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On July 10, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit reversed the dismissal of a FDCPA action against a debt collector, holding that the collection letter failed to apprise the least sophisticated debtor of the creditor’s identity. The complaint alleges that the debt collector “failed to identify ‘the name of the creditor to whom the debt is owed’” as required by the FDCPA because the letter listed “at least four entities” that were connected in some way to the debt. The district court dismissed the complaint, concluding the debt collector sufficiently identified the creditor.
On appeal, the 3rd Circuit concluded that the letter failed to notify the least sophisticated debtor of the creditor’s identity for three reasons: (i) the letter did not expressly state that the bank was the creditor or the owner of the debt; (ii) the letter identified the bank as the “assignee of” three other financial entities and “assignee” is a legal term that does not assist a debtor in understanding the relationships between the parties; and (iii) the letter as a whole failed to sufficiently identify the bank as the creditor, as the reference to three other entities “‘overshadowed’ the creditor’s identity.” The appellate court concluded that the letter failed to properly disclose the creditor and therefore, violated the FDCPA, reversing the district court’s dismissal of the complaint.
On July 2, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit reversed a district court’s ruling that a consumer lacked Article III standing to allege a violation of the Fair and Accurate Credit Transaction Act (FACTA) when a merchant included all 16 digits of her credit card account number, her full name, and the expiration date on a receipt, because the receipt was not thrown away. Under FACTA, merchants are prohibited from including on a receipt (i) more than the last five digits of a consumer’s credit card number; and (ii) a credit card’s expiration date. The consumer alleged that the merchant violated the restriction, but the district court ruled that the consumer lacked standing to sue because she failed to describe a concrete risk of “actual or imminent” injury to a protected interest as defined in the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins. According to the district court, because the consumer did not dispose of the receipt, and was the only person who ever saw the receipt, her risk of identity theft had not increased. Moreover, the district court stated that the burden of protecting the non-compliant receipt did not constitute a concrete injury.
On appeal, the D.C. Circuit reversed, holding that printing a receipt containing all 16 digits of a consumer’s credit card number is an “egregious” enough violation of FACTA to confer standing. According to the panel, the harm inflicted on the consumer by the merchant’s mishandling of her receipt had a “close relationship” to the type of harm that gives rise to a “breach of confidence” claim. Moreover, the panel stated that it was irrelevant that the consumer had been able to protect herself by safeguarding the receipt because: (i) FACTA protects an interest in avoiding an increased risk of identity theft, which the panel considered to be sufficiently concrete; and (ii) under the facts presented, the violation of the truncation requirement created a “risk of real harm” to such concrete interest. The D.C. Circuit remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with its findings. Notwithstanding, the panel was clear that not every violation of FACTA’s truncation requirement creates a risk of identity theft.
Notably, while the D.C. Circuit’s decision is in agreement with an 11th Circuit opinion issued in April (prior InfoBytes coverage here), it conflicts with other appellate decisions, including an opinion issued by the 3rd Circuit in March (covered by InfoBytes here), wherein the 3rd Circuit held that, without concrete evidence of harm, a consumer lacks standing under FACTA to sue a merchant for including too many digits of a credit card account number on a receipt. The D.C. Circuit noted, however, that the 3rd Circuit “recognized its analysis would be different if it were presented with the facts [the consumer] presents to us.”
California Court of Appeal: Prejudgment interest accrual did not violate Rosenthal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act
On July 1, the California Court of Appeal for the Fourth Appellate District affirmed in part and reversed in part a previous superior court judgment in favor of a debt collector, holding that the debt collector did not violate the California Rosenthal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (the Rosenthal Act) by adding prejudgment interest from the date of charge-off to a consumer’s account, and reporting the account, with such additional interest, to several credit bureaus.
The lawsuit initially arose when the debt collector sued to collect the entire amount owed, and the consumer filed a cross-complaint alleging the debt collector had violated the Rosenthal Act, among other laws, by “‘falsely representing the character, amount, or legal status of the alleged debt,’ ‘failing to verify that the amount demanded was accurate,’ and ‘failing to provide an accurate accounting of the alleged debt.’” The superior court rejected the consumer’s claims and entered judgment in favor of the debt collector in the amount of the debt plus attorney’s fees.
