Skip to main content
Menu Icon Menu Icon
Close

InfoBytes Blog

Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

Filter

Subscribe to our InfoBytes Blog weekly newsletter and other publications for news affecting the financial services industry.

  • District Court certifies class in website accessibility ADA suit

    Courts

    On June 10, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania certified a putative class action against an online apparel company related to alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The plaintiff claimed that he was unable to access the defendant’s website because the website did not facilitate access to customers using screen readers or other auxiliary aids. This lack of access made the website not fully accessible to individuals who are blind or visually impaired—a “violation of the effective communications and equal access requirements of Title III” of the ADA. The plaintiff sued, seeking to include a class of similarly situated blind and visually impaired individuals who use screen readers or other auxiliary aids to access the defendant’s website and/or mobile app. According to the plaintiff, the defendant failed to have in place adequate policies and practices to ensure its website was fully accessible, and that, although the defendant maintains a single brick-and-mortar location, most of its sales are digital. In certifying the class, the court determined, among other things, that the defendant’s “website and other digital properties affected all members of the class, and thus the class as a whole shares the same interest in obtaining the injunctive relief provided by the settlement—prospective changes to [defendant’s] digital properties.” The court also preliminarily approved the proposed class action settlement, which requires, among other things, that the defendant make several changes to its policies and procedures to ensure accessibility of its digital properties and to make sure it complies with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.1.

    Courts Americans with Disabilities Act Class Action Settlement

    Share page with AddThis
  • California appeals court says lender cannot move bitcoin loan suit to Delaware

    Courts

    On June 14, the California Court of Appeal for the Second Appellate District reversed a trial court’s decision staying a suit against a lender and its loan payment processor (collectively, “defendants”) and enforcing a Delaware forum selection clause. The appeals court held that the plaintiff borrower’s unwaivable right to a jury trial under California law could be violated if the case proceeded in Delaware. According to the opinion, the plaintiff obtained $2.275 million in loans secured by bitcoin from the lender (a Delaware LLC that is licensed and regulated by California’s Department of Financial Protection and Innovation). When the value of bitcoin dropped, the lender sold the plaintiff’s bitcoin under the terms of the governing loan agreements. The plaintiff sued, “seeking, among other things, damages, return of his bitcoin, and cancellation of the loan agreements.” The defendants moved to stay the case because the Delaware forum selection clause required the case to be litigated in Delaware. The plaintiff countered that transferring the case to Delaware would “substantially diminish” his unwaivable rights under California law. The trial court eventually concluded that transferring the case to Delaware would not diminish the plaintiff’s rights and granted the stay pending litigation in Delaware. The trial court also stayed a second suit brought by the plaintiff alleging violations of California’s Unfair Competition Law and False Advertising Law, holding that the second suit involved the same primary rights as the first suit.

    In reviewing the consolidated cases, the appeals court determined, among other things, that the Delaware forum selection clause in this case contains a predispute jury waiver. “Because California has a fundamental policy against such a waiver, Defendants carry the burden of proving that Delaware would not diminish this important right,” the appeals court wrote, adding that under Delaware law “contractual provisions that waive the contracting parties’ right to trial by jury have been upheld, and relevant case law provides insufficient assurance that Delaware courts will apply California’s important public policy to this dispute.” Additionally, the appeals court concluded that the defendants’ proposed “offer to stipulate that the Delaware court should apply California law” provides “little assurance that a Delaware court would enforce such a stipulation under the facts present here.”

    Courts State Issues Digital Assets Cryptocurrency Fintech Appellate California Delaware

    Share page with AddThis
  • 6th Circuit reverses and remands judgment in debt collection suit

    Courts

    On June 15, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed and remanded a district court’s summary judgment ruling in favor of a defendant-appellee law firm, holding that it did not first exhaust all of its efforts to collect from the actual debtor. According to the opinion, the plaintiff’s husband was convicted of embezzlement and willful failure to pay taxes and was sent invoices for his legal fees by another law firm, which he did not pay. The law firm hired the defendant to collect on the debt. The defendant filed a lawsuit against the plaintiff and her husband, arguing under the Ohio Necessaries Statute that the husband was liable to third parties for necessaries, such as food, shelter, and clothing that were provided to his wife. An Ohio state court ruled in favor of the plaintiff, and an interlocutory appeal by the defendant was denied. The plaintiff then filed suit against the defendant, alleging that defendant’s underlying suit violated the FDCPA by attempting to collect under the claim that she was liable for her spouse’s debt. The district court granted the defendant’s summary judgment motion, which the plaintiff appealed.

