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  • White House proposes to fully privatize GSEs in broad government reorganization plan

    Federal Issues

    On June 21, the White House announced a government reorganization plan titled, “Delivering Government Solutions in the 21st Century: Reform Plan and Reorganization Recommendations.” The plan covers a wide-range of government reorganization proposals, including several related to the federal government’s involvement in mortgage finance. Among other things, the White House is proposing to end the conservatorship of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (GSEs) and fully privatize the companies. The plan notes that a “[f]ederal entity with secondary mortgage market experience would be charged with regulatory oversight” of the GSEs, but does not state whether this would be done by the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), the GSEs current primary regulator. According to the proposal, this structure would ensure the government’s role “is more transparent and accountable to taxpayers,” as HUD would assume the primary responsibility for affordable housing, and the GSEs would solely focus on secondary market liquidity.

    Federal Issues Trump GSE Fannie Mae Freddie Mac FHFA

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  • Agencies issue disaster relief guidance for volcanic activity in Hawaii and severe storm in Maine

    Federal Issues

    On June 19, the FDIC issued Financial Institution Letter FIL-33-2018 to provide regulatory relief to financial institutions and facilitate recovery in areas of Hawaii affected by volcanic eruption and earthquakes. The FDIC is encouraging institutions to consider, among other things, extending repayment terms and restructuring existing loans that may be affected by the natural disasters. Additionally, the FDIC notes that institutions may receive favorable Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) consideration for certain development loans, investments, and services in support of disaster recovery.

    On June 14, the Department of Veterans Affairs issued Circular 26-18-16, requesting relief for veterans impacted by Maine’s severe storm and flooding. Among other things, the Circular (i) encourages loan holders to extend forbearance to borrowers in distress because of the storms; (ii) requests that loan holders establish a 90-day moratorium on initiating new foreclosures on loans affected by the major disaster; and (iii) waives late charges on affected loans. The Circular is effective until July 1, 2019.

    Find more InfoBytes disaster relief coverage here.

    Federal Issues Department of Veterans Affairs Disaster Relief Mortgages FDIC

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  • Federal Reserve issues final rules reflecting credit and interest rate increases

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

    On June 20, the Federal Reserve issued a final rule amending Regulation A (Extensions of Credit by Federal Reserve Banks) to reflect its June 14 approval of a one-quarter percent increase in the primary credit rate at each Federal Reserve Bank. Because the formula for the secondary credit rate references the primary rate, the secondary credit rate also increased by one-quarter percentage point.

    The same day, the Federal Reserve also issued a final rule amending Regulation D (Reserve Requirements of Depository Institutions) to reflect its June 14 approval of a one-quarter percent increase to the “rate of interest paid on balances maintained to satisfy reserve balance requirements (IORR) and the rate of interest paid on excess balances (IOER) maintained at Federal Reserve Banks by or on behalf of eligible institutions.”

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance Federal Reserve Federal Register Regulation A Regulation D

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  • HUD publishes ANPR on Disparate Impact Regulation

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

    On June 20, HUD published an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPR) in the Federal Register seeking comment on potential amendments to its the 2013 Disparate Impact Regulation, which implements the Fair Housing Act’s disparate impact standard, as well as the 2016 Application of the Fair Housing Act’s Discriminatory Effects Standard to Insurance (supplement). The notice requests comments on whether the 2013 regulation and the 2016 supplement are consistent with the 2015 Supreme Court ruling in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc.  (Covered by a Buckley Sandler Special Alert.) While HUD is seeking feedback on any potential changes to the regulation, the agency is particularly interested in, among other things, (i) whether the burden-shifting framework appropriately assigns burdens of production and persuasion; and (ii) whether the regulation should provide defenses or safe harbors to claims of liability. Comments on the notice are due by August 20. 