On appeal, the Court of Appeal concluded that the debt collector did not violate the Rosenthal Act because the consumer failed to show that the original creditor waived the right to accrue additional interest on the account by not accruing the interest after charge-off. Moreover, the Court of Appeal noted that the statutory prejudgment interest rate is only available when there is no specified contractual rate. However, the Court determined that the debt collector did not improperly accrue interest when it applied a seven percent interest rate, as seven percent is lower than the statutory interest rate and the contractual interest rate. With respect to attorney’s fees, the Court of Appeal concluded the superior court improperly awarded fees associated with the legal action to collect the debt and the cross-complaint, noting that the superior court, “should have limited the fee award to time spent on efforts necessary to prove the allegations in the complaint.” Therefore, the court reversed the fee judgment and remanded the case back to superior court for “further consideration of the fee award in accordance with our narrower interpretation of the contractual fee provision.”
On July 3, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit reversed the district court’s denial of two tribal lenders’ motion to dismiss a putative class action lawsuit brought by Virginia residents, concluding the lenders properly claimed tribal sovereign immunity. The complaint alleged that the tribal lenders violated Virginia’s usury laws by charging Virginia residents interest rates 50-times-higher than those permitted under Virginia law. The tribal lenders moved to dismiss the action in district court on the grounds that they are entitled to sovereign immunity as an arm of the tribe. The district court denied the motion, concluding the tribal lenders (i) bore the burden of proof of immunity; and (ii) failed to prove they were an “arm-of-the-tribe.”
On appeal, the 4th Circuit agreed with the district court that the burden of proof in the arm-of-the-tribe analysis should be placed on the defendant, stating “[u]nlike the tribe itself, an entity should not be given a presumption of immunity until it has demonstrated that it is in fact an extension of the tribe.” However, the appellate court rejected the district court’s conclusion that the tribal lenders failed to meet their burden, noting that while the tribal lenders were funded and controlled by a non-tribal company, ten percent of the tribe’s general fund comes from one of the lenders, and a judgment against either lender “could in fact significantly impact the tribal treasury.” Ultimately, the appellate court concluded that the lenders had “promoted ‘the Tribe’s self-determination through revenue generation and the funding of diversified economic development” and a finding of no immunity, “would weaken the Tribe’s ability to govern itself according to its own laws, become self-sufficient, and develop economic opportunities for its members.”
7th Circuit: HEA does not preempt affirmative misrepresentation claims against student loan servicer
On June 27, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit vacated the dismissal of an action against a student loan servicer, concluding a borrower is not barred by the Higher Education Act from asserting state-law claims against a student loan servicer if the borrower reasonably and detrimentally relied on affirmative misrepresentations. The class action filed against a federal student loan servicer alleged that the servicer steered borrowers who were struggling to make payments into repayment plans that benefited the servicer to the detriment of borrowers, notwithstanding claims on the servicer’s website indicating that trained experts would assist each borrower choose among options beneficial to the borrower based on individual circumstances. In addition to violations of the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act, the complaint alleged that the servicer’s conduct constituted constructive fraud and negligent misrepresentation under Illinois law. The district court dismissed the claims, holding that they were expressly preempted by Section 1098g of the Higher Education Act (HEA), which states “‘[l]oans made, insured, or guaranteed pursuant to a program authorized by title IV of the [HEA] of 1965 (20 U.S.C. 1070 et seq.) shall not be subject to any disclosure requirements of any State Law.’”
On appeal, the 7th Circuit disagreed, concluding the district court’s decision was “overly broad.” Specifically, the appellate court found that the statements made on the servicer’s website were “affirmative misrepresentations,” which would not be covered under the HEA. The appellate court distinguished the instant case from the 9th Circuit’s decision in Chae v. SLM Corp, noting the plaintiffs in Chae complained about alleged “failures to disclose key information in specific ways, such as loan terms and repayment requirements.” Here, however, the 7th Circuit panel determined that the preemption principles enunciated in the Chae opinion do not extend to claims about the servicer’s “affirmative misrepresentations in counseling, where [the servicer] could have avoided liability under state law by remaining silent (or telling the truth) on certain topics.”
