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CFPB brief defends funding structure
On May 8, petitioner CFPB filed its brief with the U.S. Supreme Court, criticizing the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit’s decision in Community Financial Services Association of America v. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, where the appellate court found that the Bureau’s “perpetual self-directed, double-insulated funding structure” violated the Constitution’s Appropriations Clause (covered by InfoBytes here and a firm article here). The 5th Circuit’s decision also vacated the agency’s Payday Lending Rule on the premise that it was promulgated at a time when the Bureau was receiving unconstitutional funding.
Earlier this year, the Bureau filed a petition for a writ of certiorari, which the Court granted (covered by InfoBytes here). The Bureau explained in its petition that the 5th Circuit’s decision would negatively impact its “critical work administering and enforcing consumer financial protection laws” and “threatens the validity of all past CFPB actions as well” as the decision vacates a past agency action based on the purported Appropriations Clause violation. Community Financial Services Association of America (CFSA) filed a conditional cross-petition, seeking review on other aspects of the 5th Circuit’s decision, including that the 5th Circuit’s decision does not warrant review because the appellate court correctly vacated the Payday Lending Rule, which, according to the respondents, has “multiple legal defects, including but not limited to the Appropriations Clause issue.” (Covered by InfoBytes here.)
In its opening brief, the Bureau expanded on why it believes the 5th Circuit erred in its holding. The Bureau argued that the text of the Appropriations Clause “does not limit Congress’ authority to determine the specificity, duration, and source of its appropriations.” The agency further explained that Congress has chosen similar funding mechanisms for many other financial regulatory agencies, including the FDIC, NCUA, FHFA, and the Farm Credit Administration (and agencies outside of the financial regulatory sector), where they are all funded in part through the collection of fees, assessments, and investments. The Bureau emphasized that the 5th Circuit and the CFSA failed “to grapple with the Appropriation Clause’s text, Congress’ historical practice, or [Supreme] Court precedent,” but instead asserted only that the funding mechanism was “unprecedented.” “Congress enacted a statute explicitly authorizing the CFPB to use a specified amount of funds from a specified source for specified purposes,” the Bureau emphasized. “The Appropriations Clause requires nothing more.” The 5th Circuit’s “novel and ill-defined limits on Congress’s appropriations authority contradict the Constitution’s text and congressional practice dating to the Founding.”
The Bureau also addressed the now-vacated Payday Lending Rule. Arguing that even if there were some constitutional flaw in 12 U.S.C. § 5497 (the statute creating the Bureau’s funding mechanism), the 5th Circuit should have looked for some cure to allow the remainder of the funding mechanism to stand independently instead of “adopting an unjustified and profoundly disruptive retrospective remedy” and presuming the funding mechanism created under Section 5497(a)-(c) was entirely invalid. The Bureau also stressed that vacatur of the agency’s past actions was not an appropriate remedy and is inconsistent with historical practice. Adopting a remedial approach, the Bureau warned, would inflict significant disruption by calling into question 12 years of past agency actions.
The Bureau urged the Court to at most grant only “prospective relief preventing the CFPB from enforcing the Payday Lending Rule against [CFSA] or their members until Congress provides the Bureau with funding from another source.” While such an approach could still “upend” the Bureau’s activities, “it would at least avoid the profoundly disruptive effect of unwinding already completed and concededly authorized agency actions like the Payday Lending Rule,” the Bureau wrote, adding that “[v]acatur of the CFPB’s past actions would be inappropriate in light of the significant disruption that such vacatur would produce.”
CFPB sues co-trustees for concealing assets to avoid fine
On April 5, the CFPB filed a complaint against two individuals, both individually and in their roles as co-trustees of two trusts, accusing them of concealing assets to avoid paying a fine owed to the Bureau. In 2015 the Bureau filed an administrative action alleging one of the co-trustees—the former president of a Delaware-based online payday lender (the “individual defendant”)—and the lender violated TILA and EFTA and engaged in unfair or deceptive acts or practices when making short-term loans. (Covered by InfoBytes here.) The Bureau’s administrative order required the payment of more than $38 million in both legal and equitable restitution, along with $7.5 million in civil penalties for the company and $5 million in civil penalties for the individual defendant.
