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  • Supreme Court of Appeals for West Virginia upholds summary judgment for consumer against check cashing company

    Courts

    On May 11, the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia affirmed summary judgment for a consumer who alleged a check cashing company and its debt collector violated the West Virginia Consumer Credit and Protection Act (WVCCPA) by contacting her multiple times after being notified of her Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing. According to the opinion, the consumer filed a Chapter 7 petition for bankruptcy in February 2012 and the cash checking company was notified on or about March 6, 2012 of the filing. On March 9, the company, in response to the bankruptcy notice, sent a letter to the consumer notifying her collection efforts would be stayed but the company would be pursuing a criminal complaint against her. Additionally, a debt collection agency under contract with the company contacted the consumer five additional times in attempt to collect the debt. The trial court first granted the consumer’s motion for summary judgment in part, finding that the company violated the WVCCPA by not contacting the consumer’s attorney and by threatening criminal prosecution even though the company was aware of the bankruptcy filing. The court awarded the consumer over $19,000 in statutory damages. Subsequently, the trial court granted the consumer’s second motion for summary judgment, holding, among other things, that the company instructed the debt collector to contact the consumer despite having “actual knowledge” that an attorney represented the consumer. The court granted additional statutory damages in the amount of $18,000 and awarded attorney’s fees and costs.

    Upon appeal, the Supreme Court of Appeals concluded that the check cashing company’s violations of the WVCCPA were deliberate and intentional, and therefore, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by awarding the consumer over $37,000 in damages and attorney’s fees.

    Courts State Issues Check Cashing Debt Collection Bankruptcy

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  • 3rd Circuit holds FDCPA statute of limitations begins to run on occurrence, not discovery, of violations, splitting from 4th and 9th Circuits

    Courts

    On May 15, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit issued an en banc ruling that the statute of limitations on the ability to sue for a violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) is one year from the date the Act is violated. The ruling is a departure from contrary decisions issued by the 4th and 9th Circuits, which both held that the statute of limitations begins to run when a violation is discovered, not when it occurs.

    Citing the FDCPA’s provision that claims must be filed “within one year from the date on which a violation occurs,” the court found that intent of the FDCPA is that the statute of limitations should begin to run at the moment the alleged wrongdoing happens, and not when the cause of action is discovered. The Court found that the 4th and 9th Circuits’ decisions to the contrary failed to analyze the “violation occurs” language of the statute.

    However, the court noted that its holding does not serve to undermine the doctrine of equitable tolling, and “should not be read to foreclose the possibility that equitable tolling might apply to FDCPA violations that involve fraudulent, misleading, or self-concealing conduct.” This question was not addressed, the court noted, because the plaintiff-appellant failed to preserve the issue on appeal.

    Courts FDCPA Debt Collection Third Circuit Appellate

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  • CFPB Succession: Bureau dismantles Office for Students; no longer plans student loan regulations; and more

    Federal Issues

    On May 9, according to multiple reports, the CFPB internally announced that the Bureau would eliminate the Office of Students & Younger Consumers and move its staff into the Office of Financial Education as part of acting Director Mulvaney’s agency reorganization. The Bureau will continue to have a Student Loan Ombudsman position, which is required by the Dodd-Frank Act. It is also reported that the Bureau intends to create a new “Office of Cost Benefit Analysis” and rename certain existing offices. As previously covered by InfoBytes, acting Director Mulvaney plans to move the Office of Fair Lending and Equal Opportunity from the Division of Supervision, Enforcement and Fair Lending to the Office of the Director, in order to focus on “advocacy, coordination and education.”  Day-to-day responsibility for enforcement and supervision oversight will remain in the renamed Division of Supervision and Enforcement (SE).

    The Office of Management Budget (OMB) released the CFPB’s Spring 2018 rulemaking agenda, which no longer includes “Student Loan Servicing” as a Long-Term Action. In previous agendas, the Bureau described its plan for Student Loan Servicing as “The CFPB will continue to monitor the student loan servicing market for trends and developments.  As this work continues, the Bureau will evaluate possible policy responses, including potential rulemaking.  Possible topics for consideration might include specific acts or practices and consumer disclosures.” In addition to dropping Student Loan Servicing, the Spring 2018 agenda also no longer lists plans for Supervision of Larger Participants in Markets for Personal Loans, Overdraft Services, or Submission of Credit Card Agreements under TILA (more information on the CFPB’s previous plans for these rules can be found here).

