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District Court denies preliminary injunction; Department of Education’s Borrower Defense Regulations take effect
On October 17, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia denied plaintiff California Association of Private Postsecondary Schools’ request for preliminary injunction to enjoin the implementation and enforcement of several provisions of the Department of Education’s Final Regulations (81 FR 75926) (also known as the “Borrower Defense Regulations” or “regulations”). The Borrower Defense Regulations—finalized in 2016 and originally set to take effect July 1, 2017—are designed to protect student borrowers against misleading and predatory practices by postsecondary institutions and clarify a process for loan forgiveness in cases of institutional misconduct. (See previous InfoBytes coverage here.) Under the regulations, the Department is required to create a “clear, fair, and transparent” process for handling borrowers’ loan discharge requests and to automatically forgive the loans of some students at schools that closed, without requiring borrowers to apply for that relief. However, according to the court, because the Department stayed the effective date of the majority of the regulations pending resolution of the case, the plaintiff’s motion was never fully briefed or decided. After hearing oral arguments, the court concluded that the plaintiff “failed to carry its burden of demonstrating that any one of its members is likely to suffer an irreparable injury in the absence of an injunction.” Moreover, the court stated that it was “not convinced that the [plaintiff] has shown a ‘substantial likelihood’ that it has standing to sue.”
Per the court’s decision, the Borrower Defense Regulations became effective immediately. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the court sided with a coalition of state Attorneys General last month, ruling that the Department’s decision to delay the regulations was procedurally invalid, but delayed implementation of the regulations pending a decision in the plaintiff’s lawsuit.
On September 28, as part of Operation Game of Loans, a coordinated effort between the FTC and state law enforcement, the FTC announced settlements with several individuals and their associated companies (defendants), accused of violating the FTC Act and the Telemarketing Sales Rule when marketing and selling student debt relief services. According to the FTC, the defendants, among other claims: allegedly (i) misrepresented to consumers that they were affiliated with the Department of Education or a borrower’s loan servicer; (ii) claimed that consumers who paid an up-front fee—as much as $1,000 according to the FTC’s complaint—would qualify for or be approved to receive permanently reduced monthly payments or have their student loans forgiven or discharged; and (iii) engaged in deceptive advertising practices through social media, falsely claiming they could qualify, establish eligibility for, approve, or enroll consumers in loan forgiveness programs.
Under the terms of the settlements, the defendants are permanently banned from advertising, marketing, promoting, offering for sale, or selling any type of debt relief products or services—or from assisting others to do the same. The defendants also are prohibited from making misrepresentations related to financial products and services. Combined, the settlements total more than $19 million in monetary judgments, all of which have been partially suspended due to the defendants’ inability to pay the entire amount of their respective judgments. The more than $5 million in unsuspended amounts may be used for equitable relief, including consumer redress.
On September 20, the New York Attorney General announced a lawsuit against nine student loan debt relief companies, along with their financing company, and two individuals (collectively, “defendants”), alleging that the defendants fraudulently, deceptively, and illegally marketed, sold, and financed student debt relief services to consumers nationwide. Among other things, the complaint alleges that the defendants (i) sent direct mail solicitations to consumers that deceptively appeared to be from a governmental agency or an entity affiliated with a government agency; (ii) misrepresented that they would apply fees paid by borrowers to student loan balances; (iii) charged consumers over $1,000 for services that were available for free; (iv) requested upfront payments in violation of federal and state credit repair and debt relief laws; (v) charged usurious interest rates; and (vi) provided consumers with “incomplete and harmful advice,” such as counseling borrowers to consolidate federal student loans without explaining that in certain circumstances borrowers could “lose months or years of loan payments they had already made that would qualify toward forgiveness of their loans under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.” The New York Attorney General maintains that these practices violated several federal and state consumer protection statutes, including the Telemarketing Sales Rule, New York General Business Law, the state’s usury cap on interest rates as covered by New York Banking Law and New York General Obligations Law, disclosure requirements under the Truth in Lending Act, and the Federal Credit Repair Organization Act.
On September 19, the California governor signed AB 3212 that provides several benefits and protections to servicemembers under the state’s Military and Veterans Code. The legislation’s protections apply to members of the National Guard, State Military Reserve, and the Naval Militia called to full-time active state service or full-time active federal service, as well as other individuals called to full-time active duty for a period in excess of seven days in any 14-day period. Highlights of the amendments include:
- Extension of Interest Rate Protection. The legislation extends the prohibition on charging an interest rate in excess of six percent on any obligations bearing interest to 120 days after military service. The legislation also extends the six percent interest rate protection for student loans to one year after military service, which previously only applied to mortgage obligations.
- Written response for Good Faith Requests for Relief. The legislation requires that any person who receives a good faith request from a servicemember for relief and believes the servicemember is not entitled to the relief to provide, within 30 days of the request, a written response acknowledging the request. The written response must include (i) the basis for asserting that the request was incomplete or that the servicemember is not entitled to the relief; (ii) information/materials that are missing, if the servicemember’s request was deemed incomplete; and (iii) contact information. If the written response is not provided, the person waives any objection to the request, and the servicemember shall be entitled to the relief requested.
