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On August 3, the CFPB filed a Reply Brief in support of its request to overturn the Fifth Circuit’s decision in Community Financial Services Association of America v. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, in which the 5th Circuit found that the CFPB’s funding structure violated the Constitution’s Appropriations Clause (covered by InfoBytes here, here, and here, and in a firm article here).
In its Reply Brief, the CFPB argues that Congress did not violate the Appropriations Clause by failing to specify a specific dollar amount to fund the CFPB because “the Appropriations Clause contains no dollar-amount requirement.” In support of that argument, the CFPB points to the Founders’ appropriation of funds for the Post Office and the National Mint where they did not decide the specific amounts of annual funding, the funding structure for the OCC and the Federal Reserve Board, and to current federal appropriations for Social Security payments and unemployment assistance.
The Bureau then argues that even if there was a specific dollar amount requirement, that requirement is nonetheless satisfied because “Congress fixed the CFPB’s maximum annual funding.” According to the Bureau, the fact that it has the discretion to ask for less than the maximum authorized is commonplace and “[t]o this day, Congress routinely appropriates sums ‘not to exceed’ a particular amount;’ that phrase appears more than 400 times in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2022.”
The Bureau then aims to refute plaintiff’s arguments that the Appropriations Clause requires time-limited funding laws and imposes special rules for law enforcement agencies. The Bureau argues that the fact that the Constitution includes a specific restriction limiting Congress from funding the army for more than two years dictates that by negative implication there is no such prohibition of a standing appropriation for a different appropriation.
Finally, the Bureau argues that its combination of features is not as unique as CFSA contends, and that even if the Supreme Court ultimately finds the funding structure unconstitutional vacating the Payday Lending Rule is an inappropriate remedy because the 5th Circuit failed “to consider whether the defect it perceived could be cured by severing portions of Section 5497.”
On August 7, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York granted a defendant’s motion to stay a lawsuit against an alleged predatory auto lender until the Supreme Court determines the constitutionality of the CFPB’s funding in a separate lawsuit (CFSA Case; covered by InfoBytes here).
The CFPB and the New York Attorney General (AG) brought the complaint in January, accusing the lender of UDAAP and TILA violations that involved tricking consumers into loans financing used cars with high interest rates (typically above 22 percent) and add-on products they could not afford. The CFPB and AG alleged the dealers affiliated with the company (i) engaged in deceptive conduct; (ii) used high pressures sales tactics; (iii) pressured consumers into unaffordable auto loans; (iv) pressured family and friends to cosign the loans; (v) withheld prices of vehicles; and (vi) misrepresented key financial terms of the purchase, violating the CFPB, the Martin Act, and fraud and UDAP statutes, among other allegations.
In its decision, the district court reasoned that the stay awaiting the Supreme Court’s decision would (i) allow for clarity and guidance on the legal issues at hand and it may help the defendant avoid unnecessary litigation costs; and (ii) promote judicial efficiency and minimize the possibility of conflicts with other courts. Furthermore, the court determined that although it would be in the public interest to enforce consumer protection laws, the potential harm to the public caused by the stay is outweighed by the benefit to consumers “in proceeding in a streamlined fashion.” The order requires the parties to file a joint letter updating the court by the earlier of November 3 or one week after a major development in the CFSA case.
On August 10, the CFPB posted a blog entry sharing insights into medical debt and junk fees in New Mexico in advance of CFPB Director Rohit Chopra’s scheduled meeting with New Mexico elected officials this week. The blog entry noted that the CFPB’s public consumer complaint database contains more than 11,600 complaints from New Mexicans, primarily focused on issues with credit products, consumer reporting, and debt collection. The CFPB indicated that almost 18 percent of New Mexico’s population had medical debt (totaling ~$881 million) and the average amount owed per individual is $2,692. Building on the CFPB’s recent hearing on medical billing and collections (covered by InfoBytes here), the CFPB stated that “along with several other states, New Mexico has alerted the CFPB to its concern about fees that consumers are routinely compelled to pay to access consumer financial services or forced to pay for services they do not want.”
