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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

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  • Ohio Court of Appeals reverses trial court in credit card matter

    Courts

    On February 7, the Ohio Court of Appeals reversed a state trial court’s decision in favor of a national bank, holding that the bank failed to prove it had the right to charge interest exceeding the statutory limit on a credit card account. At trial, the bank sought payment of the consumer’s store credit card debt it acquired in a merger. The consumer argued that the bank had no standing to sue because it failed to prove ownership of the store credit card account. The trial court denied the consumer’s motion to dismiss and granted the bank’s motion for a directed verdict after trial.

    The appeals court agreed that, even though the bank was unable to establish that it acquired the consumer’s account, it had standing to bring its collection action by virtue of its own credit card agreement with the consumer and the consumer’s continued use of the card. But because the bank could only produce periodic statements that included the claimed interest rate, it failed to establish that the consumer “assented to any explicitly set forth interest rate over the statutory limit.” Thus, the trial court “erred in granting [the bank’s] motion for a directed verdict as to the precise amount of damages awarded,” and the appeals court remanded with instructions to determine whether Ohio law, as argued by the consumer, or South Dakota law, as argued by the bank, should be applied to verify the applicable statutory interest rates.

    Courts FCRA State Issues Credit Furnishing Interest Rate

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  • 1st Circuit rejects dismissal of a Massachusetts foreclosure notice action

    Courts

    On February 8, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit reversed the district court’s dismissal of a Massachusetts homeowners’ action alleging that the mortgage holder failed to comply with the notice requirement in their mortgage before foreclosing on their property. The district court dismissed the action after concluding that the mortgage holder’s notice satisfied the notice requirements by including the default amount, a cure date, and the fact that failure to cure could result in acceleration. The homeowners appealed, arguing that the mortgage holder failed to strictly comply with the provision’s requirements because the notice provided did not include the conditions and time limitations associated with reinstatement after acceleration that were required by a separate provision in the mortgage.

    On appeal, the 1st Circuit reviewed the notice under Massachusetts law, which requires mortgage holders to strictly comply with two types of mortgage terms: (i) ones “directly concerned with the foreclosure sale. . .” and (ii) ones “prescribing actions the mortgagee must take in connection with the foreclosure sale—whether before or after the sale takes place.” In overturning the District Court’s dismissal, the 1st Circuit noted that, because the notice did not contain the additional conditions and time limitations associated with reinstatement from the separate provision, dismissal was inappropriate. 

    Courts Mortgages Foreclosure Notice State Issues

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  • CSBS agrees to implement recommendations from fintech advisory panel

    Fintech

    On February 14, the Conference of State Bank Supervisors (CSBS) agreed to implement specific recommendations from the CSBS Fintech Industry Advisory Panel. The Advisory Panel, which was formed in 2017 and consists of 33 fintech companies, works to “identify and remove unnecessary pain points in the multistate experience of fintechs and other nonbanks operating regionally or nationwide while improving financial supervision.” Of the 19 recommended actions by the Advisory Panel, CSBS supported 14, including: (i) creating a 50-state model law to license money services businesses; (ii) creating a standardized call report for consumer finance businesses; (iii) expanding the use of the Nationwide Multistate Licensing System across all license types; and (iv) building an online database of state licensing and fintech guidance. Recommendations related to small business lending were among the items saved for future action or implementation.

    Fintech State Issues CSBS Licensing NMLS

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  • District Court concludes communications transmitter can be liable under the TCPA

    Courts

    On February 13, the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada rejected a cloud communication company’s motion to dismiss a TCPA class action. According to the opinion, the plaintiffs’ alleged the company “collaborated as to the development, implementation, and maintenance of [a] telemarketing text message program,” which was used by a theater production company to send text messages without prior consent in violation of the TCPA and the Nevada Deceptive Trade Practices Act (NDTPA). The company moved to dismiss the claims, arguing, among other things, that it was not liable under the TCPA because it was a “transmitter” and not an “initiator” of communications. Citing the FCC’s previous determination that, under certain circumstances transmitters may be held liable under the TCPA, the court rejected this argument, concluding that the company took steps necessary to send the automated messages and that its “alleged involvement was to an extent that [it] could be considered to have initiated the contact.” Moreover, the court determined the plaintiff sufficiently alleged injury under the TCPA, concluding that violations of privacy and injury to the “quiet use and enjoyment of [a] cellular telephone” are consistent with the purpose of the TCPA. The court did dismiss the plaintiff’s NDTPA claims, however, holding that the transaction did not involve the sale or lease of goods or services as the law requires.