- Extension of the Default Judgment Protection. At any stage in any action or proceeding in which a servicemember is involved, the court may stay an action or proceeding during the period of military service or 120 days thereafter (previously 60 days).
- Inclusion of Motor Vehicles in the Lease Termination Protection. Existing state law allows for the termination of leases of premises that are occupied for dwelling, professional, business, agricultural, or similar purposes by the servicemember, upon entry into military service. The legislation now mirrors the federal Servicemember Civil Relief Act protections for motor vehicle lease termination. Specifically, it provides that a servicemember may terminate a motor vehicle lease after the servicemember’s entry into military service for a period of not less than 180 days. Additionally, it provides for cancelation of leases executed while in a period of military service if the servicemember receives military orders for a change of permanent station from a location in the continental U.S. to a location outside the continental U.S., or from a location in a state outside the continental U.S. to any location outside that state, or to deploy for a period not less than 180 days.
On September 14, the California governor approved AB 38 amending the state’s Student Loan Servicing Act (Act). The Act provides for the licensure, regulation, and oversight of student loan servicers by the California Department of Business Oversight (CDBO). Among other things, the amendments: (i) clarify the circumstances under which the Commissioner of the CDBO may deny a student loan servicer’s application; (ii) remove debt collectors of defaulted student loans from the definition of a “student loan servicer”; (iii) authorize the Commissioner to require license applicants and licensees to submit required filings with, and pay assessments to, the Commissioner through the Nationwide Multistate Licensing System and Registry; (iv) require the Commissioner to report violations of the Act “as well as other enforcement actions and information to the licensing system and registry to the extent that the information is a public record”; and (v) extend to 10 business days the time for a licensee to acknowledge receipt of a qualified written request from a borrower. The amendments also grant the Commissioner the authority to prescribe circumstances under which electronic records, including applications, financial statements, and reports, may be accepted.
District Court partially dismisses student loan co-signer claims alleging violations of federal and D.C. debt-collection laws
On September 10, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia partially granted a student loan administrator’s and a law firm’s joint motion to dismiss, and granted a lender’s motion for judgment on the pleadings, in a case involving a student loan co-signer’s claims brought under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), D.C. debt collection statute, and state law. The court rejected the plaintiff’s argument that her claims were tolled and dismissed the FDCPA claims against the loan administrator and firm because they were time-barred. The court also dismissed the plaintiff’s claim that the firm and the lender violated several provisions of the D.C. debt collection statute, concluding that the plaintiff failed to allege sufficient facts to support an allegation that the defendants willfully violated the statute. However, the court found that the plaintiff included sufficient facts to support a claim under the D.C. statute against the loan administrator based on allegations that the administrator, among other things, (i) concealed its “lack of authorization to sue”; (ii) concealed the fact that it was acting as a collector without the authority to enforce the terms of the loan; and (iii) has a “long, well-documented history of filing debt collection lawsuits falsely claiming to be the lender and/or real party in interest.” Finally, the court held that plaintiff’s abuse of process and malicious prosecution actions failed to state a claim against any of the defendants.
District of Columbia moves to dismiss lawsuit alleging city’s student loan servicer regulations are preempted by federal law
On September 7, the District of Columbia filed a memorandum in support of its motion to dismiss a lawsuit claiming that the city’s regulations and requirements for student loan servicers are preempted by federal law. The plaintiff, a D.C.-based trade group whose membership consists of national student loan servicers, argues in its complaint that various provisions of District of Columbia Law 21-214, and rules promulgated thereunder, are preempted by the Federal Higher Education Act (HEA). For example, the complaint alleges that the licensing, examination, and annual reporting requirements are expressly preempted by the HEA, and the requirement to provide records to the D.C. Commissioner of Securities and Banking, upon request, violates the requirement that third party requests for records be made directly to the Department of Education.
The city countered that the potential harm is “hypothetical” and the plaintiff’s preemption claims are insufficient to establish standing. Several nonprofit groups filed an amicus brief in support of the city, stating that the lawsuit “is part of a strenuous effort by the Department and loan servicers not to protect federal interests, but to reach an outcome whereby no government entity provides meaningful regulation.” Moreover, the amicus brief claims that the lawsuit was filed following the Department’s Interpretation issued last March (as previously covered in InfoBytes here), which took the position that state regulation of Direct Loan servicing is broadly preempted by the HEA because it “impedes uniquely Federal interests,” and state regulation of the servicing of Federal Family Education Program Loans “is preempted to the extent that it undermines uniform administration of the program.”
