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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

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  • Maryland expands scope of unfair and deceptive practices under the Maryland Consumer Protection Act, increases maximum civil penalties

    State Issues

    On May 15, the Maryland governor signed HB1634, the Financial Consumer Protection Act of 2018, which expands the definition of “unfair and deceptive trade practices” under the Maryland Consumer Protection Act (MPCA) to include “abusive” practices, and violations of the federal Military Lending Act (MLA) and Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). The law also, among other things:

    • Civil Penalties. Increases the maximum civil penalties for certain consumer financial violations to $10,000 for the initial violation and $25,000 for subsequent violations
    • Debt Collection. Prohibits a person from engaging in unlicensed debt collection activity in violation of the Maryland Collection Agency Licensing Act or engaging in certain conduct in violation of the federal FDCPA.
    • Enforcement Funds. Requires the governor to appropriate at least $700,000 for the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) and at least $300,000 to the Office of the Commissioner of Financial Regulation (OCFR) for certain enforcement activities.
    • Student Loan Ombudsman. Creates a Student Loan Ombudsman position within the OCFR and establishes specific duties for the role, including receiving, reviewing, and attempting to resolve complaints from student loan borrowers.
    • Required Studies. Requires the OCFR to conduct a study on Fintech regulation, including whether the commissioner has the statutory authority to regulate such firms. The law also requires the Maryland Financial Consumer Protection Commission (MFCPC) to conduct multiple studies, including studies on (i) cryptocurrencies and initial coin offerings and (ii) the CFPB’s arbitration rule (repealed by a Congressional Review Act measure in November 2017).

    State Issues UDAAP SCRA Military Lending Act FDCPA Student Lending Arbitration Civil Money Penalties Fintech Cryptocurrency State Legislation

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  • Washington expands the state’s Service Member’s Civil Relief Act

    State Issues

    On March 22, the Washington governor signed HB 1056, which amends the Washington Service Member’s Civil Relief Act (WSCRA) to update the definition of “service member” and allow for a service member to terminate or suspend certain private contracts without penalty. Specifically, HB 1056 defines “service member” as “an active member of the United States armed forces, a member of a military reserve component, or a member of the national guard who is either stationed in or a resident of Washington state.” The law allows for a service member, after receiving orders for a permanent change of station or deployment (for at least 30 days), to terminate or suspend certain contracts for the following: telecommunication services, internet services, health studio services, and subscription television services. After proper written notice is given to the service provider for termination, suspension or reinstatement, the service member may not be charged a “penalty, fee, loss of deposit, or any other additional cost” due to the notice. Additionally, HB 1056 allows the Washington Attorney General to recover costs and fees in an action brought to enforce the WSCRA. The law becomes effective on June 7.

    State Issues SCRA Servicemembers State Legislation State Attorney General

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  • DOJ sues California subprime auto lender for alleged SCRA violations

    Consumer Finance

    On March 28, the DOJ filed a complaint in the Central District of California against a California-based indirect auto lending company (defendant) for allegedly repossessing servicemembers’ vehicles in violation of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). The allegations stem from an investigation into the defendant’s practices after an Army Private submitted a complaint to the DOJ in 2016. The DOJ’s investigation concluded that the defendant repossessed the vehicle without obtaining a court order or confirming whether the servicemember was SCRA-protected. According to the DOJ’s complaint, its investigation revealed that the defendant allegedly failed to have policies or practices in place to verify borrowers’ military status before repossessing vehicles. As such, the DOJ believes that the defendant may have repossessed vehicles of other servicemembers without obtaining the necessary court others or verifying military status. The DOJ contends that the defendant’s conduct was “intentional, willful, and taken in disregard for the rights of servicemembers.” In addition to monetary damages, the DOJ seeks civil monetary penalties and injunctive relief.

    Consumer Finance DOJ SCRA Servicemembers Auto Finance Repossession

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  • DOJ settles SCRA lease termination allegations against motor vehicle finance company

    Federal Issues

    On February 22, the DOJ announced a settlement agreement with a motor vehicle finance company regarding allegations that the company did not refund a portion of the capitalized cost reduction (CCR), after the motor vehicle leases were terminated early under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). The DOJ took the position that the CCR was a prepayment subject to refund upon termination. Consistent with industry practice, the finance company treated the CCR as an amount comparable to a down payment in a finance agreement, not subject to refund, rather than a prepayment. Though not admitting any violation of law, the company agreed to refund certain portions of CCR pre-payments and update its policies and procedures, among other relief. Buckley Sandler attorneys John Redding and Sasha Leonhardt represented the company in this matter.

    Federal Issues DOJ SCRA Auto Finance Servicemembers

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  • FTC releases report on military consumer finance

    Consumer Finance

    On February 2, the FTC released a new Staff Perspective (perspective) which highlights takeaways from a July 2017 FTC workshop focused on examining the array of financial issues that may affect military consumers (defined as servicemembers, veterans, and their families). The perspective notes, among other things, that servicemembers may struggle during auto financing transactions because of a lack of time to shop and lack of credit history, which may result in disadvantageous credit terms. Additionally, the perspective highlights that debt collection problems may result in a servicemember not qualifying for a security clearance and that debt collectors may threaten to contact servicemembers’ commanding officers. The perspective also summarized the additional legal rights that may apply to military consumers, such as the Military Lending Act (MLA) and the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), and emphasized the FTC’s focus on financial education for servicemembers throughout the various stages of their military career.

