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On March 9, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida dismissed a credit repair industry association’s challenge against the CFPB and the FTC for exceeding their constitutional authority in promulgating the Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR). In 2020, the plaintiff filed a lawsuit on behalf of two member companies that were subject to TSR enforcement actions, seeking judgments (i) against the FTC for exceeding “its statutory authority in promulgating the TSR,” (ii) against both agencies on the basis that the TSR, as applied, “is an unconstitutional content-based restriction on protected speech,” and (iii) against both agencies on the basis that the TSR “is underinclusive and not narrowly tailored.” The plaintiff also alleged, among other things, that the Bureau was increasing its application of the TSR by “encouraging consumer reporting agencies not to investigate disputes submitted by credit repair organizations” that are reasonably determined to be “frivolous or irrelevant.” The agencies filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, arguing the court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction under the Administrative Procedures Act’s (APA) six-year statute of limitations and that the plaintiff failed to state a claim.
In granting the agencies’ motion to dismiss, the court ruled that the lawsuit was filed far beyond the APA’s six-year statute of limitations as the TSR first appeared in the Federal Register in 1995; thus all procedural attacks on the TSR were time barred. The court also ruled that because sending a civil investigative demand or filing a complaint is not considered “a final agency action,” the plaintiff failed to allege a final agency action taken by the agencies against the plaintiff’s members. Further, the court dismissed the plaintiff’s argument regarding the Bureau’s position on investigating frivolous or irrelevant disputes, ruling that the Bureau’s April 2020 Statement on Supervisory and Enforcement Practices Regarding the Fair Credit Reporting Act and Regulation V in Light of the CARES Act (covered by InfoBytes here) is just “a policy statement that has nothing to do with the TSR at issue in this case and is not a final agency action.”
On March 3, the CFPB filed a complaint against an Illinois-based third-party payment processor and its founder and former CEO (collectively, “defendants”) for allegedly engaging in unfair practices in violation of the CFPA and deceptive telemarketing practices in violation of the Telemarketing Sales Rule. According to the complaint, the defendants knowingly processed remotely created check (RCC) payments totaling millions of dollars for over 100 merchant-clients claiming to offer technical-support services and products, but that actually deceived consumers—mostly older Americans—into purchasing expensive and unnecessary antivirus software or services. The tech-support clients allegedly used telemarketing to sell their products and services and received payment through RCCs, the Bureau stated, noting that the defendants continued to process the clients’ RCC payments despite being “aware of nearly a thousand consumer complaints” about the tech-support clients. According to the Bureau, roughly 25 percent of the complaints specifically alleged that the transactions were fraudulent or unauthorized. The Bureau noted that the defendants also responded to inquiries from police departments across the country concerning consumer complaints about being defrauded by the defendants. Further, the Bureau cited high return rates experienced by the tech-support clients, including an average unauthorized return rate of 14 percent—a “subset of the overall return rate where the reason for the return provided by the consumer is that the transaction was unauthorized.” The Bureau is seeking an injunction, as well as damages, redress, disgorgement, and civil money penalties.
CFPB appeals ruling vacating mandatory disclosures and 30-day credit linking restriction in Prepaid Accounts Rule
On March 1, the CFPB filed a notice to appeal a December 2020 ruling, in which the U.S. District Court for the District of D.C. vacated two provisions of the Bureau’s Prepaid Account Rule: (i) the short-form disclosure requirement “to the extent it provides mandatory disclosure clauses”; and (ii) the 30-day credit linking restriction. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the court concluded that the Bureau acted outside of its statutory authority by promulgating a short-form disclosure requirement (to the extent it provided for mandatory disclosure clauses). The court noted that it could not “presume—as the Bureau does—that Congress delegated power to the Bureau to issue mandatory disclosure clauses just because Congress did not specifically prohibit them from doing so.” The court further determined that the Bureau also read too much into its general rulemaking authority when it promulgated a mandatory 30-day credit linking restriction under 12 CFR section 1026.61(c)(1)(iii) that limited consumers’ ability to link certain credit cards to their prepaid accounts. The court first determined that neither TILA nor Dodd-Frank vest the Bureau with the authority to promulgate substantive regulations on when consumers can access and use credit linked to prepaid accounts. Second, the court deemed the regulatory provision to be a “substantive regulation banning a consumer’s access to and use of credit” under the disguise of a disclosure, and thus invalid.
