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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations


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  • Buckley Sandler Advises EverBank on Acquisition of MetLife Bank's Warehouse Finance Business

    Consumer Finance

    On February 9, EverBank announced it had reached an agreement to acquire MetLife Bank's Warehouse Finance business. The acquisition, which is expected to close in the first half of 2012, will leverage EverBank's residential lending expertise and increase EverBank's assets by approximately $400 million. The acquisition has been approved by both parties' boards of directors and remains subject to regulatory approvals. EverBank is being advised by the law firms of Alston & Bird LLP and BuckleySandler LLP and the investment banking firm of Goldman, Sachs & Co.

  • Special Alert: Report on NMLS Annual User Conference and Training


    The Nationwide Mortgage Licensing System and Registry (NMLS) held its fourth annual NMLS User Conference and Training (the Conference) in Scottsdale, Arizona from February 6-9, 2012. The Conference brought together state and federal mortgage regulators, industry professionals, compliance companies, top law firms, and education providers to learn about the latest developments in mortgage supervision and to discuss pressing issues confronting the industry. This special report includes a summary of key topics addressed at the meeting as well as announcements regarding important state licensing initiatives, including:  (i) enhancements to the NMLS system to expand its use for licensing of non-mortgage financial services companies, (ii) issuance of SAFE Act examination guidelines, and (iii) the announcement of efforts to develop a uniform mortgage loan originator state test.

    The first day of the Conference included the bi-annual NMLS Ombudsman Meeting, which provided an opportunity for NMLS users to raise issues concerning the NMLS, state and/or federal regulation. NMLS Ombudsman Deborah Bortner, Director of the Non-Depository Division of the Washington Department of Financial Institutions, presided over the meeting, in which specific questions submitted by industry representatives were addressed. Several of the submitted questions focused on "leveling the playing field" between depositories and non-depositories by suggesting various means to allow a more efficient flow of mortgage loan originators (MLOs) from a federally-registered MLO status to a state-licensed MLO status. Suggestions included "transitional licensing", which would allow a federally registered MLO that moves to a state-licensed entity to continue operating for a period of 120 days, during which the individual would complete education, testing and other requirements in order to secure licenses within the transitional approval. Another suggestion was to allow federally registered MLOs to complete state education, examination, and other approval requirements prior to moving from a federal registrant to a state licensee. During a later panel, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) indicated that there are no immediate plans to amend the requirements applicable to federal registrants.

    Full details regarding the specific issues submitted for comment, as well as accompanying exhibits, are available on the NMLS website.  A recording of the Ombudsman Meeting should be posted to the NMLS Resource Center in the near future.

    The remaining days of the Conference covered various federal and state regulatory rule implementation, updates for industry, and a look ahead at new initiatives and changes to the NMLS. Specifically, various sessions covered the following issues:

    • The CFPB’s supervision of the mortgage industry and the direction that the CFPB is taking with respect to depository and non-depository financial services, including a discussion with CFPB staff regarding issues of interpretation and implementation of state licensing, NMLS and the rules implementing the SAFE Act. Of particular interest, the CFPB indicated that it has started planning its first set of exams of non-depository financial institutions and that the CFPB will select institutions for examination based on size, volume, type of product or service offered, extent of state oversight, patterns of complaints, and other factors.
    • Industry views on the regulation of and the future of the mortgage industry.
    • Updates regarding the Mortgage Call Report, including a review of preliminary data, how it is used by regulators, and a review of additional changes and updates to assist with the compliance process.
    • Review of the NMLS federal registration process and a discussion on how to improve the process.
    • NMLS testing and education discussion, with a focus on understanding the desire from industry for increasing the available continuing education topics in order to provide a better learning experience for MLOs.
    • NMLS federal examination and third party compliance management, including a discussion of best practices that institutions can consider to efficiently and effectively implement policies and procedures to ensure third parties are properly licensed and/or registered.
    • Credit and criminal background checks for MLOs, control persons, and branch managers, which included discussions of expanding the criminal background check process from MLOs to also include branch managers and control persons.
    • Potential modifications to the NMLS to accommodate state pre-notification filings for changes in control, changes in branch manager, or other changes in corporate structure or operations that require prior notice.
    • Federal and state rules implementation, including ability to repay, loan officer compensation and TILA/RESPA disclosure conflicts.
    • Discussion of important FHA rule changes for 2011 and upcoming changes in 2012.
    • Surety bonds necessary to comply with state and federal law, including underwriting considerations, risk mitigation, and claim resolution.