    As expected, the Spring 2018 agenda also included two new additions to the Proposed Rule Stage:

    • HMDA. The Bureau has previously announced it intends to engage in a broader rulemaking to (i) re-examine the criteria determining whether institutions are required to report data; (ii) adjust the requirements related to reporting certain types of transactions; and (iii) re-evaluate the required reporting of additional information beyond the data points required by the Dodd-Frank Act (InfoBytes coverage here). The Bureau indicates it expects a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on any changes to the HMDA rule before 2019. 
    • Payday, Vehicle Title, and Certain High-Cost Installment Loans. In January, the Bureau announced the intention to reconsider the 2017 payday rule (covered by InfoBytes here). The OMB agenda indicates the Bureau expects a NPRM by February 2019.

    Notably, the CFPB continues to include “Debt Collection Rule” in a Proposed Rule Stage, as it has in previous agenda iterations. However, the Bureau has extended the deadline for its NPRM to February 2019.

      

    Federal Issues CFPB Succession Student Lending CFPB Overdraft Debt Collection Payday Lending HMDA

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  • District Court partially denies defendants’ time-barred claims, rules certain TSR violations may proceed

    Courts

    On May 3, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California addressed time-barred claims raised by a group of affiliated law firms and their managing attorneys (defendants) that partnered with a now-defunct entity to offer debt relief services to consumers. The court granted in part and denied in part defendants’ request for summary judgment after determining that many of the allegedly improper up-front fees charged to consumers seeking debt relief were collected within the three-year statute of limitations for enforcement actions. As previously covered in InfoBytes last January, the CFPB claimed, among other things, that the defendants violated the Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR) by allegedly assisting a different, now-defunct debt relief service company with charging up-front fees. Last May, the district court denied the defendants’ bid for dismissal but at the time “declined to resolve the parties’ dispute over the applicable statute of limitations.” While the CFPB agreed to limit its request for relief to the three years preceding the filing of the suit, the defendants filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that the entire action should be barred because the alleged violations relate to a “singular scheme” discovered by the CFPB in 2012. However, according to the court, federal consumer financial law states that “any violations of the TSR that occur within the relevant limitations period are not time-barred.” Therefore, because the CFPB provided evidence that fees were collected in 2015—well within the applicable statute of limitations—the defendants’ request as to violations of the TSR that allegedly occurred within three years of the filing is denied. Notwithstanding, the court granted part of the defendants’ request for summary judgment and barred all claims related to conduct that occurred outside the three-year window because the CFPB did not oppose the motion.

    Courts CFPB Debt Collection Fees Enforcement Telemarketing Sales Rule Consumer Finance

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  • 7th Circuit affirms summary judgment for consumers in FDCPA suit

    Courts

    On May 2, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit affirmed four district court decisions granting summary judgment in favor of consumers who alleged a debt collector violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) by communicating debts to credit reporting agencies without indicating the debts were disputed. According to the opinion, the debt collector sent the four consumers a debt validation notice regarding an alleged credit card debt. More than 30 days later, a local legal aid organization sent the debt collector’s general counsel a notice of representation for each of the four consumers, noting, “the amount reported is not accurate.” After the attorney letters were sent, the debt collector reported the debts to the credit reporting agencies. The consumers each filed a separate action in district court alleging a violation of the FDCPA, and each district court granted the consumer summary judgment, finding the debt collector did not handle the letters properly. In the consolidated appeal, the 7th Circuit agreed with the district courts, holding that the actions of the debt collector were “a clear violation of the statute” as each attorney letter stated the amount was inaccurate and the debt collector still reported the debts without noting they were disputed. While the panel noted that there is no clear definition of “dispute” under the FDCPA, the court concluded, “there is simply no other way to interpret [the] language” of the attorney letter, rejecting the debt collector’s “bona fide error defense.”