    Consumer Finance FTC Debt Collection Military Lending Act Auto Finance SCRA

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  • Servicemember and bank settle SCRA issue, dismiss Supreme Court request

    Courts

    On January 5, the Supreme Court dismissed a servicemember’s petition for a writ of certiorari after receiving a Stipulation of Dismissal from both parties who agreed to settle the dispute. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the servicemember filed the petition after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the lower court’s decision that the servicemember was not entitled to the protections against non-judicial foreclosures under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). The lower court concluded that because the servicemember “incurred his mortgage obligation during his service in the Navy, the obligation was not subject to SCRA protection” even through the servicemember, after a discharge period, later re-enlisted with the Army.

    Courts U.S. Supreme Court SCRA Foreclosure Settlement Fourth Circuit Appellate

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  • DOJ Announces $5.4 Million in Additional Relief for Servicemembers Impacted by Bank’s Alleged SCRA Violations

    Lending

    On November 14, the DOJ announced it had secured an additional $5.4 million from a major U.S. bank related to a September 2016 settlement (previously covered by InfoBytes) resolving allegations that between January 2008 and July 2015 the bank repossessed vehicles owned by active duty servicemembers without required court orders in violation of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. The original consent order with the DOJ required the bank to pay $10,000, plus lost equity, to each of the 413 affected servicemembers whose cars were found to be unlawfully seized and further stipulated the bank could be required to compensate additional servicemembers. Since entering into the 2016 settlement with the DOJ, the bank announced it had uncovered another 450 qualifying servicemembers, bringing the combined affected total to 863, with compensatory payouts of more than $10 million.

    Lending Fair Lending DOJ SCRA Servicemembers Settlement Enforcement

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  • DOJ Sues Washington State Company for Alleged SCRA Violations

    Consumer Finance

    On November 9, the DOJ filed a complaint in the Western District of Washington against a Washington company for allegedly foreclosing on servicemembers’ homes in violation of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). According to the DOJ’s complaint, its investigation uncovered at least 28 unlawful non-judicial foreclosures. In addition to a declaration that the company violated the SCRA, the DOJ is seeking monetary damages, a civil penalty, and injunctive relief.

    The allegations stem from an investigation the DOJ initiated into the company’s foreclosure practices following the same court’s dismissal of a private SCRA action brought by a veteran on the ground that it was time-barred. Prior to the DOJ initiating the investigation, the veteran appealed the dismissal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The DOJ filed an amicus brief in that appeal, arguing that private SCRA suits are governed by the four-year federal catch-all statute of limitations.

    Consumer Finance DOJ SCRA Foreclosure Mortgages

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  • Servicemember Files Writ of Certiorari, Petitions Supreme Court to Review SCRA Protections for Non-Judicial Foreclosures

    Courts

    On October 11, a servicemember filed a petition for a writ of certiorari, requesting that the U.S. Supreme Court review an opinion issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit concerning whether the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) can be applied to a mortgage loan obligation incurred during a borrower’s earlier, distinct period of military service. (See previous InfoBytes summary on Fourth Circuit opinion.) 

    Under the SCRA, servicemembers are afforded certain protections against non-judicial foreclosures of their home while in active military service. Section 3953 provides that a home mortgage “originated before the period of the servicemember’s military service and for which the servicemember is still obligated” cannot be foreclosed upon unless allowed by a court order. However, the appellate court affirmed the district court’s decision in favor of the bank, concluding that because the servicemember “incurred his mortgage obligation during his service in the Navy, the obligation was not subject to SCRA protection” even through the servicemember, after a discharge period, later re-enlisted with the Army.

    The petition argues that the appellate court “misconstrued” and narrowly interpreted the SCRA’s definition of the term “period of military service” under section 3911 by treating the servicemember’s “separate and distinct periods of military service as a single period of service.”

    Courts U.S. Supreme Court SCRA Foreclosure

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  • CFPB Issues Report: Student Loan Complaints Initiated Actions Bringing Relief to Borrowers

    Lending

    On October 16, the CFPB published its annual report analyzing consumer complaints submitted between September 1, 2016 and August 31, 2017. The report, titled “Annual Report of the CFPB Student Loan Ombudsman,” is based on more than 22,000 complaints, which related to federal student loan servicing, debt collection, private student loans servicing, and debt relief services. The press release announcing the report noted that this represented a 120 percent increase in student loan complaints compared to last year, but also that this can partly be attributed to the fact that the Bureau updated its student loan complaint form in late February 2016 to accept complaints about federal student loan servicing issues. The report also noted that student loan complaints from July 2011 through August 2017 have led to actions resulting in more than $750 million in relief to student loan borrowers and improved the loan repayment process for millions of additional borrowers.

    The CFPB estimates that federal and private student loan debt combined has reached $1.4 trillion, mostly from federal loans, with more than 8 million student loan borrowers in default due to not making a required monthly payment for at least nine months. The report makes additional observations, including the following:

    • Military student loan borrowers continue to complain about difficulties in accessing protections guaranteed under federal law, such as interest rate caps under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, automatic recertification of income-driven repayment (IDR) plans, zero percent interest rate reductions while serving in areas of hostility, and discharging loans for veterans due to Total and Permanently Disability (TPD).
    • Consumers continue to report challenges concerning repayment roadblocks, such as difficulty in applying for or recertifying IDR plans, obtaining TPD discharge, and accessing advertised loan benefits for private loans.
    • Harassing and aggressive debt collection tactics, including the possibility for suspension or revocation of professional licenses in some states following a default, reportedly are creating additional challenges for consumers.

    Lending Student Lending CFPB Servicemembers SCRA Debt Collection

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