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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations


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  • First Circuit Finds Waiver of Rescission Rights Through Loan Modification, Affirms District Court Dismissal for Failure to State a Claim Under Massachusetts' TILA Equivalent


    On January 6, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed two prior court rulings against a plaintiff for failure to state a claim for relief under the Massachusetts Consumer Credit Cost Disclosure Act (MCCCDA), Massachusetts' equivalent of the Truth in Lending Act (TILA). The First Circuit also concluded that execution of a loan modification meant that plaintiff waived any rescission rights under the MCCCDA, an issue which the district court did not reach. DiVittorio v. HSBC Bank USA, N.A., No. 11-1188, 2012 WL 33063 (1st Cir. Jan. 6, 2007). In DiVittorio, plaintiff sought to rescind a loan agreement on the ground that the disclosures made at closing did not comply with the MCCCDA. Plaintiff argued that he was entitled to rescission, damages and attorneys' fees because (i) the APR was not calculated in conformity with applicable regulations, (ii) the disclosure significantly underestimated the finance charge for the loan, and (iii) the disclosure failed to specify explicitly that payments were to be made monthly. The First Circuit, however, found that plaintiff, following repeated defaults on the loan obligation, knowingly and willingly entered into a loan modification agreement that contained a release by plaintiff with a waiver provision which waived any rescission rights he may have had. The modification had been entered into with the assistance of counsel and approved by the bankruptcy court. Independent of the modification agreement, the First Circuit concluded that plaintiff failed to state a claim for relief under TILA or the MCCCDA because (i) the performance-based reduction in interest rate was used in APR calculations, reflecting the parties' legal obligations, and was adequately set forth in the loan documents; (ii) there was no need to include in the disclosures any "unanticipated" additional interest charged as a result of late payments, as such falls outside the definition of "finance charge"; and (iii) the disclosure that there would be 360 payments spanning thirty years was sufficient such that a reasonable person would have understood that payments were to be made on a monthly basis, despite the form's failure to use the term "monthly" or to refer to the life of the loan over "360 months."


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  • Massachusetts District Court Says Zip Codes Constitute Personal Identification Information


    On January 6, the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts found that a retailer’s collection of ZIP codes during a credit card transaction can constitute a violation of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93, §105(a) (the Act), but held that a plaintiff must allege actual harm. Tyler v. Michaels Stores, Inc., No. 11-10920, 2012 WL 32208 (D. Mass. Jan. 6, 2012). The complaint, filed on behalf of a putative class, alleged that a retailer’s request for customer ZIP codes when processing credit card transactions violates the Act because ZIP codes constitute protected personal identification information (PII). Noting that the plaintiff alleged only that she had received unwanted mail, not that the information was sold or otherwise exposed her to an increased risk of fraud, the court agreed with the retailer and held that the plaintiff failed to allege actual injury. However, the court found that ZIP codes are PII under the Act, and that plaintiff had alleged a per se statutory violation. The court warned that "[s]ince retailers so routinely request a customer's ZIP code at the point-of-sale in a credit card transaction, they ought note here that this Court holds [the retailer] potentially to have violated [the Act] if such request was made during a transaction in which the credit card issuer did not require such disclosure.” The court’s decision also distinguished the Act as "much narrower in scope” than California’s Song-Beverly Act, which is intended not only to prevent fraud like the Act, but also to "prevent[] retailers from directly or indirectly obtaining personal identification information for marketing purposes," which was the subject of the California Supreme Court’s holding in Pineda v. Williams Sonoma, Inc., 246 P.3d 612 (Cal. Sup. Ct. 2011). On January 13, plaintiff moved the court to certify the question of law at issue in this case to the Massachusetts Supreme Court.

    Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security

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  • Ninth Circuit Holds That California Law Cannot be Applied to a Nationwide Class


    On January 12, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed the certification of a forty-four state class of consumers, finding that California’s consumer protection laws could not be applied to a nationwide class, and that even a California-only class failed the rigorous analysis required for certification recently affirmed in the Supreme Court’s decision in Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, 131 S. Ct. 2541 (2011). Mazza v. American Honda Motor Co., Inc., No. 09-55376, 2012 WL 89176 (9th Cir. January 12, 2012).

    In Mazza, plaintiffs sued a California vehicle manufacturer for violations of California’s unfair competition and false advertising laws as well as unjust enrichment, alleging that the manufacturer misrepresented and concealed material information in its marketing of vehicles equipped with a collision safety system. The court found that under California’s choice of law rules, each state had an interest in the application of its own laws to the claims of those putative class members who purchased or leased vehicles in those states. Further, material differences among the forty-four states’ laws required that each state’s law must be applied to the transactions that occurred in-state. The court noted that each state has an interest in determining the level of liability faced by companies operating in-state, such that “[m]aximizing consumer and business welfare, and achieving the correct balance for society, does not inexorably favor greater consumer protection; instead, setting a baseline of corporate liability for consumer harm requires balancing the competing interests” in each state. Accordingly, the class could not be maintained under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(3) because the material variations in the laws of the multiple states “overwhelm common issues and preclude predominance for a single nationwide class.” The court also held that even a California-only class failed the predominance requirement of Rule 23(b)(3) because class members could not be presumed to have relied on the manufacturer’s “very limited” advertisements of the collision safety system. According to the court, unlike the sort of “extensive and long-term” fraudulent advertising campaign that could justify a presumption of reliance by members of the class, the manufacturer’s campaign was neither temporally expansive nor affirmatively dishonest. Thus, the individual factual issues regarding whether each class member had actually seen the advertising prior to purchasing or leasing the vehicle precluded class certification.

