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On July 14, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California entered a stipulated final judgment and order against the named defendant in a 2019 action brought by the CFPB, the Minnesota and North Carolina attorneys general, and the Los Angeles City Attorney. which had alleged a student loan debt relief operation deceived thousands of student-loan borrowers and charged more than $71 million in unlawful advance fees. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the complaint asserted that the defendants violated the CFPA, the Telemarketing Sales Rule, and various state laws. A second amended complaint also included claims for avoidance of fraudulent transfers under the FDCPA and California’s Uniform Voidable Transactions Act.
In 2019, the named defendant filed a voluntary petition for Chapter 11 relief, which was later converted to a Chapter 7 case. As the defendant is a Chapter 7 debtor and no longer conducting business, the Bureau did not seek its standard compliance and reporting requirements. Instead, the finalized settlement prohibits the defendant from resuming operations, disclosing or using customer information obtained during the course of offering or providing debt relief services, or attempting “to collect, sell, assign, or otherwise transfer any right to collect payment” from any consumers who purchased or agreed to purchase debt relief services. The defendant is also required to pay more than $35 million in redress to affected consumers, a $1 civil money penalty to the Bureau, and $5,000 in civil money penalties to each of the three states.
On July 12, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland issued an opinion denying several motions filed by parties in litigation stemming from a 2016 complaint filed by the CFPB, which alleged the defendants employed abusive practices when purchasing structured settlements from consumers in exchange for lump-sum payments. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Bureau claimed the defendants violated the CFPA by encouraging consumers to take advances on their structured settlements and falsely representing that the consumers were obligated to complete the structured settlement sale, “even if they [later] realized it was not in their best interest.” After the court rejected several of the defendants’ arguments to dismiss based on procedural grounds and allowed the CFPB’s UDAAP claims against the structured settlement buyer and its officers to proceed, the CFPB filed an amended complaint in 2017 alleging unfair, deceptive, and abusive acts and practices and seeking a permanent injunction, damages, disgorgement, redress, civil penalties and costs.
In the newest memorandum opinion, the court considered a motion to dismiss the amended complaint and a motion for judgment on the pleadings on the grounds that the enforcement action was barred by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Seila Law LLC v. CFPB, which held that that the director’s for-cause removal provision was unconstitutional (covered by a Buckley Special Alert), and that the ratification of the enforcement action “came too late” because the statute of limitations on the CFPA claims had already expired. The court reviewed, among other things, whether the doctrine of equitable tolling saved the case from dismissal and cited a separate action issued by the Middle District of Pennsylvania which concluded that an “action was timely filed under existing law, at a time where there was no finding that a provision of the Dodd-Frank Act was unconstitutional.” While noting that the ruling was not binding, the court found the facts in that case to be similar to the action at issue and the analysis to be persuasive. As such, the court denied the motion to dismiss and the motion for judgment on the pleadings, and determined that the Bureau may pursue the enforcement action originally filed in 2016.
On July 12, the CFPB announced a consent order against a Georgia-based fintech company for allegedly enabling contractors and other merchants to take out loans on behalf of thousands of consumers who did not authorize them. According to the CFPB, the respondent allegedly violated the CFPA’s prohibition against deceptive acts or practices by (i) servicing and facilitating the origination of unauthorized loans to consumers and (ii) enabling unauthorized loans by, among other things, failing to implement appropriate and effective controls during the loan application, approval, and funding processes. The CFPB noted that over 6,000 complaints were filed between 2014 and 2019 about the respondent, with some consumers claiming to have no prior involvement or knowledge of the respondent before receiving billing statements and collection letters. Under the terms of the consent order, the respondent must verify consumers’ identities and confirm their authorizations before activating loans or disbursing loan proceeds and implement an effective consumer complaint management program, exercising oversight of third-party merchant partners, and implementing uniform standards regarding the write-off of illegal loans. The respondent is also ordered to pay up to approximately $9 million in redress to its victims and a $2.5 million civil money penalty.
On July 9, President Biden issued a broad Executive Order (E.O.) that includes provisions related to the financial services industry.
- CFPB. The E.O. encourages the CFPB director to issue rules under Section 1033 of Dodd-Frank “to facilitate the portability of consumer financial transaction data so consumers can more easily switch financial institutions and use new, innovative financial products.” As previously covered by InfoBytes, last October, the Bureau issued an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking on Section 1033, seeking comments on questions related to consumers’ access to their financial records. The E.O. also instructs the Bureau to enforce Section 1031 of Dodd-Frank, which prohibits unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices in consumer financial products or services, “to ensure that actors engaged in unlawful activities do not distort the proper functioning of the competitive process or obtain an unfair advantage over competitors who follow the law.”