District Court holds Department of Education stay of student loan regulations is procedurally invalid
On September 12, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia granted a motion for summary judgment in favor of a consolidated action brought by a coalition of 19 state Attorneys General and the District of Columbia as well as two student borrowers (collectively, the plaintiffs), holding that the Department of Education’s (Department) decision to delay the enactment of Final Regulations (81 FR 75926) (also known as the “Borrower Defense Regulations” or “regulations”) was “procedurally invalid.” The Borrower Defense Regulations, published November 2016, afford students protections against misleading and predatory practices by postsecondary institutions (see previous InfoBytes coverage here), and were set to take effect July 1, 2017. However, the Department delayed the effective date pending the resolution of a lawsuit challenging certain portions of the regulations filed by the California Association of Private Postsecondary Schools; delayed the effective date further through an interim rule issued in October 2017; and last February, issued a final rule further delaying the effective date until July 1, 2019.
The Department argued it was entitled to a stay under Section 705 of the Administrative Procedure Act because the lawsuit “raised serious questions concerning the validity of certain provisions of the final regulations and ha[d] identified substantial injuries that could result if the final regulations [went] into effect before those questions [were] resolved.” The court disagreed with the Department’s argument, finding that in order to justify a Section 705 stay, “an agency must, in short, do more than simply assert—without elaboration—that the litigation raises unspecified ‘serious questions’ for resolution and that a stay will save regulated parties the cost of compliance.” Moreover, the court concluded that (i) plaintiffs have standing to challenge the Department’s delay actions; (ii) the Department’s 2017 interim final rule “is based on an unlawful construction of the Higher Education Act”; (iii) the February final rule is “procedurally invalid”; and (iv) the Section 705 stay is “judicially reviewable” and “arbitrary and capricious.”
On August 14, the Illinois governor signed into law the “Illinois Career Preservation and Student Loan Repayment Act,” Public Act 100-0872, which amends various Illinois laws with the purpose of preventing state government agencies or boards from denying, refusing to renew, suspending, revoking, or initiating another disciplinary action upon a state professional license for a person’s failure to perform on a state guaranteed student loan or grant. The act is effective immediately.
On August 13, in a divided opinion that is not precedential, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit affirmed a lower court’s decision to grant a petition filed by the CFPB to enforce a civil investigative demand (CID) issued to a student loan servicer, rejecting arguments that the scope of the Bureau’s investigation was too broadly defined. The Notification of Purpose in the CID at issue named the entirety of the servicer’s business operations, without identifying any specific conduct, when the CFPB sought records to determine whether the servicer’s practices violated federal consumer financial laws. The servicer objected to the Notification of Purpose and petitioned the Bureau to set aside or modify the CID because it did not adequately “state the nature of the conduct constituting the alleged violation which is under investigation and the provision of law applicable to such violation.” The appellate court held that the servicer’s “contention rests on the flawed assumption that the CFPB could not investigate all of [the servicer’s] conduct,” and that, moreover, “[n]othing prohibits the CFPB from investigating the totality of [the servicer’s] business activities, and courts have previously enforced administrative subpoenas regarding conduct that is coextensive with the recipient’s business activity.”
- Valerie L. Hletko to discuss "Forecasting litigation and settlement trends in the mortgage servicing and fair lending context" at the American Conference Institute National Forum on Residential Mortgage Regulatory Enforcement & Litigation
- Michelle L. Rogers and Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Building a govt affairs program; Government investigations” at the TechGC National Summit
- Tina Tchen to deliver keynote address at the American Bar Foundation Montgomery Summer Research Diversity Fellowship 30th Anniversary Celebration
- Douglas F. Gansler to discuss "Privacy, security and protection of your assets in contracts; Security exercises and tactical measures" at the TechGC National Summit
- H Joshua Kotin will discuss federal regulatory developments in mortgage lending and servicing at the Mortgage Bankers Association of Arkansas Fall Conference
- Kate Shrout to discuss "Conducting workplace investigations" at the TechGC National Summit
- Kathryn R. Goodman to discuss "HECM servicing policies and updates" at the National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association Annual Meeting & Expo
- Fredrick S. Levin to discuss "Reverse mortgage litigation trends" at the National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association Annual Meeting & Expo
- Melissa Klimkiewicz to speak at the "Digital marketing compliance roundtable" at the National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association Annual Meeting & Expo
- Hank Asbill to discuss "The role of the media in white collar criminal investigations and the Mueller probe" at the American Bar Association White Collar Crime Town Hall
- John C. Redding to discuss "Regulatory compliance update" at PowerSports Finance
- Matthew P. Previn to discuss "Enforcement trends: Who is doing what and how?" at the Cambridge Forums Inc. Forum on Consumer Finance Litigation & Enforcement
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Protect yourself from a CFPB investigation" at the National Association of Settlement Purchasers Conference
- Tina Tchen to deliver keynote address at the American Bar Association Professional Success Summit
- Andrea K. Mitchell to discuss "Developments in fair lending law" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Summit on Diversity and Inclusion
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Consumer financial services" at the Practising Law Institute Banking Law Institute
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "New CDD Rule: Pitfalls in compliance" at the American Bankers Association/American Bar Association Financial Crimes Enforcement Conference