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On August 8, at the direction of the FHFA, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (GSEs) announced that the mandatory use of the redesigned Uniform Residential Loan Application (URLA) will no longer begin on February 1, 2020. FHFA has directed the GSEs to make specific modifications to the URLA form, including, most notably, the removal of the language preference question. The question, along with the home ownership education and housing counseling question, will now be a part of a separate voluntary consumer information form. The announcement does not provide information on the new implementation dates.
On August 8, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky granted a loan applicant’s request for partial summary judgment on allegations that a bank violated ECOA when it failed to timely send an adverse-action notice. The court ruled that the bank failed to establish its inadvertent error defense. The plaintiff’s loan application was submitted on October 30, 2018, and subsequently reviewed and denied on November 5 due to “issues with his credit report that needed to be resolved” in order for his application to be fully considered. The adverse action paperwork was then placed in a courier pouch for delivery to the lending officer responsible for notifying the plaintiff. However, the information failed to make it to the intended officer until after the plaintiff filed the action, upon which, the adverse action letter was generated on December 19. Under ECOA, notification of action must be made within 30 days of receipt.
The bank argued that partial summary judgment was inappropriate because the failure to provide notice within 30 days was an “inadvertent error” under 12 CFR 1002.16, and therefore did not constitute a violation of ECOA. The court stated that, in order to prevail on its argument on the safe-harbor provision for inadvertent errors, the bank, as the nonmoving party, must establish three elements: (i) the error was “mechanical, electronic, or clerical”; (ii) the error was unintentional; and (iii) the error “occurred ‘. . .notwithstanding the maintenance of procedures reasonably adapted to avoid such errors.” However, the bank conceded that it could not explain what caused the courier pouch error, put forth no evidence to show that the effort was clerical in nature, and also acknowledged that it “does not maintain any procedure reasonably adapted to avoid such errors.” As such, the court determined that the bank failed to demonstrate the existence of a genuine issue of any material fact bearing on the elements of the defense, and thus failed to qualify for the safe harbor defense.
On August 6, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit affirmed a district court ruling that ordered three Chinese banks to comply with subpoenas seeking customer records stemming from a DOJ investigation into a now-defunct Chinese company’s evasion of North Korean sanctions, or face contempt fines each of $50,000 per day. According to the DOJ, the banks allegedly facilitated transactions for the Chinese company that may have operated as a front for the North Korean government in violation of U.S. sanctions. In 2017, the DOJ obtained grand jury subpoenas seeking records related to U.S. correspondent banking transactions of the defunct company from two of the banks with U.S. branches, and served the third bank, which did not have U.S. branches, with a Patriot Act subpoena. After the banks refused to comply with the subpoenas, the district court granted the DOJ’s motion to compel.
On appeal, the D.C. Circuit concluded that the district court had personal jurisdiction to enforce the subpoenas. The appellate court held that the two banks with U.S. branches consented to jurisdiction when they opened those branches because they had executed agreements with the Federal Reserve which required compliance with relevant provisions of federal law. For the bank without U.S. branches, the D.C. Circuit determined that “it had sufficient contact with the [U.S.] as a whole and the subpoena sufficiently related to that contact so as to support the court’s personal jurisdiction.” The court also held that the foreign records sought from the bank without U.S. branches were within the scope of the PATRIOT Act subpoena, noting that the PATRIOT Act authorized the DOJ to issue a “subpoena to any foreign bank that maintains a correspondent account in the [U.S.] and request records related to such correspondent account, including records maintained outside of the [U.S.] relating to the deposit of funds into the foreign bank.” The appellate court also affirmed the district court’s decision to hold the banks in contempt, dismissing the banks’ argument that this move was improper because they had done all they could to obtain approval from the Chinese government to produce the subpoenaed records.