As previously covered by InfoBytes, two different administrative law judges (ALJs) decided the present case years apart, with their recommendations separately appealed to the Bureau’s director. The director upheld the decision by the second ALJ and ordered the lender and the individual defendant to pay the restitution. A district court issued a final order upholding the award, which was appealed on the grounds that the enforcement action violated their due process rights by denying the individual defendant additional discovery concerning the statute of limitations. The lender and the individual defendant recently filed a petition for writ of certiorari challenging the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit’s affirmation of the CFPB administrative ruling, and asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review whether the high court’s ruling in Lucia v. SEC, which “instructed that an agency must hold a ‘new hearing’ before a new and properly appointed official in order to cure an Appointments Clause violation” (covered by InfoBytes here), meant that a CFPB ALJ could “conduct a cold review of the paper record of the first, tainted hearing, without any additional discovery or new testimony,” or whether the Court intended for the agency to actually conduct a new hearing.
The Bureau claimed in its announcement that to date, the defendants have not complied with the agency’s order, nor have they obtained a stay while their appeal was pending. The defendants have also made no payments to satisfy the judgment, the Bureau said. The complaint alleges that the co-trustee defendants transferred funds to hinder, delay, or defraud the Bureau, in violation of the FDCPA, in order to avoid paying the owed restitution and penalties. Specifically, the complaint alleges that between 2013 and 2015, after becoming aware of the Bureau’s investigation, the individual defendant transferred $12.3 million to his wife through their revocable trusts, for which his wife is the beneficiary. The complaint requests a declaration that the transactions were fraudulent, seeks to recover the value of the transferred assets via liens on the property in partial satisfaction of the Bureau’s judgment against the individual defendant, and seeks a monetary judgment against the wife and her trust for the value of the respective property and/or funds received as a transferee of fraudulent conveyances of the property belonging to the individual defendant.
Online lender asks Supreme Court to review ALJ ruling
A Delaware-based online payday lender and its founder and CEO (collectively, “petitioners”) recently submitted a petition for a writ of certiorari challenging the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit’s affirmation of a CFPB administrative ruling related to alleged violations of the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA), TILA, and EFTA. The petitioners asked the Court to first review whether the high court’s ruling in Lucia v. SEC, which “instructed that an agency must hold a ‘new hearing’ before a new and properly appointed official in order to cure an Appointments Clause violation” (covered by InfoBytes here), meant that a CFPB administrative law judge (ALJ) could “conduct a cold review of the paper record of the first, tainted hearing, without any additional discovery or new testimony.” Or, the petitioners asked, did the Court intend for the agency to actually conduct a new hearing. The petitioners also asked the Court to consider whether an agency funding structure that circumvents the Constitution’s Appropriations Clause violates the separation of powers so as to invalidate prior agency actions promulgated at a time when the Bureau was receiving such funding.
The case involves a challenge to a 2015 administrative action that alleged the petitioners engaged in unfair or deceptive acts or practices when making short-term loans (covered by InfoBytes here). The Bureau’s order required the petitioners to pay $38.4 million as both legal and equitable restitution, along with $8.1 million in penalties for the company and $5.4 million in penalties for the CEO. As previously covered by InfoBytes, between 2018 and 2021, the Court issued four decisions, including Lucia, which “bore on the Bureau’s enforcement activity in this case” by “deciding fundamental issues related to the Bureau’s constitutional authority to act” and appoint ALJs. During this time, two different ALJs decided the present case years apart, with their recommendations separately appealed to the Bureau’s director. The director upheld the decision by the second ALJ and ordered the lender and its owner to pay the restitution. A district court issued a final order upholding the award, which the petitioners appealed, arguing, among other things, that the enforcement action violated their due-process rights by denying the CEO additional discovery concerning the statute of limitations. The petitioners claimed that they were entitled to a “new hearing” under Lucia, and that the second administrative hearing did not rise to the level of due process prescribed in that case.
