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  • Department of Education: states do not have the authority to regulate student loan servicers

    Federal Issues

    On March 12, the U.S. Department of Education published an Interpretation in the Federal Register, which takes the position that state regulation of servicers of loans made under the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program (Direct Loans) and the Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFEL Program Loans) is preempted by Federal law. Specifically, the Department noted that state “regulation of the servicing of Direct Loans” is preempted because it “impedes uniquely Federal interests,” and state regulation of the servicing of FFEL Program Loans “is preempted to the extent that it undermines uniform administration of the program.” The Interpretation was issued in response to several states having recently enacted regulatory regimes, or sought to apply existing consumer protection statutes, imposing additional requirements on such student loan servicers. The Ranking Member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, Representative Bobby Scott, D-VA, issued a statement following the notice of publication on March 9, disagreeing with the Department’s Interpretation: “Congress has not given the Secretary the authority to preempt state consumer protection law for student borrowers. . . . I urge the Secretary to reverse this egregious overreach of Federal authority to rescind states’ ability to protect student borrowers and hold unscrupulous servicers accountable.”

    Federal Issues Department of Education Student Lending Preemption Federal Register

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  • 9th Circuit holds California's interest on escrow requirements is not preempted by federal law


    On March 2, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit held that a national bank must comply with a California law that requires mortgage lenders to pay interest on the funds held in a consumer’s escrow account because the law does not “prevent or significantly interfere” with the national bank’s exercise of its power. The case results from a 2014 lawsuit in which a consumer sued the national bank for refusing to pay interest on the funds in his mortgage escrow account as required by a California state law. The district court dismissed the action, holding that the California state law interfered with the bank’s ability to perform its business making mortgage loans and therefore, was preempted by the National Bank Act (NBA).

    In reversing the district court’s decision, the 9th Circuit held that the Dodd-Frank Act of 2011 (Dodd-Frank) essentially codified the existing NBA preemption standard from the 1996 Supreme Court decision in Barnett Bank of Marion County v. Nelson. The panel cited to Section 1639d(g)(3) of Dodd-Frank (“if prescribed by applicable State or Federal law, each creditor shall pay interest to the consumer on the amount held in any . . . escrow account that is subject to this section in the manner as prescribed by that applicable State or Federal law”), which, according to the opinion, expresses Congress’ view that the type of law at issue does not “prevent or significantly interfere with a national bank’s operations.” Moreover, the panel disagreed with the national bank’s reliance on the OCC’s 2004 preemption regulation, which interpreted the standard more broadly, by concluding that the regulation had no effect on the preemption standard. This decision could have significant implications for the rise of preemption by federally chartered banks.

    Courts U.S. Supreme Court Appellate Ninth Circuit Mortgages Escrow Preemption National Bank Act Dodd-Frank OCC

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  • 2nd Circuit Reinstates Consumer Class Action Against National Debt Buyer Through Preemption Decision

    Consumer Finance

    On May 22, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled against a debt collection firm, holding that “non-national bank entities are not entitled to protections under the National Bank Act (“NBA”) from state-law usury claims merely because they are assignees of a national bank.” Madden v. Midland Funding, LLC, No. 14-2131-cv, 2015 WL 2435657 (2nd Cir. May 22, 2015).  The Second Circuit’s holding reversed the Southern District of New York’s decision, which held that it was permissible for the firm to charge a consumer an interest rate of 27%—a rate exceeding New York’s 25% usury limit—because the firm was an assignee of a national bank.  The Second Circuit vacated the District Court’s judgment “[b]ecause neither defendant is a national bank nor a subsidiary or agent of a national bank, or is otherwise acting on behalf of a national bank, and because application of the state law on which [the plaintiff’s] claim relies would not significantly interfere with any national bank’s ability to exercise its powers under the NBA.”  Id. at *1.  According to the court, extending “NBA preemption to third-party debt collectors such as the defendants would be an overly broad application of the NBA” which “would create an end-run around usury laws for non-national bank entities that are not acting on behalf of a national bank.”  Id. at *5.  The Second Circuit also vacated the District Court’s judgment as to the plaintiff’s FDCPA claim and the denial of class certification because those rulings were predicated on the District Court’s preemption analysis.  The case, which has been argued on the premise that New York state usury law applies, has been remanded back to the district court to determine choice-of-law based on a Delaware choice-of-law clause in the original debt agreement.

