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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

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  • SEC awards approximately $2.5 million to whistleblower

    Securities

    On April 9, the SEC announced an approximately $2.5 million whistleblower award in connection with a successful enforcement action. According to the redacted order, the whistleblower supplied information that led to charges related to a breach of fiduciary duties owed to investors, provided significant ongoing assistance to enforcement staff, and reported the information internally to the company.

    The SEC has now paid approximately $762 million to 148 individuals since the inception of the whistleblower program in 2012.

    Securities Securities Exchange Act Whistleblower Enforcement

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  • OFAC sanctions Burmese gem enterprise

    Financial Crimes

    On April 8, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions pursuant to Executive Order 14014 against a Burmese state-owned entity responsible for all gemstone activities in Burma. According to OFAC, gemstones are a “key economic resource for the Burmese military regime that is violently repressing pro-democracy protests” and is accountable for the continuing deadly attacks against the people of Burma. As a result of the sanctions, all property and interests in property of the entity in the U.S. or in the possession or control of U.S. persons are blocked and must be reported to OFAC. Additionally, “any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, 50 percent or more by one or more blocked persons are also blocked.” U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in any dealings involving the property or interests in property of blocked or designated persons, unless exempt or authorized by a general or specific license.

    Financial Crimes OFAC Department of Treasury Sanctions Burma Of Interest to Non-US Persons OFAC Designations SDN List

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  • Court signals approval of tribal lending settlement

    Courts

    On April 7, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia preliminarily approved a revised class action settlement concerning allegations that an operation used tribal sovereign immunity to evade state usury laws when charging unlawful interest on loans. The plaintiffs filed a class action complaint against the operation alleging, among other things, violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, EFTA, and TILA. The preliminarily-approved revised settlement would cancel approximately 71,000 class member loans, including a group of loans sold by the operation to another investor. It would also require the operation to pay $86 million, including an additional $21 million payment from the individual defendant, and cap attorneys’ fees for class counsel at $15 million. The operation would also be required to comply with several non-monetary provisions, including (i) requesting that negative credit reporting information concerning the loans be deleted; and (ii) ensuring that key loan terms, including interest rates and payment schedules to borrowers, are disclosed in loan agreements in compliance with federal law.

    Courts Class Action Settlement Tribal Lending Online Lending Consumer Finance Usury RICO TILA EFTA

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  • 2nd Circuit: Banking a known terrorist organization does not, by itself, establish Antiterrorism Act liability

    Courts

    On April 7, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed summary judgments (see here and here) dismissing amended complaints filed in two actions seeking to hold a U.K. bank and a French bank, respectively, liable under the Antiterrorism Act of 1990 (ATA) for allegedly “providing banking services to a charitable organization with alleged ties to Hamas, a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) alleged to have committed a series of terrorist attacks in Israel in 2001-2004.” The complaints alleged that the U.K. bank and the French bank knowingly provided banking services, including sending millions of dollars in wire transfers, to organizations previously designated by the U.S. as Specially Designated Global Terrorists. The district court referred to the 2nd Circuit’s decision in Linde v. Arab Bank PLC, in which the appellate court held that “a bank’s provision of material support to a known terrorist organization is not, by itself, sufficient to establish the bank’s liability under the ATA,” and that “in order to satisfy the ATA’s requirements for civil liability as a principal,” the bank’s act must “also involve violence or endanger human life.” Moreover, the Linde opinion held, among other things, that a bank’s act must be intended to intimidate or coerce the civilian population or influence or affect a government, and that the bank “ must have been ‘generally aware of [its] role as part of an overall illegal or tortious activity at the time’” the assistance was provided.

    The plaintiffs argued in a consolidated appeal that the district court misapplied the Linde holding and erred in concluding that the evidence presented was “insufficient to permit an inference that the bank was generally aware that it was playing a role in terrorism.” The banks countered that if the appellate court reversed the judgments, the claims should be thrown out for lack of personal jurisdiction. On appeal, the 2nd Circuit agreed with the district court’s dismissal of claims “on the ground that plaintiffs failed to adduce sufficient evidence that the bank itself committed an act of international terrorism within the meaning of §§ 2333(a) and 2331(1)” of the ATA. The opinion noted, among other things, that the plaintiffs’ experts said the charities to which the banks transferred funds as instructed by one of the organizations actually performed charitable work and that there was no indication that they funded terrorist attacks. As such, the banks’ conditional cross-appeal was dismissed as moot.