    On the appeal, the 6th Circuit found that the defendant did not follow the express commands of the Ohio Supreme Court's 2018 decision in Embassy Healthcare v. Bell, which held that spouses who are not debtors are liable only if the debtor does not have the assets to pay the debt themselves. The 6th Circuit found that the defendant did not satisfy those prerequisites to collect from the plaintiff when it filed a joint-liability suit against her and her husband. Thus, the collection efforts against the spouse who incurred the debt must be exhausted “before attempting to collect from a spouse.” The 6th Circuit reversed the district court’s judgment and remanded for further proceedings with instructions to enter judgment in favor of the plaintiff.

    Courts State Issues Appellate Sixth Circuit Ohio FDCPA Debt Collection Consumer Finance

    Share page with AddThis
  • District Court grants preliminary approval of class action settlement in data breach case

    Courts

    On June 21, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York granted preliminary approval of a class settlement in an action against a cable TV and communications provider (defendant) for failing to protect current and former employees’ (plaintiffs) personal information and prevent a 2019 phishing attack. According to the plaintiffs’ supplemental memorandum in support of preliminary approval of settlement, the defendant notified the plaintiffs (as well as the attorneys general of several states) that a successful phishing campaign was launched against them. The phishing scheme resulted in cybercriminals being able to “access” and “download” a report containing the unencrypted personally identifiable information (PII) of 52,846 plaintiffs. The plaintiffs alleged that as a result of the data security incident they suffered concrete injuries, including, inter alia, identity theft, the exposure of their PII to cybercriminals, a substantial risk of identity theft, and actual losses. Under the terms of the preliminarily approved settlement, class members are eligible to enroll in three years of identity protection and credit monitoring, and may receive reimbursement of out-of-pocket expenses and compensation for up to three hours spent dealing with the security incident.

    Courts Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security Data Breach Class Action Settlement

    Share page with AddThis
  • 5th Circuit says loan contract containing grace period should be enforced

    Courts

    On June 16, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed a district court’s summary judgment ruling in favor of a defendant lender, holding that a deadline accompanied by a grace period in a loan modification trial plan should be enforced. The plaintiff defaulted on his loan and sought a loan modification. The defendant provided the plaintiff an opportunity to participate in a trial period plan, which required three monthly payments due by January 1, February 1, and March 1, 2019. The trial period plan (TPP) also specified that a payment would be considered timely provided it was made within the month in which it was due. According to the opinion, even though the plaintiff “effectively accepted the terms of the TPP when he made the first trial period payment” within the grace period, the defendant informed him “he was ‘ineligible’ for the loan modification because he failed to comply with the terms of the TPP” and posted his property for foreclosure. The plaintiff sued the defendant for breach of contract, but the district court granted summary judgment to the defendant, declining to “give force to the grace period provisions” and concluding that the plaintiff did not comply with the payment deadlines.

    On appeal, the 5th Circuit held that it will enforce a grace period included in a valid, binding contract. “If a lender sets a deadline for payment, but allows the borrower to make that payment anytime ‘in the month in which it is due,’ then the borrower may make that payment anytime in the month in which it is due,” the appellate court wrote. “That’s exactly what [the defendant] offered the borrower here—a deadline accompanied by a grace period. Yet [the defendant] nevertheless contends that we should ignore the grace period.” The 5th Circuit also rejected the defendant’s argument that the trial period plan was not a valid binding contract, pointing out that the text of the TPP made it clear that the defendant intended to be bound by its terms upon the plaintiff’s performance. Deadlines and grace periods co-exist by design, the appellate court explained, noting that “[g]race periods facilitate contractual relationships by making clear which deadlines are aspirational and which are mission-critical.”

    Courts Appellate Fifth Circuit Foreclosure Consumer Finance Mortgages

    Share page with AddThis
  • 11th Circuit reversal emphasizes “harmonized” TILA, FDCPA statements

    Courts

    On June 7, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit held that an individual claiming to have acted as a custodian of an account and not in her personal capacity must arbitrate claims brought against a national bank (defendant). The plaintiff and her mother co-owned an investment account that was eventually transferred to the defendant. The plaintiff’s mother notified the bank that the plaintiff would remain co-owner of the account and signed a brokerage account application containing an arbitration clause. Several years later, after the plaintiff noticed that numerous withdrawals were being made from the account by another family member, she obtained legal guardianship of her mother and applied for another brokerage account in order to move the funds to a new account she could access and oversee. The application included a brokerage agreement (which listed her mother as the account owner and was signed by the plaintiff as a joint account owner/custodian and as the primary applicant). The agreement contained a clause requiring arbitration of “[a]ll controversies that may arise between you, us and [the broker] concerning any subject matter, issue or circumstance whatsoever (including, but not limited to, controversies concerning any Account, order or transaction, or the continuation, performance, interpretation or breach of this or any other agreement between you, us and [the broker], whether entered into or arising before, on or after the date this Account is opened).”

