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  • OCC cites preemption decision in valid-when-made rule challenge

    Courts

    On August 24, the OCC filed a statement of recent decision in support of its motion for summary judgment in an action brought against the agency by several state attorneys general challenging the OCC’s final rule on “Permissible Interest on Loans that are Sold, Assigned, or Otherwise Transferred” (known also as the valid-when-made rule). The final rule was designed to effectively reverse the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit’s 2015 Madden v. Midland Funding decision and provide that “[i]nterest on a loan that is permissible under [12 U.S.C. § 85 for national bank or 12 U.S.C. § 1463(g)(1) for federal thrifts] shall not be affected by the sale, assignment, or other transfer of the loan.” (Covered by a Buckley Special Alert.) The states’ challenge argued that the rule “impermissibly preempts state law,” is “contrary to the plain language” of section 85 (and section 1463(g)(1)), and “contravenes the judgment of Congress,” which declined to extend preemption to non-banks. Moreover, the states contended that the OCC “failed to give meaningful consideration” to the commentary received regarding the rule, essentially enabling “‘rent-a-bank’ schemes.” (Covered by InfoBytes here.) Both parties sought summary judgment, with the OCC arguing that the final rule validly interprets the National Bank Act (NBA) and that not only does the final rule reasonably interpret the “gap” in section 85, it is consistent with section 85’s “purpose of facilitating national banks’ ability to operate their nationwide lending programs.” Moreover, the OCC asserted that 12 U.S.C. § 25b’s preemption standards do not apply to the final rule, because, among other things, the OCC “has not concluded that a state consumer financial law is being preempted.” (Covered by InfoBytes here.)

    In its August 24 filing, the OCC brought to the court’s attention a recent order issued by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Wisconsin court reviewed claims under the FDCPA and the Wisconsin Consumer Act (WCA) against a debt-purchasing company and a law firm hired by the company to recover outstanding debt and purported late fees on the plaintiff’s account in a separate state-court action. Among other things, the court examined whether the state law’s notice and right-to-cure provisions were federally preempted by the NBA, as the original creditor’s rights and duties were assigned to the debt-purchasing company when the account was sold. The court ultimately concluded that the WCA provisions “are inapplicable to national banks by reason of federal preemption,” and, as such, the court found “that a debt collector assigned a debt from a national bank is likewise exempt from those requirements” and was not required to send the plaintiff a right-to-cure letter “as a precondition to accelerating his debt or filing suit against him.”

    Courts State Issues OCC State Attorney General Valid When Made Interest Rate Consumer Finance National Bank Act Madden Preemption Fintech Non-bank Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

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  • District Court denies request to set aside $120.2 million judgment in Belizean real estate scheme

    Courts

    On August 24, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland denied a request to set aside a more than $120.2 million judgment against several defaulted defendants involved in an international real estate investment development scheme. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the FTC initiated the action in 2018 against several individuals and corporate entities, along with a Belizean bank, asserting that the defendants violated the FTC Act and the Telemarketing Sales Rule by advertising and selling parcels of land that were part of a luxury development in Belize through the use of deceptive tactics and claims. In 2019, a settlement was reached with the Belizean bank requiring payment of $23 million in equitable relief, and in 2020, the district court ordered the defaulted defendants to pay over $120.2 million in redress and granted the FTC’s request for permanent injunctions (covered by InfoBytes here and here).

    In their motion, the defaulted defendants argued that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in AMG Capital Management, LLC v. FTC (which unanimously held that Section 13(b) of the FTC Act “does not authorize the Commission to seek, or a court to award, equitable monetary relief such as restitution or disgorgement”—covered by InfoBytes here) nullified the judgment. The district court disagreed, stating that the AMG Capital decision does not render his judgments in the case void and that “[i]n its Opinion rendered before the Supreme Court reached its decision, the Court considered the effect that a decision in AMG Capital adverse to the FTC might have, reasoning that: ‘this Court’s findings of fact and determinations as to liability—including contempt of court and violations of the Telemarketing Services Rule []—would not be affected by a decision in AMG.’” Moreover, the court pointed out that immediate denial of the motion is also warranted because the defaulted defendants failed to comply with a local rule requiring submission of a memorandum of law in support of their motion. The court asked, “In failing to do so, they have skirted among other fundamental questions: What authority do they, as defaulted defendants, involved as part of a common enterprise with virtually all other [d]efendants, have to upset a final and valid judgment against them after willfully defaulting?”

