, stating that the “[p]laintiffs’ sole argument is that the [hard credit report check], does not in any way ‘relate to’ the purchasing documents which contain the arbitration clauses, and thus the arbitration clauses cannot be applied retroactively to encompass disputes arising from that transaction. The [c]ourt disagrees.” In granting the motion to compel arbitration, the court explained that the plaintiffs’ argument was “essentially one relating to scope and arbitrability, issues that the parties clearly and unmistakably agreed to arbitrate.”
On May 28, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, in a consolidated action, affirmed summary judgment that a health care provider database company’s (defendant) unsolicited fax did not violate the TCPA. According to the opinion, the defendant updated its database by sending unsolicited faxes to healthcare providers, requesting that they voluntarily update their contact information, if necessary. The fax included disclaimers that there was no cost to the recipient for participating in the database maintenance initiative and that it was not an attempt to sell a product. The plaintiff sued the defendant alleging a state law claim and that the fax violated the TCPA’s prohibition on sending unsolicited advertisements by fax. The district court entered summary judgment in favor of the defendant and declined to exercise jurisdiction over the state law claim.
On appeal, the 3rd Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment, rejecting the plaintiff’s third-party liability argument that the fax should be regarded as an advertisement, even though he was not a purchaser of the company’s services. The 3rd Circuit held that to establish third-party based liability under TCPA, the “plaintiff must show that the fax: (1) sought to promote or enhance the quality or quantity of a product or services being sold commercially; (2) was reasonably calculated to increase the profits of the sender; and (3) directly or indirectly encouraged the recipient to influence the purchasing decisions of a third party.” The appellate court found that, even though the defendant had a “profit motive” in sending the fax because it wanted to improve the quality of its product by making its database more accurate, “the faxes did not attempt to influence the purchasing decisions of any potential buyer,” nor did the fax encourage the recipient to influence the purchasing decisions of a third party.
District court approves final settlement resolving breach of contract and conversion claims related to debit card overdraft fees
On May 28, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California granted final approval to a roughly $24.5 million settlement resolving class action allegations that a credit union unfairly charged optional overdraft protection fees on certain debit card transactions. In 2017, the plaintiffs challenged the credit union’s practices, alleging breaches of contract, covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and conversion. Specifically, the plaintiffs challenged whether the language in the accountholder agreements prohibited the credit union from assessing and collecting optional overdraft protection fees on certain debit card transactions that were authorized against positive available account balances. In 2018, the court granted in part and denied in part the credit union’s motion to dismiss, allowing the plaintiffs’ breach of contract and conversion claims to proceed. The parties entered into settlement discussions, and reached an agreement. Under the terms of the settlement, the credit union will provide $24.5 million in relief to class members, along with approximately $6.1 million in attorneys’ fees. However, the court denied a request to reimburse plaintiffs’ expert witness for work completed after the settlement agreement was preliminary approved last year, stating “as a matter of awarding funds from the [s]ettlement [f]und, the [c]ourt cannot find reasonable the $109,100.00 price tag for an exercise that appears to post-date the preliminary approval order and which merely confirmed what the parties already understood to be the class’s potential recovery.”
On May 28, the California Attorney General announced approximately $1.5 million in judgments against a company and four individuals (defendants) charged with allegedly operating a telemarketing scheme that offered fake investment recovery services. According to the Attorney General’s office, the defendants allegedly made false and deceptive claims to investors, many of whom were elderly, that the company could recover money lost from previous investments for an up-front fee of several thousand dollars. The terms of the judgments include $930,800 in combined civil penalties and $567,774 in restitution, and permanently enjoin and restrain the defendants from, among other things, making false or misleading statements in connection with telemarketing transactions. The Attorney General’s announcement also disclosed the recovery of nearly $25,000 in victim restitution pursuant to a bond issued to the company under California’s Telephonic Sellers Law.