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance Federal Issues HUD FHA Disparate Impact Fair Lending U.S. Supreme Court

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  • NY District Court holds CFPB structure is unconstitutional

    Courts

    On June 21, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York terminated the CFPB as a party to an action against a New Jersey-based finance company and its affiliates (defendants), concluding that the CFPB’s organizational structure is unconstitutional and therefore, the agency lacks authority to bring claims under the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA). As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Bureau and the New York Attorney General’s office (NYAG) filed a lawsuit in in February 2017, claiming the defendants engaged in deceptive and abusive acts by misleading first responders to the World Trade Center attack and NFL retirees with high-cost loans by mischaracterizing loans as assignments of future payment rights, thereby causing the consumers to repay far more than they received. The defendants sought dismissal of the case, arguing that, among other things, “the CFPB’s unprecedented structure violates fundamental constitutional principles of separation of powers, and the CFPB should be struck down as an unconstitutional administrative agency.”

    The court denied the defendants’ motion as to the NYAG, finding that it had plausibly alleged claims under the CFPA and New York law and had the independent authority to pursue those claims.  But the court concluded that the CFPB lacked such authority, noting that it was not bound by the recent decision of the D.C. Circuit upholding the Bureau’s constitutionality in PHH v. CFPB (covered by a Buckley Sandler Special Alert).  The court instead adopted portions of two separate dissents from that decision to conclude that the Bureau’s single director structure is unconstitutional and that the defect cannot be remedied by striking the limitations on the president’s authority to remove the Bureau director because the “removal for cause” provision is “at the heart of Title X” of Dodd-Frank.  Quoting one of the PHH dissents, the court stated, “I would strike Title X in its entirety.” 

    The court also rejected an attempt by acting Director Mulvaney to salvage the Bureau’s claims.  Although the action was initiated by Director Cordray, the Bureau filed a notice in May ratifying that decision and arguing that, because the Bureau is currently led by an acting director who can be removed by the president at will, defendants’ motion to dismiss the Bureau’s claims should be denied.  The court disagreed, concluding that the constitutional issues presented in the case “are not cured by the appointment of Mr. Mulvaney” because “the relevant provisions of the Dodd-Frank Act that render the CFPB’s structure unconstitutional remain intact.”

    Courts PHH v. CFPB State Attorney General CFPB CFPB Succession Consumer Finance CFPA

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  • 11th Circuit holds ADA action against restaurant chain’s website is not moot

    Courts

    On June 19, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit held that a plaintiff’s claims against a national restaurant chain for allegedly operating a website that was not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) are not moot despite a previous settlement with a separate plaintiff. The plaintiff sued the restaurant chain seeking declaratory and injunctive relief, requesting that the court (i) order the restaurant to alter its website and make it accessible to individuals with disabilities as required by Title III of the ADA; and (ii) order the restaurant chain to continually update and maintain that accessibility. Prior to the plaintiff’s filing, the restaurant chain reached a settlement in an earlier case with similar claims. The district court held that the plaintiff’s claims were moot because the restaurant chain had already agreed to the remedy the plaintiff sought in the previous settlement and had begun the process of its remediation plan by placing an accessibility notice on its website. On appeal, the 11th Circuit disagreed with the lower court, holding that the plaintiff’s claims are not moot, finding that the restaurant chain has not yet successfully remediated its website and the plaintiff’s request for an injunction against the restaurant chain if the website is not brought into compliance is still viable. The appellate court also noted that the current plaintiff would have no way of enforcing the settlement’s remediation plan because he was not a party to that action.

    Courts Appellate Eleventh Circuit Americans with Disabilities Act

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  • Supreme Court holds SEC ALJs are subject to the Appointments Clause of the Constitution

    Courts

    On June 21, the U.S. Supreme Court held, in Lucia v. SEC, that SEC administrative law judges (ALJs) are “inferior officers” subject to the Appointments Clause (Clause) of the Constitution. The case began when the SEC instituted an administrative proceeding against the petitioner resulting in a decision by the ALJ imposing sanctions against the petitioner, including civil penalties of $300,000 and a lifetime bar from the investment industry. On appeal, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the ALJ’s sanctions and rejected the petitioner’s argument that ALJs are officers of the United States and therefore subject to provisions of the Clause, including the requirement that officers be appointed by the president, the head of a department, or a court of law. The D.C. Circuit decision conflicts with subsequent decisions by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th and 5th Circuits (available here and here).