However, the 10th Circuit affirmed the district court’s $38.4 million restitution award, rejecting the petitioners’ various challenges and affirming the director’s order. The 10th Circuit determined that there was “no support for a bright-line rule against de novo review of a previous administrative hearing,” nor did it see a reason for a more extensive hearing. Moreover, the petitioners “had a full opportunity to present their case in the first proceeding,” the 10th Circuit wrote.
The petitioners maintained that “[d]espite the Court’s clear instruction to hold a ‘new hearing,’ ALJs and courts have reached divergent conclusions as to what Lucia requires, expressing confusion and frustration regarding the lack of guidance.” What it means to hold a “new hearing” runs “the gamut,” the petitioners wrote, pointing out that while some ALJs perform a full redo of the proceedings, others merely accept a prior decision based on a cold review of the paper record. The petitioners argued that they should have been provided a true de novo hearing with an opportunity for new testimony, evidence, discovery, and legal arguments. The rehearing from the new ALJ was little more than a perfunctory “paper review,” the petitioners wrote.
Petitioners asked the Court to grant the petition for three reasons: (i) “the scope of Lucia’s ‘new hearing’ remedy is an important and apparently unsettled question of federal law”; (ii) “the notion Lucia does not require a genuinely ‘new’ de novo proceeding is necessarily wrong because a sham ‘remedy’ provides parties no incentive to litigate Appointments Clause challenges”; and (iii) the case “is an ideal vehicle to provide guidance on Lucia’s ‘new hearing’ remedy.” The petitioners further argued that “Lucia’s remedy should provide parties an incentive to raise separation of powers arguments by providing them actual and meaningful relief.”
The petitioners’ second question involves whether Appropriations Clause violations that render an agency’s funding structure unconstitutional, if upheld, invalidate agency actions taken under such a structure. The petitioners called this “an important, unsettled question of federal law meriting the Court’s review,” citing splits between the Circuits over the constitutionality of the Bureau’s funding structure which has resulted in uncertainty for both regulators and regulated parties. Recently, the Court granted the Bureau’s request to review the 5th Circuit’s decision in CFSAA v. CFPB, which held that Congress violated the Appropriations Clause when it created what the 5th Circuit described as a “perpetual self-directed, double-insulated funding structure” for the agency (covered by InfoBytes here).
CFPB report looks at junk fees; official says they remain agency focus
On March 8, the CFPB released a special edition of its Supervisory Highlights focusing on junk fees uncovered in deposit accounts and the auto, mortgage, student, and payday loan servicing markets. The findings in the report cover examinations completed between July 1, 2022 and February 1, 2023. Highlights of the supervisory findings include:
- Deposit accounts. Examiners found occurrences where depository institutions charged unanticipated overdraft fees where, according to the Bureau, consumers could not reasonably avoid these fees, “irrespective of account-opening disclosures.” Examiners also found that while some institutions unfairly assessed multiple non-sufficient (NSF) fees for a single item, institutions have agreed to refund consumers appropriately, with many planning to stop charging NSF fees entirely.
- Auto loan servicing. Recently examiners identified illegal servicing practices centered around the charging of unfair and abusive payment fees, including out-of-bounds and fake late fees, inflated estimated repossession fees, and pay-to-pay payment fees, and kickback payments. Among other things, examiners found that some auto loan servicers charged “payment processing fees that far exceeded the servicers’ costs for processing payments” after a borrower was locked into a relationship with a servicer selected by the dealer. Third-party payment processors collected the inflated fees, the Bureau said, and servicers then profited through kickbacks.