On June 28, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit affirmed the denial of a rent-to-own company’s motion to compel arbitration in a putative class action alleging the company charged excessive prices. According to the opinion, three named plaintiffs filed suit against the company in 2017, alleging that the company structured its rent-to-own pricing in violation of California law, including the Karnette Rental-Purchase Act, the Unfair Competition Law, the Consumers Legal Remedies Act, and the state’s prohibitions against usurious loans. The plaintiffs sought public injunctive relief, as well as compensatory damages and restitution, among other things. The company moved to compel arbitration in accordance with the arbitration agreement executed in connection with the plaintiff’s rent-to-own air conditioner contract. The district court denied the motion to compel arbitration, concluding that the arbitration agreement violates the California Supreme Court decision in McGill v. Citibank, N.A (covered by a Buckley Special Alert here) because it constitutes a waiver of the plaintiff’s substantive right to seek public injunctive relief. Moreover, the court concluded that McGill was not preempted by the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), and that the agreement’s severance clause allowed for the plaintiff’s Karnette Act, UCL, and CLRA claims to be severed from the arbitration.
On appeal, the 9th Circuit agreed with the district court, rejecting the company’s arguments that McGill was preempted by the FAA. The appellate court found that McGill does not interfere with the bilateral nature of a typical arbitration, stating “[t]he McGill rule leaves undisturbed an agreement that both requires bilateral arbitration and permits public injunctive claims.” Moreover, the appellate court noted that the severance clause in the agreement, which precludes an arbitrator from awarding public injunctive relief, is triggered by the McGill rule, and disagreed with the company that the arbitrator would still adjudicate liability first, concluding that the clause provides “the entire claim be severed for judicial determination.”
On June 20, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York granted a debt collector’s motion to dismiss in an FDCPA action after the plaintiff conceded that it was possible for late charges to be imposed on his account in the future. The consumer filed an action against the debt collector after he received a collection notice stating that, “[a]s of the date of this letter, you owe the total balance due reflected above. Because of interest, late charges, and other charges that may vary from day to day, the amount due on the day you pay may be greater.” The consumer argued the letter violated the FDCP’s prohibition on using any false, deceptive, or misleading representation or means in connection with the collection of any debt, because the debt was not subject to the imposition of late charges, because his original creditor, the Department of Education, allegedly “‘did not have the legal or contractual authority to assess late charges on the [debt],’ and [the debt collector] was ‘never authorized . . . to charge or add late charges to the balance of the [debt].’” After discussing conflicting precedents, the court noted that it need not reach the issue because the plaintiff conceded that it would be possible for his account to be assessed late charges in the future should he rehabilitate his debt and subsequently fail to make timely payments. Because late charges could “conceivably be assessed” the debt collector’s letter was not inaccurate, as the plaintiff alleged and therefore, the court dismissed the action.
On June 18, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington granted summary judgment in favor of a debt collector, concluding the debt collector did not violate the FDCPA by using the name “State Collection Service.” The class action alleged the debt collector’s name “gave the false impression that the debt collection company was in some way associated with the State of Washington in violation of the FDCPA.” The debt collector moved for summary judgment. Upon review of the debt collector’s written and oral communications with the plaintiff, the court noted that using the term, “State” in its name, or omitting the term “Inc.” from its name are not deceptive or misleading as a matter of law. Moreover, the court stated, “even if [the debt collectors]’s use of the term ‘State’ or omission of ‘Inc.’ could be construed as faintly misleading, it was not a material misrepresentation that affected Plaintiff’s ability to ‘intelligently choose’ her response to the collection notice.” Additionally, because all of the debt collector’s communications identified the original creditor and the amount of the debt, the court found that “the least sophisticated debtor would not be misled by [the debt collector]’s use of the name ‘State Collection Service.’”
On June 24, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit reversed the dismissal of a non-customer class action against a California bank alleging the bank knowingly assisted a fraudulent scheme, in violation of California law. The class action asserts eight claims against the bank under California law, including aiding and abetting fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud, for allegedly “knowingly assist[ing] a $125 million fraudulent scheme” initiated by one of the bank’s clients. The district court dismissed the action, holding the consumers “had not pleaded sufficient facts giving rise to a plausible inference that [the bank] knew [its client] was misappropriating funds.”
