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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations


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  • Judge grants MSJ in class action over disputed debt investigation


    On July 28, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama granted summary judgment in favor of a defendant third-party debt collector in an FCRA and FDCPA putative class action, holding that the defendant carried out a reasonable investigation following plaintiff’s dispute of the debt it had reported to credit reporting agencies (CRAs) and that the plaintiff failed to establish that the defendant knew or should have known that the debt was inaccurate or invalid. Defendant entered into an asset purchase agreement with another third-party debt collector and reported debts to credit reporting agencies under the name of the non-defendant third-party debt collector, including an account erroneously associated with plaintiff. When defendant received notice that plaintiff disputed the erroneous account information, defendant verified the account information in its system and provided by the CRA, asked the creditor to provide account documentation, and then requested that the CRAs delete their reporting of the account once the creditor failed to provide account documentation within the requested thirty-day period.

    In relation to the FCRA claim, the court found that the defendant “did everything required by the FCRA in response to Plaintiff’s dispute” such that the plaintiff “failed to establish how this investigation was not reasonable” or in violation of the FCRA. The court also found that plaintiff “failed to show that any different result would have occurred had [defendant] conducted any part of its investigation differently.” Finally, plaintiff’s claim failed as a matter of law concerning defendant’s initial report of the debt to the CRAs because the defendant was not required under the FCRA to “investigate the validity of a debt before commencing to report on that account to the CRAs.” While the defendant was prohibited from reporting inaccurate consumer information, no private cause of action exists for violations of this initial reporting provision of the FCRA.

    For the FDCPA claim, the court held that the plaintiff failed to establish that the defendant had knowledge that the debt it reported was not accurate or was otherwise disputed or invalid. Because the CFPB passed Regulation F in November 2021, after the events at question in this litigation, furnishing information regarding a debt to a CRA before communication with plaintiff was not unlawful at that time. Finally, the court found that plaintiff failed to timely assert that defendant violated the FDCPA provision prohibiting false, deceptive, or misleading representation by using the non-defendant third-party debt collector’s name when reporting the account to the CRAs because this allegation was not present in plaintiff’s complaint.

    Courts Third-Party Debt Collection FCRA FDCPA Alabama Credit Reporting Agency Class Action

  • Tenant screening company subject to FHA


    On July 26, a federal judge in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts ruled that a tenant screening algorithm is subject to the Fair Housing Act, including the FHA's ban on racial discrimination in housing. The court held that even though the company is not itself is not a landlord, as property owners allegedly relied solely on the company's decisions to deny prospective renters' applications, the company was effectively granting it authority to make housing decisions.

    Plaintiffs alleged in an amended complaint that a tenant-screening service operated by the defendants violated the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. § 3604 and Massachusetts anti-discrimination and consumer protection laws. The Plaintiffs claimed that the services discriminate against holders of rental vouchers and applicants of certain races and income classes, in violation of the FHA, resulting in less housing availability, less favorable terms and conditions in rental agreements, and discriminatory provision of services in connection with housing, in each case based on race and national origin.

    Defendants, in their respective motions to dismiss, argued that the FHA does not apply to a tenant-screening service, such as the defendant, because the service does not “make housing decisions.” In denying the motion to dismiss on this count, the court reasoned that the FHA provisions do not limit liability to people or entities that “make housing decisions” but rather “focuses on prohibited acts,” and reiterated that the Supreme Court has already held that “language of the Act is broad and inclusive.” The court observed that while housing providers are the typical target of FHA claims, other entities are often held liable under the Act. The court reasoned that the application of the FHA “beyond direct housing providers” is a “logical extension[] which effectuate[s] the purpose of the FHA,” as “a housing provider could simply use an intermediary to take discriminatory and prohibited actions on its behalf and defeat the purpose of the FHA.”