- Mortgage loan servicing. Examiners identified occurrences where mortgage servicers overcharged late fees, as well as repeated fees for unnecessary property inspections. The Bureau claimed that some servicers also included monthly private mortgage insurance premiums in homeowners’ monthly statements, and failed to waive fees or other changes for homeowners entering into certain types of loss mitigation options.
- Payday and title lending. Examiners found that lenders, in connection with payday, installment, title, and line-of-credit loans, would split and re-present missed payments without authorization, thus causing consumers to incur multiple overdraft fees and loss of funds. Some short-term, high-cost payday and title loan lenders also charged borrowers repossession-related fees and property retrieval fees that were not authorized in a borrower’s title loan contract. The Bureau noted that in some instances, lenders failed to timely stop repossessions and charged fees and forced consumers to refinance their debts despite prior payment arrangements.
- Student loan servicing. Examiners found that servicers sometimes charged borrowers late fees and interest despite payments being made on time. According to the Bureau, if a servicer’s policy did not allow loan payments to be made by credit card and a customer representative accidentally accepted a credit card payment, the servicer, in certain instances, would manually reverse the payment, not provide the borrower another opportunity for paying, and charge late fees and additional interest.
CFPB Deputy Director Zixta Martinez recently spoke at the Consumer Law Scholars Conference, where she focused on the Bureau’s goal of reigning in junk fees. She highlighted guidance issued by the Bureau last October concerning banks’ overdraft fee practices, (covered by InfoBytes here), and commented that, in addition to enforcement actions taken against two banks related to their overdraft practices, the Bureau intends to continue to monitor how overdrafts are used and enforce against certain practices. The Bureau noted that currently 20 of the largest banks in the country no longer charge surprise overdraft fees. Martinez also discussed a notice of proposed rulemaking issued last month related to credit card late fees (covered by InfoBytes here), in which the Bureau is proposing to adjust the safe harbor dollar amount for late fees to $8 for any missed payment—issuers are currently able to charge late fees of up to $41—and eliminate a higher safe harbor dollar amount for late fees for subsequent violations of the same type. Martinez further described supervision and enforcement efforts to identify junk fee practices and commented that the Bureau will continue to target egregious and unlawful activities or practices.
Supreme Court agrees to review constitutionality of CFPB’s funding, but not on an expedited basis
The Supreme Court granted the CFPB's request to review the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit’s decision in Community Financial Services Association of America v. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau but so far has not expedited consideration of the case. Without quick action to expediate consideration by the Court, all CFPB actions will be open to challenge until the Supreme Court issues a decision. At the current pace, the CFPB could remain in this limbo until June of 2024.
In this case, the 5th Circuit held that Congress violated the Constitution’s Appropriations Clause when it created what that Court described as a “perpetual self-directed, double-insulated funding structure” for the agency. As a result, the CFPB’s 2017 Payday Lending Rule is invalid because the CFPB would not have been able to issue it “without its unconstitutional funding.” The implication, as the CFPB itself pointed out in its petition for certiorari, is that all past and future actions that relied on the same funding mechanism—basically everything the agency has ever done or will ever do—are invalid as well.
Although the CFPB had ninety days to seek review of the 5th Circuit’s decision, it took the unusual step of filing the petition in less than 30 days, and specifically urged the Supreme Court to “set this case for argument this Term,” to guarantee a decision by June or early July of this year. The Court’s order issued Monday simply states that the CFPB’s petition is granted, without setting an expediated briefing schedule. As a result, without the Court taking some immediate steps to speed up consideration, the case will be decided under the Court’s standard briefing schedule. This means the matter will be briefed over the next several months with oral argument likely next fall, as part of the Supreme Court’s October 2023 Term. Although a decision could come out any time after oral argument, cases as significant as this case often come out towards the end of the term, i.e., by June 2024.