    FDCPA Debt Collection Preemption Madden

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  • Eleventh Circuit Holds Federal Law Preempts Florida's Check-Cashing Fee Restriction For Out-Of-State Banks

    Consumer Finance

    On May 30, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit held that with regard to out-of-state state banks, federal law preempts Florida’s prohibition on financial institutions settling checks for less than par value. Pereira v. Regions Bank, No. 13-10458, 2014 WL 2219166 (11th Cir. May 30, 2014). The ruling broadens a prior ruling that federal law preempts the same restriction with regard to national banks. Plaintiffs in this case filed suit on behalf of a putative class after the bank charged them a fee for cashing a check, claiming they received less than par value because of the bank’s fee. Florida law prohibits a financial institution from settling “any check drawn on it otherwise than at par.” The court explained that 12 U.S.C. 1831a(j) provides that the laws of a host state apply to any branch in the host state of an out-of-state state bank to the  same extent as such state laws apply to a branch in the host state of an out-of-state national bank. The court held that, based on 12 U.S.C. 1831a(j) and the court’s prior ruling regarding national bank preemption, the plaintiffs’ claims were clearly preempted. The court explained that assuming the relevant Florida law would prohibit Florida branches of out-of-state state banks from charging a fee to cash a check presented in person, that law would apply “to the same extent” that it applies to out-of-state national banks, and as such, is preempted.

    Preemption Check Cashing Deposit Products

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  • Ninth Circuit Affirms Dismissal of Unfair Competition Claims over Teaser Rates


    On January 9, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed a district court’s dismissal of a putative class action against a national bank over its adjustable rate mortgage disclosure and payment application. O’Donnell v. Bank of Am., N.A., No. 11-16351, slip op. (9th Cir. Jan. 9, 2013). On appeal, the borrowers argued that the district court erred in holding that their California state-law claims for common law fraud and violations of the Unfair Competition Law based on the lender’s alleged concealment of material facts about the loans’ escalating principal balances and interest rates are preempted by the National Bank Act and OCC regulations. The borrowers also challenged the district court’s dismissal of their state-law breach of contract claim based on allegations that the lender improperly applied payments solely toward satisfying part of the interest owed while adding the remaining interest to the principal balance. In affirming the dismissal, the appeals court held that the fraud and unfair competition claims are expressly preempted because they would force the lender to make additional disclosures not required by federal law. The appeals court also affirmed the district court’s holding that the FTC Act does not provide a private right of action and therefore cannot be employed as a premise for the borrowers’ unfair competition claim. With regard to the borrowers’ breach of contract claim, the court held that the mortgage contract did not include any representation that the lender would apply payments to principal if the payment failed to cover the accrued interest, and, therefore, the borrowers failed to state a plausible claim.

    Mortgage Origination Mortgage Servicing Preemption National Bank Act

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  • Fourth Circuit Holds State Auto Debt Cancellation Requirements Not Preempted for Certain Assigned Loans

    Consumer Finance

    On December 26, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held that federal law does not preempt Maryland’s debt cancellation requirements for an auto retail installment sales contract (RISC) when a national bank is the assignee, and not the originator, of the loan. Decohen v. Capital One, N.A., No. 11-2161, 2012 WL 6685767 (4th Cir. Dec. 26, 2012). In this case, a dealer sold and financed a used vehicle and subsequently assigned the loan to a national bank. The financing included a charge for a debt cancellation agreement in the RISC, which under the Maryland Credit Grantor Closed End Credit Provisions (CLEC) requires a lender to cancel any remaining loan balance when a car is totaled and insurance does not cover the full loss. After the buyer totaled his car and was left with a loan balance, he sought to enforce the debt cancellation agreement. In dismissing the case, the district court held, in relevant part, that the agreement at issue was a "debt cancellation contract" covered by the National Bank Act, and that because such contracts are governed by federal law and regulations, including regulations regarding debt cancellation agreements, state regulation of such contracts is preempted. The district court also found that the purchaser failed to state a claim for breach of contract because the bank did not agree to cancel the remaining debt. The appeals court disagreed and held that because the OCC regulations regarding debt cancellation agreements apply only to agreements entered into by national banks, “the CLEC provisions regarding debt cancellation agreements are not expressly preempted by federal law when the agreements are part of credit contracts originated by a local lender and assigned to a national bank.” The court also held that the purchaser stated a claim for breach of contract because the parties voluntarily elected to be governed by the CLEC in the RISC, which cannot be undone by assignment of the loan. The court vacated the district court’s judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings.