On February 26, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania granted a student loan servicer’s request for interlocutory appeal as to whether questions concerning the CFPB’s constitutionality stopped the clock on claims that it allegedly misled borrowers. The court’s order pauses a 2017 lawsuit in which the Bureau claimed the servicer violated the CFPA, FCRA, and FDCPA by allegedly creating obstacles for borrower repayment options (covered by InfoBytes here), and grants the servicer’s request to certify a January 13 ruling. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the servicer argued that the Supreme Court’s finding in Seila Law LLC v. CFPB (covered by a Buckley Special Alert—which held that that the director’s for-cause removal provision was unconstitutional but was severable from the statute establishing the CFPB)—meant that the Bureau “never had constitutional authority to bring this action and that the filing of [the] lawsuit was unauthorized and unlawful.” The servicer also claimed that the statute of limitations governing the CFPB’s claims prior to the decision in Seila had expired, arguing that Director Kathy Kraninger’s July 2020 ratification came too late. The court disagreed, ruling, among other things, that “[n]othing in Seila indicates that the Supreme Court intended that its holding should result in a finding that this lawsuit is void ab initio.”
The court’s order sends the ruling to the 3rd Circuit to review “[w]hether an act of ratification, performed after the statute of limitations has expired, is subject to equitable tolling, so as to permit the valid ratification of the original action which was filed within the statute of limitations but which was filed at a time when the structure of the federal agency was unconstitutional and where the legal determination of the presence of the structural defect came after the expiration of the statute of limitations.” Specifically, the court explained that this particular “question does not appear to have been addressed by any court in the United States. . . .Not only is there a lack of conflicting precedent, there is no supporting precedent; indeed, no party has identified any comparable precedent.” Further, “[i]f this court erred in applying the doctrine of equitable tolling, it would almost certainly lead to a reversal on appeal and dismissal of this action,” the court noted.
On February 25, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland granted a motion for entry of monetary remedy filed by the CFPB and the Consumer Protection Division of the Maryland Attorney General’s Office (collectively, “Regulators”) in an action concerning the disgorgement calculation for a banker found in contempt of a 2015 consent order. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit found that while the district court properly determined that the banker violated the terms of the consent order (which previously settled RESPA and state law mortgage-kickback allegations), the court relied on an overbroad interpretation of the consent order and lacked the causal connection between the banker’s profits and a violation when it ordered the banker to pay over $526,000 in disgorged income. The 4th Circuit vacated the disgorgement order and remanded the case to the court to reassess the disgorgement calculation based on the banker’s more limited conduct that did not comply with the order.
On remand, the court reduced the sanctions amount to approximately $270,000, which represents the banker’s earned income (after taxes) “during the period in which he defied the three express provisions of the Consent Order.” Noting that the 4th Circuit rejected the banker’s argument that the Regulators were required to prove a specific monetary harm arising from his violations, the court wrote that in instances “[w]here harm is difficult to calculate, ‘a court is wholly justified in requiring the party in contempt to disgorge any profits it may have received that resulted in whole or in part from the contemptuous conduct,’” particularly where the party engaged in a “pattern or practice” of such conduct.
On March 3, the CFPB released a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) to delay the mandatory compliance date of the General Qualified Mortgage (QM) Final Rule from July 1, 2021 to October 1, 2022. As previously covered by InfoBytes, last December the Bureau issued the General QM Final Rule to amend Regulation Z and revise the definition of a “General QM” by eliminating the General QM loan definition’s 43 percent debt-to-income ratio (DTI) limit and replacing it with bright-line price-based thresholds. The new General QM definition became effective on March 1, 2021. The General QM Final Rule also eliminates QM status resulting solely from loans meeting qualifications for sale to Fannie or Freddie Mac (GSEs), known as the “GSE Patch.” In issuing the NPRM, the Bureau expressed concerns “that the potential impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the mortgage market may continue for longer than anticipated at the time the Bureau issued the General QM Final Rule, and so could warrant additional flexibility in the QM market to ensure creditors are able to accommodate struggling consumers.” Extending the compliance date will allow lenders to offer QM loans based on either the old or new QM definitions, including the GSE Patch (unless the GSEs exit conservatorship), until October 1, 2022. Comments on the NPRM must be received by April 5.
