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First Circuit Holds Massachusetts Borrower Can Challenge the Validity of a Mortgage Assignment, but Holds the Assignment Valid
On February 15, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit held a borrower had standing to challenge the assignment of the borrower’s mortgage under certain circumstances, even though the borrower was not a party to the assignment of the mortgage. Culhane v. Aurora Loan Servs. of Neb., 12-1285, 2013 WL 563374 (1st Cir. Feb. 15, 2013). The First Circuit reasoned that because Massachusetts law provides the borrower with the legal right to ensure any attempted foreclosure of her home was conducted lawfully, and because foreclosure is permitted without prior judicial authorization, the borrower had standing to challenge the assignment of a mortgage to the extent such a challenge was necessary to contest the foreclosing entity’s status as the mortgagee. Though MERS was named the legal owner of the mortgage in the original mortgage documents, the plaintiff alleged that MERS had no beneficial interest in the loan and, as such, had no ability to assign the mortgage to the noteholder. The First Circuit affirmed the lower court's ruling, finding the MERS assignment of the mortgage to the defendant was valid because the note and mortgage need not be held by the same entity and MERS had transferred what interest it held - bare legal title. Thus, the court determined, the defendant properly held the mortgage and possessed the authority to foreclose.
On February 14, the PCI Security Standards Council, the open global forum responsible for setting payment security standards, issued guidelines for merchants on the factors and risks they must address to protect card data when using mobile devices. The guidance addresses the three main risks associated with mobile payment transactions: account data entering the device, account data residing in the device, and account data leaving the device. The guidance also (i) provides recommended measures for merchants regarding the physical and logical security of mobile devices used for payment acceptance, and (ii) recommendations regarding the different components of the payment acceptance solution, including the hardware, software, the use of the payment acceptance solution, and the relationship with the customer. The PCI Security Standards Council also recently released guidance for securing payment card data in cloud environments, and guidance regarding security for payment transactions conducted over the Internet.
On February 14, 54 of the 55 Senators in the Democratic caucus joined a letter to President Obama supporting the nomination of Richard Cordray to lead the CFPB and expressing opposition to "efforts to weaken the CFPB through structural changes." The letter responds to a recent letter to the President from Senate Republicans reiterating their opposition to confirming any nominee as CFPB Director until the structure of the agency is changed. In responding, the Democratic Senators state that never before has a President's nominee to lead an agency been obstructed on such a basis, and point out that a supermajority of the Senate approved the structure as it exists today.
On February 1, the FTC sent a letter to the CFPB describing the FTC's debt collection-related activities over the past year. The responsibility to report to Congress each year on implementation and enforcement of the FDCPA shifted from the FTC to the CFPB last year, but given their shared authority with regard to the FDCPA, the CFPB relies on the FTC to provide information for inclusion in its annual report. The FTC letter recaps the agency's law enforcement efforts, including the filing or resolution of four actions against collectors alleged to have engaged in deceptive, unfair, or abusive conduct and the filing or resolution of three actions related to phantom debt collection. The letter also highlights outreach and policy activities, including the FTC's recent debt buyer study.
California Appeals Court Permits Borrowers' Claims against Lender Based on Auto Dealer's Alleged Breach of Installment Contract
On February 4, the California Court of Appeal, Third District, held the FTC's Holder Rule allows borrowers to assert claims against a lender assignee that they might otherwise have against the auto dealer with whom the borrowers entered the installment contract. Lafferty v. Wells Fargo Bank, No. C0678812, 2013 WL 412900 (Cal. App. Ct. Feb. 4, 2013). The borrowers stopped making payments on their motor home, disclaimed their ownership interest, and filed suit against the dealer with whom they financed the purchase of the vehicle after the dealer refused to make repairs to the vehicle. Relying upon the FTC's Holder Rule, which requires language in every consumer installment contract to state that any holder of the consumer credit contract is subject to all claims and defenses which the debtor could assert against the seller of the goods, the borrowers sued the bank to whom their loan had been assigned. After a trial court dismissed the case, the borrowers appealed. The appeals court reversed the judgment, holding that the "plain meaning of the Holder Rule allows the [borrowers] to assert claims against [the bank] they might otherwise have against [the dealer]," but limited the borrowers' recovery to the actual amounts paid under the installment contract. The appeals court declined to follow courts in other jurisdictions that looked beyond the plain meaning of the rule to assess the FTC's original intent in adopting the rule, and rejected the bank's argument that the Reese-Levering Act limits the borrowers' right to rescission of the contract. The appeals court also held that the borrowers stated causes of action against the bank under the CLRA and for negligence, but that their claim for negligent defamation of credit was preempted by the Fair Credit Reporting Act. The appeals court reversed the trial court order.