On appeal, the 9th Circuit disagreed, concluding the consumers plausibly alleged specific allegations concerning the bank’s actual knowledge of the client’s misappropriation and fraud. The appellate court noted that while generally banks owe no duty to non-customers under California law, an exception exists when a bank “‘knowingly makes itself a party to a fraud, [it] must make good the loss that results from the misappropriation.’” The appellate court concluded that several allegations made by the consumers were plausible based on the bank using “atypical banking procedures,” which included “repeatedly making advances at [the client]’s request without obtaining supporting documentation or verifying that [the client] used the advanced proceeds appropriately (despite indications to the contrary) and extending maturity dates on short-term loans year after year (even when [the client] was in default).”
In dissent, a panel judge argued that the consumers made no specific allegations of the bank’s actual knowledge of the fraud, noting that the complaint is “vague and lengthy” and just “a series of common banking practices dressed up in ominous language.” Additionally, the judge noted that California courts traditionally only find actual knowledge in “‘extreme circumstances,’” and have previously “refused to hold banks liable in far more egregious cases than this.”
On June 21, the FTC announced that the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut temporarily halted the operation of an alleged credit repair scheme based on allegations the company charged illegal upfront fees and falsely claimed to substantially improve consumers’ credit scores in violation of the FTC Act, the Credit Repair Organizations Act, the Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR), the Consumer Review Fairness Act, TILA, and the EFTA. According to the complaint, since 2014, the company, among other things, (i) claims they can improve consumers’ credit scores by removing negative items and hard inquiries from credit reports; (ii) charges advance fees for their services; (iii) does not provide the required disclosures for its services, including credit transaction disclosures related to the financing of the service fees; (iv) engages in electronic funds transfers from consumers’ bank accounts without proper authorization; and (v) threatens consumers with legal action after consumers complain about the lack of results. The court order requires the company to temporarily cease its operations and ensures the company’s assets are frozen.
- Hank Asbill to discuss "Ethical guidance in conducting internal investigations – The intersection of Yates and Upjohn" at the American Bar Association Southeastern White Collar Crime Institute
- H Joshua Kotin to discuss "Recent developments in fair lending and avoiding the pitfalls" at the Arkansas Community Bankers/Bankers Assurance 2019 Compliance Conference
- Brandy A. Hood to discuss "RESPA Section 8/referrals: How do you stay compliant?" at the New England Mortgage Bankers Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Risk management in enforcement actions: Managing risk or micromanaging it" at the American Bar Association Business Law Section Annual Meeting
- Valerie L. Hletko to discuss "Banking on guns ‘n drugs: Social policy meets financial services" at the American Bar Association Business Law Section Annual Meeting
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Navigating the conflicting federal and state laws for doing business with cannabis companies" at the American Bar Association Business Law Section Annual Meeting
- Tim Lange to discuss "Services and value" at the North American Collection Agency Regulatory Association Annual Conference
- Katherine L. Halliday to discuss "UDAP, UDAAP & the Map rule compliance basics" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Brandy A. Hood to discuss "How to ace your TRID exam" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Amanda R. Lawrence to discuss "Data privacy litigation" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Melissa Klimkiewicz to discuss "Navigating FHA rules and regs" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "HMDA data is out, now what?" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Jeffrey P. Naimon to discuss "Washington regulatory overview" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Assessing the CDD final rule: A year of transitions" at the ACAMS AML & Financial Crime Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Lessons learned from recent enforcement actions and CMPs" at the ACAMS AML & Financial Crime Conference
- Kathryn L. Ryan to discuss "The state’s role in fintech: Providing an industry framework for innovation" at Lend360
- Jeffrey P. Naimon to discuss "Truth in lending" at the American Bar Association National Institute on Consumer Financial Services Basics
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Lessons learned from recent enforcement actions" at the Institute of International Bankers Risk Management and Regulatory Examination/Compliance Seminar
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Fintech regulatory developments, crypto-assets, blockchain and digital banking, and consumer issues" at the Practising Law Institute Banking Law Institute
- Amanda R. Lawrence to discuss "How to balance a successful (and stressful) career with greater personal well-being" at the American Bar Association Women in Litigation Joint CLE Conference