    Courts TCPA State Issues Standing Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security FCC

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  • District Court holds FCRA preempts state law claims

    Courts

    On February 8, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina dismissed a consumer’s state law claims under the North Carolina Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act and civil conspiracy claims because they were preempted by the FCRA. According to the opinion, which affirmed and adopted a Magistrate Judge’s recommendation, and also allowed the consumer’s FDCPA claims to proceed, the consumer alleged the furnisher improperly filed delinquencies on his credit report, wrongfully refused to remove the delinquencies, and improperly handled the investigation of his claims. The consumer had objected to the Magistrate’s conclusions with regard to the state law claims, arguing that the FCRA preemption was not applicable because the unfair and deceptive conduct occurred after the furnisher allegedly reported inaccurate information to the credit bureaus. The district court rejected this argument, concluding that the state law claims “run [] into the teeth of the FCRA preemption provision” and are “squarely preempted” by the federal statute.

    Courts FCRA Preemption State Issues Credit Report

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  • Democratic AGs object to CFPB sandbox

    State Issues

    On February 11, a coalition of 22 Democratic state Attorneys General responded to the CFPB’s proposed policy on No-Action Letters (NAL) and a new federal product sandbox, pushing back on the Bureau’s efforts to provide relief to financial institutions looking to implement new consumer financial products or services. (InfoBytes coverage on the proposal available here.) The Attorneys General argued that the Bureau “has no authority to issue such sweeping immunity absent formal rulemaking” and urged the Bureau to rescind the proposals, which the Bureau had stated were exempt from the notice and comment procedures of the Administrative Procedures Act.

    In addition to challenging the Bureau’s authority to establish these policies, the Attorneys General asserted specific concerns with the NAL proposal, including (i) the fact that the proposed NAL policy would make NALs binding on the CFPB indefinitely; (ii) the streamlined application process and 60-day decision window, potentially causing the Bureau to render hasty, uninformed decisions; and (iii) the proposed NAL policy’s purported deviations from the policies of other federal agencies, such as the SEC.

    As for the new product sandbox, the Attorneys General viewed the proposed policy as “even more troubling” than the NAL proposal, as it provides immunity from “enforcement actions by any Federal or State authorities, as well as from lawsuits brought by private parties.” The Attorneys General rejected the Bureau’s contention that the statutory safe harbors in TILA, ECOA, and the EFTA grant the authority to provide the broad enforcement relief and accused the Bureau of “abandoning its critical role in monitoring the risk that new and emergency technologies post to consumers in the financial marketplace.”

    State Issues State Attorney General Fintech CFPB Regulatory Sandbox Safe Harbor

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  • District Court: New Jersey licensing requirements apply to debt collector

    Courts

    On February 11, the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey denied a motion to dismiss a putative class action against a debt collector and its legal counsel, holding that the plaintiff debtor made a plausible claim under the FDCPA that the debt collector was required by New Jersey’s Consumer Financing Licensing Act (NJCFLA) to be licensed as a consumer lender. According to the opinion, the plaintiff had defaulted on his credit card debt and, nine years later, received a letter from the defendant’s legal counsel seeking payment of the balance due. The plaintiff filed a proposed class action arguing that the letter violated the FDCPA because the debt collector had not been licensed with the New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance prior to purchasing the debt, and therefore lacked the authority to collect on the debt. The defendant debt collector moved to dismiss the complaint, claiming, among other things, that it was exempt from the licensing requirements because it did not qualify as a “consumer loan business” under the NJCFLA. The debt collector argued that it never exceeded the state’s interest rate cap and therefore was exempt from the licensing requirements. However, the plaintiff argued that the defendant’s licensing violation arose from a second part of the “consumer loan business” definition, under which the licensing requirements apply because the defendant “directly or indirectly engag[es] . . . in the business of buying. . . notes.” The district court agreed with the plaintiff, stating that “[t]his statutory language does not narrow the category of lenders falling under that definition according to the interest rates that they charge.”