On August 6, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced that the “Iranian Human Rights Sanctions Regulations” has been renamed as the “Iranian Sector and Human Rights Abuses Sanctions Regulations.” The amended sanctions regulations implement Executive Order (E.O.) 13871 (previously covered by InfoBytes here), which authorizes the imposition of sanctions on persons determined to operate in Iran’s iron, steel, aluminum, and copper sectors. OFAC concurrently amended and published several new FAQs, including a discussion of the relevant 90-day wind-down period for affected transactions as well as sanction exceptions. The amendments take effect August 7.
Visit here for additional InfoBytes coverage of actions related to Iran.
On August 5, the Florida attorney general announced a $1.2 million settlement with a Florida auto dealership and its owner (defendants) for allegedly violating the state’s Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act by failing to pay off outstanding liens on vehicle trade-ins. According to a complaint filed in the Circuit Court of the 4th Judicial Circuit, the AG initiated an investigation alleging that the defendants, among other things, accumulated unpaid obligations of more than $1.2 million to lienholders on traded-in vehicles. As a result, consumers were held accountable for the debt and received invoices from the lienholders. For consumers who did not make payments on their trade-ins, the lienholders often reported the defaults to credit bureaus, with, in some instances, the adverse credit reporting affected service members’ security clearances. The AG also noted that in certain circumstances, the lienholder attempted to repossess vehicles that were no longer owned by the consumers. Additionally, the defendants also failed to process title transfers within the statutorily required time frame, which resulted in some consumers experiencing difficulty when trying to obtain financing and insurance on their other vehicles, and others being sold traded-in vehicles without having clear title. In 2018, the dealership was purchased and the outstanding liens paid by the acquiring company. Under the terms of the settlement, the defendants have agreed to pay approximately $1.2 million in equitable consumer restitution, $235,000 in civil penalties, and $15,000 for attorney’s fees and costs. The defendants are also permanently enjoined from owning, operating, or managing an auto or truck dealership in the state at any time in the future.
On August 6, the CFPB published a blog providing an update on credit access and the Bureau’s first-issued No-Action Letter (NAL), and reporting that use of alternative data in underwriting may expand access to credit. In 2017, the CFPB announced its first NAL to a company that uses alternative data and machine learning to make credit underwriting and pricing decisions. One condition for receiving the NAL required the company to agree to a model risk management and compliance plan, which analyzed and addressed risks to consumers and the real-world impact of its service. Through specific testing, the company worked to answer two key questions: (i) “whether the tested model’s use of alternative data and machine learning expands access to credit, including lower-priced credit, overall and for various applicant segments, compared to the traditional model”; and (ii) “whether the tested model’s underwriting or pricing outcomes result in greater disparities than the traditional model with respect to race, ethnicity, sex, or age, and if so, whether applicants in different protected class groups with similar model-predicted default risk actually default at the same rate.”
According to the Bureau, the company reported that in the access to credit comparisons, the alternative data model approved 27 percent more applicants as compared to a traditional underwriting model, and yielded 16 percent lower average APRs for approved loans, with the expansion in access to credit “occur[ing] across all tested race, ethnicity, and sex segments.” For the fair lending testing, the company reported that no disparities were found in the approval rate and APR analysis results provided for minority, female, and older applicants. Additionally, the company reported significant expansion of access to credit for certain consumer segments under the tested model, including that (i) “consumers with FICO scores from 620 to 660 are approved approximately twice as frequently”; (ii) “[a]pplicants under 25 years of age are 32 [percent] more likely to be approved”; and (iii) “[c]onsumers with incomes under $50,000 are 13 [percent] more likely to be approved.” The Bureau noted that the testing results were provided by the company, and the simulations and analyses were not separately replicated by the Bureau.
On August 6, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced a roughly $1.7 million settlement with a Washington-based truck manufacturer for 63 alleged violations of the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations. The settlement resolves potential civil liability for actions taken by a wholly-owned subsidiary of the company that allegedly sold or supplied trucks with a total transactional value of over $5.4 million to European customers, but knew or had reason to know the trucks were ultimately intended for buyers in Iran.