    Courts FTC Act FTC UDAP Telemarketing Sales Rule Restitution U.S. Supreme Court Enforcement

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  • 5th Circuit orders plaintiff to pay outstanding loan

    Courts

    On August 16, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed a district court decision to require the plaintiff CEO of several petrochemical companies, who defaulted on a revolving line of credit that he guaranteed, to repay national lenders (defendants) an outstanding amount, rejecting the CEO’s argument that the agreements were fraudulently induced. The plaintiff allegedly withdrew a $90 million revolving line of credit from the defendants. His personal liability arose after his companies began breaching some of the loans’ financial covenants. To avoid acceleration, the CEO himself guaranteed the companies’ outstanding debt. Because his companies continued breaching their loan obligations and the defendants were “concerned about the borrowers’ cash burn, ‘collateral deterioration,’ and ‘poor accounting controls,’” the parties modified the total debt to $72 million. In addition, the defendants and the companies amended their credit agreement and the plaintiff “executed a personal guaranty of the debt his companies assumed.” At the defendants’ recommendation—or, as the CEO maintains—“the borrowers also brought on a chief restructuring officer (CRO) to help turn the companies around.” When the companies continued to default on the loan obligations, the CEO and the borrowers entered into two forbearance agreements with the defendants that imposed financial, operational, and reporting obligations on the borrowers. After the second agreement expired and the borrowers' defaults remained, the company sued the defendants for over $1.5 billion in damages for negligence, fraud, conversion, among other things, in which the defendants “counterclaimed and impleaded [the CEO] and the remaining borrowers and guarantors, alleging breach of contract and breach of guaranty.” According to the opinion, “[t]hose third-party defendants then counterclaimed against the lenders, asserting the same tort claims initially lodged by the company.” Furthermore, the CEO asserted the following four defenses: fraudulent inducement, duress, unclean hands, and equitable estoppel. The district court rejected each of the plaintiff’s arguments, ordering him to pay the defendants, plus interest and attorney fees, noting “that the underlying breach of guaranty was ‘not contested.’” The district court held that the waivers and releases the plaintiff signed as part of the two forbearance agreements “foreclosed any claim that he was fraudulently induced into signing the earlier Guaranty,” and determined that his allegations of intense business pressure fell short of establishing duress.

    On appeal, the 5th Circuit agreed with the district court, affirming that the plaintiff failed to prove that he signed onto the agreements under duress. According to the 5th Circuit, “[t]he district court detected a glaring problem with this theory: the timeline of events refutes it,” and the plaintiff “learned of the purported fraud—the supposed scheme to replace him with the CRO—before he ratified the Guaranty.”

    Courts Appellate Debt Collection Fifth Circuit

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  • Supreme Court lifts federal eviction moratorium

    Courts

    On August 26, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a 6-3 decision in Alabama Association of Realtors et al. v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services et al. to lift the federal government’s eviction moratorium, stating the CDC lacked authority to impose the ban. This decision follows the Court’s June decision, which previously denied the group’s request to lift the eviction moratorium in order to let the ban expire at the end of July as intended to allow for a “more orderly distribution of the congressionally appropriated rental assistance funds.” (Covered by InfoBytes here.) In agreeing with the group’s argument that the law on which the CDC relied upon did not allow it to implement the current ban, the majority held that “[i]t strains credulity to believe that this statute grants the CDC the sweeping authority that it asserts,” pointing out that, as the Court noted in its June decision, “[i]f a federally imposed eviction moratorium is to continue, Congress must specifically authorize it.” This decision vacates a stay on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia’s judgment placed by the same court and renders the district court’s judgment enforceable. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the district court ruled that the CDC exceeded its authority when it imposed the temporary ban and stated that because the Public Health Service Act (PHSA) does not “grant the CDC the legal authority to impose a nationwide eviction moratorium” the moratorium must be set aside.

    The dissenting judges faulted the Court for deciding the issue without full briefing and argument, arguing that a stay entered by a lower court cannot be vacated “unless that court clearly and ‘demonstrably’ erred in its application of ‘accepted standards.’” Among other things, they pointed out that “it is far from ‘demonstrably’ clear that the CDC lacks the power to issue its modified moratorium order” as the CDC’s current, modified order targets only regions experiencing a spike in transmission rates. They further argued that the PHSA’s language authorizes the CDC “to design measures that, in the agency’s judgment, are essential to contain disease outbreaks,” and that “the balance of equities strongly favors leaving the stay in place.” According to the minority, “public interest strongly favors respecting the CDC’s judgment at this moment, when over 90% of counties are experiencing high transmission rates.”

    Notably, the decision impact’s the CFPB’s interim final rule (Rule) amending Regulation F to require all landlords to disclose to tenants certain federal protections put in place as a result of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic (covered by InfoBytes here). As previously covered by InfoBytes, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee denied a request in May for a temporary restraining order to block the Rule, but noted however, that “by its own terms the Rule applies only during the effective period of the CDC Order, only to tenants to whom the CDC Order reasonably might apply, and only in jurisdictions in which the CDC Order applies. Defendant CFPB has opined, in its response to the Motion, that ‘the Rule’s provisions—by the Rule’s own operation—have no application where the CDC Order, on account of a court order or otherwise, does not apply.’ . . . The Court concurs with this view, and it intends to hold CFPB to this view (and believes that other courts perhaps should do likewise).”