    Auto Finance Preemption National Bank Act

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  • Ninth Circuit Vacates Restitution Order in Overdraft Ordering Case, Allows State Fraud Claims to Proceed

    Consumer Finance

    On December 26, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that a national bank’s practice of posting payments to checking accounts in a particular order is a federally authorized pricing decision, and that federal law preempts the application of state law to dictate a national bank’s order of posting. Gutierrez v. Wells Fargo Bank, No. 10-16959, 2012 WL 6684748 (9th Cir. Dec. 26, 2012). In this case, after trial the district court enjoined the bank’s practice of ordering withdrawals from “high-to-low” and ordered the bank to pay $203 million in restitution. The court agreed with customers who had sued the bank on behalf of a class that the bank’s ordering practice was designed to maximize the number of customer overdrafts and related fees and as such violated the California Unfair Competition Law (UCL). On appeal, the court held that the bank’s ordering practice is a pricing decision the bank can pursue under federal law, and that the National Bank Act (NBA) preempts the unfair business practices prong of the UCL. The court also held that both the imposition of affirmative disclosure requirements and liability based on failure to disclose are preempted. However, the court held that the NBA does not preempt the customers’ claim of affirmative misrepresentations under the fraudulent prong of the UCL. The court also considered as an issue of first impression the effect of the Supreme Court’s intervening ruling in Concepcion on a judgment on appeal after trial. The court declined to grant arbitration, reasoning that the bank’s post-judgment arbitration request was contrary to its conduct throughout the litigation, and that granting the request would prejudice the plaintiff and frustrate the purposes of the Federal Arbitration Act. The court vacated the district court’s injunction and its $203 million restitution order, and directed the district court to determine appropriate relief on the state fraud claims.

    Arbitration Overdraft Preemption National Bank Act

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  • California Federal District Court Affirms Lender's Sole Discretion to Change Rate Index for ARM Loan


    On October 3, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California held that a lender had no duty to abandon the index to which certain adjustable rate mortgage rates were tied when the index experienced an unprecedented jump. Haggarty v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., No 10-02416, 2012 WL 4742815 (N.D. Cal. Oct. 3, 2012). The borrowers, who had entered into two adjustable rate mortgages, sued the lender when their rates increased substantially following a jump in the index to which the adjustable rates were tied. On behalf of themselves and a putative class, the borrowers claimed that the bank breached an implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing by failing to substitute a new index under a clause in the Notes that allowed the lender to choose a new index if the original index was “substantially recalculated.” The court held that the Note language granting the lender ”sole discretion” to determine whether the index had been substantially recalculated insulated the lender from claims that it was required to reach a certain conclusion about the index and the need to substitute a new index. Further, the court held that the borrowers’ attempt to use implied covenants to add contract terms or establish a breach was preempted by the Home Owners’ Loan Act, which in relevant part was intended to avoid inconsistent obligations for lenders regarding interest rate adjustments. The court granted summary judgment in favor of the lender.

    Mortgage Origination Mortgage Servicing Class Action Preemption

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  • CFPB Seeks Input on Conflict Between State and Federal Gift Card Laws


    On August 16, the CFPB issued a Notice that it intends to make a preemption determination with regard to two state gift card laws. The CFPB is seeking public comment to inform its response to requests that the CFPB address conflicts between the EFTA’s gift card expiration provisions and those in Maine’s and Tennessee’s laws. The Notice explains that Maine’s and Tennessee’s laws presume gift cards to be “abandoned” and release businesses from the obligation to honor the gift cards after two years of inactivity, while federal law generally prohibits the sale of a gift card with an expiration date under five years. The CFPB requests public comment on whether there is any inconsistency between the identified state and federal expiration date provisions and, if so, on the nature of the inconsistency. The CFPB also seeks comment on whether card issuers could comply with the federal and state laws as they currently exist, and whether the Maine and Tennessee laws provide greater consumer protection than the federal law.

    CFPB Gift Cards EFTA Preemption

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  • California Supreme Court Ruling Stops Convenience Check Class Action


    Just weeks after announcing that it set aside approximately $520 million for a potential settlement of FCPA matters being investigated by the SEC and DOJ, Reuters reports that a spokeswoman for Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. has confirmed that the Israeli company is investigating new potential bribes to state healthcare workers in Romania. Reuters claims to have reviewed emails sent in the past year by an anonymous tipster to Teva’s CEO and audit committee that detail bribes paid to healthcare providers in exchange for recommending the company’s drugs. Romania was not among the countries Teva identified as being part of the settlement discussions with the SEC and DOJ in its recent SEC filing, although the company has said it is conducting a worldwide investigation of its business practices.

    Prior Scorecard coverage of the Teva investigation can be found here.

    Credit Cards Preemption

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