    In addition to the above general sessions, the Conference covered several major changes and new initiatives announced by the Conference of State Bank Supervisors (CSBS), including:

    • System Enhancements and Expansion of NMLS to Cover Additional Financial Services Companies. The CSBS announced plansto expand the use of the NMLS to include nonbank, non-mortgage financial service providers, including consumer lenders, money services businesses, and debt collectors. Following this expansion, these other nonbank firms will be obligated to alter their compliance programs in order to apply for, amend, and renew state licenses using the NMLS. Entities that previously obtained and maintained relevant licenses via hard-copy applications and filings will be required to transition onto the NMLS, a process which could prove difficult as licensee's struggle to learn the new system and which may allow the state agency an opportunity to vet anew its licensees. While the electronic application and related processes will be centralized and uniform, entities that use the NMLS to obtain and maintain their licenses still will be subject to various unique state-specific requirements, which must be dealt with outside of the NMLS. For many participants in the mortgage industry, the mandated use of the NMLS has brought with it heightened compliance costs and increased reporting requirements, particularly as states increased disclosure and other application requirements to become more consistent with other states.  Non-mortgage state licensed financial institutions should be mindful of this experience and be prepared to review their licensing compliance procedures and resources following transition to the NMLS.  At a minimum, licensees should carefully monitor developments regarding licensing requirements during and after the transition to the NMLS.Through expansion of the system state bank regulators expect to see improved efficiency, and regulated entities can expect enhanced supervision and increased public access to license, registration, and supervisory information. The expansion is scheduled to begin in April when at least 12 states will begin transitioning their exiting licensing and registration systems to the NMLS.Further, the April expansion and update will include other changes and enhancements in an effort to improve the system overall:

      • New Workflow – the changes and enhancements to the system require a new "license management workflow" (i.e., online navigation and information contained in the uniform plans) to support the new Business Activities section. The new workflow will (1) introduce a new navigational landing page in the Company (MU1), (2) combine the selection of licenses and entry of transition numbers into one step, and (3) introduce new navigation items onto the License/Registrations page.
      • Amended Forms – the uniform mortgage forms (i.e., MU1 and MU3) will be amended to "Company Filing" and "Branch Filing", respectively, in anticipation of the expansion of the system to cover non-mortgage related industries.
      • Business Activities – expands this section of the Form MU1 to allow users to identify a broader range of business activities conducted by the user (e.g., loan modifications, seller of money orders) based on definitions developed by the states.
      • Approvals and Designations – introduces new approval and designation types, and allows users to add approval or identification numbers.
      • Disclosure Explanation – in addition to updated company, branch and individual disclosure questions, a new disclosure explanation feature will allow users to add explanations to each disclosure question that has a “yes” answer in conjunction with submitting a filing.
      • Document Upload – users will be able to upload specific materials into the NMLS to be shared by state regulators, thereby eliminating the need to send certain materials via hard copy outside the system. The type of materials that may be uploaded may include business plans, certificates of good standing, fidelity bonds, errors and omissions insurance, and other materials generally provided in the application and renewal process.
      • Criminal Background Check for a Control/Qualifying Individual – all state licensed individuals will be required to complete a criminal background check via the NMLS.

    Copies of the updated forms and "Business Activities Description" are available on the NMLS under News & Events.

