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On January 24, the OCC published a proposed rule to implement annual capital-adequacy stress tests for national banks and federal savings associations with total consolidated assets of more than $10 billion. The rule is substantially similar to a recent FDIC stress test proposal for FDIC-insured state nonmember banks and state-chartered savings associations. (See InfoBytes, January 20, 2012). The Dodd-Frank Act requires these stress tests to aid regulators in assessing risk presented by an institution's capitalization and help ensure the institution’s financial stability. Under the proposal, the OCC would annually provide covered institutions with at least three sets of conditions - baseline, adverse, and severely adverse - that must be used in conducting an annual stress test. The tests would include calculations showing, for each quarter-end within a defined planning horizon, (i) estimates of revenues, (ii) potential losses, (iii) loan loss provisions, and (iv) potential impact on regulatory capital levels and ratios. Covered institutions also would be required to establish an oversight and documentation system to ensure that stress testing procedures are effective. Stress test results would have to be submitted to the OCC and the Federal Reserve Board by January 5 of each year, and a summary would have to be released to the public within ninety days thereafter. The OCC would plan to provide covered institutions with the scenarios at least two months before the January 5 deadline. The OCC is accepting public comment on the rule through March 26, 2012.
On January 24, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed a district court holding that printing of partial expiration dates does constitute a Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA) violation, but held that the merchant, in this case, did not willfully violate FACTA by printing a portion of credit card expiration dates on customer receipts. Long v. Tommy Hilfiger U.S.A., Inc., No. 11-1554, 2012 WL 180874 (3rd Cir. Jan. 24, 2012). The consumer alleged, on behalf of a putative nationwide class, that the merchant’s practice of printing receipts that included the expiration month, but not year, willfully violated FACTA’s prohibition against printing “more than the last five digits of a credit card number or the expiration date upon any receipt provided” at the time of a transaction. On appeal, the court considered two questions: (i) whether the consumer properly alleged a FACTA violation, and (ii) whether the merchant’s alleged conduct constituted a willful violation of FACTA. The court held that FACTA prohibits printing of partial expiration dates, and that therefore plaintiff did properly allege a FACTA violation. The court explained that “expiration date” is not defined in the law, and found that “the most natural reading of the phrase” prohibits merchants from printing any of the numbers that appear in the expiration date field on a credit or debit card. If Congress had intended to allow partial expiration dates, the court stated, it would have used language similar to that used with regard to partial credit card numbers. However, the court held that the consumer could not recover statutory damages of $100 to $1,000 per violation, punitive damages, and attorneys fees, because the merchant’s action was not willful. Relying on a standard set in Safeco Insurance Company of America v Burr, 551 U.S. 47 (2007), the court held that the merchant’s interpretation that the statute permits partial expiration dates was not “objectively unreasonable”, because the statute does not provide a definition for “expiration date” and the interpretation has some foundation in the statutory text. According to the court, although the merchant’s interpretation of FACTA was wrong, it did not constitute a willful violation of the law.
On January 24, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) published a final rule to enhance the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) Lender Insurance process. Under the final rule, (i) Lender Insurance mortgagees (mortgagees who have authority to insure mortgages on HUD’s behalf) must meet stricter performance standards to gain and maintain their approval status as an entity that can insure mortgages on HUD’s behalf; (ii) HUD may require indemnification for “serious and material” violations of FHA origination requirements and for fraud and misrepresentation; (iii) Lender Insurance mortgagees must demonstrate a two-year seriously delinquent and claim rate at or below 150 percent of the aggregate rate for the states in which they operate; (iv) FHA may monitor lender performance on an ongoing basis, and (v) HUD-approved lenders created through corporate restructuring have a new process for seeking Lender Insurance authority. The final rule follows an October 2010 proposed rule (see InfoBytes, October 15, 2010), and makes certain changes to the proposal including to (i) clarify that HUD reviews of Lender Insurance mortgagee performance will be “ongoing”, as opposed to “continual”; (ii) require indemnification of HUD when the mortgagee “knew or should have known” that fraud or misrepresentation occurred; (iii) clarify that automatic termination of Lender Insurance authority can result only from institutional and not branch activity; and (iv) provide a reinstatement process closely modeled on the existing reinstatement process regarding origination approval agreements or Direct Endorsement authority.
On January 24, the CFPB announced a third round of testing of prototype mortgage closing forms as part of its Know Before You Owe campaign. In this round, the CFPB asks the public to compare two versions of its prototype closing forms and consider how each works with the prototype initial disclosure form the CFPB previously developed. The CFPB asks consumers to consider certain specific questions, including whether changes to loan terms or costs are easily identifiable from initial disclosure to closing. The CFPB also seeks comment on whether the disclosures are easy for lenders and settlement agents to use and explain. As with prior rounds of testing, the CFPB will travel to local communities to review the forms with the public. A fourth and final round of testing is expected next month.