In arriving at the settlement amount, OFAC considered various mitigating factors, including that (i) neither the company nor the subsidiary have received a penalty or finding of a violation in the five years prior to the transactions at issue; (ii) the subsidiary had in place at the time of the alleged violations a trade sanctions compliance program with contractual prohibitions on dealers and service partners that were re-selling products in violation of U.S. trade sanctions; and (iii) the company and subsidiary voluntarily self-disclosed the issue to OFAC, cooperated with OFAC during the investigation, and undertook remedial efforts to minimize the risk of similar violations from occurring in the future.
OFAC also considered various aggravating factors, including that the subsidiary failed to exercise caution when alerted to warning signs regarding the potential sales, and that in each instance, a subsidiary employee was aware of the conduct leading to the alleged violations.
Visit here for additional InfoBytes coverage of actions related to Iran.
On August 6, NYDFS announced it is leading a multistate investigation into the payroll advance industry based on allegations of unlawful online lending. According to NYDFS, the investigation will focus on whether companies are violating state banking laws, including usury limits, licensing laws, and other applicable laws regulating payday lending. NYDFS alleges that some companies appear to collect unlawful interest rates disguised as “tips” as well as monthly membership and/or excessive additional fees, and may collect improper overdraft charges.
In addition to New York, other states in the investigation include: Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, North Caroline, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Texas.
On August 5, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit reversed the conviction of two individuals for bank fraud, holding that the government had failed to prove that the defendants intended to obtain bank property or defraud the financial institutions that owned the mortgage companies targeted by the scheme. The complaint alleged the defendants—a homebuilder and a mortgage broker—recruited straw buyers to purchase the homebuilder’s homes, in which they obtained more than $5 million from mortgage companies through fraudulent mortgage applications that made several misrepresentations, including overstating the buyers’ incomes and falsely claiming that the buyers planned to live in the homes. During the trial, the government argued that the jury could reasonably infer that the federally insured parent banks controlled the funds, since the mortgage companies were wholly owned subsidiaries of the banks. The government further asserted that the mortgage companies’ funds belonged to the banks because “any losses incurred by the mortgage companies would ‘flow directly up’ to the banks.”
On appeal, the 6th Circuit reversed the defendants’ bank fraud convictions, holding that the mortgage companies held no federally insured deposits, and that while each mortgage company is a wholly owned subsidiary of a bank, the mortgage companies and the banks are distinct entities. As such, the mortgage companies did not qualify as “financial institutions,” as defined under 18 U.S.C. § 20(1). The appellate court also rejected the government’s arguments because Congress had amended § 20 after the events at issue in the case by adding language covering mortgage lenders to its “enumeration of ‘financial institutions,’” thereby demonstrating that mortgage lenders were not covered by the prior version of § 20. In addition, the court also indicated that the government offered no evidence proving that the defendants sought to obtain bank property “by means of” a misrepresentation, pointing out that no evidence was presented to show that any of the misrepresentations on the loan applications ever reached anyone at the parent banks. As such, “the scheme’s effect on the value of the banks’ ownership interests in the mortgage companies was merely ‘incidental’ to the scheme’s goal of defrauding the mortgage companies.” Accordingly, the court held that the government failed to prove that the defendants committed bank fraud.
On August 1, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York allowed breach of contract and clear and conspicuous disclosure claims brought by a proposed class of consumers against a national bank to proceed, finding that ambiguity exists over whether credit card cryptocurrency purchases are “cash-like transactions.” The plaintiffs claimed that the bank breached their cardholder agreements when it changed the classification of cryptocurrency acquisitions from “purchases” to “cash advances” between January 23 and February 2, 2018. Plaintiffs contended that this change subjected cardholders to higher interest rates and transaction fees in violation of their cardholder agreements. Moreover, the plaintiffs claimed that the bank’s failure to clearly and conspicuously disclose the different types of transactions and varying rates, as well as its failure to provide advance notice of significant changes in its account terms and accurate disclosures in periodic account statements, violated TILA and Regulation Z.