    Courts Financial Crimes Of Interest to Non-US Persons Appellate Second Circuit Antiterrorism Act U.K. France Foreign Terrorist Organization OFAC

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  • 11th Circuit: Class members must arbitrate overdraft suits

    Courts

    On April 7, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit upheld a district court’s ruling compelling individual arbitration in five separate putative class action suits concerning allegations that a national bank’s overdraft practices violated the covenant of good faith and fair dealing. The opinion does not address plaintiffs’ claims concerning the bank’s alleged overdraft practices, but rather reviews the enforceability of arbitration clauses contained in account agreements between plaintiffs and the bank (or its predecessor), which require individual, non-class arbitration of consumer account-related disputes. The plaintiffs appealed a ruling by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida that the account agreements “delegate[] to the arbitrator all questions of arbitrability, including Plaintiffs’ challenge to the enforceability of the arbitration clause,” and that it is up to the arbitrator, and not the court, to determine whether the parties are required to arbitrate. According to the plaintiffs, the arbitration clause is illusory and/or unconscionable and therefore unenforceable. They challenged, among other things, that “the incorporation of the [American Arbitration Association] (AAA) rules cannot overcome the plain language of the delegation clause,” which the plaintiffs argued limited delegation of gateway issues to those related to a disagreement about the meaning of the arbitration agreement or whether a disagreement is a “dispute” subject to binding arbitration.”

    The appellate court disagreed, concluding that nothing in the account agreement with the bank “explicitly excludes or contradicts” anything included in the AAA rules, and that it has repeatedly held that an agreement that incorporates “AAA rules with language providing that ‘the arbitrator shall have the power to rule on his or her own jurisdiction,’” shows “a clear and unmistakable intent that the arbitrator should decide all questions of arbitrability.” Moreover, the 11th Circuit found no inconsistency in the account agreement’s language, holding that when “[r]ead together, we view the incorporation and delegation clause as ‘mutually reinforcing methods of delegation.’” With respect to the predecessor bank’s agreement, which does not contain a delegation provision, the appellate court ultimately determined that the arbitration clause was neither illusory and/or unconscionable.

    Courts Appellate Eleventh Circuit Arbitration Overdraft Class Action

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  • Agencies issue MRMG; seek comments on BSA/AML compliance

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

    On April 9, the Federal Reserve Board, FDIC, and OCC, in consultation with FinCEN and the NCUA, issued a joint statement on the use of risk management principles outlined in the agencies’ “Supervisory Guidance on Model Risk Management” (known as the “model risk management guidance” or MRMG) as it relates to financial institutions’ compliance with Bank Secrecy Act/anti-money laundering (BSA/AML) rules. While the joint statement is “intended to clarify how the MRMG may be a useful resource to guide a bank’s [model risk management] framework, whether formal or informal, and assist with BSA/AML compliance,” the agencies emphasized that the MRMG is nonbinding and does not alter existing BSA/AML legal or regulatory requirements or establish new supervisory expectations. In conjunction with the release of the joint statement, the agencies also issued a request for information (RFI) on the extent to which the principles discussed in the MRMG support compliance by financial institutions with BSA/AML and Office of Foreign Assets Control requirements. The agencies seek comments and information to better understand bank practices in these specific areas and to determine whether additional explanation or clarification may be helpful in increasing transparency, effectiveness, or efficiency. Comments on the RFI are due within 60 days of publication in the Federal Register.