    The plaintiff eventually sued the bank alleging theft, aiding and abetting theft and fraud, and negligence, among other claims. The plaintiff contended that she was not bound by the arbitration agreement because she signed the agreement “not in her personal capacity, but as her mother’s guardian,” and that there is no arbitrable issue because her personal claims did not arise from the agreement. The district court granted the defendant’s motion to compel arbitration after determining the plaintiff had not alleged that the defendant fraudulently obtained her signature.

    On appeal, the 11th Circuit interpreted the word “you” in the arbitration clause as referring to the plaintiff “as the person who applied for the account and signed the application.” In determining that the plaintiff is a signatory to the defendant’s agreement, the appellate court concluded that the plaintiff “has not alleged that her signature was nonvoluntary or otherwise fraudulently obtained[,]” and thus is bound by the arbitration clause. Moreover, the 11th Circuit rejected the plaintiff’s argument that her claims are not covered by the arbitration clause, writing that the “clause explicitly contemplates disputes arising from other issues or agreements ‘whether entered into or arising before, on or after the date this Account is opened.’”

    Courts Appellate Eleventh Circuit Arbitration Consumer Finance

    Share page with AddThis
  • 3rd Circuit: Student loan servicer’s calling system is not an autodialer under the TCPA

    Courts

    On June 14, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed a district court’s ruling in favor of a defendant student loan servicer, holding that it is not enough for telecommunication equipment to be capable of using a random or sequential number generator to dial telephone numbers in order to meet the definition of an automatic telephone dialing system (autodialer). Instead, to constitute a violation of the TCPA, the telecommunication system must actually employ such random- or sequential-number generation when placing the actual call. The plaintiffs filed a putative class action complaint against the defendant alleging it used an autodialer to call class members’ cell phones without their prior express consent. The defendant countered that the TCPA claims fail because its calling system “lacked the capacity to generate random or sequential telephone numbers and then dial those numbers.” As such, it could not be an autodialer. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant, ruling that the defendant did not use an autodialer to place the calls at issue as the calling system did not have “the necessary present capacity to store or produce telephone numbers using a random or sequential number generator.”

    On appeal, the 3rd Circuit disagreed with the district court’s finding that the defendant’s telecommunication system was not an autodialer, noting that the district court used too narrow a definition of the term “equipment” and holding that “an [autodialer] may include several devices that when combined have the capacity to store or produce telephone numbers using a random or sequential number generator and to dial those numbers.” Thus, the 3rd Circuit held that the district court erred in accepting defendant’s argument that the defendant’s telephone system was not an autodialer because the defendant’s SQL Server (which was capable of generating random and sequential numbers) was independent of the defendant’s dialing system.

    Nonetheless, the 3rd Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling on the basis that it did not matter whether the defendant’s calling system could be classified as an autodialer under the TCPA because the phone numbers were drawn from a contact list stored on the defendant’s SQL Server and not randomly generated. As such, the appellate court held that the plaintiffs’ claims fail because the defendant did not actually use random- or sequential-number generation when it placed the specific calls in question.

    While agreeing with the decision to affirm, one of the judges argued that the majority focused on the wrong question. “In my view, the fundamental question is: what is an [autodialer] under Section 227(a)(1)? I would hold that a dialing system must actually use a random or sequential number generator to store or produce numbers in order to qualify as an [autodialer] under § 227(a)(1),” the concurring judge wrote. “Because [defendant’s] dialing system did not do so, it is not an [autodialer], and [defendant] is entitled to summary judgment.”

    Courts Appellate Third Circuit TCPA Robocalls Class Action Autodialer

    Share page with AddThis
  • 3rd Circuit affirms decision that creditors can collect after issuing 1099-C notice

    Courts

    On June 14, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed a district court’s dismissal of a class action alleging a national bank (defendant) violated state laws in New Jersey by attempting to collect on a debt after it had issued a 1099-C notice to the plaintiff to cover the debt that was discharged. According to the opinion, the defendant obtained a judgment against the plaintiff and his wife for an unpaid debt, which the plaintiff did not satisfy. The defendant issued an IRS 1099-C form to the plaintiffs, indicating that $199,427.80 of the $244,248.49 was discharged. After issuing the 1099-C, the defendant notified the plaintiff that such filing had not caused the defendant to release the judgment and that the plaintiff needed to either pay the judgment or reach a settlement. The plaintiff sued, alleging the defendant violated the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act and other state laws based on defendant’s issuance of a 1099-C IRS Form for cancellation of debt. The district court granted a motion to dismiss filed by the defendant, which the plaintiff appealed.

