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On October 30, the Minnesota Attorney General’s office filed a complaint against a Montana tribal economic development entity claiming that the entity’s lending subsidiaries violated state and federal usury laws through deceptive trade practices and false advertising. The complaint alleges that “[d]efendants ignore these laws and have in recent years made thousands of loans to consumers in Minnesota at interest rates exponentially higher than what is permitted. They do so while deceiving Minnesotans to believe the defendant lenders are immune from Minnesota law because they are owned by a federally recognized Indian tribe. But even sovereign entities and their subsidiaries must comply with Minnesota and federal law when they transact business in Minnesota.” The complaint claims that the company’s lending subsidiaries charged interest rates up to 800 percent and led state residents to believe that the entity was exempt from state laws that protect against predatory loans. Minnesota laws cap interest rates for written contracts at 8% unless otherwise exempted. Loan contracts that violate the law may be voidable and have no legal effect. The Attorney General is seeking an injunction to block the company from operating in Minnesota, a declaration that “marketing, offering, issuing, servicing, collection, and providing of [these] loans” is in violation of federal and state laws, and compensation for the residents affected by the defendants’ actions.
On October 31, Ohio State AG Dave Yost filed a complaint against debt collectors for violations of the FDCPA and Ohio Consumer Sales Practices Act. The complaint alleged that the defendants frequently changed the names they used to engage in collection activities and purposefully used names to sound like law firms to mislead consumers. The AG’s complaint also included allegations that the debt collectors failed to honor written requests to verify debts, threatened legal action, engaged in harassing or abusive behavior, and made false, misleading, and deceptive representations.
On October 26, a U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York granted a motion to dismiss an FDCPA suit holding that there is nothing in the FDCPA that prohibits debt collectors from reporting information about a debt to a credit reporting agency. The plaintiff filed a complaint in January 2023 alleging that the defendant violated the FDCPA by communicating with the plaintiff after the plaintiff requested that the debt collector stop all communications. The plaintiff further alleged that the defendant violated the FDCPA by reporting this debt to the major credit reporting agencies, which subsequently led to the plaintiff being denied credit. While the judge ruled that the plaintiff had standing to sue because of the denial of credit, the judge also ruled that the statute “expressly permits communications with ‘a consumer reporting agency if otherwise permitted by law,’” and that the plaintiff did not allege that negligence was the proximate cause of damages.
On October 27, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit denied a petition for a panel rehearing en banc in a False Claims Act (FCA) suit that was dismissed in 2020. The whistleblower suit, filed in 2019, alleged violations of the U.S.’s sanctions on Iran by exchanging foreign currency for U.S. dollars on behalf of Iranian and related terrorist entities. In July 2020, the whistleblower suit was dismissed after the court agreed with U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York’s motion to dismiss because the compliant was “legally deficient as it is premised on an incorrect legal theory of liability that is inconsistent with both the FCA and the law regarding civil forfeiture.” The plaintiff appealed to the 2nd Circuit arguing that the district court needed to hold a hearing; however, the 2nd Circuit found the suit had been properly dismissed and that the judge considered extensive briefing before making the determination of the dismissal.
On October 26, the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey dismissed without prejudice a FCRA and FDCPA lawsuit filed against a law firm and credit reporting agency. The plaintiff alleged that the defendants published inaccurate and incomplete information regarding a trade line for debt allegedly owed to a healthcare facility. The plaintiff claimed that the credit reporting agency refused to validate the debt. The judge held that the FDCPA did not apply to the credit reporting agency because it was not a debt collector, and that plaintiff did not provide any facts that the tradeline was inaccurate. The judge also found that plaintiff failed to state a claim under the FDCPA against the law firm because “merely furnish[ing] a trade line to a credit reporting agency does not violate any provision of the FDCPA.” The plaintiff is allowed to move for leave to file an amended complaint within thirty (30) days if a stronger factual basis for the claims is provided.
On October 23, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a consumer’s putative class action lawsuit alleging that a collection agency violated the FDCPA by sharing the consumer’s debt information with a third-party vendor. The court ruled that the consumer lacked standing because she did not sustain an injury from the sharing of her information.
To collect a defaulted credit-card debt, the defendant collection agency used a third-party vendor to print and mail a collection letter to the consumer. The consumer alleged that the collection agency violated the FDCPA by disclosing to the vendor the consumer’s personal information, and the disclosure was analogous to the tort of invasion of privacy. The appeals court disagreed, reasoning that the sharing of a debtor’s data with a third-party mail vendor to populate and send a form collection letter that caused no cognizable harm, legally speaking. The court also noted that the U.S. Courts of Appeal for the Tenth and Eleventh Circuits have reached similar conclusions. “The transmission of information to a single ministerial intermediary does not remotely resemble the publicity element of the only possibly relevant variant of the privacy tort.”
On October 26, the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of Texas entered an order granting intervenors’ motions for preliminary injunction against the CFPB and its small business loan rule.
As previously covered by InfoBytes, the district court entered an order in August enjoining enforcement of the rule pending the Supreme Court’s decision in Consumer Financial Protection Bureau v. Community Fin. Serv. of Am. and extending the rule’s compliance date to account for the tine the stay remained in place. The court, however, limited that relief to the plaintiffs at that time—a bank and two bank trade associations—and their members. In the wake of this ruling, separate trade associations representing small business lenders asked the CFPB to take administrative action to ensure that the compliance date for other lenders would be adjusted commensurately. The CFPB declined their request.
In response, separate groups of intervenor plaintiffs, including trade associations representing other types of small business lenders, intervened in the action and filed motions seeking to expand the scope of the preliminary injunction to all affected lenders (or at least their members), claiming the court’s decision to spare some from the rule put them at a competitive disadvantage. The CFPB opposed those motions (covered by InfoBytes here).
