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  • Maryland Court of Appeals holds state licensing requirement is a “statutory specialty” with 12-year statute of limitations

    State Issues

    On December 18, the Court of Appeals of Maryland held that the licensing requirement, §12-302, of the Maryland Consumer Loan Law (MCLL) is a “statutory specialty” and causes of action under it are accorded a 12-year statute of limitations period. The decision results from a question of law posed to the appeals court by the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland after consumers brought an action in the district court against a lender for alleged violations of the MCLL that occurred over three years before the lawsuit was filed. The lender claimed the action was time-barred under the state’s three-year general statute of limitations for civil actions, while the consumers argued the MCLL was an “other specialty,” which would provide a 12-year statute of limitations under state law. To answer the question, the appeals court applied a three-part test to determine whether the statute constituted an “other specialty”: (i) if the obligation sought to be enforced is imposed solely by statute; (ii) if the remedy pursued is authorized solely by statute; and (iii) if the civil damages sought are liquidated, fixed, or, by applying clear statutory criteria, are readily ascertainable. The appeals court analyzed the first and third prongs of the test as the parties agreed the second was not an issue. For the first prong, the court concluded that the MCLL’s licensing requirement was created and imposed solely by statute and not by common law. As for the third prong, the court agreed with the consumers that the need for fact-finding with regard to the monetary liability does not preclude “ready ascertainment.” Because all three elements of the test were satisfied, the court concluded the licensing requirement is a “statutory specialty” and is afforded a 12-year statute of limitations period.

    State Issues Courts Licensing Statute of Limitations

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  • District Court concludes company’s dialing system is not an autodialer under TCPA

    Courts

    On December 20, the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey granted a student loan company’s motion for summary judgment, holding that the plaintiff failed to establish the company’s phone system qualified as an automated telephone dialing system (autodialer) under the TCPA. The plaintiff alleged the company violated the TCPA by using an autodialer to call his cell phone without his prior express consent. Each party filed cross-motions for summary judgment with the plaintiff arguing that the company’s system “had the present capacity without modification to place calls from a stored list without human intervention.” The company disagreed with the plaintiff’s assertions, arguing that it used separate systems for land lines and cell phones, and that the system which dialed the cell phone “contains no features that can be activated, deactivated, or added to the system to enable autodialing.” Citing to the opinion of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit in Dominguez v. Yahoo (previously covered by InfoByres here), which held that it would interpret the definition of an autodialer as it would prior to the FCC’s 2015 Declaratory Ruling, the court noted that the term “capacity” in the TCPA’s autodialer definition refers to the system’s current functions, not its potential capacity. Because the plaintiff failed to establish that the system used to dial his cell phone had the “present capacity” to initiate autodialed calls without modifications, the court concluded the claim failed as a matter of law.

    Courts TCPA Autodialer Student Lending Appellate Third Circuit

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  • District Court orders mortgage company to pay $260,000 in civil money penalties for deceiving veterans about refinance benefits

    Courts

    On December 21, the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada ordered a non-bank mortgage company to pay $268,869 in redress to consumers and a civil penalty of $260,000 in an action brought by the CFPB for engaging in allegedly deceptive lending practices to veterans about the benefits of refinancing their mortgages. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the CFPB had alleged that, during in-home presentations, the company used flawed “apples to apples” comparisons between the consumers’ mortgages and a Department of Veterans Affairs’ Interest Rate Reduction Refinancing Loan. According to the Bureau, the presentations misrepresented the cost savings of the refinance by (i) inflating the future amount of principal owed under the existing mortgage; (ii) overestimating the future loan’s term, which underestimated the future monthly payments; and (iii) overestimating the total monthly benefit of the loan after the first month. In addition to the monetary penalties, the order prohibits the company from misrepresenting the terms or benefits of mortgage refinancing and requires the company to submit a compliance plan to the Bureau.

    Courts CFPB Civil Money Penalties Military Lending Act Department of Veterans Affairs IRRRL Refinance Mortgages

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  • Kansas company agrees to $400,000 forfeiture in first U.S. BSA action against a broker-dealer

    Courts

    On December 19, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York announced it filed charges against a Kansas-based broker-dealer for allegedly willfully failing to file a suspicious activity report (SAR) in connection with the illegal activities of one of its customers in violation of the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA). According to the announcement, this is the first criminal BSA action ever brought against a U.S. broker-dealer. The allegations are connected to the actions of the broker-dealer’s customer, who was the owner of a Kansas-based payday lending scheme that was ordered to pay a $1.3 billion judgment for making false and misleading representations about loan costs and payments in violation of the FTC Act (previously covered by InfoBytes here). The U.S. Attorney alleges the broker-dealer, among other things, failed to follow its customer identification procedures, disregarded “red flags that were known prior to [the customer] opening the accounts,” and continued to ignore additional red flags that arose over time. Additionally, the U.S. Attorney alleges the broker-dealer failed to monitor transactions using its anti-money laundering (AML) tool, which led to numerous suspicious transactions going undetected and unreported until long after the customer was convicted at trial for his actions in the scheme.