    Courts Seventh Circuit Appellate FDCPA Credit Reporting Agency Debt Collection

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  • 8th Circuit affirms dismissal of FDCPA claims, rules false or misleading statements must be material to be actionable

    Courts

    On April 19, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit affirmed a district court’s decision to grant a debt collector’s motion for judgment on the pleadings, concluding that false or misleading statements under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) must be material to be actionable. According to the opinion, the Conciliation Court for the 4th Judicial District of Minnesota previously issued a judgment finding that the debt collector failed to demonstrate “an entitlement to relief” when the debt collector sought payment (including statutory interest) for unpaid medical services. The plaintiff-appellant subsequently filed suit against the debt collector alleging that the debt collector’s conduct before the conciliation court violated the FDCPA. The district court issued a decision—which the 8th Circuit affirmed—holding that the debt collector’s “inadequate documentation of the assignment did not constitute a materially false representation” and, although the debt collector was ultimately unable to collect on the debt, loss of a collection action, standing alone, did not establish a violation of the FDCPA under the materiality standard. Additionally, the 8th Circuit held that the debt collector did not engage in unfair practices under the FDCPA when the debt collector attempted to collect interest on the debt under a Minnesota statute simply because the debtor may have had a legal defense to application of the statute.

     

    Courts Eighth Circuit Appellate FDCPA Debt Collection

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  • Twenty state Attorneys General oppose bill that would remove attorneys engaged in debt collection litigation from FDCPA purview

    Federal Issues

    On April 19, a coalition of twenty state Attorneys General issued a letter to leaders of Congress expressing opposition to the Practice of Law Technical Clarification Act, HR 5082, which would amend the FDCPA to exclude law firms and attorneys engaged in debt collection-related litigation activities from the scope of the FDCPA. The House Financial Services Committee passed HR 5082 on March 21 with a vote of 35-25. In the letter, the Attorneys General state, “debt collection lawsuits comprise the majority of many state-court dockets” and note numerous actions brought by the CFPB and state Attorneys General against debt collection law firms and attorneys for illegal collection practices. The letter argues that debt collection attorneys should be held accountable when using litigation for improper purposes and that HR 5082 would preclude Attorneys General from using the FDCPA to pursue improper behavior. Additionally, the letter notes, “the FDCPA is the only consumer protection tool available to State Attorneys General in a significant number of jurisdictions where state consumer protection law does not govern the conduct of attorneys.”

    Federal Issues State Attorney General House Financial Services Committee FDCPA CFPB Debt Collection

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  • FTC and Florida Attorney General settle with debt relief scammers

    Consumer Finance

    On April 12, the FTC and the Florida Attorney General announced an $85 million settlement with three individuals who allegedly sold fake debt relief services. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in May 2017, the FTC and the Florida Attorney General filed a complaint against the individuals for allegedly violating the FTC Act, the FTC’s Telemarketing Sales Rule, and the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act. According to the complaint, consumers, after collectively paying hundreds or thousands of dollars a month for promised debt-consolidation services marketed by the individuals, discovered their debts were unpaid, their accounts had defaulted, and their credit scores damaged. Under the proposed orders (here and here), all three marketers are restrained and enjoined from “advertising, marketing, promoting, offering for sale, selling” credit repair products and services, debt relief products and services, and financial products and services. The $85 million judgment is held jointly and severally against each of the individuals with a suspended judgment for two if all material assets are surrendered. The judgment for the third individual, considered the ringleader of the operation, is not suspended and the individual is still required to surrender all material assets.

    Consumer Finance Federal Issues State Issues State Attorney General FDCPA Debt Collection FTC

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  • Oregon amends debt collection statute to expand coverage to debt buyers

    State Issues

    On April 3, the Oregon governor signed SB 1553, which amends Oregon’s debt collection laws to provide that a debt buyer (or a debt collector acting on a debt buyer’s behalf) engages in unlawful collection practice if it collects or attempts to collect a debt without providing a debtor, within 30 days of their request, documents which establish the nature and amount of debt.

    State Issues Debt Collection State Legislation

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  • District court rejects motions for summary judgement on FDCPA claims filed by CFPB, debt collection law firm

    Courts

    On April 9, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio rejected motions for partial summary judgment and summary judgment filed respectively by the CFPB and a law firm accused of making false representations regarding attorney involvement in debt collection calls in violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) and Dodd-Frank. As previously discussed in InfoBytes, the CFPB alleged in its complaint that the law firm sent demand letters and made collection calls to consumers that falsely implied that the consumer’s account files had been meaningfully reviewed by an attorney, when, in most cases, no attorney had reviewed the account file. Among other things, the law firm countered that, because its communications truthfully identified it as a law firm and it was acting as a debt collector, these communications were not misleading to the “least sophisticated consumer”—a factor of measurement for analyzing FDCPA violations. The court ruled that “whether the communications at issue are misleading is a question of fact that must be determined by a jury.” The jury trial is set for May 1.

    Courts CFPB Debt Collection FDCPA Dodd-Frank

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