    Courts U.S. Supreme Court Covid-19 CDC Consumer Finance Evictions CFPB Regulation F

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  • District Court: "Least sophisticated consumer" would not be misled by collection letter disclosures

    Courts

    On August 23, a magistrate judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado granted a defendant’s motion for summary judgment, ruling pursuant to the “least sophisticated consumer standard” that the debt collection letter accurately conveyed the subject FDCPA rights. The plaintiff alleged the defendant debt collector’s letter violated several sections of the FDCPA by, among other things, making false and misleading representations in violation of Section 1682e by informing the plaintiff that “calling for further information or making a payment is not a substitute for disputing the debt” because it implied that disputing the debt was mandatory instead of optional. Additionally, the plaintiff contended that this language overshadowed and contradicted the required disclosure on the second page of the letter by “suggest[ing] that disputing the debt was mutually exclusive to making a payment”—an alleged violation of Section 1692g. The defendant moved for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiff lacked standing to sue, or in the alternative, that he lacked sufficient evidence to prove his FDCPA claims.

    The court disagreed, ruling that the plaintiff’s alleged injuries (that the FDCPA violation caused him to not pay his debt and that he lost out on the ability to make payments or to, among other things, negotiate a separate payment plan) did not rise to the level of tangible harm necessary to satisfy Article III standing. The court then reviewed the letter’s disclosures under the least sophisticated consumer standard and determined that “it is one thing to say that making a payment and disputing a debt are different, and another entirely to suggest that they are mutually exclusive. The phrase, ‘IS NOT A SUBSTITUTE FOR,’ does not carry any reasonable implication of exclusivity, and in fact demonstrates, when read in full context, that Defendant is informing Plaintiff that making a payment does not take the place of disputing the debt. In other words, both can be pursued without exclusivity.” Moreover, because the language is not misleading or contradictory, the court ruled that it did not overshadow the second-page disclosure, which informed him of his right (but not obligation) to dispute the debt.

    Courts Debt Collection FDCPA Disclosures

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  • District Court approves RESPA class action settlement

    Courts

    On August 19, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland granted preliminary approval of a proposed class action settlement claiming a mortgage company engaged in an allegedly illegal kickback scheme with a title company. According to the memorandum in support of the plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary approval, the title company paid, and the mortgage company received and accepted, kickbacks in exchange for the mortgage company’s “assignment and referral of residential mortgage loans, refinances, and reverse mortgages to [the title company] for title and settlement services.” This conduct, the plaintiffs contended, violated RESPA and RICO. While the mortgage company denied all substantive allegations and liability, the parties reached a proposed settlement, in which class members (defined as borrowers with federal mortgage loans originated by the mortgage company for which the title company provided settlement services) will each receive approximately $3,200 from a $990,000 settlement fund. The preliminarily approved settlement also provides for class counsel fees and expenses and class representative service awards for a total not to exceed roughly $1.27 million.

    Courts RESPA Class Action Settlement Kickback RICO Mortgages

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  • 10th Circuit affirms summary judgment in FDCPA action

    Courts

    On August 17, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed a district court’s decision in granting a plaintiff summary judgment, finding that the debt collector (defendant) violated the FDCPA by allegedly attempting to collect a debt despite receiving written notice disputing the debt, and by allegedly calling the defendant despite receiving a “cease-and-desist letter.” According to the opinion, the plaintiff allegedly incurred a medical debt that was placed with the defendant for collection, in which the defendant sent a letter on April 25 to the plaintiff seeking payment of the debt. On April 30, the defendant called the plaintiff and left a voice message. Subsequently, the defendant received a letter from the plaintiff on May 7 disputing the debt and demanding that the defendant cease calling, and that future correspondence should be in writing. However, the letter was not documented into the defendant’s system until May 10; meanwhile, on May 8, the defendant placed another call to the plaintiff, leaving another voice message. The plaintiff filed suit, alleging the defendant violated Section 1692g(b) of the FDCPA “by attempting to collect the debt despite receiving her written notice disputing the debt” and Section 1692g(c) of the FDCPA “by continuing to call her despite receiving her cease-and-desist letter.” The district court ruled that the plaintiff violated the FDCPA and the defendant’s bona fide error defense did not excuse the FDCPA violations, emphasizing that “the bona fide-error defense is an affirmative one, requiring that [the defendant] prove the prongs of the defense, not that [the plaintiff] disprove them.”

