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On July 6, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that a debt collector violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) when it failed to notify credit reporting agencies that a consumer had disputed a debt. The Fifth Circuit further determined that this failure was sufficient to comprise a concrete injury conferring standing for the consumer to sue.
In its opinion, the appellate court focused on FDCPA § 807(8) and § 809(b), since the debt collector argued that the requirements in § 809 apply to § 807(8), relieving it of its notification duty under § 807(8). Although the appellate court found that the consumer had not disputed his debt under § 809, it agreed with the district court that this failure did not obviate the debt collector’s responsibility under § 807(8). The appellate court found that the debt collector was in violation of the FDCPA for passing on “credit information which is known or which should be known to be false, including the failure” to notify credit agencies of consumer’s disputed debt. Additionally, the appellate court determined that the debt collector’s violation of § 807(8) “exposed [the consumer] to a real risk of financial harm caused by an inaccurate credit rating.”
On July 10, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held that a single telemarketing call to a consumer established a concrete injury sufficient to support a Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) suit against a New Jersey-based fitness company. The appellate court reversed the District Court’s dismissal of the suit “because the TCPA provides [the consumer] with a cause of action, and her alleged injury is concrete.”
The appellate court considered two questions in the appeal: (i) was the alleged robocall a violation of the TCPA? If so, (ii) is the alleged injury concrete enough to provide Article III standing to sue under the United States Constitution? The court answered the first question by noting that the TCPA prohibits robocalls and prerecorded messages to cellular phones and that it “does not limit—either expressly or by implication—the statute's application to cell phone calls.” In answering the second question, the court determined that the alleged injury is exactly the kind of injury the TCPA was created to prevent: a nuisance or invasion of privacy.
The Third Circuit remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with their findings.
On July 3, the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed that a debt collector violated the Telephone Consumer Practices Act (TCPA) when it called a consumer’s cell phone without the consumer’s consent, resulting in a damages award of $34,500. Additionally, the appellate court reversed the district court’s decision regarding a Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) claim for sending a collection letter to the consumer without taking proper precautions to ensure the consumer’s account number would remain private. The debt collector put forth the defense of bona fide error regarding its alleged violations of the FDCPA. The appellate court, citing Supreme Court precedent, rejected the defense, holding that bona fide error could be claimed only in the case of a clerical or factual error, but a “mistaken interpretation of the law is inexcusable under the FDCPA’s bona fide error defense.” The Third Circuit remanded the FDCPA claim to the district court to enter judgment for the consumer and calculate the damages the debt collector must pay.
FTC Announces Settlement of More Than $104 Million with Company for Selling Sensitive Financial Information
On July 5, the FTC issued a press release announcing a settlement of more than $104 million with a lead generation company for allegedly misleading loan applicants with promises of matching consumers with lenders that could offer the best loan terms. Actually, the FTC asserts, defendants were selling the applications, including sensitive personal information such as Social Security numbers and bank account numbers, to anyone who would pay for them “without regard for how the information would be used or whether it would remain secure.”
The proposed order accompanying the settlement states that defendants used deceptive and unfair acts or practices in the course of their lead generation activities, and permanently prohibits defendants from misrepresenting financial products or services to consumers. It also enjoins defendants from selling or transferring a consumer’s personal information unless the consumer has provided consent and provides that defendants may not benefit from any consumer information collected before the entry of the order. Further, defendants must destroy all personal consumer information in any form within 30 days after the order.
In addition to the above settlement terms, the defendants agreed to (i) compliance monitoring, (ii) creating certain records for ten years after the date of entry of the order, and (iii) compliance reporting
Although defendants have filed for bankruptcy, they agreed that the amount owed to the FTC in the settlement will not be dischargeable.
On June 26, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that, without concrete evidence of actual harm, a consumer lacks standing under the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA) to sue a merchant for printing credit card expiration dates on receipts. The consumer alleged that printing the expiration date on her credit card receipt led to a material risk of identity theft, and therefore constituted an injury-in-fact sufficient to confer Article III standing. The court disagreed, noting that Congress’s amendments to FACTA belie that expiration dates on credit card receipts increase the risk of identity theft. Moreover, the court held that the consumer failed to allege actual harm from the merchant’s practice.
The court’s decision in Cruper-Wienmann comes approximately one month after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, 136 S. Ct. 1540, 194 L. Ed. 2d 635 (2016), as revised (May 24, 2016), which held that “bare procedural violation[s], divorced from any concrete harm” are not enough to establish standing.
On June 27, the CFPB filed two complaints in the District Court for the Central District of California against several credit repair companies and affiliated individuals. The CFPB alleged that these defendants violated the Consumer Financial Protect Act and the Telemarketing Sales Rule by charging consumers illegal fees and misleading consumers about services (see complaints here and here).
According to a CFPB press release, the defendants allegedly “[c]harged illegal advance fees” such as initial consultation fees, and set-up fees prior to providing certain services. Defendants also allegedly “[f]ailed to disclose limits on ‘money-back guarantees’” and “[m]isled consumers about the benefits of their services” by suggesting they could remove negative information from credit reports and “substantial[ly] increase” credit scores.
The CFPB submitted a proposed final judgment for each suit. In the first suit, the CFPB proposed a civil money penalty of over $1.5 million, and restrained defendants from working in credit repair services or maintaining an ownership interest in any company that provides credit repair services for a period of five years. In the second suit, the CFPB sought similar injunctive relief, and also proposed “equitable monetary relief in the form of disgorgement . . . in the amount of $500,000.”
