Skip to main content
Menu Icon Menu Icon
Close

InfoBytes Blog

Financial Services Law Insights and Observations
Section Content

Upcoming Events

Filter

Subscribe to our InfoBytes Blog weekly newsletter for news affecting the financial services industry.

  • Court denies CFPB motion to reconsider, applies new RESPA safe harbor

    Courts

    On March 22, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky denied the CFPB’s motion to reconsider an opinion issued in July 2017, which held that a safe harbor provision for affiliated business arrangements under Section 8(c)(4) of RESPA protects a Louisville law firm's relationship with a string of now-closed title insurance agencies (previously covered by InfoBytes here). In denying the request, the court clarified its previous reasoning and found that the transactions did not violate Section 8(a) because the law firm did not give the title insurance agencies a “thing of value,” and even assuming a violation, the safe harbor under Section 8(c)(2)—even though the court previously relied on Section 8(c)(4)—applied. The court relied on the D.C. Circuit’s 2016 interpretation of Section 8(c)(2) in PHH Corporation v. CFPB, which found that payments made in exchange for a service “actually received” is not the same as payments made for referrals and a payment is bona fide if it amounts to “reasonable market value” for the service. In applying the PHH holding to the present facts, the court concluded that the payments consumers made to the title agencies, which were subsequently distributed as profits to corresponding partners, were made in exchange for title insurance that was actually received by the consumer. Moreover, the court noted that there was no evidence that the payments were above market value, and therefore determined they were bona fide. Lastly, the opinion emphasized that the purpose of RESPA is to prevent unnecessary increases in costs of certain settlement services for consumers, and the payments resulting from the relationship between the law firm and the title agencies not only were for services actually received but were not found to increase the cost of those services at settlement.

    Courts CFPB RESPA Mortgages PHH v. CFPB Affiliated Business Relationship

    Share page with AddThis
  • Buckley Sandler Special Alert: D.C. Circuit upholds CFPB’s constitutionality but rejects its interpretation of RESPA

    Courts

    On January 31, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit issued its long-awaited en banc decision in CFPB v. PHH Corporation. In a 7-3 decision, the court concluded that the CFPB’s single-director structure is constitutional, even though the president can only remove the director for cause. Importantly, however, the court also reinstated the portion of t he October 2016 panel opinion concluding that the CFPB misinterpreted the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) and its statute of limitations. As a result, the $109 million penalty imposed on PHH is vacated and the case will go back to the CFPB, where new leadership must decide whether to pursue the action. PHH has 90 days to seek review by the Supreme Court.

    Ten judges issued seven separate opinions in this case, totaling 250 pages. The following is a summary of the key holdings.

    * * *

    Click here to read the full special alert.

    If you have questions about the decision or other related issues, please visit our Consumer Financial Protection Bureau practice page, or contact a Buckley Sandler attorney with whom you have worked in the past.

    Courts Federal Issues CFPB PHH v. CFPB Dodd-Frank

    Share page with AddThis
  • Supreme Court to review whether SEC’s ALJ appointment process is constitutional

    Courts

    On January 12, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it had granted a writ of certiorari in Lucia v. SEC—a case which challenges the SEC’s practice of appointing administrative law judges (ALJs) and moves the Court to consider whether the ALJ appointment practice violates the Appointments Clause (Clause) of the Constitution. In Lucia, the petitioner—against whom an ALJ had issued sanctions, imposed a lifetime securities ban, and fined $300,000—appealed the decision to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, and argued 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. However, the D.C. Circuit upheld the ALJs sanctions and ruled that ALJs are not “inferior officers” subject to the Clause. In his petition for certiorari, the petitioner claimed that because he was subjected to a “trial before an unconstitutionally constituted tribunal,” the ALJ’s decision should be dismissed or a new hearing granted.

    Notably, last November, the Solicitor General of the United States submitted a brief on behalf of the SEC to the Supreme Court, arguing that the SEC views in-house judges as officers of the U.S. government—not mere employees—who are subject to the Clause. Additionally, on November 30, the SEC ratified the appointment of its ALJs to resolve “any concerns that administrative proceedings presided over by its ALJs violate the Appointments Clause.”

    A decision by the Court may resolve a split between the D.C. Circuit, which has ruled that ALJs are not “inferior officers” of the U.S. government, and the Tenth and Fifth Circuits, which disagreed and ruled separately that ALJs are officers.

    See also previous Lucia coverage in an InfoBytes blog post and a Special Alert concerning the effect a decision in Lucia may have on the ongoing litigation in PHH v. CFPB.

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

    Share page with AddThis
  • PHH v. CFPB Update: PHH Counters CFPB’s Statute of Limitations Interpretation

    Courts

    On June 13, PHH Corporation sent a letter to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit responding to a June 7 letter from the CFPB that stated RESPA’s three-year statute of limitations is not applicable in its enforcement action against the company. In its letter, the CFPB cited a decision in Kokesh v. SEC where the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a five-year limit applies to civil penalties, and that, furthermore, “[d]isgorgement in the securities-enforcement context is a ‘penalty’ within the meaning of §2462, and so disgorgement actions must be commenced within five years of the date the claim accrues.” The Bureau further supported its argument for a five-year limit by claiming that RESPA’s three-year statute of limitations provision applies only to “actions” brought in a “United States district court or any other court of competent jurisdiction,” and its administrative proceeding against the company for alleged mortgage kickbacks was not an “action” under RESPA.