    Upon implementation of the new forms in April, existing NMLS users should be aware that in order to submit any new applications, address updates, addition of officers, or other general maintenance items, the company will be required to complete all new Company Filing fields, and the company's control persons and qualifying individuals must complete additional questions and information requests.

    • SAFE Act Examination Guidelines. The Multi-State Mortgage Committee (MMC), a ten-state representative body created by CSBS and AARMR, issued SAFE Act Examination Guidelines (SEGs) for use by state non-depository mortgage regulators.  The SEGs are not required guidelines for state agencies, but utilization of SEGs is intended to allow state agencies to determine compliance with the SAFE Act and provides consistent and uniform guidelines for use by institution in-house compliance and audit departments conducting SAFE Act and state compliance reviews. The SEGs are presented in a question and answer format and are “modular,” such that state mortgage regulators may easily use part or all of the SEGs as they see fit.

    • Uniform MLO State Test. The CSBS announced that efforts are underway to develop content for a uniform MLO state test. Currently, an MLO is required to take the state component of the SAFE Act mortgage loan originator test for each state in which he or she intends to be licensed. With the introduction of a uniform MLO state test, an MLO will meet the testing requirement for multiple states by passing a single test that includes content representative of all of the states.An ad hoc committee composed of state regulators has been charged with researching the feasibility of developing a uniform MLO state test.  In coordination with industry subject matter experts and test consultants, the committee has completed its initial feasibility studies and test development is now underway. Later this year, the committee plans to present a uniform test proposal to state regulators.

    A message that pervaded the Conference was that with the completion of several multi-year NMLS initiatives responding to the requirements of the SAFE Act (e.g., the introduction of the NMLS Mortgage Call Report), NMLS is turning its attention to implementing changes to and expanding the NMLS.  While the changes are ultimately intended to streamline the NMLS process, current NMLS users should prepare for additional oversight and regulation, and licensees transitioning onto the system should prepare for heightened compliance costs and increased reporting requirements.

    For more information about NMLS, visit the NMLS Resource Center, About NMLS.

    CFPB Mortgage Licensing Nonbank Supervision Mortgage Origination

  • UPDATE: Petitioners Withdraw Major Fair Housing Case Pending Before U.S. Supreme Court


    On February 10, the parties in a major fair housing case under review by the U.S. Supreme Court requested that the Court dismiss the case. As reported previously by BuckleySandler, the City of St. Paul, Minnesota withdrew its petition in Magner v. Gallagher, No. 10-1032, due to concerns that "a victory could substantially undermine important civil rights enforcement throughout the nation." A Supreme Court decision in Magner likely would have definitively decided whether disparate impact claims are cognizable under the Fair Housing Act (FHA), and if they are, the applicable legal standards for such claims. Under the disparate impact theory of discrimination, a plaintiff can establish "discrimination" based solely on the results of a neutral policy, without having to show any intent to discriminate.  The result of the Supreme Court review would have had profound impact both in private litigation and government enforcement actions, and as such had drawn significant attention from civil rights groups, state attorneys general, and financial services trade groups. The withdrawal of Magner means that these important questions will remain open.

    In Magner, the City had asked the Supreme Court to consider whether the FHA permits disparate impact claims. Private landlords, seeking to limit the City's "aggressive" enforcement of its housing code, sued the City for violating the FHA. The landlords argue that the City's attempts to close housing that violates its housing code reduces the amount of affordable housing available to minority renters. The landlords claim that as a result, the City's enforcement efforts have a disparate impact on minority renters in violation of the FHA. Although the District Court ruled for the City, the Eighth Circuit reversed, holding that the landlords had stated a cognizable claim under the FHA. The City petitioned the Eighth Circuit for rehearing en banc, but the court denied the petition. As previously reported, the U.S. Supreme Court granted the City's petition for certiorari on November 7, 2011.  The parties and numerous amici had submitted briefs to the Court, and oral argument was scheduled for February 29.