The Supreme Court’s unwillingness to expedite consideration of the case to date has serious practical implications for the CFPB’s ability to push forward its ambitious agenda. As the CFPB has itself acknowledged, the 5th Circuit’s decision binds lower courts in that circuit unless and until it is overturned. It will likely encourage challenges to CFPB rulemakings and potentially other actions in that circuit. Even outside of the 5th Circuit, lower courts adjudicating CFPB enforcement actions may be unwilling to move those cases forward until the Supreme Court provides direction on this fundamental funding issue. Thus, for the time being, we can expect more challenges and more delays in CFPB enforcement actions.
For financial institutions, our advice remains the same as when the 5th Circuit’s decision was issued. Generally, companies should maintain their day-to-day focus on compliance, as the CFPB may weather this latest constitutional challenge with its full authority, including its enforcement power, intact. In addition, other Federal agencies—for example, the Federal banking agencies, the National Credit Union Administration, the Federal Trade Commission—and state attorneys general and/or state regulators often have overlapping authority to enforce Federal consumer financial law. Finally, companies should continue to assume that rules issued by the Bureau are valid and that they will not be penalized for good-faith reliance on such rules.
Supreme Court “relist” of CFPB petition for certiorari threatens prolonged legal limbo
The Supreme Court recently had the opportunity to grant the CFPB’s pending petition for certiorari seeking review of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit’s holding in Community Financial Services Association of America v. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The 5th Circuit found that the agency’s funding structure is unconstitutional, potentially voiding everything the CFPB has done or could do. The Justices considered the petition at their conference this past Friday, but the Court neither granted nor denied the petition. Instead, it “relisted” the petition for consideration at its conference this Friday, February 24.
The Court’s decision functions as a delay and does not necessarily suggest an ultimate denial of the petition. In recent practice, petitions have been relisted before being granted. Practically, this action makes it less likely that the case will be decided this term, leaving the agency, and the rules it issues, in a state of legal limbo for as much as another year or more. The possibility that the case will not be decided during this Supreme Court term may leave the CFPB’s actions subject to successful challenges in federal district courts in states subject to the 5th Circuit decision (Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana).
The CFPB was no doubt hoping to avoid this possible outcome. It filed the petition less than 30 days after the 5th Circuit’s decision and urged the Court to act quickly to decide the case during the current term, which typically ends in late June. In the petition the CFPB explained that the 5th Circuit’s decision would negatively impact the “CFPB’s critical work administering and enforcing consumer financial protection laws … because the decision below vacates a past agency action based on the purported Appropriations Clause violation, the decision threatens the validity of all past CFPB actions as well.” The CFPB argued that refusal to decide the case this term “threatens the ability of the CFPB to function and risks severe market disruption. Delaying review until next term would likely postpone resolution of the critical issues at stake until sometime in late 2023 and more likely 2024.”
The CFPB’s timeline was complicated by the Court’s agreement to extend the briefing schedule on the petition, in part to accommodate briefing on the Community Financial Services Association of America’s conditional cross-petition, which seeks review on other aspects of the 5th Circuit’s decision. The Court’s delay in acting on the CFPB’s petition complicates matters further. It is still possible that the Court could agree to hear the case and set it for expedited briefing so that it can be decided this term, but every indication so far is that the Court is in no hurry to decide this matter, even if it complicates life for the CFPB. Stay tuned. We may get action on the petition by the Court either Friday or next Monday.
Find continuing InfoBytes coverage here.
CFPB urges Supreme Court review of 5th Circuit decision
The CFPB recently filed a reply brief in its petition for a writ of certiorari asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review whether the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit erred in holding that the Bureau’s funding structure violates the Appropriations Clause of the Constitution, and to consider the appellate court’s decision to vacate the agency’s 2017 final rule covering “Payday, Vehicle Title, and Certain High-Cost Installment Loans” (Payday Lending Rule or Rule) on the premise that it was promulgated at a time when the Bureau was receiving unconstitutional funding. (Covered by InfoBytes here.)