    Courts Debt Collection FDCPA Licensing State Issues Consumer Lending

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  • State AGs urge FTC to update identity theft rules

    State Issues

    On February 11, a bipartisan group of 29 state Attorneys General, the District of Columbia Attorney General, and an official from the Hawaii Office of Consumer Protection, responded to the FTC’s request for comment on whether the agency should make changes to its identity theft detection rules (the Red Flags Rule and the Card Issuers Rule), which require financial institutions and creditors to take certain actions to detect signs of identity theft affecting their customers. (Covered by InfoBytes here.) 

    In their response, the Attorneys General urge the FTC not to repeal the Rules, arguing that it “would place consumers at greater risk of identity theft, especially consumers in states that have not enacted” laws that complement the Rules. Instead, the response letter requests the FTC modify the Rules to “ensure their continued relevance” and “keep pace with the ingenuity of identity thieves.” The suggestions include: (i) that notices of changes to email addresses and cell phone numbers be sent to both the prior and updated addresses and phone numbers, an expansion of the current use of mailing addresses; (ii) the encouragement of more current forms of authentication, including multi-factor authentication, to replace examples which imply that knowledge-based authentication by itself is sufficient; and (iii) the addition of new suspicious activity examples related to the use of an account, such as a covered account accessed by unknown devices or IP addresses, an unauthorized user unsuccessfully trying to guess account passwords through multiple attempts, and attempts by foreign IP addresses to access multiple accounts in a close period of time.

    State Issues FTC Identity Theft RFI State Attorney General Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security

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  • D.C. act provides eviction and foreclosure relief to federal employees and contractors impacted by shutdown

    State Issues

    On February 6, the Mayor of the District of Columbia signed Act 23-5 (B23-0080) to protect federal workers, contractors, and employees of the District of Columbia Courts from eviction and foreclosure during federal government shutdowns. Among other things, the D.C. Superior Court will have the ability to grant motions to stay foreclosure and eviction proceedings for eligible impacted workers or their household members. The temporary stay would run until the earlier of “(i) 30 days after the effective date of an appropriations act or continuing resolution that funds a federal worker’s government agency; or (ii) 90 days after the date of the federal worker’s first unpaid payday” for government employees, with analogous terms for contractors. The act is effective immediately and expires on May 7. Notably, Act 23-9, signed by the Mayor on February 26, extends the expiration date for relief measures to October 9.

    State Issues State Legislation Shutdown Relief Consumer Finance Foreclosure Mortgages

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  • District Court: Bank originating mortgage loans is not a debt collector under FDCPA

    Courts

    On January 23, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida dismissed a putative class action suit, ruling that a national bank did not qualify as a debt collector under the FDCPA. According to the order, the three plaintiffs defaulted on loans that were originated (or acquired via merger) by the bank. The loans were ultimately satisfied by the proceeds of related short sales of the plaintiffs’ homes. Following the satisfaction of the loans, the bank sent the plaintiffs letters that stated it would not report any negative information regarding the plaintiffs’ loans to the credit bureaus or charge any late fees for a period of 90 days due to the plaintiffs’ residences being located in a FEMA-declared disaster area. The plaintiffs alleged that these letters violated the FDCPA and the Florida Consumer Collection Practices Act (FCCPA) because the bank “systematically misrepresent[ed] the status” of the plaintiffs’ satisfied loans as well as the plaintiffs’ “obligations under the loans.” The bank moved to dismiss arguing, among other things, that the FDCPA claims should be dismissed because the bank—as originator and owner of the loans—is not a debt collector under the FDCPA, and the complaint failed to contain any allegations supporting the assertion that the bank’s principal purpose as a business is the collection of debts. Moreover, the bank argued that the letters were sent purely for informational purposes, and as such, did not constitute an attempt to collect a debt under the FDCPA or FCCPA.

    The court agreed with the bank, finding that the bank was “exempt from the definition of a debt collector” due to its status as the originator of the loans, and dismissed the FDCPA claims with prejudice. The court also dismissed plaintiffs’ FCCPA claims, finding that it lacked original jurisdiction over these claims because the plaintiffs failed to file a motion for class certification within 90 days of filing the complaint, as required under local rules.

    Courts Mortgage Origination Debt Collection FDCPA State Issues

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