    Massachusetts antidiscrimination laws, among other things, make it unlawful to discriminate in the “terms, conditions, or privileges” of the sale or rental of housing or provision of such services “to aid, abet, incite, compel or coerce the doing of any of the acts forbidden under this chapter,” which includes Sections 4(6) and 4(10). Plaintiffs allege that the discriminatory rental application process was facilitated by the tenant score produced by the defendants. The court held that the chapter is construed broadly and reiterated the Massachusetts Supreme Court finding that defendants who play a role in the tenant selection process may be held liable under certain sections even if they only “aid[ed] or abet[ted]” a violation of Section 4(10). As such, the court held that the plaintiff’s claims for disparate impact discrimination for race or source of income under both FHA and Massachusetts antidiscrimination laws were sufficient to survive the motion to dismiss.

    Courts Federal Issues FHA HUD CFPB Consumer Finance Landlords Massachusetts Discrimination

  • Supreme Court of New York: FDCPA does not require collectors to explain how debt is acquired


    On July 19, the Supreme Court of the State of New York filed an order granting defendants’ motion for summary judgment, ruling that the FDCPA does not require debt collectors to provide debtors with proof of how they came to acquire the debt from the original creditor. One of the defendants purchased plaintiff’s defaulted credit card debt, which was placed with the second defendant for collection. The second defendant sent plaintiff a collection letter that identified the original creditor, along with the last four digits of the account number and identified the current creditor by name. Plaintiff sued, alleging violations of several sections of the FDCPA, claiming the letter was “false, deceptive, and misleading” because he never entered into a transaction with the current creditor and that the defendants reported the alleged debt to the credit reporting agencies. Plaintiff also maintained that prior to filing the lawsuit, he sought to validate the alleged debt but that neither defendant provided information sufficient to establish the current creditor’s ownership of the debt. Defendants filed for summary judgment seeking dismissal of plaintiff’s claims. In granting the motion, the court held that nothing in the FDCPA requires debt collectors “to educate the debtor ‘with proof, or at least a narrative, as to how it came to acquire the debt from [the] original creditor,’” and that the statute does not require plaintiffs to be notified when their debt is sold.

    Courts State Issues FDCPA Debt Collection Consumer Finance New York

  • 11th Circuit changes course, says one text message sufficient for TCPA standing


    On July 24, the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit unanimously held that a plaintiff who receives a single, unwanted text message has standing to sue the sender of the message under the TCPA. The decision departs from precedent set by the same court in 2019, in which it determined in a different case that receiving one unsolicited text message is not enough of a concrete injury to establish standing under the statute. (Covered by InfoBytes here.) Plaintiff filed a putative class action against a web-hosting company alleging the defendant violated the TCPA by using a prohibited autodialer to send promotional calls and text messages selling services and products. The settlement agreement reached between the parties also resolved claims brought against the defendant by parties in two other actions.

    During settlement discussions, the district court cited the aforementioned 2019 11th Circuit decision and asked the parties to brief how their case, which includes individuals who received only one text message, was distinguishable from the 2019 action. The district court ultimately ruled that class members who only received one text message “lacked a viable claim” in the 11th Circuit under the 2019 precedent, but noted that because the case involves a nationwide settlement, “those class members ‘do have a viable claim in their respective Circuit.’” An objector to the settlement appealed the ruling on various grounds to the 11th Circuit, which dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction and held that the class definition did not meet Article III standing requirements, as it included individuals who received a single text message. Plaintiff moved for rehearing en banc, asking the 11th Circuit to reevaluate the 2019 precedent and to clarify the elements necessary to pursue a TCPA claim.

    Reviewing de novo the threshold jurisdiction question of whether plaintiffs have standing to sue, the 11th Circuit said that “the harm that underlies a lawsuit for the common-law claim of intrusion upon seclusion” shares a “close relationship” with a “traditional harm.” The appellate court explained that because “[b]oth harms reflect an intrusion into the peace and quiet in a realm that is private and personal[,] [a] plaintiff who receives an unwanted, illegal text message suffers a concrete injury. Because [plaintiff] has endured a concrete injury, we remand this matter to the panel to consider the rest of the appeal.” Recognizing that a single unsolicited text message may not be considered “highly offensive to the ordinary reasonable man” it “is nonetheless offensive to some degree to a reasonable person.” The 11th Circuit also referred to seven other circuit courts that “have declined to consider the degree of offensiveness required to state a claim for intrusion upon seclusion at common law,” and have instead chosen to conclude that “receiving either one or two unwanted texts or phone calls resembles the kind of harm associated with intrusion upon seclusion.” Moreover, the 11th Circuit noted that Congress is given authority under the Constitution “to decide what degree of harm is enough so long as that harm is similar in kind to a traditional harm,” which is “exactly what Congress did in the TCPA when it provided a cause of action to redress the harm that unwanted telemarketing texts and phone calls cause.”

    Courts Appellate Eleventh Circuit TCPA Class Action Autodialer

  • District Court says bank discrimination suit can proceed


    On July 21, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan denied a bank’s motion to dismiss plaintiff’s allegations that she was discriminated against on the basis of race when her account was frozen due to a purported suspicious deposit. Plaintiff, an African-American woman, sued the bank claiming violations of both federal and state anti-discrimination laws after she was allegedly questioned by bank employees about the authenticity of a check she tried to deposit in the amount of $27,616, which was money she received from a legal settlement. Plaintiff claimed that the bank maintained the check was fraudulent and soon afterward froze her account and deactivated her debit card. Plaintiff further stated that her debit card remained frozen even after her attorney explained the legal settlement to the bank and her check was cleared. Claiming the bank’s treatment was racially discriminatory, plaintiff maintained that because bank “employees assumed that her ‘having money must be evidence of fraud or wrongdoing,’” she suffered financial hardships and “significant emotional and physical distress.” The bank argued that plaintiff failed to state a claim because she has not shown a connection between the bank’s actions and her race and claimed the bank employees were acting to prevent fraud.

    The court disagreed, ruling that due to the bank’s alleged actions and the fact that plaintiff’s account was frozen in violation of its own policies, discriminatory intent is plausible. The court noted that “most significantly,” plaintiff’s account remained frozen for eight days after the check cleared and the possibility of fraud was discounted. The court reasoned that defendant failed to explain why its fraud-prevention policies would justify keeping an account frozen after a check has been cleared. “[A] defendant’s hostile treatment of a plaintiff can allow for an inference of discriminatory intent even if the defendant’s actions lack a direct connection to race,” the court wrote, noting that fraud prevention does not fully explain all of the bank’s actions, which “went beyond” simply conveying suspicion about a potentially fraudulent check or freezing plaintiff’s account.

    Courts State Issues Michigan Discrimination Consumer Finance

  • Michigan Supreme Court limits applicability of “usury savings clauses”


    On June 23, the Michigan Supreme Court reversed a circuit court’s decision on a case involving Michigan’s “longstanding prohibition on excessive interest rates for certain loans.” The case involved a “usury savings clause,” which is a term sometimes used in notes, which requires the borrower to pay the maximum legal interest rate if the contractual terms impose an illegal rate.  In the case, a nonbank investment group (plaintiff) lent a realty service company (defendant) $1 million to flip tax-foreclosed homes. Plaintiff sued for breach of contract and fraud after defendant discontinued payments after paying more than $140,000 in interest on the loan. Defendant argued that plaintiff violated the criminal usury statute by, “knowingly charging an effective interest rate exceeding 25%,” which it alleged barred plaintiff from recovering on the loan under the wrongful-conduct rule.

    The circuit court determined that the fees and charges associated with the loan constituted disguised interest, making the total interest the plaintiff was seeking above the legal 25% limit and “criminally usurious.” However, the court agreed with the defendant that the usury savings clause was enforceable and the note was not facially usurious. Nevertheless, “the court agreed that the appropriate remedy is to relieve [defendant] of its obligation to pay the interest on the loan but not its obligation to repay the principal.”

    The Michigan Supreme Court held that in determining whether a loan agreement imposes illegal rates of interest, a usury savings clause is ineffective if the loan agreement requires a borrower to pay an illegal interest rate, even if the interest is labeled as a “fee” or something else. Further, the court held that enforcing usury savings clauses would undermine the state’s usury laws because it would nullify the statutory remedies for usury, which would relieve lenders of their obligation to ensure that their loans have a legal interest rate. The court also held that a lender is not criminally liable for seeking to collect on an unlawful interest rate in a lawsuit. The court reasoned that seeking relief through the court of law is generally encouraged over extrajudicial means. According to the opinion, the court held that “[t]he appropriate remedy for a lender’s abusive lawsuit is success for the borrower in that lawsuit and appropriate civil sanctions, not a criminal conviction for usury.”

