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On May 6, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California preliminarily approved a revised class action settlement concerning allegations that a mortgage servicer charged borrowers a $15 convenience fee for making mortgage payments over the phone. The plaintiff filed a class action complaint in 2019 against the servicer alleging, among other things, that the servicer’s assessment of the convenience fee breached her mortgage agreement and violated the FDCPA, California’s Rosenthal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, and California’s Unfair Competition Law. The parties reached a settlement in 2020, but the court denied approval, expressing concerns with several aspects of the settlement, including the adequacy of the settlement fund, anticipated attorneys’ fees and incentive award requests, and proposed notice to potential class members. Under the terms of the revised settlement, the servicer will be required to pay approximately $3.3 million into a settlement fund, which will be distributed to class members according to the proportional amount of the pay-to-pay fees charged to each borrower within the class period. Additionally, the named plaintiff agreed to seek an incentive award not to exceed $5,000, and attorneys’ fees and expenses will be capped at 25 percent of the settlement fund.
On May 7, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California entered two default judgments totaling more than $34.1 million in an action by the CFPB against a mortgage lender and several related individuals and companies (collectively, “defendants”) for alleged violations of the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA), Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR), and Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). Settlements have already been reached with the chief operating officer/part-owner of one of the defendant companies, as well as certain other defendants (covered by InfoBytes here, here, and here).
As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Bureau filed a complaint in 2020 claiming the defendants violated the FCRA by, among other things, illegally obtaining consumer reports from a credit reporting agency for millions of consumers with student loans by representing that the reports would be used to “make firm offers of credit for mortgage loans” and to market mortgage products, but instead, the defendants allegedly resold or provided the reports to companies engaged in marketing student loan debt-relief services. The defendants also allegedly violated the TSR by charging and collecting advance fees for their debt-relief services. The CFPB further claimed that the defendants violated the TSR and CFPA when they used telemarketing sales calls and direct mail to encourage consumers to consolidate their loans, and falsely represented that consolidation could lower student-loan interest rates, improve borrowers’ credit scores, and change their servicer to the Department of Education.
The May 7 default judgment entered against the student loan debt-relief companies requires the collective payment of more than $19.6 million in consumer redress and more than $11.3 million in civil money penalties to the Bureau. The companies are also permanently enjoined from offering or providing debt-relief services or from using or obtaining consumer reports for any purpose. Moreover, the companies and any associated individuals may not disclose, use, or benefit from consumer information contained in or derived from prescreened consumer reports for use in marketing debt-relief services.
A second default judgment was entered the same day against one of the individual defendants. The judgment requires the individual defendant to pay a more than $3.2 million civil money penalty and permanently enjoins him from providing debt relief services or from using or obtaining prescreened consumer reports for any purpose.
On May 6, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania ruled that a defendant nationwide convenience store chain must face certain claims filed by a group of financial institutions as a result of a 2019 data security incident that allegedly compromised consumers’ credit and debit card information. The financial institutions, in bringing claims for negligence, negligence per se, and declaratory and injunctive relief, asserted, among other things, that the defendant’s “deficient security measures and vulnerable point-of-sale systems led to a data breach that went undetected for almost nine months.” The court ruled that the negligence and declaratory and injunctive relief claims can proceed, but dismissed without prejudice the financial institution’s negligence per se claim so that it can be repleaded under a claim for general negligence. In allowing the negligence claim to survive, the court dismissed the defendant’s argument that the claim should be dismissed under the economic loss doctrine, which bars recovery in tort resulting from an alleged breach of duty under a contract between the parties. The court pointed out that the financial institutions’ claims are protected by a narrow exception to the economic loss doctrine under Pennsylvania law for breach of a common law duty “independent of any potential contractual relationship,” including “the duty to maintain and protect sensitive data with reasonable care.” The court wrote that “the [i]nstitutions have set forth a plausible negligence claim based on the argument that [the defendant] owed them an independent duty in light of” the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s 2018 ruling in Dittman v. UPMC, which held that the duty “exists independently from any contractual obligations between the parties.” The court further stated that dismissing the declaratory and injunctive relief claims at this stage would curtail the court’s “broad equity powers to fashion the most complete relief possible.”
As previously covered by InfoBytes, in February, consolidated class members filed an unopposed motion for preliminary approval of a settlement agreement with the defendant, which would provide monetary relief to class members totaling up to $9 million, plus $3.2 million for attorneys’ fees and expenses and class representative service awards. The defendant would also be required take additional measures for a period of two years to prevent future unauthorized intrusions.