    On appeal, the plaintiff argued the creditors should not send 1099-C notices unless the debt has actually been canceled, and that sending such a notice while still intending to collect on the debt constitutes an “unlawful practice.” The 3rd Circuit disagreed, holding that the text of the governing IRS regulation, 26 C.F.R. § 1.650P-1(a)(1), indicates that “the filing of a Form 1099-C is a reporting requirement that does not depend on whether the debt has been ‘actually discharged,’ or the debtor has actually been released from his obligations on the underlying debt.” The appellate court further noted that “[t]he satisfaction of this reporting requirement, additionally, does not operate to forgive or extinguish a debtor’s obligations to repay the debt at issue.”

    Courts Appellate Third Circuit IRS Consumer Finance State Issues New Jersey

    Share page with AddThis
  • District Court issues judgment against student debt relief operation

    Courts

    On June 10, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California entered a stipulated final judgment and order against an individual defendant who participated in a deceptive debt-relief operation. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in 2019, the Bureau, along with the Minnesota and North Carolina attorneys general, and the Los Angeles City Attorney (together, the “states”), announced an action against the student loan debt relief operation for allegedly deceiving thousands of student-loan borrowers and charging more than $71 million in unlawful advance fees. In the third amended complaint, the Bureau and the states alleged that since at least 2015, the debt relief operation violated the CFPA, TSR, FDCPA, and various state laws by charging and collecting improper advance fees from student loan borrowers prior to providing assistance and receiving payments on the adjusted loans. In addition, the Bureau and the states claimed that the debt relief operation engaged in deceptive practices by, among other things, misrepresenting: (i) the purpose and application of fees they charged; (ii) their ability to obtain loan forgiveness for borrowers; and (iii) their ability to actually lower borrowers’ monthly payments. Moreover, the debt relief operation allegedly failed to inform borrowers that it was their practice to request that the loans be placed in forbearance and also submitted false information to student loan servicers to qualify borrowers for lower payments.

    Under the terms of the final judgment, in addition to various forms of injunctive relief, the individual defendant must pay a $1 civil money penalty to the Bureau and $5,000 each to Minnesota, North Carolina, and California. The individual defendant is also “liable, jointly and severally, in the amount of $95,057,757, for the purpose of providing redress to Affected Consumers,” although his obligation to pay this amount is “suspended based on [his] inability to pay.”

    Courts CFPB Enforcement Consumer Finance Settlement Debt Relief TSR CFPA FDCPA State Issues State Attorney General

    Share page with AddThis
  • 9th Circuit to rehear en banc whether tribal lenders can arbitrate RICO claims

    Courts

    On June 6, a majority of nonrecused active judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit vacated a previously issued opinion that said tribal lenders could arbitrate Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) class action claims, saying it will rehear the case en banc. As previously covered by InfoBytes, last September the 9th Circuit panel majority concluded that “an agreement delegating to an arbitrator the gateway question of whether the underlying arbitration agreement is enforceable must be upheld unless that specific delegation provision is itself unenforceable.” The panel reviewed whether California residents who received loans from an online lender were allowed to pursue class RICO claims based on allegations that they were charged interest rates exceeding state limits from lenders claiming tribal immunity. The district court granted class certification and ruled that the entire arbitration agreement, including provisions containing a class action waiver, was unenforceable. On appeal, the panel majority cited to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Rent-A-Center, West, Inc. v. Jackson, which determined, among other things, that when a party challenges an entire agreement—not just an arbitration provision—deciding “gateway” issues such as enforceability must be delegated to an arbitrator. “[W]hen there is a clear delegation provision, that question is . . . for the arbitrator to decide so long as the delegation provision itself does not eliminate parties’ rights to purse their federal remedies,” the majority wrote. The dissenting judge held, however, that the panel majority “misunderstood the effect of the choice-of-law provisions in the agreements,” arguing that the provisions curtail an arbitrator’s authority by allowing application of “only tribal law and a small and irrelevant subset of federal law,” thus preventing an arbitrator “from applying the law necessary to determine whether the delegation provisions and the arbitration agreements are valid.” He further contended that the panel majority’s decision diverged from decisions reached by several sister circuits, which “have consistently condemned the arbitration agreements embedded in tribal internet payday loan agreements, including those used by the very same lenders as in this case.”

    Courts Appellate Ninth Circuit Class Action Arbitration Interest Rate Usury RICO Consumer Finance

    Share page with AddThis

Pages