    Courts State Issues Usury Consumer Finance Real Estate Mortgages Michigan Lending

  • 9th Circuit partially reverses FDCPA dismissal


    On July 14, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit partially affirmed and partially reversed a district court’s dismissal of an FDCPA suit. The district court reviewed plaintiff’s claims under the FDCPA, which alleged that defendants violated the bankruptcy court’s order discharging his debt and knowingly filed a baseless debt collection lawsuit. The district court determined that the claims should be dismissed because (i) debtors do not have a private right of action for violations of the Bankruptcy Code; and (ii) the claim was time-barred due to the FDCPA’s one-year statute of limitations. On appeal, the 9th Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the plaintiff’s claims based on a violation of his bankruptcy discharge order but reversed the dismissal of the plaintiff’s baseless lawsuit claim, holding that it was not barred by the FDCPA’s statute of limitations.

    The 9th Circuit reasoned that the plaintiff “correctly asserts that some litigation acts can constitute independent FDCPA violations and that each such violation triggers its own one-year statute of limitations under the FDCPA.” In making its decision “to determine whether a litigation act constitutes an independent violation of the FDCPA and thus has its own statute of limitations,” the appellate court derived a test, stating: “Under this test, if a debt collector decides to take a certain action during litigation, courts must assess whether that act was the debt collector’s ‘last opportunity to comply’ with the FDCPA.” Because the appellate court determined that service and filing are separate FDCPA violations and plaintiff brought suit within one year of defendants’ state law claim, the 9th Circuit held that plaintiff’s action was timely.

    Courts Appellate Third Circuit Bankruptcy Consumer Finance FDCPA Debt Collection

  • Feds, states launch “Operation Stop Scam Calls”

    Federal Issues

    On July 18, the FTC, along with over 100 federal and state law enforcement partners nationwide, including the DOJ, FCC, and attorneys general from all 50 states and the District of Columbia, announced a new initiative to combat illegal telemarketing calls, including robocalls. The joint initiative, “Operation Stop Scam Calls,” targets telemarketers and the companies that hire them, lead generators that provide consumers’ telephone numbers to robocallers and others who falsely represent that consumers consented to receive the calls. The initiative also targets Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service providers that facilitate illegal robocalls, many of which originate overseas.

    In connection with Operation Stop Scam Calls, the FTC has initiated five new cases against companies and individuals allegedly responsible for distributing or assisting in the distribution of illegal telemarketing calls to consumers across the country. According to the announcement, the actions reiterate the FTC’s position “that third-party lead generation for robocalls is illegal under the Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR) and that the FTC and its partners are committed to stopping illegal calls by targeting anyone in the telemarketing ecosystem that assists and facilitates these calls, including VoIP service providers.” The announcement also states that more than 180 enforcement actions and other initiatives have been taken by 48 federal and 54 state agencies as part of Operation Stop Scam Calls.

    Among the new actions announced a part of Operation Stop Scam Calls is a complaint filed against a “consent farm” lead generator, which allegedly uses “dark patterns” to collect consumers’ broad agreement to provide their personal information and receive robocalls and other marketing solicitations through a single click of a button or checkbox via its websites. Under the terms of the proposed order, the defendant would be required to pay a $2.5 million civil penalty and would be banned from engaging in, assisting, or facilitating robocalls. The defendant would also be required to implement measures to limit its lead generation practices, establish systems for monitoring its own advertising and that of its affiliates, comply with comprehensive disclosure requirements concerning the collection of consumers’ consent to the sale of their information, and delete all previously collected consumer information.

    Other actions were taken against a California-based telemarketing lead generator, a telemarketing company that provides soundboard calling services to clients who use robocalls to sell a range of products and services, a New Jersey-based telemarketing outfit that placed tens of millions of calls to consumers whose numbers are listed on the National Do Not Call Registry, and Florida-based defendants accused of assisting and facilitating the transmission of roughly 37.8 million illegal robocalls by providing VoIP services to over 11 foreign telemarketers.