- Treasury Department. The E.O. calls on Treasury to submit a report within 270 days on the effects on competition of large technology and other non-bank companies’ entry into the financial services space.
- FTC. The E.O. tasks the FTC with establishing rules to address concerns about “unfair data collection and surveillance practices that may damage competition, consumer autonomy, and consumer privacy.” The FTC already commenced that process on July 1, when it approved changes to its Rules of Practice to amend and simplify the agency’s procedures for initiating rulemaking proceedings. According to Commissioner Rebecca Kelly Slaughter, “[s]treamlined procedures for Section 18 rulemaking means that the Commission will have the ability to issue timely rules on issues ranging from data abuses to dark patterns to other unfair and deceptive practices widespread in our economy.”
- Bank Mergers. The E.O. encourages the Attorney General, in consultation with the Federal Reserve Board, FDIC, and OCC, to “review current practices and adopt a plan, not later than 180 days after the date of this order, for the revitalization of merger oversight under the Bank Merger Act and the Bank Holding Company Act of 1956.”
On July 2, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California entered a stipulated final judgment and order against an online debt-settlement company to resolve CFPB allegations concerning violations of the TSR and the CFPA’s prohibition on abusive acts or practices. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Bureau filed a complaint against the company in April claiming it took “unreasonable advantage of consumers’ reasonable reliance that [the company] would protect their interests in negotiating their debts” by failing to disclose its relationship to certain creditors and steering consumers into high-cost loans offered by affiliated lenders. The Bureau also alleged that the company regularly prioritized creditors with which it had undisclosed relationships when settling consumers’ debts. Under the terms of the order, the company—who neither admits nor denies the allegations except as specified—is required to pay approximately $646,769 in redress and a $750,000 civil money penalty. The company is also (i) prohibited from settling consumers’ debts owed to any affiliated company with which it shares direct or indirect ownership; (ii) required to disclose to consumers any affiliation with any provider of the specific loans; and (iii) required to notify consumers with currently enrolled debts that it will no longer seek to settle those debts. Additionally, the company is required to comply with the TSR when marketing or selling any debt relief products or services, including by providing accurate disbursement amounts, not charging settlement-performance fees, clearly disclosing estimated costs, and not misrepresenting any material facts.
On May 21, the CFPB announced a settlement with a California-based auto-loan lender to resolve allegations that the company engaged in unfair practices with respect to its Loss Damage Waiver (LDW) product, in violation of the Consumer Financial Protection Act. The CFPB alleged that the company engaged in unfair practices by illegally charging interest for late payments on its LDW product without customers’ knowledge. According to the consent order, if consumers had insufficient insurance coverage for their vehicles, the company would add the LDW product to their accounts. For these consumers, the cost of the LDW product was added to the principal of the loan, resulting in an increase to the total loan balance and the amortized loan payment. The company allegedly disclosed the increase in the consumer’s monthly payment as an LDW fee but failed to disclose to consumers that interest accrues on late payments of that fee. The Bureau alleged that the company’s practice of charging consumers interest for late LDW fee payments without their consent caused “substantial injury that was not reasonably avoidable or outweighed by any countervailing benefit to consumers or to competition.”
Under the terms of the consent order, the company is required to provide $565,813 of relief to 5,782 impacted consumers, as well as pay a $50,000 civil money penalty. The order also permanently enjoins the company from charging interest on LDW fees without “clearly and conspicuously disclosing the material terms and conditions to consumers.”
On April 26, the CFPB denied a petition by a title lending company to set aside a civil investigative demand (CID) issued by the Bureau in February. The CID requested information from the company to determine, among other things, whether “consumer-lending companies or title-loan companies, in connection with the extension of credit, servicing of loans, processing of payments, or collection of debt, have made false or misleading representations” to consumers. On February 25, the company had petitioned the Bureau to set aside the CID, arguing, in part, that (i) the Bureau failed to provide the company “‘with fair notice as to the nature of the Bureau’s investigation,” as required under section 1052(c)(2) of the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA); (ii) the CID did not enable the company to adequately assess “the relevance or the burdensomeness of the individual requests”; and (iii) part of the Bureau’s investigation related to the company’s sale of non-filing insurance (NFI), which is a particular concern “because NFI is a topic that appears to be completely outside of the Bureau’s authority,” as the CFPA does not authorize the Bureau to regulate the business of insurance.