On July 31, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas entered an order granting in part and denying in part a motion for a preliminary injunction against the CFPB. The injunction, filed by a bank and two trade associations (collectively “plaintiffs”), aims to prevent the CFPB from enforcing its new final rule, implementing section 1071 of the CPA, which would require financial institutions to collect and provide to the Bureau data on lending to small businesses (covered by InfoBytes here). A 2022 5th Circuit ruling (covered by an Orrick Special Alert here) in a different suit, however, deemed the CFPB’s funding structure unconstitutional.
Plaintiffs urged the 5th Circuit to enjoin enforcement of the small business lending rule pending Supreme Court resolution of the constitutionality of the CFPB’s funding structure, estimating that the burden of complying with the final rule would be $100,000 per community bank, and “the nonrecoverable costs of complying with an invalid regulation constitute irreparable harm,” among other things. The court held that the plaintiff bank had standing because its injury is imminent and not speculative based on the effective date of the final rule, and the costs of preparation for compliance. The court also held that there is a “substantial likelihood” that the plaintiffs would prevail in asserting the final rule is invalid based on the claim that the Bureau’s funding is unconstitutional. The court agreed with plaintiffs’ claim that the costs of compliance with the final rule are “more than de minimis and thus constitute irreparable harm,” despite the CFPB’s argument that the costs of compliance would not be incurred now. Finally, the court held that the CFPB failed to show any evidence that a stay of the final rule will cause harm. While the court entered an injunction, it limited it to the plaintiffs and their members, declining to enter a nationwide injunction as requested by plaintiffs, because “generic reasons such as ‘nationwide scope’ or ‘need for uniformity’ without more are insufficient.”
The final rule is scheduled to go into effect on August 29.
On August 2 CFPB filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia against an auto-loan servicer alleging a host of illegal practices that harmed individuals with auto loans. The Bureau alleged that the auto-loan servicer engaged in unfair acts and practices in violation of the CFPA, including (i) wrongfully activating nearly 80,000 times starter-interruption devices, which are devices that warn consumers with beeps or disable their car altogether when they are late with a loan payment; (ii) failing to ensure refunds of over millions of dollars of GAP insurance premiums after consumers paid off their loan early or their car was repossessed by the auto-loan servicer; (iii) erroneously billing 34,000 consumers for collateral-protection insurance (CPI) by charging consumers twice each billing cycle, totaling around $1.9 million; (iv) wrongfully applying extra consumer payments first to late fees or CPI instead of accrued interest; and (v) wrongfully repossessing consumers’ cars dozens of times due to errors by the auto-loan servicer or its vendor.
The Bureau seeks, among other things, redress to consumers, civil money penalties, and injunctions to prevent future violations.
On July 26, the Senate Banking Committee held a hearing regarding “fees and tactics impacting Americans’ wallets” in relation to financial services and the role of the CFPB in addressing harmful fees. Leading the hearing, Senator Raphael Warnock (D-GA), chairman of the committee, explained that some “excessively high” and unclear fees do not serve an economic value, referring to these as “junk fees.” Senator Warnock shared that 1/3 of households that do not use banks cite high fees as their reason for continuing without a bank account. Senator Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) criticized the CFPB’s attempts at avoiding the oversight of the Administrative Procedures Act in the rule-making process by mislabeling its actions. Tillis added that after the 2008 financial crisis, regulators emphasized the importance of overdraft revenue as, “an appropriate tool for ensuring the stability of the bank’s balance sheets.” He then criticized the shift in guidance, as the CFPB looks to reprimand banks who follow “the established prudential standards for the crime of listening to their previous federal regulators.” He also claimed that the Bureau does not have proper jurisdiction, resources, or staff to make such decisions.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Michelle Henry testified about recent enforcement actions she has taken, including a recently filed suit against a Wall Street private equity-owned installment lender, who allegedly charged consumers “junk fees” for low-value or valueless add-on products. Henry also mentioned entering into a settlement relating to a bank charging “junk fees” in connection with auto finance products. Brian Johnson, a financial regulatory compliance specialist and former deputy director of the CFPB, claimed that the agencies and the White House have failed to provide a consistent definition for the “junk fees” that could subject institutions to scrutiny, and criticized the CFPB, saying that it does not follow its own regulations and laws governing how agencies make rules by publishing interpretive rules as policy statements in bulletins. A final topic raised by Senator Tina Smith (D-MN) regarded land contracts and lease-to-purchase or rent-to-own agreements that she claimed can be exploitative towards underserved communities. Smith noted that such contacts are “designed to fail,” noting that more than 80 percent of the time, people lose all their equity because they do not make it to the last payment of the contract.
On July 31, the District Court for the Central District of California entered judgment in favor of the court-appointed receiver for defendants against the non-party provider of payment processing and escrow services to defendants and its managing member in the amount of $75,000, following a July 10 order requiring defendant to pay $243 million in redress and civil penalties. These judgments were entered in connection with the lawsuit filed by the CFPB, along with the Minnesota and North Carolina attorneys general, and the Los Angeles City Attorney, against a student loan debt relief operation for allegedly deceiving thousands of student-loan borrowers and charging more than $71 million in unlawful advance fees (covered by InfoBytes here).
The defendant companies and one of the controlling business partners settled in 2020, but the court ordered the remaining controlling business partner to pay $243 million in redress and civil penalties earlier in July based on his involvement in violating various laws through the operation, including the TSR and the CFPA. Of the $243 million, the CFPB is entitled to over $95 million as redress for unlawful fees paid by consumers affected by the student loan debt relief operation and nearly $148 million of civil money penalties, and Minnesota, North Carolina, and California are each entitled to $5,000 of civil money penalties. The recent judgment of $75,000 entered against the non-party payment processing service provider resulted from the settlement of a separate lawsuit alleging that the service provider facilitated the fraud perpetuated by the defendants in the student loan debt relief operation and later attempted to deceptively transfer consumer funds held by defendants to avoid their transfer to the receiver.
On July 26, a federal judge in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts ruled that a tenant screening algorithm is subject to the Fair Housing Act, including the FHA's ban on racial discrimination in housing. The court held that even though the company is not itself is not a landlord, as property owners allegedly relied solely on the company's decisions to deny prospective renters' applications, the company was effectively granting it authority to make housing decisions.
Plaintiffs alleged in an amended complaint that a tenant-screening service operated by the defendants violated the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. § 3604 and Massachusetts anti-discrimination and consumer protection laws. The Plaintiffs claimed that the services discriminate against holders of rental vouchers and applicants of certain races and income classes, in violation of the FHA, resulting in less housing availability, less favorable terms and conditions in rental agreements, and discriminatory provision of services in connection with housing, in each case based on race and national origin.
Defendants, in their respective motions to dismiss, argued that the FHA does not apply to a tenant-screening service, such as the defendant, because the service does not “make housing decisions.” In denying the motion to dismiss on this count, the court reasoned that the FHA provisions do not limit liability to people or entities that “make housing decisions” but rather “focuses on prohibited acts,” and reiterated that the Supreme Court has already held that “language of the Act is broad and inclusive.” The court observed that while housing providers are the typical target of FHA claims, other entities are often held liable under the Act. The court reasoned that the application of the FHA “beyond direct housing providers” is a “logical extension which effectuate[s] the purpose of the FHA,” as “a housing provider could simply use an intermediary to take discriminatory and prohibited actions on its behalf and defeat the purpose of the FHA.”