    Along with the announcement of the filing, the U.S. Attorney’s Office further stated it had entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the broker-dealer in which it agreed to accept responsibility for its conduct, pay a $400,000 penalty, and enhance its BSA/AML compliance program.

    The SEC also settled with the broker-dealer for the failure to file the SARs. The settlement requires the broker-dealer to hire an independent consultant to review its AML and customer identification program and implement any recommended changes. The independent consultant will monitor for compliance with the recommendations for two years.

    Courts DOJ Payday Lending FTC Act Bank Secrecy Act Anti-Money Laundering SARs SEC Settlement

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  • District Court approves $480 million settlement between national bank and investors over incentive compensation sales program

    Courts

    On December 18, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California granted final approval following a fairness hearing to a $480 million settlement with a national bank to resolve a consolidated class action related to the bank’s previous incentive compensation sales program. As previously covered by InfoBytes, an agreement in principle was announced last May. The court’s order resolves class action allegations stemming from the September 2016 consent order between the bank and the CFPB, which resolved allegations related to the opening of deposit and credit card accounts for consumers without consent. (See previously InfoBytes coverage here.)

    Courts Settlement Incentive Compensation Securities CFPB

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  • New Jersey appellate court finds arbitration provision ambiguous and unenforceable

    Courts

    On December 18, the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey reversed a lower court’s order compelling arbitration, concluding the arbitration provision of the plaintiff’s auto lease agreement did not clearly and unambiguously inform the reader that arbitration was the exclusive dispute remedy. According to the opinion, the plaintiff filed a complaint against an auto dealer after allegedly being charged a $75 dollar fee associated with the loan payoff of his trade-in vehicle for which the plaintiff never received an explanation of its purpose, in violation of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act and Truth in Consumer Contract, Warranty and Notice Act. The auto dealer moved to compel arbitration under the lease contract’s arbitration notice, which included the statement, “[e]ither you or Lessor/Finance Company/Holder […] may choose at any time, including after a lawsuit is filed, to have any Claim related to this contract decided by arbitration.” The lower court determined that the arbitration provision was not “ambiguous or vague in any way” and ordered arbitration. The plaintiff appealed, arguing the clause is vague because it states the parties “may” arbitrate. On appeal, the appellate court concluded that the arbitration provision was not clear and unambiguous due to the use of a passive “may” when referring to the ability to opt into arbitration. Moreover, the appellate court determined the arbitration provision to be unenforceable because it lacked language that would affirmatively inform the plaintiff that “he could not pursue his statutory rights in court.”

    Courts State Issues Auto Finance Arbitration Appellate

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  • District court grants judgment in favor of loan servicer on remand

    Courts

    On December 10, the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota ruled on a motion for summary judgment concerning whether the Minnesota Mortgage Originator and Servicer Licensing Act’s (MOSLA) provision prohibiting “a mortgage servicer from violating ‘federal law regulating residential mortgage loans’” provides a cause of action under state law when a loan servicer violates RESPA but where the consumer ultimately has no federal cause of action because the consumer “sustained no actual damages and thus has no actionable claim under RESPA.”

    As previously covered by InfoBytes, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit reviewed the district court’s earlier decision to grant summary judgement in favor of a consumer who claimed the mortgage loan servicer failed to adequately respond to his qualified written requests concerning erroneous delinquency allegations. The 8th Circuit overturned that ruling, opining that while the loan servicer failed to (i) conduct an adequate investigation following the plaintiff’s request as to why there was a delinquency for his account, and (ii) failed to provide a complete loan payment history when requested, its failure did not cause actual damages.

    Now, revisiting the issue on remand, the district court stated that any MOSLA violation or injury is predicated on the RESPA violation or injury. Reasoning that since there were “no actual damages under RESPA, then there are no actual damages under MOSLA,” the court concluded that the consumer did not have a viable cause of action under MOSLA and dismissed the action with prejudice.

    Courts Eighth Circuit Appellate State Issues Mortgage Servicing RESPA

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  • District Court holds “dead air” is indicative of a predictive dialer, denies TCPA dismissal bid

    Courts

    On December 10, the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey denied a medical laboratory’s motion to dismiss a putative TCPA class action against the company, holding the plaintiff sufficiently alleged the equipment used to make unsolicited calls qualified as an “autodialer.” According to the opinion, the plaintiff filed the class action against the company after receiving an unsolicited call to her cell phone and hearing a “momentary pause” before a representative started speaking, allegedly indicating the company was using an automatic telephone dialing system (autodialer). The plaintiff argues the company violated the TCPA by placing non-emergency calls using an autodialer without having her express consent. The company moved to dismiss the action, arguing the plaintiff did not sufficiently allege the company called her using an autodialer. The court disagreed, stating that “[d]ead air after answering the phone is indicative that the caller used a predictive dialer.” The court noted that a predictive dialer is a device considered an autodialer under binding precedent, citing to the opinion of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit in Dominguez v. Yahoo, which held that it would interpret the definition of an autodialer as it would prior to the FCC’s 2015 Declaratory Ruling, which was invalidated by the D.C. Circuit. (Previously covered by InfoBytes here.) The court acknowledged that the actual configuration of the dialing equipment should be explored in discovery, but at this stage, the plaintiff sufficiently alleged the use of an autodialer for purposes of the TCPA.  