In its most recent order, the court reasoned that the preliminary injunction should extend to intervenors because the CFPB lacked evidence supporting its argument that that greater harm would result from a stay on its 1071 rule and “its intended benefits for small businesses failed to tip the balance in their favor.” The court reasoned that the purpose of the statute underlying the Bureau’s final rule is the equal application of lending laws to all credit applications to avoid disparate outcomes, presuming uniform application to covered financial institutions. Therefore, to exempt plaintiffs and not all other covered financial institutions would undermine the statute, leaving “non-exempted lenders subject to the discretion of an agency whose very ability to act is a matter of constitutional concern pending resolution on a nationwide scale.” Under that reasoning, the district court granted plaintiffs’ motions for preliminary injunction, enjoining the CFPB from implementing its 1071 Rule for small business lending.
The Utah Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court’s ruling against a debt buyer that acquired a portfolio of bad debts from borrowers all over the country, including residents of Utah. The debt buyer collected on the portfolio of debts by retaining third-party debt collectors or, in some instances, attorneys to recover such debts by filing lawsuits. The debt buyer was not licensed under the Utah Collection Agency Act (UCAA). As such, the plaintiffs argued that the debt buyer’s collection efforts were “deceptive” and “unconscionable” under the Utah Consumer Sales Practices Act.
The lower court ruled for the debt buyer on the grounds that failure to obtain a license, without more, did not rise to the level of “deceptive” or “unconscionable” conduct. Further, the UCAA does not have a private right of action.
Utah recently repealed the collection agency’s license, effective May 3, 2023 (covered by InfoBytes here).
Fifth Circuit affirms dismissal of Fannie, Freddie shareholders’ claims related to FHFA removal restriction and funding
On October 12, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed dismissal of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac shareholders’ claims that the FHFA’s unconstitutional removal restriction caused them harm and that the FHFA’s funding mechanism is inconsistent with the Appropriations Clause. After the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) placed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac into conservatorship, it entered into several preferred stock purchase agreements with the U.S. Treasury. As a result of these agreements, any value the companies generated would go to the Treasury and not to junior preferred and common stockholders such as plaintiffs.
The plaintiff shareholders sued in 2016, arguing that the “for cause” removal protection for the director of the FHFA was unconstitutional. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of FHFA, but a panel of the 5th Circuit reversed. Sitting en banc, the 5th Circuit then determined that the removal provision violated the separation of powers, and held that the proper remedy was to sever the removal restriction from the rest of the authorizing statute. On further appeal, the Supreme Court held that for-cause restriction on the President’s removal authority violates the separation of powers, but it refused to hold that the relevant preferred stock purchase agreement must be undone.
The Supreme Court remanded the case for lower courts to resolve whether the unconstitutional removal provision caused harm to plaintiffs as shareholders, and the 5th Circuit, again sitting en banc, remanded that question to the district court. Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint on remand, bringing claims under the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”) and directly under the Constitution. The amended complaint also alleged, for the first time, that the FHFA’s financing structure violates the Appropriations Clause. Defendants moved to dismiss, and the district court granted the motion in its entirety and dismissed all claims with prejudice.
The 5th Circuit determined that the removal claims were within the scope of the remand order, contrary to the district court’s conclusion, but that the plaintiff’s APA claim was barred by an anti-injunction clause in the authorizing statute. Turning to the Constitutional claim, the 5th Circuit concluded that judicial review was not precluded and proceeded to the merits of the claim.
To show compensable harm from the unconstitutional removal provision, plaintiffs had to allege, among other things, a “nexus between the desire to remove and the challenged actions taken by the insulated actor.” More specifically, they had to allege a connection between the Trump Administration’s desire to remove the director of the FHFA and the Administration’s failure to have FHFA exit the conservatorships and return Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to private control. The amended complaint, however, failed to plead facts demonstrating that the Trump Administration’s purported plan for re-privatization would have been completed if President Trump had been able to remove the existing FHFA director. Those allegations, the Fifth Circuit held, were insufficient.
The 5th Circuit agreed with the district court that the plaintiffs’ Appropriations Clause argument was outside the mandate of the earlier remand order. The appeals court reasoned that the remand order “[left] no opening for plaintiffs to bring a challenge under a completely different constitutional theory for the first time on remand,” nor was there an intervening change in the law such that the mandate rule would not apply.
On October 2, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled that a collection agency who was acting as a furnisher of credit reporting information could not shirk its duty to investigate a dispute by labeling the dispute “frivolous” when the complaint was referred for investigation by a credit reporting agency (CRA). The decision overturned the lower court’s ruling which had sided with the furnisher.
According the ruling, the plaintiff in this action claimed that a fraudulent account had been opened in his name with a television service provider. Plaintiff was described as having first disputed the account directly with the television service provider, but failed to provide supporting documents which the television service provider had requested. Following the plaintiff’s failure to provide the requested documentation, the television service provider referred the disputed account to the collection agency, who in turn reported the delinquent account to the CRA.
The ruling states that when the disputed account appeared on the plaintiff’s consumer report, the plaintiff made an indirect dispute of the information with the CRA, who in turn forwarded the dispute to the collection agency for investigation. The ruling notes that the collection agency undertook no further investigation in response to the dispute, and instead merely confirmed the account information and updated the plaintiff’s address, which the court noted took only 13 seconds.
The court noted that although the FCRA does allow for the recipient of disputes “to preliminarily vet the dispute for frivolousness or irrelevance before investigating,” once a CRA has referred a dispute to a furnisher, “the furnisher does not have such discretion.” Because in this case the collection agency had been referred to it by a CRA, it “had a duty to investigate [plaintiff’s] indirect dispute when it received notice thereof from [the CRA].”