    Class Action

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  • WEBINAR: An Insider's View of Dealing with State Attorneys General - Insights for Financial Services Firms

    State Issues

    Please Join Us for STAGE Network's First Webinar of 2012: An Insider's View of Dealing with State Attorneys General - Insights for Financial Services Firms

    Special Guest: Hon. Patrick C. Lynch, former Rhode Island Attorney General and former President of the National Association of Attorneys General.

    This webinar will feature a discussion, led by Mr. Lynch, on how to proactively interact with State Attorney General offices to build relationships and open up effective channels of communication.

    It will also include practical advice on responding to Civil Investigative Demands. This discussion will be led by Benjamin Klubes of BuckleySandler LLP and Raymond Banoun of Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP, both of whom have extensive experience dealing with state and federal law enforcement and regulatory agencies on behalf of clients.

    When: January 18, 2012 at 2:30 ET

    Click here to view the full announcement and agenda.

    State Attorney General

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  • DOJ Releases Memorandum on Legality of Recess Appointments

    Consumer Finance

    On January 12, the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel, which is responsible for providing legal advice to the President, released the memorandum it prepared in advance of the President’s recent decision to appoint Richard Cordray as CFPB Director. In short, the memorandum finds when the Senate is in a periodic pro forma session in which no business is to be conducted, the President may (i) conclude that the Senate is unavailable to perform its advise-and-consent function and (ii) exercise his power to make recess appointments. Pro forma sessions do not have the legal effect of interrupting an intrasession recess otherwise long enough to qualify as a "Recess of the Senate” under the Constitution. The conclusions are based on three considerations explored in detail in the memorandum: (i) the original understanding of the framers and the “longstanding views” of the executive and legislative branches with regard to the practical availability of the Senate to consider nominees, (ii) the inconsistent result of allowing pro forma sessions to prevent Presidential recess appointments given the purpose of the recess appointment clause and historical practice in similar situations, and (iii) the need to preserve constitutional separation of powers.


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  • Fannie Mae Updates Maximum Allowable Foreclosure-Related Fees


    On January 11, Fannie Mae published Service Guide Announcement SVC-2012-2, which updates limits for certain foreclosure-related fees. Effective January 1, 2012, Fannie Mae increased the maximum allowable fees for certain pre-foreclosure mediation services performed on loans secured by properties in Florida. Fannie Mae also announced an increase in the maximum allowable foreclosure attorney fees for mortgage loans, participation pool mortgage loans, and MBS mortgage loans serviced under the special servicing option secured by properties located in Hawaii, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. While most of these increased allowable attorney fees are effective for loans referred to an attorney on or after January 1, 2012, the Hawaii fee changes apply to loans referred on or after May 1, 2011.

    Fannie Mae

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  • Fannie Mae Issues Lender Letter Regarding HOPE Hotline Counseling


    On January 11, Fannie Mae issued Lender Letter LL-2012-1, reminding servicers to continue to refer borrowers to the Homeowner’s HOPE Hotline, and noting that Fannie Mae now will pay counseling fees directly. For cases initiated prior to January 1, 2012, servicers must invoice counseling fees no later than March 31, 2012 and must submit requests for reimbursement of invoiced fees no later than April 30, 2012.

    Fannie Mae

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  • HUD Proposes Eliminating Maximum Loan Limit Appeals


    On January 13, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) published a proposed rule to eliminate the process by which interested parties may appeal the maximum allowable loan limit for a geographic area. Noting the modern availability of sales-transaction data at the county level, HUD states that there is no longer a need to allow requests for alternative limits. Further, the appeals disrupt HUD’s overall loan limit determination process, and, by eliminating appeals, HUD will be able to release annual loan limits earlier, thereby providing more certainty to the market. HUD also noted that, because of the availability of transaction data, it received zero requests for appeal of the 2011 loan limits.


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  • Upromise Settles with FTC Over Collection of Consumers' Personal Information


    On January 5, the FTC announced that Upromise had agreed to settle charges that its collection of consumers’ personal information was deceptive and an unfair practice, and that the collection violated federal law. Upromise’s website offered consumers a “TurboSaver Toolbar” download with a “Personalized Offers” feature to tailor savings opportunities to the consumer. The FTC alleged that the feature collected and transmitted, without encryption, the names of websites consumers visited, which links they clicked on, and information entered into webpages such as search terms, user names, and passwords. According to the FTC, the information collected also included credit card and financial account numbers, security codes and expiration dates, and Social Security numbers. Upromise’s privacy statement, however, stated that (i) the toolbar would only infrequently and inadvertently collect personal identifying information, (ii) personal information would be removed before the data was transmitted, and (iii) Upromise automatically encrypts users’ sensitive information. The proposed settlement requires in part that Upromise (i) destroy data collected, (ii) update its disclosures, (iii) notify consumers regarding the type of information collected and how to disable the toolbar, and (iv) obtain a biennial independent audit for the next twenty years. The proposed settlement is open for public comment through February 6.

    FTC Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security

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  • Rhode Island Court Appoints Special Master to Oversee Foreclosure-Related Negotiations


    On January 5, the U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island judge responsible for handling “hundreds” of cases related to mortgage servicing and foreclosure practices appointed Merrill Sherman as special master to assist with resolution of the backlog of pending cases. In re Mortgage Foreclosure Cases, Misc. No. 11-mc-88-M-LDA (D.R.I. Jan. 5, 2012). Under the order, Ms. Sherman, formerly the President and CEO of Bancorp Rhode Island, Inc., has authority to, among other things, (i) order parties to meet and engage in settlement negotiations, (ii) order production of information to facilitate negotiations, and (iii) establish certain other procedural mechanisms to support discussions. The special master also may, among other things, make recommendations for court action to facilitate settlement or better manage the litigation.


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