The Bureau rejected the company’s request to set aside or modify the CID, finding that: (i) the Bureau notified the company that it is investigating conduct in connection with the extension of credit, servicing of loans, processing of payments, or collection of debt’ as potential violations of §§ 1031 and 1036 of the CFPA, the Truth in Lending Act, the Military Lending Act, as well as a prior consent order to which the company is still subject; (ii) the company’s defenses are premature at the investigative stage, even if they “could be raised in defense against the potential legal claims contemplated by the CID”; (iii) although the company complained about the purported “vagueness of the description of the subjects of the investigation” and “whether all of the potential violations applied to the [c]ompany or only a portion,” the Bureau is not required to identify the subject of law enforcement investigations in its CIDs; and (iv) the notification at issue is “far more specific” than the notification of purpose in a different matter referenced by the company, and “identifies the precise conduct under investigation while expressly noting the conduct was committed ‘in connection with the extension of credit, servicing of loans, processing of payments, or collection of debt.’”
On April 13, the CFPB entered into a preliminary settlement with an online debt-settlement company for allegedly violating the CFPA’s prohibition on abusive acts or practices and failing to clearly and conspicuously disclose total cost under the Telemarketing Sales Rule. The complaint alleges that the company took “unreasonable advantage of consumers’ reasonable reliance that [it] would protect their interests in negotiating their debts” by failing to disclose its relationship to certain creditors and steering consumers into high-cost loans offered by affiliated lenders. The CFPB alleges that the company regularly prioritized creditors with which it had undisclosed relationships in settlements of consumers’ debts. Under the terms of the proposed stipulated final judgment and order, the CFPB is seeking restitution, damages, disgorgement, and civil money penalties.
In the Bureau’s announcement, acting Director David Uejio states that “[t]he CFPB will not tolerate companies that purport to represent consumers, but instead abuse their trust in a self-dealing scheme. This case provides a clear example of what Congress intended to prohibit when it created the CFPB and gave it authority to prevent abusive practices.”
On April 6, the CFPB announced a consent order against a California-based debt collector and its former owner for allegedly harassing consumers and threatening to take legal action if they did not pay their debts. According to the CFPB, the respondents violated the FDCPA and the CFPA’s prohibition against deceptive acts or practices by mailing letters to consumers printed with “Litigation Notice” that threatened recipients with legal action if they did not repay their debts. However, the Bureau stated that the respondents did not file lawsuits against the consumers, nor did they hire law firms or lawyers to obtain any judgments or collect on any such judgments. Under the terms of the consent order, the respondents are permanently banned from the debt collection industry and are ordered to pay $860,000 in redress to its victims, which has been suspended due to an inability to pay, as well as a $2,200 civil money penalty. This is the CFPB’s latest action taken against debt collectors that have used false threats to collect debts. As previously covered in InfoBytes, in 2019 the CFPB and New York attorney general announced proposed settlements with a network of New York-based debt collectors to resolve allegations that the defendants engaged in improper debt collection tactics in violation of the CFPA, the FDCPA, and various New York laws. Also, in 2018, the CFPB announced a settlement with a Kansas-based company and its former CEO and part-owner that allegedly engaged in improper debt collection tactics in violation of the CFPB’s prohibitions on engaging in unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices (covered by InfoBytes here).
On March 9, the CFPB denied a request made by a Delaware online payday lender and its CEO (collectively, “respondents”) to stay a January 2021 final decision and order requiring the payment of approximately $51 million in restitution and civil money penalties, pending appellate review. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in 2015, the Bureau filed a notice of charges alleging the respondents (i) continued to debit borrowers’ accounts using remotely created checks after consumers revoked the lender’s authorization to do so; (ii) required consumers to repay loans via pre-authorized electronic fund transfers; and (iii) deceived consumers about the cost of short-term loans by providing them with contracts that contained disclosures based on repaying the loan in one payment, while the default terms called for multiple rollovers and additional finance charges. Former Director Kathy Kraninger issued the final decision and order in January, affirming an administrative law judge’s recommendation that the respondents’ actions violated TILA, EFTA, and the CFPA’s prohibition on unfair or deceptive acts or practices by, among other things, deceiving consumers about the costs of their online short-term loans.
The Bureau’s March 9 administrative order determined that respondents (i) failed to show they have a substantial case on the merits with respect to their argument regarding ratification as an appropriate remedy for the respondents’ alleged constitutional violation; (ii) failed to show they “suffered irreparable harm” because the Bureau’s final decision does not infringe on the respondents’ constitutional rights and merely requires them to pay money into an escrow account; and (iii) failed to demonstrate that staying the final decision would not harm other parties and the public interest because the respondents might “dissipate assets during the pendency of further proceedings,” potentially impacting future consumer redress. The administrative order, however, granted a 30-day stay to allow respondents to seek a stay from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.
- Jeffrey P. Naimon to provide “Fair lending update” at the Colorado Mortgage Lenders Association Operational and Compliance Forum
- Jonice Gray Tucker 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
- 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
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Consumer financial services" at the Practising Law Institute Banking Law Institute