    Federal Issues State Issues Courts FTC Enforcement Robocalls Consumer Protection State Attorney General TSR Telemarketing Lead Generation DOJ FCC

  • Illinois Supreme Court declines to reconsider BIPA accrual ruling

    Privacy, Cyber Risk & Data Security

    On July 18, the Illinois Supreme Court declined to reconsider its February ruling, which held that under the state’s Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA or the Act), claims accrue “with every scan or transmission of biometric identifiers or biometric information without prior informed consent.” Three justices, however, dissented from the denial of rehearing, writing that the ruling leaves “a staggering degree of uncertainty” by offering courts and defendants little guidance on how to determine damages. The putative class action stemmed from allegations that the defendant fast food chain violated BIPA sections 15(b) and (d) by unlawfully collecting plaintiff’s biometric data and disclosing the data to a third-party vendor without first obtaining her consent. While the defendant challenged the timeliness of the action, the plaintiff asserted that “a new claim accrued each time she scanned her fingerprints” and her data was sent to a third-party authenticator, thus “rendering her action timely with respect to the unlawful scans and transmissions that occurred within the applicable limitations period.”

    In February, a split Illinois Supreme Court held that claims accrue under BIPA each time biometric identifiers or biometric information (such as fingerprints) are scanned or transmitted, rather than simply the first time. (Covered by InfoBytes here.) The dissenting judges wrote that they would have granted rehearing because the majority’s determination that BIPA claims accrue with every transmission “subvert[s] the intent of the Illinois General Assembly, threatens the survival of businesses in Illinois, and consequently raises significant constitutional due process concerns.” The dissenting judges further maintained that the majority’s February decision is confusing and lacks guidance for courts when determining damages awards. While the majority emphasized that BIPA does not contain language “suggesting legislative intent to authorize a damages award that would result in the financial destruction of a business,” it also said that it continues “to believe that policy-based concerns about potentially excessive damage awards under [BIPA] are best addressed by the legislature,” and that it “respectfully suggest[s] that the legislature review these policy concerns and make clear its intent regarding the assessment of damages under [BIPA].”


    Privacy, Cyber Risk & Data Security Courts State Issues Illinois BIPA Enforcement Consumer Protection Class Action

  • 9th Circuit denies en banc hearing on COPPA preemption question


    On July 13, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit entered an order amending an opinion filed on December 28, 2022 and denied a petition for rehearing en banc in a putative class action accusing a multinational technology company and search engine and its affiliated video-sharing platform of collecting children’s data and tracking their online behavior surreptitiously without parental consent in violation of state law and the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). The panel unanimously voted against defendant’s en banc rehearing request, commenting that no other 9th Circuit judge has requested a vote on whether to consider the matter en banc.

    Claiming the defendant used “persistent identifiers” — which the FTC’s regulations define as information “that can be used to recognize a user over time and across different Web sites or online services” — class members alleged state law claims arising under the constitutional, statutory, and common laws of California, Colorado, Indiana, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Tennessee. Last December, the three-judge panel reversed and remanded the district court’s dismissal of the suit, disagreeing that the allegations were squarely covered, and preempted, by COPPA (covered by InfoBytes here.) On appeal, the 9th Circuit considered whether COPPA preempts state law claims based on underlying conduct that also violates COPPA’s regulations. The panel determined that “COPPA’s preemption clause does not bar state-law causes of action that are parallel to, or proscribe the same conduct forbidden by, COPPA. Express preemption therefore does not apply to the children’s claims.” The panel further noted that the U.S. Supreme Court and others have long held “that a state law damages remedy for conduct already proscribed by federal regulations is not preempted.”

    The panel, however, amended its prior opinion to note that the FTC supports its conclusion that COPPA does not preempt the asserted state law privacy claims on the basis of either express preemption or conflict preemption. At the end of May, at the 9th Circuit’s request, the FTC filed an amicus brief (covered by InfoBytes here) arguing that COPPA does not preempt state laws that are consistent with the federal statute’s treatment of regulated activities. The panel concluded that neither express preemption nor conflict preemption bar the plaintiffs’ claims.

    Courts Privacy, Cyber Risk & Data Security Appellate Ninth Circuit COPPA State Issues Class Action FTC Preemption


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