    Magner was the Supreme Court's first opportunity to evaluate whether disparate impact claims can exist under the FHA since Smith v. City of Jackson, 544 U.S. 228 (2005). In City of Jackson, the Court held that disparate impact claims are grounded in Title VII's statutory text, not merely in the broader purpose of the legislation. Since City of Jackson, the courts of appeals have offered almost no guidance as to whether the FHA permits disparate impact claims. Reviewing parallel language in the Equal Credit Opportunity Act in Garcia v. Johanns, 444 F.3d 625 (D.C. Cir. 2006), the D.C. Circuit stated in dicta that "[t]he Supreme Court has held that this ["effects"] language gives rise to a cause of action for disparate impact discrimination under Title VII and the ADEA.  ECOA contains no such language."

    The City issued a statement explaining its unusual decision to withdraw its petition at this late stage, explaining that if the City prevailed, the decision "would undercut important and necessary civil rights cases throughout the nation. The risk of such an unfortunate outcome is the primary reason the city has asked the Supreme Court to dismiss the petition." The City has stated that it will continue to pursue the case in federal district court in Minnesota.

    In a separate attempt to resolve through federal agency action the question of whether the FHA permits disparate impact claims, on November 15, 2011, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued a proposed rule interpreting the FHA as authorizing disparate impact claims, and proposing the applicable standards for such claims. HUD has yet to promulgate a final rule. The absence of a decision in Magner will focus substantial additional attention on HUD's rulemaking process and decisions, and in particular the standards and associated burdens of proof HUD asserts apply to disparate impact claims. Click here for BuckleySandler's previous reporting on the HUD proposed rule.

    U.S. Supreme Court Fair Housing

  • Petitioners Withdraw Major Fair Housing Case Pending Before U.S. Supreme Court


    On February 10, several media outlets reported that a major fair housing case under review by the U.S. Supreme Court had been dismissed by agreement of the parties. The case, Magner v. Gallagher, No. 10-1032, described previously in a BuckleySandler alert, poses the question of whether disparate impact claims are cognizable under the Fair Housing Act. The result of the Supreme Court review would have had profound impact both in private litigation and government enforcement actions, and as such had drawn significant attention from civil rights groups, state attorneys general, and financial services trade groups. The City of St. Paul, which raised the question on appeal, reportedly decided not to pursue the appeal out of concern that “a victory could substantially undermine important civil rights enforcement throughout the nation.” Instead, the City will now take its case to trial in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota. For additional reports regarding these developments, please click here and here.

    U.S. Supreme Court Fair Housing

  • FTC Announces Settlement With Debt Relief Service Operators

    Consumer Finance

    On February 8, the FTC announced it had settled with four defendants alleged to have operated a phony debt relief service.  According to the FTC, the defendants used illegal robocalls to falsely promise consumers lower credit card interest rates in exchange for a $995 fee, and falsely promised refunds. The operation allegedly netted over $13 million from over 13,000 consumers. The FTC’s complaint alleges that instead of negotiating lower rates for consumers, the defendants at most tried to arrange three-way phone calls with credit card companies for some consumers. The defendants agreed in the settlement to be banned from robocalling consumers and from selling debt relief services, and to pay a $13.1 million judgment, which will be suspended upon payment of $159,000 by the settling defendants. Defendants’ assets are subject to sale by a receiver to recover additional funds. The settlement also bars the defendants from a variety of misleading or illegal practices related to phone contacts to consumers.