The NPRM follows a statement issued last month (covered by InfoBytes here), in which the Bureau said it is considering whether to revisit final rules issued last year that took effect March 1 concerning the definition of a Qualified Mortgage and the establishment of a “Seasoned QM” category of loans. In the NPRM, the Bureau stated “this rulemaking does not reconsider the merits of the price-based approach adopted in the General QM Final Rule. . . .Rather, this proposal addresses the narrower question of whether it would be appropriate in light of the continuing disruptive effects of the pandemic to help facilitate greater creditor flexibility and expanded availability of responsible, affordable credit options for some struggling consumers” by keeping both the old and new rule until October 1, 2022.
On February 22, the CFPB filed its fourth status report in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California as required under a stipulated settlement reached in February with a group of plaintiffs, including the California Reinvestment Coalition. The settlement (covered by InfoBytes here) resolved a 2019 lawsuit that sought an order compelling the Bureau to issue a final rule implementing Section 1071 of the Dodd-Frank Act, which requires the Bureau to collect and disclose data on lending to women and minority-owned small businesses.
Among other things, the Bureau notes in the status report that it has satisfied the following required deadlines: (i) last September it released a Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act of 1996 (SBREFA) outline of proposals under consideration (InfoBytes coverage here); and (ii) it convened an SBREFA panel last October and released the panel’s final report last December (InfoBytes coverage here). The settlement next requires the parties to confer about a deadline for the Bureau to issue a Section 1071 notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM). According to the status report, the Bureau’s rulemaking staff is in the process of evaluating the panel’s recommendations as well as stakeholder feedback, and has begun briefing new Bureau leadership “on the significant legal and policy issues that must be resolved to implement the Section 1071 regulations” and prepare the NPRM. The Bureau notes that the parties continue to discuss an appropriate deadline for issuing the NPRM, emphasizing that if the parties agree on a deadline, they “will jointly stipulate to the agreed date and request that the court enter that deadline.” As previously covered by InfoBytes, acting Director Dave Uejio stated recently that he has “pledged” the Bureau’s Division of Research, Markets, and Regulations “the support it needs to implement section 1071 of the Dodd-Frank Act without delay.”
Find continuing Section 1071 coverage here.
On March 2, FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra testified before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs where he was asked about his plans should he be confirmed as the permanent CFPB director. Chopra released prepared remarks in which he discussed challenges stemming from the Covid-19 pandemic, specifically those related to loan defaults, auto repossessions, credit reporting, debt collection, and foreclosures. Highlighting the need for “fair and effective oversight” in the mortgage market, Chopra also emphasized the importance of addressing systemic inequities faced by families of color. In opening remarks, Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), in support of Chopra’s nomination, highlighted several of Chopra’s previous achievements at the Bureau as its first student loan ombudsman and emphasized his “strong record of protecting consumers and small businesses, promoting competitive markets, and holding bad actors accountable.”
Chopra fielded questions from Committee members on a range of topics, including credit reporting, student lending, servicemember protections, and mortgage lending. Chopra stressed his commitment to improving the “transparency, efficiency, and effectiveness” of the Bureau’s supervision and enforcement programs. He further emphasized the need to combat lending discrimination and that fair lending enforcement will be a priority for the Bureau, noting that the Bureau’s Fair Lending and Equal Opportunity office “is established by Congress and  should play a critical role in making sure the law is being followed.” With respect to credit reporting and debt collection, Chopra stated, “[I]f there are unlawful, egregious practices, it is important for enforcement to make sure that they stop. . . .[T]hat’s what’s best for consumers, that’s what’s best for the honest market participants and that’s the role Congress has asked the CFPB to play.”
With respect to fintech, Chopra said the Bureau needs to “take a hard look” at large technology companies’ expansion into financial services and their potential impact on consumer privacy and data security. He also raised concerns about the potential for bias in algorithm decision-making and underwriting. “[L]ooking at how big data, particularly by large platforms who have detailed behavioral data on all of us is something we must carefully look at. Because, it will change financial services fundamentally,” Chopra stressed. He also discussed the importance of providing restitution for consumers, reaffirming his commitment to ensuring that companies found to have committed violations of law are required to repay consumers for what was taken. “[W]hen victims of fraud and misconduct are not made whole, that doesn’t just hurt them. It also hurts every other business who is trying to follow the law and treat them  the right way,” Chopra stated.