On June 20, a federal jury found that a major international credit reporting agency had violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), awarding damages of $60 million. When performing credit checks, the agency allegedly had failed to distinguish law-abiding citizens from drug traffickers, terrorists, and other criminals with similar names found on the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control database, sometimes confusing plaintiffs with individuals on the watch list. The jury determined that the company (i) “willfully fail[ed] to follow reasonable procedures to assure the maximum possible accuracy of the OFAC information it associated with members of the class’’; (ii) “willfully failed to clearly and accurately disclose OFAC information in the written disclosures it sent to members of the class”; and (iii) “failed to provide class members a summary of their FCRA rights with each written disclosure made to them.” The class members were awarded just under the maximum for statutory damages, in addition to punitive damages of more than six times the statutory amount.
On June 22, the Second Circuit held in Reyes v. Lincoln Automotive Financial Services, No. 16-2014-cv, 2017 WL 2675363 (2nd Cir. June 22, 2017), that the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) does not permit a consumer to unilaterally revoke his or her consent to be contacted by telephone when that consent was given as a “bargained-for consideration in a bilateral contract.” The defendant had leased an automobile from the plaintiff. As a condition of that lease agreement, the plaintiff consented to receive automated or manual telephone calls from the defendant. After the plaintiff defaulted, the defendant regularly called the plaintiff and continued to do so even after the plaintiff allegedly revoked his consent. To support his argument that the TCPA permits him to revoke his consent, the plaintiff relied on prior case law and a recent ruling from the FCC that stated that under the TCPA, “prior express consent” can be revoked. The Second Circuit, however, distinguished this case from those relied on by the plaintiff on the grounds that the prior cases and the FCC’s ruling support the proposition that consent not given in exchange for consideration, and which is not part of a binding legal agreement, can be revoked. The Court further stated that where the consent is not provided gratuitously but is instead an express provision of a contract, the TCPA does not allow such consent to be unilaterally revoked.
On June 20, a federal judge in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ordered that leftover funds from a $50 million settlement must be transferred to the Treasury, ultimately ruling against a memorandum filed by the Attorneys General of Connecticut, Indiana, Kansas, and Vermont (State AGs) that sought to redirect the remaining $15 million to be used to “train, support and improve the coordination of the state consumer protection attorneys charged with enforcement of the laws prohibiting the type of unfair and deceptive practices alleged by the CFPB in this [a]ction.” (See previous InfoBytes summary here.) Notably, the judge stated, “the State AGs’ proposal does not reflect the [settling] parties' true intent . . . Nowhere in the Final Judgment or the Redress Plan is there any language supporting the State AGs’ view that leftover funds should broadly aid consumers.” The judge opines further that “[c]ondoning an unintended use of the settlement funds—in the absence of any other equitable relief reasonably related to the allegations of the Complaint—would be tantamount to misappropriating funds that otherwise should be in the public fisc.” The judge further noted that had the State AGs’ memorandum been granted, it would “permit State actors . . . to hijack a significant portion of the settlement funds under the guise of ‘consumer protection,’ all for the purpose of underwriting a project that principally benefits the States.”
On June 13, PHH Corporation sent a letter to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit responding to a June 7 letter from the CFPB that stated RESPA’s three-year statute of limitations is not applicable in its enforcement action against the company. In its letter, the CFPB cited a decision in Kokesh v. SEC where the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a five-year limit applies to civil penalties, and that, furthermore, “[d]isgorgement in the securities-enforcement context is a ‘penalty’ within the meaning of §2462, and so disgorgement actions must be commenced within five years of the date the claim accrues.” The Bureau further supported its argument for a five-year limit by claiming that RESPA’s three-year statute of limitations provision applies only to “actions” brought in a “United States district court or any other court of competent jurisdiction,” and its administrative proceeding against the company for alleged mortgage kickbacks was not an “action” under RESPA.
In response, PHH countered that Section 2462 contains a “catch-all limitations period ‘[e]xcept as otherwise provided’ by Congress.” Thus, the D.C. Circuit panel was correct when it held that Congress “otherwise provided” a three-year statute of limitations under RESPA that applies to enforcement proceedings because in the “second part of Section 2614, the term ‘actions’ is not limited to actions brought in court.” PHH further asserts that Dodd-Frank “repeatedly uses the term ‘action’ to encompass court actions and administrative proceedings.”
As previously covered in InfoBytes, on May 24, the D.C. Circuit, sitting en banc, heard oral arguments on the constitutionality of the CFPB. It did not indicate that it was inclined to revisit the panel’s determination that the Bureau misinterpreted RESPA when applying it to PHH’s practices.
- APPROVED Checkpoint Webcast: CFL overview
- Amanda R. Lawrence and Sherry-Maria Safchuk to discuss "California privacy rule" on an NAFCU webinar
- Sasha Leonhardt to discuss "The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act and the Military Lending Act: Common pitfalls and emerging issues" at a NAFCU webinar
- Michelle L. Rogers to discuss "BigLaw" at the Women in Business Law Leadership Conference
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- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Pathway of the SARs: Tracking trajectories of suspicious activity reports from alerts to prosecution" at the ACAMS International AML & Financial Crime Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Which bud’s for you? A deep-dive into evolving marijuana laws" at the ACAMS International AML & Financial Crime Conference
- Benjamin W. Hutten to discuss "Understanding OFAC sanctions" at a NAFCU webinar
- Brandy A. Hood to discuss "RESPA 8 (TRID applied compliance)" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Michelle L. Rogers to discuss "Major litigation" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- John P. Kromer to discuss "Navigating the multi-state fintech regulatory regime" at the American Conference Institute Legal, Regulatory and Compliance Forum on Fintech & Emerging Payment Systems
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Leveraging big data responsibly" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
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- Hank Asbill to discuss "What judges want from trial lawyers" at the American Bar Association Section of Litigation Anatomy of a Trial: Murder Trial of Ziang Sung Wan
- Steven R. vonBerg to speak at the "Conference super session" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference