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On July 15, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed the rulings from a district court in a consolidated appeal finding that it is up to the court, not a consumer reporting agency, to decide if a creditor possesses the proper legal relationship to a debt. In each case, the plaintiff allegedly had a debt that was purchased by a debt buyer, who reported the unpaid debts to the credit reporting agencies. The plaintiffs contacted the debt buyers and disputed the information being furnished on the basis that the creditors did not actually own the debts. The plaintiffs also contacted the consumer reporting agencies to request that they reinvestigate the accuracy of their credit reports. The reporting agencies contacted the creditors, confirming that they were the legitimate owners of the debts but did not provide additional information. The plaintiffs sued, alleging that the defendants violated the FCRA by not fully investigating the disputes. The district court, relying on a 2020 decision in Denan v. TransUnion LLC (previously covered by Infobytes), held that determining ownership of a debt is a legal question, not a duty imposed on the furnishers under the FCRA.
On appeal, the 7th Circuit affirmed the district courts’ decisions, establishing that the key inquiry is “whether the alleged inaccuracy turns on applying law to facts or simply examining the facts alone.” because “consumer reporting agencies are competent to make factual determinations, but they do not make legal conclusion like courts and other tribunals do.” The appellate court further noted that “[b]ecause the plaintiffs in these cases asked the consumer reporting agencies to make primarily legal determinations, they have not stated claims under the [FCRA].”
District Court says retailer not an intended third-party beneficiary of a credit card arbitration provision
On July 8, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California denied a retailer’s motion to compel arbitration in a consumer data sharing putative class action, ruling that the retailer was not an intended third-party beneficiary of an arbitration provision in a credit card agreement. The proposed class had filed an amended complaint accusing several national retailers of illegally sharing consumer transaction data in violation of the FCRA, the California Consumer Privacy Act, and California’s unfair competition law, among others. The motion at issue, filed by one of the retailers, addresses a named plaintiff’s opposition to compel arbitration. The retailer argued that as an “intended” third-party beneficiary of the contract, it had the right to enforce an arbitration clause contained in a credit card agreement purportedly signed by the plaintiff when she opened a retailer credit card account issued by an online bank.
The court disagreed, finding that the contract’s arbitration provisions specifically referred to the bank, and that the contract did not clearly “express an intention to confer a separate and distinct benefit on [the retailer].” Moreover, the court noted the contract at issue instructed the plaintiff to send any arbitration demand notices to the bank, adding that “[i]t seems unlikely that the parties would expect a demand for arbitration solely against the [retailer]—that does not involve [the bank]—to be sent to [the bank].”
On June 30, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland issued a memorandum opinion granting the CFPB’s motion to strike four out of five affirmative defenses presented by defendants in an action alleging FCRA and FDCPA violations. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Bureau filed a complaint against the defendants (a debt collection entity, its subsidiaries, and their owner) for allegedly violating the FCRA, FDCPA, and the CFPA. The alleged violations include, among other things, the defendants’ failure to ensure accurate reporting to consumer-reporting agencies, failure to conduct reasonable investigations and review relevant information when handling indirect disputes, and failure to conduct investigations into the accuracy of information after receiving identity theft reports before furnishing such information to consumer-reporting agencies. The Bureau separately alleged that the FCRA violations constitute violations of the CFPA, and that the defendants violated the FDCPA by attempting to collect on debts without a reasonable basis to believe that consumers owed those debts.
After the court denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss on the basis that the CFPB was unconstitutional and therefore lacked standing, the defendants filed an amended affirmative defense asserting the following: (i) the alleged FDCPA violation was a bona fide error; (ii) the Bureau was “barred from seeking equitable relief by the doctrine of unclean hands”; (iii) the Bureau’s leadership structure was unconstitutional under Article II at the time the complaint was filed, thus the actions taken at the time were invalid; (iv) the Bureau structure is unconstitutional under Article I and therefore the Bureau lacked standing because “it is not accountable to Congress through the appropriations process”; and (v) the statute of limitations on the alleged violations had expired. The Bureau asked the court to strike all but the statute of limitations defense. Concerning the bona fide error defense, the defendants contended the alleged violations were not intentional and resulted from a bona fide error notwithstanding the maintenance of “detail[ed] policies and procedures for furnishing accurate information to the consumer reporting agencies,” but the court ruled this defense insufficient because the defendants failed to identify “specific errors [and] specific policies that were maintained to avoid such errors” and failed to explain their procedures. With respect to the unclean hands defense, the court ruled to strike the defense because it found that the defendants had not “alleged ‘egregious’ conduct or shown how the prejudice from that conduct ‘rose to a constitutional level’” when claiming the Bureau engaged in “duplicitous conduct” by allegedly disregarding its own NORA process or by serving multiple civil investigative demands. Finally, the court further decided to strike the two constitutional defenses because it found that allowing those defenses to proceed “could ‘unnecessarily consume the Court’s resources.’” The court granted the defendants 14 days to file an amended affirmative defense curing the identified defects.
On June 30, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania granted a motion for summary judgment in favor of a debt collection agency (defendant) with respect to a plaintiff’s FCRA and FDCPA allegations. The plaintiff alleged that the defendant, among other things, violated the FCRA and the FDCPA by failing to fulfill a reasonable investigation upon receipt of a dispute over an account that was allegedly opened in his name without his consent. According to the opinion, the plaintiff filed a suit against the defendant and three other companies, but “following various settlements,” the debt collection agency remained the sole defendant. The plaintiff was notified by the defendant that additional information was required to further investigate his claim, including a fraud and identity theft affidavit, proof of residence, a police report, and a valid government-issued ID, which was not allegedly provided to the defendant until after the plaintiff had filed the suit. The court dismissed the FCRA claim, finding that there was not enough evidence that the plaintiff submitted the necessary information to make his reported dispute a bona fide dispute, which is necessary to establish an FCRA violation. The court also dismissed the FDCPA claims stating that the plaintiff failed to identify false representation or deceptive means by the defendant in connection with the collection of the relevant debt.
On June 29, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri granted in part and denied in part a Wisconsin-based debt collection agency’s (defendant) motion for judgment in an FCRA and FDCPA case where the plaintiff alleged the defendant failed to update the information it was furnishing to credit bureaus after the plaintiff notified a credit bureau that she was no longer disputing the debt. Prior to February 2020, the plaintiff disputed the accuracy of a tradeline by the defendant appearing on her credit report with an unspecified party and then notified a credit reporting agency that she was no longer disputing the debt. The credit reporting agency forwarded the plaintiff’s notice to the defendant. After the plaintiff saw that the tradeline was still reported as disputed on her credit report, she filed suit alleging the defendant violated the FCRA by failing to conduct a proper investigation after being notified that the plaintiff was no longer disputing the debt and the FDCPA for reporting information it had knowledge of being false. The defendant argued “that it cannot be liable under the FCRA based on [the plaintiff’s] allegations because it had no new information to ‘reasonably investigate.’” However, the court denied the defendant’s motion for judgment on the pleadings as to the plaintiff’s FCRA claims stating that, “at this stage of the case, the Court cannot determine whether it would have been reasonable for [the defendant] to rely solely on its own files when performing its investigation after receiving [the plaintiff’s] letter stating that she no longer disputed her tradeline.” With respect to the FDCPA claim, the court cited the 8th Circuit’s ruling in Wilhelm v. Credico, Inc., which held that “whether ‘the consumer has disputed a particular debt’ is ‘always material’ and thus a debt collector must disclose that an account is disputed when it ‘elects to communicate ‘credit information[,]’ the fact that an account is no longer disputed would also be material.” In addition, the court found that the plaintiff failed to state a claim pursuant to the alleged FDCPA violation because she did “not allege any facts demonstrating that [the defendant] continued to report false credit information after it received notice from [a reporting agency] that she no longer disputed her [debt].” However, the court granted the plaintiff leave to file an amended complaint.
On July 1, the CFPB released an enforcement compliance bulletin to reiterate to landlords, consumer reporting agencies (CRAs), and others of their obligation to correctly report rental and eviction information. The CFPB noted that it is “concerned that the end of the CDC eviction moratorium could mean both an increase in negative rental information in the consumer reporting system and an increase in consumers seeking rental housing.” According to the bulletin, the CFPB intends to examine if landlords, property management companies, and debt collectors are reporting accurate information to CRAs and complying with their dispute-handling obligations under the FCRA. Specifically, the Bureau will “pay particular attention to whether furnishers are reporting arrearages” regarding amounts paid on behalf of a tenant through a government grant or relief program and fees or penalties prohibited by CARES Act or other laws. In addition, the Bureau noted that it intends to look at whether CRAs are, among other things: (i) following procedures to only include accurate rental information in individuals’ consumer reports; (ii) reporting rental information for the consumer who is the subject of the report; (iii) reporting accurate and complete eviction information; and (iv) properly investigating when inaccuracies are reported by the consumer.
On June 25, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a 5-4 decision in TransUnion LLC v. Ramirez, holding that only a plaintiff concretely harmed by a defendant’s violation of the FCRA has Article III standing to seek damages against a private defendant in federal court. In writing for the majority, Justice Brett Kavanaugh reversed and remanded a 2020 decision issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which found that all 8,185 class members had standing to recover statutory damages due to, among other things, TransUnion’s alleged “reckless handling of information” from the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), which, according to the appellate court, subjected class members to “a real risk of harm” when TransUnion erroneously linked class members to criminals and terrorists with similar names in a database maintained by OFAC. (Covered by InfoBytes here.) The 9th Circuit, however, did reduce punitive damages, explaining that, although TransUnion’s “conduct was reprehensible, it was not so egregious as to justify a punitive award of more than six times an already substantial compensatory award.” TransUnion filed a petition for writ of certiorari after the 9th Circuit denied its petition for rehearing.
The Court considered whether federal courts can certify consumer classes where the majority of class members have not alleged the type of concrete injury necessary to establish Article III standing, even if the named plaintiff suffered an injury meeting this bar. The parties stipulated prior to trial that only 1,853 members of the class had misleading credit reports containing OFAC alerts provided to third parties during the period specified in the class definition, whereas the remaining class members’ credit files were not provided to any potential creditors during that period. In applying the standing requirement of concrete harm, the majority concluded that the 6,332 class members whose credit reports were not provided to third parties did not suffer a concrete harm and thus did not have standing as to the reasonable-procedures claim. The majority further determined that even though all 8,185 class members complained about alleged formatting defects in certain mailings sent to them by TransUnion, only the lead plaintiff had demonstrated that the alleged defects caused him concrete harm, thus only he could move forward with those claims. According to the majority, the remaining class members failed to explain how the formatting error prevented them from requesting corrections to prevent future harm.
“The mere existence of inaccurate information, absent dissemination, traditionally has not provided the basis for a lawsuit in American courts,” the majority wrote, adding that while the Court “has recognized that material risk of future harm can satisfy the concrete-harm requirement in the context of a claim for injunctive relief to prevent the harm from occurring, at least so long as the risk of harm is sufficiently imminent and substantial,” in this instance the 6,332 class members have not demonstrated that the risk of future harm materialized.
On June 8, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama granted a defendant auto finance company’s motion for judgment on the pleadings in an action concerning alleged violations of the FCRA. The plaintiff filed an action against the defendants (an auto finance company and a financial service company) alleging that her credit report included an inaccurate or misleading “Errant Tradeline” in violation of the FCRA because it identified a paid off loan as being “closed” with a “$0 balance,” but also indicated that the loan had a monthly payment amount of $669. The plaintiff argued that this created “the impression that she still ha[d] an outstanding loan” as well as upcoming payments and alleged that the inaccurate reporting caused her financial and emotional damages. The plaintiff also claimed that the auto finance company negligently or willfully violated the FCRA because it failed to conduct a proper investigation. Upon review, the court granted the motion by the auto finance company, finding that because the balance listed says “$0,” and the account is listed as “closed,” there is “little opportunity for confusion when the alleged Errant Tradeline is reviewed in context.” The court further noted that “the context of the report reveals that the monthly payment line is neither inaccurate nor misleading.”
On May 20, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania partially granted defendants’ motion for summary judgment in an action concerning alleged violations of the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Sales Finance Act (MVSFA) and the FCRA. The plaintiff filed an action against the defendants (an auto finance company and the three major consumer reporting agencies (CRAs) alleging he was unable to obtain credit and suffered loss of work, car rental expenses, and emotional distress following the repossession and sale of his vehicle after he allegedly breached his retail installment sale contract by exposing his vehicle to a lien for accumulated storage charges at a repair facility while waiting for a replacement part to arrive. After the vehicle was repossessed, the plaintiff sent letters to the CRAs disputing the reported information and asked that notations, including “voluntary surrender,” be removed from his credit file. According to the plaintiff, the disputed information was removed from his file well outside the 30-day timeframe required under the FCRA to reinvestigate and delete inaccurate information. The plaintiff also alleged that the auto finance company violated the MVSFA’s provisions governing notice of repossession. Upon review, the court granted defendants’ request for summary judgment on the MVSFA claim, agreeing with the auto finance company that the statute’s repossession notice provisions do not confer a private right of action. However, the court denied summary judgment on the FCRA claim, writing that “the record reflects genuine disputes of material fact as to whether [the auto finance company] reported inaccurate information and whether it reasonably investigated [p]laintiff’s disputes.”
On May 13, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan denied a motion to dismiss filed by the Department of Education (Department), ruling that the FCRA “unequivocally waives sovereign immunity” concerning the allegations at issue in the case. In the lawsuit, the plaintiff alleges, among other things, that the Department violated Section 1681s-2(b) of the FCRA by “negligently and willfully” failing to conduct a proper investigation of her dispute and by failing to remove an erroneous notation of “account in dispute” from a tradeline reported on her credit files. The Department moved to dismiss, arguing, among other things, that it could not be sued for damages under the FCRA “because Congress has not waived sovereign immunity with respect to that statute.”
The court, disagreed, pointing out that while the question of whether sovereign immunity is waived under the FCRA “has generated a circuit split,” the “authority finding that the FCRA waives sovereign immunity is more persuasive than the authority supporting the contrary view.” After examining the statute, the court noted that the FCRA defines a “person” to include a “government or governmental subdivision or agency,” and pointed out that the term “person” appears in other FCRA provisions cited within the plaintiff’s lawsuit. As an example, the court referenced Section 1681n(a), which states: “Any person who willfully fails to comply with any requirement imposed under this subchapter with respect to any consumer is liable to that consumer.” The court also determined that the waiver of sovereign immunity “is sufficiently explicit” in Section 1681u of the FCRA.
- Jeffrey P. Naimon to provide “Fair lending update” at the Colorado Mortgage Lenders Association Operational and Compliance Forum
- Kari K. Hall to discuss “Justice for all: Achieving racial equity through fair lending” at CBA Live
- Warren W. Traiger to discuss “On the horizon for CRA modernization” at CBA Live
- APPROVED Webcast: Strategy & Technology: A dynamic duo for successful regulatory exams
- Melissa Klimkiewicz to participate in Q&A on flood insurance at the NAFCU Virtual Regulatory Compliance School
- Daniel R. Alonso to discuss “Primer on cross-border prosecutions in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico for U.S. criminal lawyers” at a New York City Bar Association webinar
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Fair lending" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Michelle L. Rogers to discuss “State law regulatory and enforcement trends” at the Mortgage Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Government investigations, and compliance 2021 trends” at the Corporate Counsel Women of Color Career Strategies Conference
- Max Bonici to discuss “BSA/AML trends: What to expect with the implementation of the AML Act of 2020” at the American Bar Association Banking Law Fall Meeting
- H Joshua Kotin to discuss “Modifications and exiting forbearance” at the National Association of Federal Credit Unions Regulatory Compliance Seminar
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Fintech trends” at the BIHC Network Elevating Black Excellence Regional Summit
- Amanda R. Lawrence to discuss “Consumer financial services government enforcement actions – The CFPB and beyond,” at the Government Investigations & Civil Litigation Institute Annual Meeting
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Consumer financial services" at the Practising Law Institute Banking Law Institute