The bank countered that no breach of contract occurred because cryptocurrency acquisitions are “cash-like transactions” that, under the cardholder agreement, are properly classified as cash advances. Specifically, the bank stated that because cryptocurrency can be a “medium of exchange, a measure of value, or a means of payment” under the definition of “cash,” it is therefore “cash-like.”
The court concluded that the plaintiffs offered a reasonable argument that purchases of cryptocurrency did not constitute cash advances. Plaintiffs argued that the contractual term “cash-like”—which was used in the cardholder agreement to describe a cash advance—referred only to financial instruments formally tied to physical, government-issued “fiat” currency, such as checks, money orders, and wire transfers. “Because, as plaintiffs plausibly allege, cryptocurrency does not imbue its holder with a legal right to any government-issued currency, acquisitions of cryptocurrency could not be classified as a cash-like transaction,” the court stated. As such, “[b]ecause plaintiffs have identified a reasonable interpretation of ‘cash-like transactions’ that would exclude purchases of cryptocurrency, the breach of contract claim survives the motion to dismiss.” The court also allowed plaintiffs’ “clear and conspicuous” disclosure claim under TILA to survive because the contract was not clear that purchases of cryptocurrency would result in cash advance fees. However, the court dismissed the plaintiffs’ remaining TILA claims, finding that (i) the bank did not change the contract terms themselves, but rather their application; and (ii) the periodic account statements did not inaccurately convey what the plaintiffs owed to the bank for those particular periods of time.
- Benjamin W. Hutten to discuss "Requirements for banking inherently high-risk relationships" at the Georgia Bankers Association BSA Experience Program
- Benjamin W. Hutten to discuss "BSA program reporting, management and board of directors responsibilities" at the Georgia Bankers Association BSA Experience Program
- Hank Asbill to discuss "Ethical guidance in conducting internal investigations – The intersection of Yates and Upjohn" at the American Bar Association Southeastern White Collar Crime Institute
- H Joshua Kotin to discuss "Recent developments in fair lending and avoiding the pitfalls" at the Arkansas Community Bankers/Bankers Assurance 2019 Compliance Conference
- Brandy A. Hood to discuss "RESPA Section 8/referrals: How do you stay compliant?" at the New England Mortgage Bankers Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Risk management in enforcement actions: Managing risk or micromanaging it" at the American Bar Association Business Law Section Annual Meeting
- Valerie L. Hletko to discuss "Banking on guns ‘n drugs: Social policy meets financial services" at the American Bar Association Business Law Section Annual Meeting
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Navigating the conflicting federal and state laws for doing business with cannabis companies" at the American Bar Association Business Law Section Annual Meeting
- Tim Lange to discuss "Services and value" at the North American Collection Agency Regulatory Association Annual Conference
- Katherine L. Halliday to discuss "UDAP, UDAAP & the Map rule compliance basics" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Brandy A. Hood to discuss "How to ace your TRID exam" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Amanda R. Lawrence to discuss "Data privacy litigation" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Melissa Klimkiewicz to discuss "Navigating FHA rules and regs" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Jeffrey P. Naimon to discuss "Washington regulatory overview" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "HMDA data is out, now what?" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Assessing the CDD final rule: A year of transitions" at the ACAMS AML & Financial Crime Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Lessons learned from recent enforcement actions and CMPs" at the ACAMS AML & Financial Crime Conference
- Kathryn L. Ryan to discuss "The state’s role in fintech: Providing an industry framework for innovation" at Lend360
- Jeffrey P. Naimon to discuss "Truth in lending" at the American Bar Association National Institute on Consumer Financial Services Basics
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Lessons learned from recent enforcement actions" at the Institute of International Bankers Risk Management and Regulatory Examination/Compliance Seminar
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Fintech regulatory developments, crypto-assets, blockchain and digital banking, and consumer issues" at the Practising Law Institute Banking Law Institute
- Amanda R. Lawrence to discuss "How to balance a successful (and stressful) career with greater personal well-being" at the American Bar Association Women in Litigation Joint CLE Conference