    On appeal, the 10th Circuit agreed with the district court and cited TransUnion v. Ramirez, where the U.S. Supreme Court clarified the Spokeo standing requirements, including that the tort of intrusion upon seclusion is recognized as an intangible harm providing a basis for a lawsuit in American courts (covered by InfoBytes here). According to the opinion, in consideration of the FCRA, “the TransUnion Court noted that a company’s maintaining incorrect information in its database, absent dissemination to a third party, failed to create a harm bearing a close relationship to the common-law tort of defamation.” Further, “[w]ithout the ‘necessary’ defamation component that the tortious words were published, this harm differed in kind.” The appellate court pointed out that “this analysis doesn’t control the case at question because the plaintiff alleged the necessary components for a common-law intrusion-upon-seclusion tort.” The appellate court further affirmed that the phone call that was placed after the cease-and-desist letter was received is considered enough to confer standing for the plaintiff to sue. The 10th Circuit held, “[t]hough a single phone call may not intrude to the degree required at common law, that phone call poses the same kind of harm recognized at common law—an unwanted intrusion into a plaintiff’s peace and quiet.”

    Courts Appellate FDCPA Debt Collection Tenth Circuit Spokeo

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  • Appellate Court affirms defendant waived right to arbitration

    Courts

    On August 18, a Florida District Court of Appeals affirmed a district court’s decision that an auto dealer (defendant) waived its right to compel arbitration after failing to mention an arbitration provision until days before the hearing. The plaintiffs filed a class action complaint alleging that the defendant engaged in deceptive practices regarding fees on car sales. While the defendant raised seven affirmative defenses, it did not raise arbitration, even though an arbitration provision was included in the contract between the defendant and each vehicle purchaser. The defendant moved for judgment on the pleadings and argued “that the type of damages sought in the suit were unavailable under the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act,” but the court denied the motion. According to the opinion, days before the hearing, the defendant “filed its motion to compel arbitration ‘in opposition to plaintiff’s motion for class certification,’ raising arbitration as an issue for the first time fourteen months after the class action complaint had been filed,” contending that it did not waive its right to arbitrate due to prior filings being defensive in nature. Later, the defendant argued that even if the court found a waiver as to the named plaintiffs, it could not have waived its right to arbitrate with the unnamed class members. The court ruled that the defendant “engaged in class discovery without objecting to it or preserving its right to compel arbitration with the unnamed class members.”

    In making its decision, the appellate court cited a 2018 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, which ruled that a bank had not waived its arbitration rights regarding the unnamed class members because it expressly stated it wished to preserve arbitration rights against those class members when the matter became ripe (covered by InfoBytes here). The appellate court agreed with the court, finding that the defendant acted inconsistently with regard to arbitration in the dispute and therefore waived any right to force the plaintiffs into arbitration.

    Courts Appellate Arbitration Deceptive Eleventh Circuit Auto Finance

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  • District Court preliminarily approves $12 million class action settlement over automated mortgage errors

    Courts

    On August 17, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio granted preliminary approval of a proposed settlement in a class action that claimed a national bank’s automated mortgage loan modification tools failed to approve borrowers due to technical issues. Class members (defined as borrowers who qualified during a specified time period for a home loan modification or repayment plan pursuant to the requirements of government-sponsored enterprises, FHA, or the Department of Treasury’s Home Affordable Modification Program that “were not offered a home loan modification or repayment plan by [the bank] because of excessive attorneys’ fees being included in the loan modification decision process” and whose homes were not sold in foreclosure) sued the bank alleging it “failed to detect or ignored multiple systematic errors in it automated decision-making software.” This software, class members claimed, is used to create automated calculations and determine whether consumers in default are eligible for loan modifications. According to class members, the bank allegedly “failed to adequately test, audit, and verify that its software was correctly calculating whether customers met threshold requirements for a mortgage modification” and failed to regularly and properly audit its software for compliance with government requirements, thus allowing errors to remain uncorrected. Class members further claimed that the bank apparently took several years to implement new controls and disclose the error. Under the terms of the preliminarily approved settlement, the bank must pay $12 million in relief to the settlement class.

    Courts Mortgages Settlement Class Action Consumer Finance

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  • Florida District Court of Appeals partially affirms and partially reverses ruling against national bank

    Courts

    On August 13, a Florida District Court of Appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part a judgment against a national bank (defendant) awarding a payment processor approximately $2 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages. The judgment, based on a jury verdict, awarded punitive damages as a result of the conduct of the bank’s relationship manager, who negligently misrepresented to a payment processor (plaintiff) that the account of the bank’s customer, a check authorization service, was in good standing when really the bank had previously terminated the relationship. On appeal, the court found that the relationship manager was considered a mid-level employee with limited managerial authority. Therefore, the appeals court determined that the defendant could not be held directly liable for his conduct, stating that “[the employee] was not a managing agent for purposes of imposing direct liability for punitive damages,” and “the trial court erred in denying [the defendant’s] motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict on [the plaintiff’s] punitive damage claim.”

    Courts Appellate Payment Processors

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