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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations


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  • District Court dismisses non-borrower action against mortgage servicer


    On January 11, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi granted a mortgage servicer’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit with prejudice brought by a homeowner’s widow alleging violations of, among other claims, TILA, RESPA, and FDCPA, for failing to include a credit-life-insurance provision in the loan note. According to the opinion, the plaintiff sued the mortgage servicer and mortgage originator after her husband passed and the servicer initiated foreclosure proceedings. The plaintiff argued that her husband, who was the sole borrower, and the mortgage originator had an oral agreement to include a credit-life-provision in the mortgage loan note but the originator failed to include it. The mortgage servicer moved to dismiss the action arguing, among other things, that the plaintiff lacked standing to bring the action. Upon review, the court agreed with the mortgage servicer, determining that the plaintiff lacks standing under TILA, RESPA, and the FDCPA because she was neither an “obligor” nor “borrower” on the loan even though she  was identified as a “borrower” on the Deed of Trust. Moreover, the court rejected the plaintiff’s alternative claim that she is a third-party beneficiary with standing to sue under the laws, finding that no valid contract existed as to the credit-life-insurance policy and therefore, the plaintiff could not claim to be a beneficiary of a non-existent contract. The court also dismissed the plaintiff’s other state law and fraud claims, finding she failed to provide sufficient facts to make the claims plausible.

    Courts Foreclosure FDCPA TILA RESPA Mortgage Servicing

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  • 6th Circuit holds elements of Michigan foreclosure process are collection efforts under FDCPA


    On January 11, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit held that a debt collector should not allow the essential elements of a Michigan foreclosure to proceed after receiving a dispute letter under the FDCPA. According to the opinion, in September 2016, a debt collector sent a notice to a mortgage debtor informing the homeowner it intended to foreclose on the property, and two weeks later it began the Michigan state foreclosure process. After the process began, and within 30 days of receiving the debt collection notice, the mortgage debtor sent a certified dispute letter to the collector, challenging the validity of the debt. After receiving the dispute letter, the debt collector posted a foreclosure notice on the property and published notices in the newspaper. The debt collector never sent the mortgage debtor a verification of the debt. The mortgage debtor filed suit against the debt collector alleging violations of, among other things, the FDCPA. The district court granted summary judgment for the debt collector, holding that as a matter of law, the FDCPA did not require that the debt collector verify the debt and that it had “cease[d] collection of the debt” pursuant to the statute. The mortgage debtor appealed, arguing the district court (i) erred in its decision to end discovery and consider summary judgment, and (ii) erred in its interpretation of the FDCPA and its finding that the collector ceased collection efforts.

    On appeal, the 6th Circuit rejected the mortgage debtor’s arguments that summary judgment was granted while there were outstanding discovery motions, concluding the debtor provided no evidence the debt collector failed to comply with discovery requests and noted that most of the motions were filed after discovery period expired. As for the FDCPA appeal, the court reversed the district court’s decision, concluding that, as a matter of law, the debt collector was required to intervene and stop the foreclosure actions that were put into motion prior to receiving the dispute letter. The appellate court agreed with the debtor that the newspaper advertisement and posted notice are necessary elements of the Michigan foreclosure process and therefore constituted “collection activity” under the FDCPA. Regardless of whether the debt collector personally took any actions after receiving the dispute letter, the appellate court concluded the debt collector had the responsibility to cancel any elements of the Michigan foreclosure process until it obtained sufficient verification of the debt.

    Courts Sixth Circuit Appellate FDCPA State Issues Foreclosure Debt Collection

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  • District Court approves class action settlement over threatening collection letters


    On January 10, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia approved an $861,000 class settlement resolving allegations that a bank violated the West Virginia Consumer Credit Protection Act by falsely threating “legal action” in the collection of foreclosure fees. According to the complaint, the bank, in an attempt to collect foreclosure and attorney’s fees, sent letters to consumers stating “notice of pending litigation,” misrepresenting that a legal proceeding had been filed, when no filings had occurred. The settlement covers any West Virginia automobile or home loan consumer who received one of three specified letters since 2012 and 2013, and awards the plaintiffs’ attorneys one-third of the cash settlement. The three lead plaintiffs will each receive $5,000 “in recognition of service to the class.”

    Courts Debt Collection State Issues Class Action Foreclosure

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  • District Court: FCRA lawsuit passes Spokeo test, survives motion to dismiss


    On January 8, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois denied a bank’s motion to dismiss claims that it had obtained a credit report without a permissible purpose, ruling that the allegations rise above a mere procedural violation of the FCRA. According to the opinion, the consumer alleged that the bank accessed her credit report and obtained personal information, including current and past addresses, birth date, employment history, and telephone numbers, without having a personal business relationship, information to suggest the consumer owed the debt, or receiving consent for the release of the report. The bank argued that the consumer’s claim was only a “bare procedural violation” and not a concrete injury in fact as required under the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2016 ruling in Spokeo v. Robins (covered by a Buckley Sandler Special Alert). However, the court determined that the consumer’s allegation that the invasion of privacy, which occurred when the bank accessed her credit report from a consumer reporting agency without receiving consent and with no legitimate business reason to do so, “adequately alleges a concrete injury sufficient to confer standing.”