On January 24, the House Oversight Subcommittee on TARP, Financial Services, and Bailouts of Public and Private Programs held a hearing to receive testimony from newly appointed CFPB Director Richard Cordray. Committee members (i) sought the Director’s interpretation of the term “abusive” as it is used in the Dodd-Frank Act, (ii) requested more transparency into the CFPB’s planned regulatory actions, and (iii) requested CFPB action to mitigate the impacts of its regulations on small and community institutions. Mr. Cordray declined to offer a definition of “abusive”, relying instead on the statutory language. The Director did state that abusive practices that are not also either “unfair or deceptive”, likely would be addressed on a “facts and circumstances” basis rather than through an “abstract” regulatory definition. He did not rule out using “abusive practices” as the basis of an enforcement action prior to issuing any further guidance or rulemaking. The Director committed to consider following the SEC’s model of periodically publishing a regulatory agenda. He also explained that the CFPB will consider and address impacts of its regulatory actions on community banks and financial institutions with under $10 billion in assets.
On January 20, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California dismissed a putative class action brought on behalf of California residents against a company that lost multiple server drives containing personal and medical information. Whitaker v. Health Net of Cal., Inc. No. 11-910, 2012 WL 174961 (E.D. Cal. Jan. 20, 2012). The named plaintiff alleged that the loss of the drives and personal information violated California’s Confidentiality of Medical Information Act. Relying on Ninth Circuit decisions in Krottner v. Starbucks Corp., 628 F.3d 1139 (9th Cir. 2010) and Ruiz v. Gap Inc., No. 09-15971, 380 F. Appx. 689 (9th Cir. May 28, 2010), the plaintiff argued that the threat of harm naturally stems from a loss of data alone. The court held, however, that there is a difference between theft and loss of data. Unlike those prior cases in which personal data was obtained by hacking or data breach, loss of data does not present any actual or immediate harm, only conjectural or hypothetical harm. The court held that the plaintiff lacked standing and dismissed the case with leave to amend because the possibility of harm is not sufficient to meet the constitutional injury-in-fact standard.
On January 23, the CFPB and the FTC announced that the agencies had entered into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to facilitate coordination of the agencies’ consumer financial rulemaking, enforcement, and supervision activities. The MOU establishes regular meetings between the two entities, as well as processes for providing notice of enforcement activities. Under the MOU, the CFPB and the FTC will be able to share consumer complaint information, and the FTC can request CFPB examination reports and confidential supervisory information.
On January 23, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), the entity serving as conservator for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, released a letter sent to certain members of Congress describing the internal analyses that resulted in FHFA’s decision not to use principal forgiveness as part of Fannie Mae’s and Freddie Mac’s loan modification programs. In short, the letter and analyses support FHFA’s previous publicly-stated conclusion that FHFA lacks statutory authority to incur the taxpayer losses that would result from the use of principal forgiveness. The letter concludes that “forbearance achieves marginally lower losses for the taxpayer than forgiveness,” but both provide the same more affordable payment for the borrower. The additional costs of principal forgiveness would not be offset by preservation of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac assets.
On January 18, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia denied a motion to dismiss a putative class action suit alleging violations of the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA). Bolinger v. First Multiple Listing Serv., Inc., No. 10-00211-RWS, 2012 WL 137883 (N.D. Ga. Jan. 18, 2012). Georgia residents who purchased properties listed on the First Multiple Listing Service, Inc. (FMLS) database claim that member agents and brokers paid fees to FMLS out of settlement proceeds but did not disclose those fees on the HUD-1 settlement statement. Plaintiffs also claim that FMLS used those fees to pay kickbacks to member brokers for referrals of listing business. As such, plaintiffs allege that defendants violated (i) Section 8 of RESPA; (ii) the Sherman Act; and (iii) several Georgia state laws. The court found that plaintiffs alleged sufficient facts for their RESPA claims to survive the motion to dismiss. The Court did, however, dismiss plaintiffs’ claims under the Sherman Act, holding that the plaintiffs failed to allege facts showing that defendants engaged in price-fixing by agreeing to fix broker commissions.
On January 20, the CFPB issued a final rule to amend regulations applicable to consumer remittance transfers of over fifteen dollars originating in the United States and sent internationally. Generally, the final rule requires remittance transfer providers to (i) provide written pre-payment disclosures of the exchange rates and fees associated with a transfer of funds, as well as the amount of funds the recipient will receive, and (ii) investigate consumer disputes and remedy errors. The rulemaking stems from a Dodd-Frank Act provision that expanded the scope of the Electronic Fund Transfer Act to cover international money transfers, and concludes an effort started by the Federal Reserve Board (FRB) that was transferred to the CFPB last year. The final rule closely tracks the proposed FRB rule, but among other things, provides (i) a thirty-minute cancellation period for consumers, as opposed to the proposed one-day period, (ii) additional compliance guidance for specific circumstances, including for transactions conducted by mobile applications, and (iii) revised model disclosure forms. Concurrent with the final rule, the CFPB issued a request for comment on additional revisions to the regulations, including comments and information for use in (i) setting a specific safe harbor for remittance transfer providers that do not provide such services “in the normal course of business”, and (ii) applying the new disclosure and cancellation requirements in cases where the request is made several days in advance of the transfer date. Comments on the proposal will be accepted for sixty days following publication in the Federal Register.