On February 11, a law firm and related parties sued by the CFPB for allegedly deceiving consumers through a network of mortgage loan modification businesses filed a brief in which they renewed a challenge to the CFPB Director's appointment. Opp. to Receiver's Request for Payment, CFPB v. Chance Edward Gordon, No. 12-6147 (C.D. Cal., filed Feb. 11, 2013). The defendants cite a recent opinion from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit that held appointments to the National Labor Relations Board made by President Obama in January 2012 during a purported Senate recess were unconstitutional, and argue that CFPB Director Cordray was appointed on the same day, and in the same manner found to be constitutionally invalid by the D.C. Circuit Court. The defendants stated in their motion that they have propounded Requests for Admissions regarding the date and nature of Mr. Cordray's appointment, and likely will follow with a motion for summary judgment.
D.C. Federal Court Holds Government False Claims Case Not Precluded by National Servicing Settlement
On February 12, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia declined to enjoin the government from pursuing alleged False Claims Act violations against a bank that argued such claims were precluded by the terms of the national servicing settlement. United States v. Bank of Am. Corp., No 12-361, 2013 WL 504156 (D.D.C. Feb. 12, 2013). The bank petitioned the court to halt a suit filed by the government in the Southern District of New York, in which the government alleges that the bank's certification of loans under the FHA's Direct Endorsement Lender Program violated the False Claims Act. The bank argued that the national mortgage servicing settlement contains a comprehensive release for certain liability with respect to its alleged FHA mortgage lending conduct. Finding the consent judgment effectuating the settlement to be clear and unambiguous, the court rejected the bank's interpretation of the settlement. The court left it to the Southern District of New York to determine the nature of the claims at issue, but held that the release does not cover the claims as described by the bank. The court therefore denied the bank's motion to enforce the consent judgment and enjoin the New York action.
Recently, Delaware enacted HB 2, which amends the state's voluntary self-disclosure program for abandoned and unclaimed property. Among other things, the bill creates additional incentives for holders of such property to report it to the state and resolve claims. Specifically, holders of such property that disclosure before June 30, 2013 will have up to one additional year to enter into an agreement and make payment.
On February 1, the Oregon Department of Justice published final rules to implement the foreclosure avoidance mediation program established by legislation enacted in April 2012, which requires beneficiaries to (i) enter into mediation with a grantor for the purpose of negotiating a foreclosure avoidance measure, and (ii) notify a grantor if they are not eligible for any foreclosure avoidance measure or if the grantor has not complied with the terms of a foreclosure avoidance measure. The final rules took effect January 7, 2013, and replaced temporary rules that had been in place since July 2012. The Oregon Department of Justice also updated its Frequently Asked Questions for borrowers and lenders/servicers.
On February 8, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed SB 16, a bill introduced in January 2011, which creates a fast-track foreclosure process for certain abandoned and vacant properties. Effective June 1, 2013, a lender can petition a court seeking expedited foreclosure proceedings on properties that hold six or fewer units that are not legally occupied. The bill also shortens the foreclosure timeframe on those properties to between 90 and 180 days. Lenders will be subject to a sliding scale of additional foreclosure filing fees through 2017, ranging from $50 to $500. The exact fee amount is dependent on the number of foreclosure actions lenders undertake annually. The state expects the fees to generate $120 million over the next three years. A portion of that revenue is earmarked to offset local government costs associated with abandoned homes. Funds also will support HUD-approved housing counseling agencies.