If confirmed by the Senate Banking Committee, Chopra’s nomination will head to the full Senate for a vote.
On March 1, the CFPB released a report, Housing Insecurity and the COVID-19 Pandemic, analyzing the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the housing market, particularly with respect to low-income and minority households. According to the Bureau, as of December 2020, more than 11 million households were overdue on their rent or mortgage payments, placing them at heightened risk of losing their homes to foreclosure or eviction as Covid-19 relief programs expire in the upcoming months. Of these households, the Bureau noted that Black and Hispanic households bear a disproportionate financial burden and “were more than twice as likely to report being behind on housing payments than white families.” Additional statistics include: (i) 2.1 million households are more than 90 days behind on their payments; (ii) roughly 263,000 families noted as being “seriously behind” on their mortgages (and not enrolled in forbearance plans) will have limited options to avoid foreclosure once relief programs end; (iii) an estimated 8.8 million tenant households are behind on their rent, with 9 percent of renters reporting that they are likely to be evicted in the next two months; and (iv) of the 2.7 million borrowers noted as being in active forbearance as of January 2021, more than 900,000 of these borrowers will have been in forbearance for more than a year as of April 2021. The Bureau noted most borrowers that have exited forbearance after six or fewer months “have been able to resume payments without any issue.” However, borrowers who have been in forbearance longer are more likely to have difficulties resuming payments.
In a blog post released the same day, acting Director Dave Uejio acknowledged that mortgage servicers and landlords have been working to help keep borrowers and renters in their homes, noting that “[m]ost mortgage servicers are working hard to engage with the record number of homeowners in forbearance and the many other homeowners struggling to make payments.”
On February 24, the House Financial Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing entitled “How Invidious Discrimination Works and Hurts: An Examination of Lending Discrimination and Its Long-term Economic Impacts on Borrowers of Color.” The subcommittee’s memorandum regarding the hearing discussed the importance of exploring “available tools and potential legislative solutions to detect hidden discrimination and deter discrimination in lending and housing,” and addressed topics such as modern-day redlining, racial wealth gaps, and matched-pair testing (a method for detecting impermissible differences in treatment based on protected classes).
Subcommittee members also discussed recently introduced H.R. 166, the “Fair Lending for All Act,” which would, among other things: (i) direct the CFPB to establish an Office of Fair Lending Testing charged with testing creditors’ ECOA compliance, and permit the Bureau to refer ECOA violations to the attorney general for appropriate action; (ii) extend the protected classes under the law to sexual orientation, gender identity, and an applicant’s location based on zip code or census tract; (iii) establish criminal penalties under ECOA for knowing and willful violations of prohibited credit discrimination, including personal liability for executive officers and directors; (iv) require the Bureau to review loan applications for compliance with ECOA and other federal consumer laws; and (v) amend HMDA Section 304(b)(4) to add the new prohibited credit discrimination categories.
- Jonice Gray Tucker to moderate “Pandemic relief response and lasting impacts on access, credit, banking, and equality” at the American Bar Association Business Law Section Spring Meeting
- Jeffrey P. Naimon to discuss "Post-pandemic CFPB exam preparation" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Spring Conference & Expo
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Making fair lending work for you" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Spring Conference & Expo
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Reading the tea leaves of President Biden’s initial financial appointees" at LendIt Fintech
- APPROVED Webcast: Staying in the know with Buckley regtech solutions
- Moorari K. Shah to discuss “CA, NY, federal licensing and disclosure” at the Equipment Leasing & Finance Association Legal Forum
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Compliance under Biden" at the WSJ Risk & Compliance Forum
- Sherry-Maria Safchuk to discuss UDAAP at an American Bar Association webinar
- Jeffrey P. Naimon to discuss "What to expect: The new administration and regulatory changes" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “The future of fair lending” at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Steven R. vonBerg to discuss "LO comp challenges" 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
- Michelle L. Rogers to discuss “The False Claims Act today” at the Federal Bar Association Qui Tam Section Roundtable