    In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court reversed the D.C. Circuit decision, holding that ALJs are “Officers of the United States” subject to the Clause under the framework the Court used in Freytag v. Commissioner (concluding that U.S. Tax Court “special trial judges” are officers subject to the Clause). In support of this holding, the majority noted that ALJs receive a career appointment, exercise “significant discretion,” and if the SEC decides against reviewing a decision, their decisions become final and are “deemed the action of the Commission.”

    Notably, the ALJ that presided over the petitioner’s case is the same ALJ that presided over the CFPB’s claims against PHH, which ultimately lead to the D.C. Circuit’s en banc decision in PHH v. CFPB and the CFPB’s subsequent dismissal of the action (covered by Buckley Sandler here and here).

    Courts U.S. Supreme Court ALJ SEC PHH v. CFPB

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  • NYDFS fines global banking firm $205 million for alleged FX violations

    Securities

    On June 20, the New York Department of Financial Services (NYDFS) announced a $205 million settlement with a global banking firm to resolve allegations that the bank engaged in unsafe and unsound practices in its foreign exchange (FX) trading business. According to the consent order, the bank did not implement and maintain sufficient controls to identify and prevent unsafe and unsound activities conducted by certain FX traders. Among other things, the order states that FX traders (i) used electronic chatrooms to coordinate trading activity with competitors to improperly affect FX prices; (ii) engaged in a practice known as “jamming the fix,” which entails accumulating a large trading position and subsequently making aggressive trades with the intention of moving the fix price in a desired direction; (iii) disclosed confidential customer information to competitors through electronic chatrooms; and (iv) mislead customers by hiding markups on trades. In addition to the fine, the bank is required to improve its internal controls and programs to comply with applicable New York State and federal laws and regulations, submit a written plan to improve its compliance risk management program, and provide an enhanced written internal audit program.

    Securities NYDFS Enforcement Bank Compliance Foreign Exchange Trading

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  • Court allows certain City of Oakland claims to proceed against national bank

    Courts

    On June 15, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California granted in part and denied in part a national bank’s motion to dismiss an action brought by the City of Oakland, alleging violations of the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and California Fair Employment and Housing Act. In its September 2015 complaint, Oakland alleged that the bank violated the FHA and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act by providing minority borrowers mortgage loans with less favorable terms than similarly situated non-minority borrowers, leading to disproportionate defaults and foreclosures causing reduced property tax revenue for the city. After the 2017 Supreme Court decision in Bank of America v. City of Miami (previously covered by a Buckley Sandler Special Alert), which held that municipal plaintiffs may be “aggrieved persons” authorized to bring suit under the FHA against lenders for injuries allegedly flowing from discriminatory lending practices, Oakland filed an amended complaint. The amended complaint expanded Oakland’s alleged injuries to include (i) decreased property tax revenue; (ii) increases in the city’s expenditures; and (iii) neutralized spending in Oakland’s fair-housing programs. The bank moved to dismiss all of Oakland’s claims on the basis that the city had failed to sufficiently allege proximate cause. The court granted the bank’s motion without prejudice as to claims based on the second alleged injury to the extent it sought monetary relief and claims based on the third alleged injury entirely. The court allowed the matter to proceed with respect to claims based on the first injury and, to the extent it seeks injunctive and declaratory relief, the second injury.

    Courts Fair Housing FHA Lending Consumer Finance Mortgages

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  • Bitcoin and ether not considered securities by SEC

    Securities

    On June 14, the Director of the SEC Division of Corporation Finance, William Hinman, stated that the SEC does not consider the cryptocurrencies bitcoin and ether to be securities. In his remarks at the Yahoo Finance All Markets Summit, Hinman emphasized a number of factors that are considered when assessing whether a cryptocurrency or ICO should be considered a security. These factors include, primarily, whether a third party drives the expectation of a return—the central test used by the Supreme Court in SEC v. W.J. Howey Co.. According to Hinman, bitcoin’s and ether’s networks are decentralized without a central third party controlling the enterprise and, thus, applying the disclosure rules of federal securities laws to these cryptocurrencies would add little value to the market. Hinman did note that whether something is considered a security is not static and emphasized that if a cryptocurrency were to be placed into a fund and interests were sold, the fund would be considered a security.

    Securities Virtual Currency Blockchain SEC Cryptocurrency

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