Last month, the respondents filed an opposition brief urging the Supreme Court to deny the Bureau’s petition on the premise that the 5th Circuit’s decision does not warrant review—“let alone in the expedited and limited manner that the Bureau proposes”—because the appellate court correctly vacated the Payday Lending Rule, which, according to the respondents, has “multiple legal defects, including but not limited to the Appropriations Clause issue.” (Covered by InfoBytes here.) The respondents also maintained that the case “is neither cleanly presented . . . nor ripe for definitive resolution at this time,” and argued that the Supreme Court could address the validity of the Payday Lending Rule without addressing the Bureau’s funding issue. Explaining that the 5th Circuit’s decision “simply vacated a single regulation that has never been in effect,” the respondents claimed that the appellate court should have addressed questions about the Rule’s validity before deciding on the Appropriations Clause question. The respondents filed a cross-petition for writ of certiorari arguing that if the Supreme Court decides to hear the case, it should vacate the rule based on the unconstitutional removal restriction, and because it exceeds the Bureau’s statutory authority since “the prohibited conduct falls outside the statutory definition of unfair or abusive conduct.”
In its reply brief, the Bureau challenged the respondents’ assertion that the agency’s funding was “unprecedented,” noting that the respondents “cannot meaningfully distinguish the CFPB’s funding from Congress’s longstanding and concededly valid practice of funding agencies from standing sources outside annual spending bills.” The Bureau also argued that the respondents failed to rehabilitate the appellate court’s disruptive remedy and could not justify the district court’s failure to conduct a severability analysis. Even if any unconstitutional features could be severed, that would not justify the “extraordinarily disruptive remedy of automatic vacatur” of the Payday Lending Rule, the Bureau said. Furthermore, the Bureau contended that the respondents offered no sound basis for declining to review the appellate court’s decision in the current Supreme Court term.
According to the Bureau, the decision “carries immense legal and practical consequences that override any interest in ‘further percolation’” and “has already affected more than half of the Bureau’s 22 active enforcement actions” where five have been stayed and motions for relief are pending in seven other courts. Emphasizing that the 5th Circuit’s decision “threatens the validity of virtually all past CFPB actions, including numerous regulations that are critical to consumers and the financial industry,” the Bureau stressed that the proper course would be to grant its petition, set the case for argument in April, and add the additional questions raised by respondent in their cross-petition.
4th Circuit affirms certification of class action in tribal lending case
On January 24, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit concluded that a district court did not abuse its discretion when certifying a class action. The lawsuit alleges an individual who orchestrated an online payday lending scheme violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act (RICO), engaged in unjust enrichment, and violated Virginia’s usury law by partnering with federally-recognized tribes to issue loans with allegedly usurious interest rates. (Covered by InfoBytes here.) The plaintiffs alleged the defendant partnered with the tribes to circumvent state usury laws even though the tribes did not control the lending operation. The district court stated that, as there was “no substantive involvement” by the tribes in the lending operation and that the evidence showed that the defendant was “functionally in charge,” the lending operation—which allegedly charged interest rates exceeding Virginia’s 12 percent interest cap—could not claim tribal immunity.
After the district court certified two borrower classes, the defendant appealed, arguing, among other things, that “[b]orrowers entered into enforceable loan agreements with lending entities in which they waived their right to bring class claims against him,” and that “common issues do not predominate so as to permit class treatment in this case.” Specifically, the defendant claimed that his role in the lending operations changed throughout the class period, and that individualized “proof” and “tracing” would be necessary to prove that he “participated in the direction of the affairs of the alleged enterprise” or that he received some portion of each borrower’s interest payments.