Massachusetts antidiscrimination laws, among other things, make it unlawful to discriminate in the “terms, conditions, or privileges” of the sale or rental of housing or provision of such services “to aid, abet, incite, compel or coerce the doing of any of the acts forbidden under this chapter,” which includes Sections 4(6) and 4(10). Plaintiffs allege that the discriminatory rental application process was facilitated by the tenant score produced by the defendants. The court held that the chapter is construed broadly and reiterated the Massachusetts Supreme Court finding that defendants who play a role in the tenant selection process may be held liable under certain sections even if they only “aid[ed] or abet[ted]” a violation of Section 4(10). As such, the court held that the plaintiff’s claims for disparate impact discrimination for race or source of income under both FHA and Massachusetts antidiscrimination laws were sufficient to survive the motion to dismiss.
On August 1, the SBA announced implementation of additional policies aimed at expanding small business’ access to capital by modernizing SBA’s signature 7(a) and 504 Loan Programs. The new simplified guidelines for lenders include updated origination policies and procedures, lender participation requirements, and 7(a) loan servicing and liquidation requirements. SBA has also clarified affiliation standards to effectively communicate who qualifies for SBA loans, will use technology updates to bring eligibility determinations in-house, and will also use advanced data analytics and third-party data checks for fraud review on all loan programs before approval.
The following three SBA SOPs took effect on August 1, bringing many of the new policies into practice:
- SOP 50 10 7: Lender and Development Company Loan Programs: Contains SBA’s policies and procedures governing the 7(a) and 504 loan programs.
- SOP 50 56: Lender participation requirements: Contains the criteria for becoming an SBA Lender.
- SOP 50 57: 7(a) Loan Servicing and Liquidation: Contains the policies and procedures for 7(a) loan servicing and liquidation.
Finally, the SBA will begin accepting the Universal Purchase Package, a new feature that is expected to streamline the process for lenders to request SBA honor its loan guaranty. SBA will also introduce new features in E-TRAN, SBA’s online platform used by lenders to upload loan applications.
On July 27, the Biden administration released a fact sheet detailing new actions to develop the Blueprint for a Renters Bill of Rights, which was rolled out early this year (covered by InfoBytes here). The three new actions aim to support renters by (i) “ensuring all renters have an opportunity to address incorrect tenant screening reports”; (ii) “providing new funding to support tenant organizing efforts”; and (iii) “ensuring that renters are given fair notice in advance of eviction.” Additionally, the CFPB, USDA, FHFA, and HUD concurrently released statements aimed at landlords, reminding them of “best practices” and their obligation to inform tenants of their rights.
FHFA published Director Sandra L. Thompson’s statement on “best practices” for the delivery of adverse action notices to renters by GSE-backed multifamily housing borrowers. Referencing research showing that tenant screening reports often contain imprecise or inaccurate information, Director Thompson “strongly encouraged” borrowers who deny a rental application to provide written adverse action notices to the applicants and a copy of any consumer screening report that was relied upon. FHFA’s guidance is based on the FCRA’s requirement that landlords and property managers inform rental applicants of negative information from a consumer screening report that resulted in their rental application being rejected or another unfavorable outcome.
The CFPB posted a blog entry that emphasized landlords’ obligation under the FCRA adverse action notice requirement, which mandates that landlords who take any action against a current or prospective tenant based on a consumer report notify the tenant of the decision and how they can contact the company that created the report. The Bureau advised that renters have the right to review their rental background check report and to dispute information they believe to be inaccurate and encouraged tenants to obtain a free copy of the report from the company that compiled it and dispute any errors (covered by InfoBytes here).
In conjunction with the White House press release, HUD announced it is taking multiple actions to improve rental screening transparency and support renters. It is sending reminders to public housing agencies and property owners about their obligation to inform rejected applicants about reasons for their denial, which provides renters with the opportunity to correct any errors. Additionally, HUD is providing $10 million for tenant education and outreach in Section 8 program properties to assist tenants with “capacity building efforts” for engagement with property management. Furthermore, HUD will issue a proposed rule requiring a 30-day written notification for evictions due to nonpayment of rent in certain subsidized housing.
Also mentioned was the recent White House announcement of actions it is taking to combat “unfair and hidden fees” concerning rental housing (covered by InfoBytes here).