On May 11, the CFPB urged the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee to deny a request for a temporary injunction of a CFPB rule that would require all landlords to disclose to tenants federal protections put in place as a result of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, arguing that the rule does not require false speech and is justified by the First Amendment. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the plaintiffs, including members of the National Association of Residential Property Managers, sued the CFPB asserting the Bureau’s recently issued interim final rule (IFR) violates their First Amendment rights. The IFR amended Regulation F to require debt collectors to provide tenants clear and conspicuous written notice alerting them of their rights under the CDC’s moratorium on evictions in response to the Covid-19 pandemic (covered by InfoBytes here). The plaintiffs alleged that the IFR violates the First Amendment because it “mandates untrue speech and encourages plainly misleading speech” by requiring disclosures about a moratorium that has been challenged or invalidated by several federal courts, including the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. The CFPB asked the court not to grant the plaintiffs’ request for the temporary injunction, pointing out that the “plaintiffs fail to demonstrate that they are entitled to the extraordinary relief they seek.” The brief also notes that “requiring debt collectors to provide routine, factual notification of rights or legal protections that consumers ‘may’ have, in jurisdictions where the CDC Order applies, does not compel false speech and plainly passes First Amendment muster.”
On April 26, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama partially granted a defendant debt collector’s motion for summary judgment concerning alleged FCRA and FDCPA violations. According to the opinion, the defendant sent a dunning letter to the plaintiff’s son seeking to recover unpaid debt. The plaintiff disputed the amount of debt owed and asked that the debt not be reported to the CRAs. However, two years later the son noticed the debt was included on his credit report and wrote to a CRA to dispute the debt. The defendant conducted an investigation to verify the debt and asserted that it told the CRAs that the son continued to dispute the debt. The credit reports the son obtained after the investigation, however, did not include a notation on his credit report showing the debt as disputed. The plaintiff brought suit on behalf of his son alleging the defendant violated the FCRA by failing to investigate the disputed debt, and the FDCPA by failing to communicate with the CRAs and misrepresenting the amount of the debt. The court granted summary judgment on the FCRA claim, finding that the dispute as to the debt owed was based on a legal defense not a factual inaccuracy, and that “the FCRA makes a furnisher liable for failing to report a dispute only if the dispute is meritorious.” The court, however, permitted the FDCPA claim predicated on the alleged failure to communicate with the CRA to proceed to trial because there is no analogous requirement that the dispute be meritorious to state a claim. The court dismissed the FDCPA claim predicated on the dunning letter for lack of standing.
On May 5, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York certified a class of student loan borrowers who claimed a defendant student loan servicer and other associated entities interfered with their rights to prepay or consolidate their Federal Family Education Loan Program student loans in accordance with certain guarantees under federal law. Specifically, the class alleged that they suffered harm when their applications seeking loan forgiveness were denied because the defendant failed to complete and return required loan verification certifications (LVCs) within 10 days. According to the class, the defendant allegedly “admitted that it failed to return LVCs within the time period mandated by law,” and in 2019 had entered into consent orders with the CFPB and NYDFS, “in which it conceded that it had failed to do so.” (Covered by InfoBytes here and here.) The complaint alleges several claims, including violations of New York General Business Law, breach of contract, and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing.
On May 4, two additional settlements were reached with defendants in an action by the CFPB against a mortgage lender and several related individuals and companies (collectively, “defendants”) for alleged violations of the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA), Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR), and Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). As previously covered by InfoBytes, the CFPB filed a complaint in 2020 in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California claiming the defendants violated the FCRA by, among other things, illegally obtaining consumer reports from a credit reporting agency for millions of consumers with student loans by representing that the reports would be used to “make firm offers of credit for mortgage loans” and to market mortgage products, but instead, the defendants allegedly resold or provided the reports to companies engaged in marketing student loan debt relief services. The defendants also allegedly violated the TSR by charging and collecting advance fees for their debt relief services. The CFPB further alleged that the defendants violated the TSR and CFPA when they used telemarketing sales calls and direct mail to encourage consumers to consolidate their loans, and falsely represented that consolidation could lower student loan interest rates, improve borrowers’ credit scores, and change their servicer to the Department of Education. Settlements have already been reached with certain defendants (covered by InfoBytes here and here).
The May 4 settlement reached with one of the defendant companies requires the payment of a $1 civil money penalty to the Bureau because of the defendant’s limited ability to pay. The defendant, who neither admits nor denies the allegations, is ordered to promptly take dissolution steps and is banned from offering or providing consumer financial products or services. The defendant is also prohibited from using or obtaining consumer reports for any purpose and must comply with reporting requirements.