On appeal, the 4th Circuit disagreed with the defendant’s assertions. It found no reason to question the district court’s conclusion that the defendant was the “de facto” head of the lending operations throughout the class period. “And the fact that [the defendant] served as the ‘de facto head’ of the lending operations for the entire class period supports the district court’s determination that the Borrowers will be able to use common proof to show that [the defendant] ‘participated in the direction of the’ lending operations such that common questions predominate over individual questions[,]” the appellate court stated. The 4th Circuit further concluded that the “record supports the district court’s conclusion that [the defendant] lied when he said he was never involved in receiving or demanding payments on [the lending operation’s] loans.”
Respondents urge Supreme Court to wait on CFPB funding review
On January 13, respondents filed a brief in opposition to a petition for a writ of certiorari filed by the CFPB last November, which asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review whether the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit erred in holding that the Bureau’s funding structure violates the Appropriations Clause of the Constitution (covered by InfoBytes here). The Bureau also asked the Supreme Court to consider the 5th Circuit’s decision to vacate the agency’s 2017 final rule covering “Payday, Vehicle Title, and Certain High-Cost Installment Loans” (Payday Lending Rule or Rule) on the premise that it was promulgated at a time when the Bureau was receiving unconstitutional funding. The Bureau requested that the Supreme Court review the case during its current term, which would ensure resolution of the issue by the summer of 2023. Last December, a coalition of state attorneys general from 22 states, including the District of Columbia, filed an amicus brief supporting the Bureau’s petition for a writ of certiorari, while 16 states filed an amicus brief opposing the petition (covered by InfoBytes here).
In their opposition brief, the respondents urged the Supreme Court to deny the Bureau’s petition on the premise that the 5th Circuit’s decision does not warrant review—“let alone in the expedited and limited manner that the Bureau proposes”—because the appellate court correctly vacated the Payday Lending Rule, which, according to the respondents, has “multiple legal defects, including but not limited to the Appropriations Clause issue.” Among other things, the respondents argued that the Bureau erroneously contended that the Appropriations Clause does not limit the manner in which Congress may exercise its authority, claiming that: (i) the Appropriations Clause ensures Congressional oversight of the federal fiscal and executive power; (ii) the Bureau’s funding statute nullifies Congress’s appropriations power in an unprecedented manner; (iii) the Bureau’s merit defenses, including claims that text, history, and precedent support its funding scheme, all fail; and (iv) the Bureau’s remedial defenses of the Payday Lending Rule also fail.
The respondents also maintained that the case “is neither cleanly presented . . . nor ripe for definitive resolution at this time,” and argued that the Supreme Court could address the validity of the Payday Lending Rule without addressing the Bureau’s funding issue. Explaining that the 5th Circuit’s decision “simply vacated a single regulation that has never been in effect,” the respondents claimed that the appellate court should have addressed questions about the Rule’s validity before deciding on the Appropriations Clause question. The respondents claimed that the appellate court incorrectly rejected two antecedent grounds for vacating the Payday Lending Rule: (i) the Rule’s “promulgation was tainted by the removal restriction later held invalid in Seila Law” (covered by a Buckley Special Alert); and (ii) the Rule exceeds the Bureau’s authority “because the prohibited conduct falls outside the statutory definition of unfair or abusive conduct.” “Given the significant prospect that this Court will be unable to resolve the constitutional question in this case, it should await a better vehicle,” the respondents wrote, adding that “[i]f and when some judgment in some future case has ‘major practical effects,’  the Bureau should seek this Court’s review then—which may well present a better vehicle.”
Further, the respondents stated that if the Supreme Court grants review of the case, it “should proceed in a more deliberative fashion than the Bureau has urged.” The respondents asked the Supreme Court to expressly include the antecedent questions by either granting the respondents’ cross-petition or adding them to the Board’s petition in order to provide clarity about whether the Supreme Court intends to consider the alternative grounds. They further urged the Supreme Court to wait until next term to review the case, writing that the Bureau “cannot justify its demand for a case of this complexity and importance to be briefed, argued, and decided in a few months at the end of a busy Term.”