    Courts Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security Spokeo Credit Report FCRA

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  • 9th Circuit: Fannie Mae is not a consumer reporting agency under the FCRA


    On January 9, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit held that Fannie Mae is not a “consumer reporting agency” under the FCRA and therefore is not liable under the law. According to the opinion, homeowners attempted to refinance their current mortgage loan two years after completing a short sale on their prior mortgage. While shopping for the refinance, lenders used Fannie Mae’s Desktop Underwriting (DU) program to determine if the loan would be eligible for purchase by the agency. Three of the eight DU findings showed the loan would be ineligible due to a foreclosure reported for the homeowners within the last seven years, which was not true. The homeowners sued Fannie Mae alleging the agency violated the FCRA for inaccurate reporting. On cross motions for summary judgment, the lower court determined that Fannie Mae was liable under the FCRA for furnishing inaccurate information because the agency “acts as a consumer reporting agency when it licenses DU to lenders.”

    On appeal, the 9th Circuit reviewed whether Fannie Mae was a consumer reporting agency under the FCRA and noted that the agency must “regularly engage[] in . . . the practice of assembling or evaluating” consumer information, which Fannie Mae argues it does not do. Specifically, the agency asserts that it simply provides software that allows lenders to evaluate consumer information. The appeals court agreed, concluding that Fannie Mae created the tool but the person using the tool is the person engaging in the act. The court reasoned, “[t]here is nothing in the record to suggest that Fannie Mae assembles or evaluates consumer information.” Moreover, the court noted, if Fannie Mae were found to be a consumer reporting agency, it would be subject to other FCRA duties to borrowers, which “would contradict Congress’s design for Fannie Mae to operate only in the secondary mortgage market, to deal directly with lenders, and not to deal with borrowers themselves.”

    Courts FCRA Fannie Mae Ninth Circuit Appellate Foreclosure Consumer Reporting Agency

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  • 4th Circuit affirms jury’s verdict clearing student loan servicer in FCA suit


    On January 8, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit affirmed a federal jury’s unanimous verdict clearing a Pennsylvania-based student loan servicing agency (defendant) accused of improper billing practices under the False Claims Act (FCA). As previously covered by InfoBytes, the plaintiff—a former Department of Education employee whistleblower—filed a qui tam suit in 2007, seeking treble damages and forfeitures under the FCA. The plaintiff alleged that multiple state-run student loan financing agencies overcharged the U.S. government through fraudulent claims to the Federal Family Education Loan Program in order to unlawfully obtain 9.5 percent special allowance interest payments. Over the course of several appeals, the case proceeded to trial against the student loan servicing agency after the 4th Circuit held that the entity was “an independent political subdivision, not an arm of the commonwealth,” and “therefore a ‘person’ subject to liability under the False Claims Act.” The plaintiff appealed the jury’s verdict, arguing the court erred by excluding evidence at trial and failed to give the jury several of his proposed instructions.

    On appeal, the 4th Circuit disagreed with the plaintiff, finding that the court correctly excluded the state audit, which determined the student loan servicer “failed its mission” with lavish spending on unnecessary expenses. The appeal court noted the audit was irrelevant to the only issue in the case: “Did [the servicer] commit fraud and file a false claim?” The appeals court also rejected the plaintiff’s jury instruction arguments, concluding that the court’s instructions substantially covered the substance of the plaintiff’s proposal and “sufficiently explained that the jury had to consider whether [the servicer’s] claims were ‘false or fraudulent.’”

    Courts False Claims Act / FIRREA Student Lending Appellate Fourth Circuit

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  • Maryland appeals court holds HOAs may be vicariously liable under Maryland Consumer Protection Act

    State Issues

    On December 21, 2018, the Maryland Special Appeals Court held that a homeowners association (HOA) is not shielded from liability under the Maryland Consumer Protection Act (MCPA) simply because the law firm used by the HOA to collect certain debts is exempt from the law. According to the opinion, after an HOA was awarded a judgment of over $3,000 against homeowners for unpaid fines, the homeowners filed an action against the HOA asserting violations of the MCPA and the Maryland Consumer Debt Collection Act (MCDCA), and the HOA responded by filing a third-party complaint against its law firm, arguing the firm agreed to indemnify it. The lower court granted summary judgment in favor of the HOA on the MCPA claim, holding that because the statute specifically exempts attorneys, the HOA cannot be held vicariously liable under the statute. Additionally, among other things, the lower court held the homeowners improperly used the MCDCA to dispute the validity of the debt and granted the HOA judgment as a matter of law.