    Courts TCPA Autodialer Class Action Third Circuit Appellate

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  • DOJ says CFPB structure is unconstitutional, but urges Supreme Court to deny writ since case is a “poor vehicle”

    Courts

    On December 10, the DOJ filed a brief in response to a Texas bank and two associations’ (petitioners) petition for writ of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court, challenging the constitutionality of the CFPB’s structure, with the DOJ arguing that the Bureau’s structure infringes on the president’s responsibility to ensure that federal laws are faithfully executed, but urging the court to deny the writ as the case is a “poor vehicle” for the constitutionality consideration. Specifically, the DOJ argues that the decision would warrant review by the full court, which would be unlikely due to newly appointed Judge Kavanaugh’s involvement in the January 2018 D.C. Circuit en banc decision in PHH v. CFPB (covered by a Buckley Sandler Special Alert). Additionally, the DOJ acknowledges that the petitioners’ standing to sue “is sufficiently questionable to present a significant vehicle problem,” as the Texas bank is supervised by the OCC and the two associations are not regulated by the Bureau. On the merits, however, the DOJ agrees with the petitioners that statutory restriction on the president’s authority to remove the Bureau’s director violates the constitution. Citing to Judge Kavanaugh’s dissent opinion in the PHH en banc decision, the DOJ asserts that not only does the for-cause removal restrict the president’s powers to ensure the laws are faithfully executed, a single-director lacks the attributes of a multi-member commission that would warrant a for-cause removal provision. The DOJ concludes that the proper remedy would be to sever the for-cause provision while leaving the remaining applicable portions of the Dodd-Frank Act intact. Lastly, the DOJ notes that since it would not argue in favor of constitutionality, it recommends that if the Court were to grant certiorari, it should wait until the Bureau’s new director, Kathy Kraninger, has an opportunity to decide if the Bureau would defend the judgment before appointing an amicus curiae.  

    As previously covered by InfoBytes, the petitioners asked the Court (i) whether the CFPB as an independent agency headed by a single director that can only be removed from office for cause violates the Constitution’s separation of powers; (ii) whether a 1935 Supreme Court case upholding removal restrictions on members of the FTC should be overturned; and (iii) whether the CFPB’s “perpetual, on-demand funding streams” are permitted under the Appropriations Clause. The petition for writ resulted from a June decision by the D.C. Circuit upholding summary judgment against the petitioners, based on the D.C. Circuit en banc decision in PHH v. CFPB, which concluded the Bureau’s single-director structure is constitutional.

    Courts DOJ PHH v. CFPB U.S. Supreme Court Single-Director Structure CFPB

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  • Court grants summary judgment in favor of FTC and Florida State Attorney General in debt relief scam case

    Courts

    On December 10, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida granted the FTC and the Florida Attorney General’s motion for summary judgment against an individual accused of participating in a scheme that allegedly targeted financially distressed consumers through illegal robocalls selling bogus credit card debt relief services and interest rate reductions. According to a 2016 complaint, several interrelated companies and the founder of such companies (defendants), among other things, allegedly violated the FTC Act, the Telemarketing Sales Rule, and the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act by (i) claiming to be “licensed enrollment center[s]” for major credit card networks with the ability to work with a consumer’s credit card company or bank to substantially and permanently lower credit card interest rates; (ii) charging up-front payments for debt relief and rate-reduction services; and (iii) pitching credit card debt-elimination services, claiming the defendants could access money from a government fund to pay off consumers’ credit card debt in 18 months, when in actuality, no such government fund existed. In some cases, the defendants instructed consumers to stop paying their credit-card bills, resulting in “significant harm in the form of reduced creditworthiness, higher interest rates on their existing credit-card debt, and higher overall credit-card debt due to the accrual of late fees and interest charges.”

    The court entered a permanent injunction ordering the defendant founder of the companies involved to pay over $23 million in equitable monetary relief. The order also permanently restrains and enjoins such defendant from, among other things, participating—whether directly or indirectly—in (i) telemarketing; (ii) advertising, marketing, selling, or promoting any debt relief products or services; or (iii) misrepresenting material facts.

    Courts State Attorney General FTC Debt Relief Robocalls FTC Act Telemarketing Sales Rule State Issues

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