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance Federal Reserve FDIC OCC FinCEN NCUA Bank Secrecy Act Anti-Money Laundering OFAC Risk Management Of Interest to Non-US Persons

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  • FTC settles with sellers of antennas, signal amplifiers

    Federal Issues

    On April 8, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York issued a nearly $32 million judgment against the owners and operators of a New York-based enterprise that sells antennas and amplifiers (collectively, “defendants”) for allegedly misleading customers about the quality of their products. The agency alleges in its complaint that the defendants violated the FTC Act by “making deceptive performance claims for their over-the-air television antennas and related signal amplifiers, using deceptive consumer endorsements, and misrepresenting that some of their web pages were objective news reports about the antennas.” Under the terms of the order, the company is barred from making misleading claims about the products’ quality, the number of channels users can acquire, or any other claims about its ranking compared to other products. While the order imposes a $32 million judgment against the defendants, the full judgment will be suspended upon payment of $650,000, subject to certain conditions.

    Federal Issues FTC Settlement UDAP Deceptive FTC Act Enforcement

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  • Fannie and Freddie update General QM Rule loan eligibility

    Federal Issues

    On April 8, Fannie Mae issued Lender Letter LL-2021-09 announcing updates to eligibility for loans subject to the CFPB’s revised General Qualified Mortgage (QM) Rule (covered by InfoBytes here). Among other things, Fannie notes that because its preferred stock purchase agreement (PSPA) with the U.S. Department of Treasury requires that acquired loans meet the General QM Rule’s loan definition that became effective March 1, it will no longer, in accordance with the dates below, acquire GSE Patch loans that fail to meet to the revised General QM Rule. Specifically, in order to be eligible for purchase by Fannie (certain exceptions are provided for government loans), such loans “must have application dates on or before June 30, 2021” and must “be purchased as whole loans on or before August. 31, 2021, or in MBS pools with an issue date on or before August 1, 2021.” Fannie further notes that it continues to assess the impact of the revised General QM Rule and PSPA on its policies and operations and anticipates further eligibility and underwriting requirement changes. The same day Freddie Mac also issued Bulletin 2021-13, which provides similar updates for loans with application received dates on or after July 1, 2021, and all mortgages with settlement dates after August 31, 2021.

    Federal Issues Fannie Mae Freddie Mac GSEs Mortgages Qualified Mortgage

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  • Industry group sues to stop Washington’s emergency rule banning credit scoring in insurance underwriting

    State Issues

    According to sources, the American Property Casualty Insurance Association (APCIA) recently filed a lawsuit in Washington Superior Court in an attempt to stop an emergency rule issued last month by the Washington Insurance Commissioner, which bans the use of credit-based insurance scores in the rating and underwriting of insurance for a three-year period. The rule specifically prohibits insurers from “us[ing] credit history to place insurance coverage with a particular affiliated insurer or insurer within an overall group of affiliated insurance companies” and applies to all new policies effective, and existing policies processed for renewal, on or after June 20, 2021.

    According to a press release issued by the Commissioner, the emergency rule is intended to prevent discriminatory pricing in private auto, renters, and homeowners insurance in anticipation of the end of the CARES Act, which will expire 120 days after President Biden declares an end to the national emergency caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Under the CARES Act, Congress required furnishers of information to credit bureaus to modify credit reporting practices if and when they grant an “accommodation”—that is, an agreement to defer payments, modify a loan, or grant other relief—to borrowers impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, irrespective of asset type to ensure that borrowers who sought and obtained forbearance or other relief were not credit reported as becoming delinquent or further delinquent as a result of the forbearance or other relief (see Buckley Special Alert), which the Commissioner believes has disrupted the credit reporting process and reportedly caused credit bureaus to collect inaccurate credit histories for some consumers. The Commissioner further contends that because “the predicative ability of current credit scoring models cannot be assumed,” scoring models used by insurers to set rates for policyholders have been degraded and will have a disparate impact on consumers with lower incomes and communities of color. Sources report that APCIA’s lawsuit—which seeks declaratory and injunctive relief (and asks the court to declare the Commissioner’s rule invalid and to enjoin its enforcement)—claims the Commissioner’s rule will harm insured consumers in the state who pay less for auto, homeowners, and renters insurance because of the use of credit-based insurance scores to predict risk and set rates.

    State Issues State Regulators Covid-19 Credit Scores Insurance Underwriting Courts CARES Act

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  • CFPB settles with California-based company for debt collection violations

    Federal Issues

    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).

    Federal Issues Consumer Finance CFPB Settlement Enforcement Debt Collection CFPA FDCPA UDAAP Deceptive

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