    Credit Cards NCUA

  • FTC Warns That Mobile Background Screening Apps May Violate FCRA


    On February 7, the FTC announced that it had warned three mobile application marketers that their mobile background screening applications may be violating the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). The FTC described some of the six applications at issue as including criminal record histories, which are a type of information typically used in employment and tenant screening. While the FTC has not made a determination as to whether these firms are violating FCRA, it reminded the companies that if they have reason to believe the mobile applications include information about individuals’ character, reputation, or personal characteristics that is used or expected to be used for purposes such as employment, housing or credit, the marketers and their customers must comply with FCRA. Under FCRA, firms that assemble or evaluate such information to provide to third parties qualify as consumer reporting agencies and are required to (i) take reasonable steps to ensure the user of each report has a “permissible purpose” to use the report, (ii) take reasonable steps to ensure the maximum possible accuracy of the information conveyed in its reports, and (iii) provide users of its reports with information about their obligations under the FCRA.


  • Nineteen States Settle With Debt Collector Over Collection Practices


    On February 6, nineteen state attorneys general announced a multi-state settlement with NCO Financial Systems, a debt collection company, to resolve allegations of misleading and deceptive debt collection practices. Under the agreement, the company must set aside $950,000 ($50,000 for each state) for consumer restitution, and will pay $575,000 for state consumer protection enforcement efforts. Restitution will go to consumers who paid the company for debts the consumers did not owe, who overpaid interest, or who overpaid a debt beyond what the company had agreed to settle an account. The company also agreed to (i) comply with the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act, and all applicable state laws, (ii) notify credit reporting agencies within 30 days of consumer disputes and results of investigations into disputes, (iii) provide notice to consumers about their debt collection rights under federal and state law, and (iv) monitor compliance, create written policies and procedures for handling consumer complaints, and submit periodic compliance reports.


  • Idaho Supreme Court Holds Standing Does Not Need To Be Proven Prior To Nonjudicial Foreclosure


    On January 25, the Idaho Supreme Court held that a party is not required to prove it has standing before foreclosing nonjudicially on a deed of trust. Trotter v. Bank of New York Mellon, No. 38022, 2012 WL 206004 (Idaho Jan. 25, 2012). Prior to a scheduled trustee’s sale, the borrower filed a complaint alleging lack of standing to foreclose, and challenging MERS’ ability to assign the loan.  The district court granted the bank’s motion to dismiss, finding that the statutory requirements for nonjudicial foreclosures had been satisfied, and that MERS was the beneficiary under the deed of trust and had properly assigned its rights as beneficiary to the bank. The Idaho Supreme Court affirmed, noting that “the plain language of the statute makes it clear that the trustee may foreclose on a deed of trust if it complies with the requirements contained within the Act” and that unlike judicial foreclosures, “there is no statutory requirement for the trustee to prove standing before initiating a nonjudicial foreclosure on a deed of trust.”


  • New York Federal Court Affirms Enforceability Of Terms Of Service Available By Hyperlink


    On January 24, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York held in Fteja v. Facebook Inc., No. 11-918, 2012 WL 183896 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 24, 2012), that an experienced Internet user received adequate notice to be bound by Facebook’s Terms of Service when he pushed a button indicating his assent to the terms, which were available via a hyperlink near the button. The user had sued Facebook in New York state court for allegedly wrongly terminating his account. When Facebook removed the case to federal court and moved to transfer the action to the Northern District of California, citing the mandatory forum selection clause in its Terms of Service, the user argued that the Terms were unenforceable because he never saw or agreed to them. The court granted Facebook’s motion to transfer after finding that Facebook’s signup process “reasonably communicated” the Terms despite a second step, clicking the hyperlink, being required to view the Terms.

  • Missouri AG Announces "Robosigning" Indictment

    Financial Crimes

    On February 7, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster announced that a grand jury had returned a 136-count indictment against DOCX, LLC, and its founder, for alleged “robosigning” by forgery and false declarations with regard to mortgage documents. The indictment alleges that the signatures on 68 notarized deeds of release submitted to one county recorder were forged and constituted false declarations. If convicted, the founder could face up to seven years in prison per count, and the company could be fined up $10,000 for each forgery and $2,000 for each false declaration.

    Foreclosure Mortgage Servicing State Attorney General


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