States have their say on CFPB funding
Recently, a coalition of state attorneys general from 22 states, including the District of Columbia, filed an amicus brief supporting the CFPB’s petition for a writ of certiorari, which asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review whether the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit erred in holding that the Bureau’s funding structure violates the Appropriations Clause of the Constitution. A separate coalition of 16 state attorneys general filed an amicus brief opposing the Bureau’s position and supporting the 5th Circuit’s decision, however these states also urged the Supreme Court to grant the Bureau’s petition to address whether the 5th Circuit’s conclusion was correct.
As previously covered by a Buckley Special Alert, the 5th Circuit’s October 19 holding found that although the Bureau spends money pursuant to a validly enacted statute, the structure violates the Appropriations Clause because (i) the Bureau obtains its funds from the Federal Reserve (not the Treasury); (ii) the agency maintains funds in a separate account; (iii) the Appropriations Committees do not have authority to review the agency’s expenditures; and (iv) the Bureau exercises broad authority over the economy. The case involves a challenge to the Bureau’s Payday Lending Rule, which prohibits lenders from attempting to withdraw payments for covered loans from consumers’ accounts after two consecutive withdrawal attempts have failed due to insufficient funds. As a result of the 5th Circuit’s decision, lenders’ obligation to comply with the rule (originally set for August 19, 2019, but repeatedly delayed) will be further delayed while the constitutional issue winds its way through the courts. The Bureau’s petition also asked the court to consider the 5th Circuit’s decision to vacate the Payday Lending Rule on the premise that it was promulgated at a time when the Bureau was receiving unconstitutional funding. (Covered by InfoBytes here.)
- Amicus brief supporting CFPB’s position. The 22 states urged the Supreme Court to review the 5th Circuit’s decision, arguing that the Bureau’s funding is lawful and that even if the Supreme Court were to find a constitutional defect in the funding scheme, vacating otherwise lawfully-promulgated regulations is neither justified nor compelled by law. “Left undisturbed, the court of appeals’ reasoning could jeopardize many of the CFPB’s actions from across its decade-long existence, to the detriment of both consumers protected by those actions and financial-services providers that rely on them to guide their conduct,” the states said. In their brief, the states argued, among other things, that the Supreme Court should grant the petition “to review at least the question of whether the court of appeals erred in vacating a regulation promulgated during a time when the CFPB received allegedly unconstitutional funding.” The states asserted that the decision “threatens substantial harm” to the states because the states and their residents “could stand to lose the benefits of the CFPB’s critical enforcement, regulatory, and informational functions if the decision  stands and is interpreted to impair the CFPB’s ongoing operations.” With respect to questions related to the Bureau’s funding structure, the states claimed that it is altogether speculative as to whether the Bureau would have behaved differently if its funding had come from the Treasury rather than the Federal Reserve. Former Director Kraninger’s ratification and reissuance of the Payday Lending Rule “is strong evidence that the CFPB would have issued the same regulation once again, after any constitutional defect was corrected,” the states said.
- Amicus brief opposing CFPB’s position. The 16 opposing states argued, however, that the Supreme Court should grant the Bureau’s petition to provide states with “certainty over their role” in regulating the financial system, and should affirm the 5th Circuit’s decision to “restore the CFPB’s accountability to the states.” In their brief, the states asked the Supreme Court “to resolve this issue quickly” and to “reinvigorate the protections of the Appropriations Clause, not weaken them.” The states maintained that if the Supreme Court does not quickly resolve the dispute, states “will have to litigate the same issue in other districts and circuits over and over,” and “[a]ny continuing confusion could seriously impede the growth of the consumer-financial services market at a time when the economy is already strained.” According to the brief, congressional oversight “ensures a level of state participation that ordinary administrative processes don’t allow.” In summary, the states’ position is that the 5th Circuit’s decision on the funding question is correct and that the court “was right to vacate a rule enacted without constitutional funding.”