On May 22, the FDIC announced it resolved a 2014 lawsuit brought by payday lenders that alleged that the FDIC, the OCC and the Federal Reserve abused their supervisory authority during Operation Chokepoint, an Obama Administration DOJ initiative that formally ended in August 2017 (covered by InfoBytes here) and was designed to target fraud by investigating U.S. banks and certain of their clients perceived to be a higher risk for fraud and money laundering. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in 2014, payday lenders filed a lawsuit against the federal banking agencies alleging that they participated in Operation Chokepoint “to drive [the payday lenders] out of business by exerting back-room pressure on banks and other regulated financial institutions to terminate their relationships” with such lenders. The payday lenders argued, among other things, that the initiative resulted in over 80 banking institutions terminating their business relationships with law-abiding companies.
Along with the announcement of the tentative settlement between the parties, the FDIC released a statement summarizing the FDIC’s internal policies and guidance for FDIC recommendations to financial institutions to terminate customer deposit accounts. The statement also included a letter written to the plaintiffs’ counsel acknowledging that “certain employees acted in a manner inconsistent with FDIC policies with respect to payday lenders in what has been generically described as ‘Operation Choke Point,’ and that this conduct created misperceptions about the FDIC’s policies.” In the press announcement regarding the resolution of the case, the FDIC emphasized that neither the statement nor the letter represent a change in the FDIC’s policy and guidance, and that all “existing applicable regulations and guidance documents remain in full force and effect.” Further, while the May 21 joint status report filed in the case noted that FDIC senior leadership had not yet reviewed the agreement, the report noted that the FDIC does “not anticipate any objections.”
Additionally, on May 23, the OCC acknowledged it had been dismissed from the litigation as part of the lawsuit’s resolution.
On May 21, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of an investor action against Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities (RMBS) trustees, concluding the investors failed to show that the trustees breached any duties owed under the governing documents. According to the opinion, investors filed suit against the owner trustee for fifteen RMBS trusts, which became “worthless in the wake of widespread loan defaults,” claiming breach of contract and the implied covenant of good faith. The investors argued the trustee (i) abdicated its responsibilities relating to the loan files; (ii) failed to provide written notice of default; and (iii) failed to intervene when other parties exercised their duties carelessly. The trial court dismissed all claims against the trustee.
On appeal, the appellate court concluded the trial court correctly dismissed the claims. Specifically, the appellate court noted that under the trusts’ governing documents, the trustee was acting as an “owner trustee,” which was “primarily ministerial, involving limited duties such as executing documents on behalf of the trusts and accepting service of legal process.” The trustee did not have an overarching duty to protect the trusts, as it agreed “to perform only the modest functions” under the governing agreements and therefore, was shielded from that general liability. The appellate court concluded that the investors failed to show the trustee breached any actual duties owed under the governing agreements, rejecting the investors’ three specific claims for breach of contract. Moreover, the court emphasized that the governing agreement “forecloses the implied duty [the investors] propose,” noting that the trustee negotiated for limited liability and received a fee in exchange for modest functions, making it “difficult to imagine” the trustee would willingly agree to “sweeping supervisory responsibility.”
- Buckley Webcast: Hot topics in debt collection — An analysis of recent federal FDCPA litigation
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "How to succeed in law school" at the SEO Law DC Panel Discussions
- Amanda R. Lawrence to discuss "Navigating the challenges of the latest data protection regulations and proven protocols for breach prevention and response" at the ACI National Forum on Consumer Finance Class Actions and Government Enforcement
- Sasha Leonhardt and John B. Williams to discuss "Privacy" at the National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions Summer Regulatory Compliance School
- Warren W. Traiger to discuss "CRA modernization" at the National Association of Industrial Bankers and the Utah Association of Financial Services Annual Convention
- Benjamin W. Hutten to discuss "Requirements for banking inherently high-risk relationships" at the Georgia Bankers Association BSA Experience Program
- Henry Asbill to discuss "Ethical guidance in conducting internal investigations – The intersection of Yates an Upjohn" at the American Bar Association Southeastern White Collar Crime Institute
- Brandy A. Hood to discuss "RESPA Section 8/referrals: How do you stay compliant?" at the New England Mortgage Bankers Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Lessons learned from recent enforcement actions and CMPs" at the ACAMS AML & Financial Crime Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Assessing the CDD final rule: A year of transitions" at the ACAMS AML & Financial Crime Conference