    The appellate court disagreed and held that the HOA is not shielded from liability under the MCPA solely because the law firm used to collect the debts is exempt from the statute. The court reasoned that a “debt collector should not be able to hire an attorney to engage in illegal debt collection practices on its behalf as a means of avoiding liability” under the MCPA. The court also vacated the lower court’s judgment in favor of the HOA on the MCDCA claims, concluding that the homeowners were challenging the HOA’s methods in filing liens in the collection of the debt, as opposed to disputing the validity of the debt itself.

    State Issues Courts Debt Collection Vicarious Liability

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  • District Court holds debt collector effectively stated account balance


    On December 20, 2018, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois granted summary judgment in favor of a debt collector, holding the collection letters effectively stated the amount of the debt under the FDCPA. According to the opinion, a consumer received four collection letters from a debt collector stating an account balance of $794.67. The consumer sued the debt collector, alleging the letters were false, deceptive, or misleading and failed to effectively state the amount of the debt in violation of the FDCPA because, according to the terms in the creditor’s online sample agreement, the original creditor could have collected interest on post-charge off fees after the debt collector closed the account. Both parties moved for summary judgment. The court determined the collection letter at issue complied with the FDCPA because the debt collector “sought to collect only the amount due on the date it sent the letter” and was not “trying to collect the listed balance plus the interest running on it or other charges.” Moreover, the court rejected the consumer’s argument that the letter was false, deceptive, or misleading because it failed to include whether the creditor could charge additional interest or other fees on the original debt, determining the letter could not mislead or deceive an unsophisticated consumer. Specifically, citing the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit’s decision in Wahl v. Midland Credit Management, the court stated that a debt collector “need only request the amount it is owed; it need not provide whatever the credit-card company may be owed more than that.” Because a consumer of reasonable intelligence and basic financial knowledge would read the collection letter and determine that he or she owes $794.67, the court granted summary judgment in favor of the debt collector.

    Courts Debt Collection FDCPA Seventh Circuit Appellate

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  • District Court: Privacy claims related to incentive compensation sales program can proceed


    On December 31, 2018, the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah granted in part and denied in part a national bank’s motion to dismiss putative class action claims concerning the bank’s use of confidential customer information to open deposit and credit card accounts as part of its incentive compensation sales program. (See previous InfoBytes coverage here.) According to the court, the plaintiffs claiming accounts were opened in their name plausibly alleged that the bank benefited from an increase in the number of accounts and products, and disagreed with the bank that the misappropriation of name claim should fail because those plaintiffs’ names and identities had value beyond those of the general public. While the majority of the state claims and all federal claims were dismissed, the court allowed four state claims to remain, including invasion of privacy. However, the court requested that the parties address why it should not decline to exercise jurisdiction over the state law claims following the dismissal of all federal claims.

    Additionally, the court dismissed claims brought by “Bystander Plaintiffs” who did not allege the opening of any unauthorized accounts in their names, or claim that their information was ever improperly used or accessed or that they were subject to improper sales practices. Because the Bystander Plaintiffs claimed only that they would not have opened accounts if bank employees had told them about the alleged issues, the court dismissed their claims for lack of Article III standing, reasoning that they did not allege any injury.

    Courts Incentive Compensation Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security Spokeo

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  • 5th Circuit: Loan originators cannot be liable for loan servicers’ violations of RESPA loss mitigation requirements


    On December 21, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit held that a mortgage loan originator cannot be held vicariously liable for a loan servicer’s failure to comply with the loss mitigation requirements of RESPA (and its implementing Regulation X). According to the opinion, in response to a foreclosure action, a consumer filed a third-party complaint against her loan servicers and loan originator alleging, among other things, that the loan servicers had violated Regulation X’s requirement that a servicer evaluate a completed loss mitigation application submitted more than 37 days before a foreclosure sale. In subsequent filings, the consumer clarified that the claims against the loan originator were for breach of contract and vicarious liability for one of the loan servicer’s alleged RESPA violations. The district court dismissed both claims against the loan originator and the consumer appealed the dismissal of the RESPA claim.

    On appeal, the 5th Circuit affirmed the dismissal for two independent reasons. First, the 5th Circuit noted it is well established that vicarious liability requires an agency relationship and determined the consumer failed to assert facts that suggested such a relationship existed. Second, in an issue of first impression at the circuit court stage, the court ruled that, as a matter of law, the loan originator could not be vicariously liable for its servicer’s alleged violations of RESPA, as the applicable statutory and regulatory provisions only impose loss mitigation requirements on “servicers,” and therefore only servicers could fail to comply with those obligations. The appellate court reasoned that Congress explicitly imposed RESPA duties more broadly in other sections (using the example of RESPA’s prohibition on kickbacks and unearned fees that applies to any “person”), but chose “a narrower set of potential defendants for the violations [the consumer] alleges.” The court concluded, “the text of this statute plainly and unambiguously shields [the loan originator] from any liability created by the alleged RESPA violations of its loan servicer.”

    Courts Appellate Fifth Circuit RESPA Regulation X Loss Mitigation Vicarious Liability

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