A second settlement was reached the same day with one of the individual defendants. Under the terms of the settlement, the defendant also is required to pay a $1 civil money penalty, as well as $3,000 out of $7 million in consumer redress, of which full payment is suspended provided other obligations are fulfilled. The defendant, who neither admits nor denies the allegations, is permanently banned from providing debt relief services or telemarketing consumer financial products or services. The defendant is also prohibited from using or obtaining “prescreened consumer reports” for any purpose, and is further required to, among other things, comply with reporting requirements and fully cooperate with any other investigations.
On April 29, two North Dakota trade associations filed a complaint against the Federal Reserve Board, claiming the Fed has “failed to properly follow Congress’s instructions to ensure that debit-card processing fees are reasonable and proportional to the costs of debit-card transactions.” The plaintiffs’ suit revolves around interchange fees—currently capped at 21 cents—paid by merchants to card issuer banks to process debit-card transactions. The interchange fees are intended to compensate issuers for their costs in a transaction, but the plaintiffs contend that the fees have become a “lush profit center for issuers.” Among other things, the plaintiffs allege that the Fed has failed to enforce provisions under Dodd-Frank’s “Durbin Amendment,” which amended the EFTA and limited the interchange fees paid to large issuers to an amount “that is ‘reasonable and proportional to the cost incurred by the issuer with respect to the transaction.’” The amendment also directed the Fed to distinguish between incremental, processing costs and other costs “not specific to a particular electronic debit transaction”—a requirement the plaintiffs argue is not reflected in the Fed’s final rule. Moreover, the plaintiffs contend that the Fed’s final rule, Regulation II, creates “a one-size-fits-all fee” that does not tie the maximum allowable fee to a specific transaction, and allows all covered issuers to charge up to 21 cents for any debit-card transaction regardless of the issuer’s actual processing costs (as well as .05 percent of each transaction “to compensate the issuers for fraud losses”). The plaintiffs claim the Fed’s actions are arbitrary and capricious and exceed the Fed’s statutory authority and ask the court to vacate the rule at issue.
On May 5, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia vacated the CDC’s eviction moratorium issued in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, ruling that the agency exceeded its authority with the temporary ban. The nationwide eviction ban was recently extended until June 30. Other courts have ruled on the lawfulness of the eviction moratorium but have limited the scope of their decisions to apply only to the particular parties involved in those lawsuits (see, e.g. InfoBytes coverage here). However, in vacating the eviction moratorium, the court rejected the federal government’s request that the decision be narrowed. “The Department urges the Court to limit any vacatur order to the plaintiffs with standing before this Court,” the court wrote. However the court found that “[t]his position is ‘at odds with settled precedent’” and that “when ‘regulations are unlawful, the ordinary result is that the rules are vacated—not that their application to the individual petitioner is proscribed.’” The court further emphasized that “[i]t is the role of the political branches, and not the courts, to assess the merits of policy measures designed to combat the spread of disease, even during a global pandemic.” Specifically, the court noted that the “question for the Court is a narrow one: Does the Public Health Service Act grant the CDC the legal authority to impose a nationwide eviction moratorium? It does not. Because the plain language of the Public Health Service Act . . . unambiguously forecloses the nationwide eviction moratorium, the Court must set aside the CDC order.”
Following the ruling, the DOJ issued a statement announcing its intention to appeal the court’s decision, citing that the court’s order “conflicts with the text of the statute, Congress’s ratification of the moratorium, and the rulings of other courts.”
On April 29, the OCC responded to the Conference of State Bank Supervisors’ (CSBS) most recent challenge to the OCC’s authority to issue Special Purpose National Bank Charters (SPNB). As previously covered by InfoBytes, CSBS filed a complaint last December opposing the OCC’s alleged impending approval of an SPNB for a financial services provider, arguing that the OCC is exceeding its chartering authority.
The OCC countered, however, that the same fatal flaws that pervaded CSBS’s prior challenges (covered by InfoBytes here), i.e., that its challenge is unripe and CSBS lacks standing, still remain. According to the OCC, the cited application (purportedly curing CSBS’s prior ripeness issues) is not for an SPNB—the proposed bank would conduct a full range of services, including deposit taking. Further, the OCC stated, even it if was an application for a SPNB charter, there are multiple additional steps that need to occur prior to the OCC issuing the charter, which made the challenge unripe. As to standing, the OCC asserted that any alleged injury to CSBS or its members is purely speculative. Finally, the OCC contended that CSBS’s challenge fails on the merits because the challenge relies on the premise that the company’s application must be for a SPNB, not a national bank, because the company is not going to apply for deposit insurance but there is no requirement in the National Bank Act, the Federal Deposit Insurance Act, or the Federal Reserve Act that requires all national banks to acquire FDIC insurance.