    In response, PHH countered that Section 2462 contains a “catch-all limitations period ‘[e]xcept as otherwise provided’ by Congress.” Thus, the D.C. Circuit panel was correct when it held that Congress “otherwise provided” a three-year statute of limitations under RESPA that applies to enforcement proceedings because in the “second part of Section 2614, the term ‘actions’ is not limited to actions brought in court.” PHH further asserts that Dodd-Frank “repeatedly uses the term ‘action’ to encompass court actions and administrative proceedings.”

    As previously covered in InfoBytes, on May 24, the D.C. Circuit, sitting en banc, heard oral arguments on the constitutionality of the CFPB. It did not indicate that it was inclined to revisit the panel’s determination that the Bureau misinterpreted RESPA when applying it to PHH’s practices.

    Courts Litigation Mortgages CFPB PHH v. CFPB RESPA

    Share page with AddThis
  • PHH v. CFPB Update: D.C. Circuit Hears Oral Arguments Before En Banc Court

    Courts

    On May 24, the en banc U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit heard oral arguments in the matter of PHH Corp. v. CFPB. The parties and the Department of Justice generally presented their arguments as expected based on their briefs. However, questions from some members of the court indicated doubts about the conclusion by a panel of the court in October 2016 that the CFPB’s structure was unconstitutional. In particular, multiple members of the court repeatedly pressed PHH’s counsel on whether prior Supreme Court decisions upholding the constitutionality of the Federal Trade Commission and other independent agencies led by presidential appointees who could only be removed “for cause” prevented the D.C. Circuit from concluding that the president lacked sufficient authority over the CFPB’s Director.

    Notably, however, in response to statements by PHH that current CFPB Director Richard Cordray could remain in his position after the expiration of his term in July 2018 until a successor was confirmed by the Senate, the CFPB’s counsel stated that, in the Bureau’s view, the “for cause” removal limitation no longer applied once the Director’s term expired, and the president could then remove the Director “at will.”

    In contrast to the constitutional issue, the questioning on other aspects of the case was minimal and did not indicate that the en banc court was inclined to revisit the panel’s determination that the CFPB misinterpreted the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) when applying it to PHH’s practices, violated due process by failing to give PHH proper notice of its interpretation, and improperly failed to apply RESPA’s statute of limitations in its administrative proceedings.

    At the direction of the en banc court, the oral arguments in PHH followed those in Lucia v. SEC, a case addressing whether the SEC’s administrative law judges (ALJs) violate the appointments clause of the U.S. Constitution. Although this issue was not discussed during the PHH oral arguments, the CFPB originally brought its claims against PHH before an ALJ borrowed from the SEC and the court had previously suggested that a finding that the SEC ALJs were improperly appointed could also justify reversal of the CFPB’s decision against PHH. (See previous Special Alert here.)

    A decision from the en banc court is not expected for months. Importantly, while questioning during oral argument is often used as a barometer of the potential outcome of a case, the questions asked by a judge do not necessarily indicate how that judge will vote on a particular issue. Judges often use oral argument to see how the parties and their colleagues will respond to hypotheticals, rather than to share their views of the case.

    Courts Consumer Finance CFPB RESPA PHH v. CFPB Mortgages Litigation

    Share page with AddThis
  • Company Accused of Bilking 9/11 First Responders Out of Millions of Dollars Says CFPB Action Unlawful

    Courts

    On May 15, a New Jersey-based finance company and its affiliated parties filed a motion to dismiss allegations that it scammed first responders to the World Trade Center attack and NFL retirees with high-cost loans. As previously covered in InfoBytes, the CFPB and the New York Attorney General’s office (NYAG) claimed the defendants engaged in deceptive and abusive acts by misleading consumers into selling expensive advances on benefits to which they were entitled by mischaracterizing extensions of credit as assignments of future payment rights, thereby causing the consumers to repay far more than they received. The defendants’ motion to dismiss was prompted, in part, by the recent PHH v. CFPB decision in which the court held that the CFPB’s single director leadership structure is unconstitutional and, thus, that the agency must operate as an executive agency supervised by the President. Here, the defendants argue, the complaint issued against them is a “prime example of how the unchecked authority granted to the CFPB leads to administrative overreach that has a profound effect on the businesses and individuals the agency targets.”

    In response to the claims that they mischaracterized credit, the defendants assert that the complaint is “based on the erroneous theory that—despite clear contractual terms and the weight of legal authority to the contrary—these transactions are not true sales, but instead are ‘extensions of credit’ under the Consumer Financial Protection Act [(CFPA)], and therefore the [defendants] deceived consumers by labeling the agreements as sales.” The CFPA defines an extension of “credit” as “the right granted by a creditor to a debtor to defer payment of debt or to incur debt and defer its payment.” In this instance, the defendants contend, there is no debt, no repayment obligation, and no “right granted to defer payment of a debt” because the consumers are the sellers of the asset.

    The defendants argue that (i)“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”; (ii) because these transactions do not fall into the CFPA’s definition of credit, the case lacks a federal cause of action; and (iii) “each cause of action in the [c]omplaint individually fails to state a claim for relief, including because the Government is flat out wrong in its contention that the underlying settlement proceeds are not assignable.”

    Courts Consumer Finance CFPB Enforcement State Attorney General PHH v. CFPB UDAAP Litigation

    Share page with AddThis
  • PHH v CFPB Update: D.C. Circuit Grants CFPB’s Request to Go Last at May 24 En Banc Oral Arguments

    Courts

    In an per curium order handed down on May 1, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit granted an uncontested motion brought by the CFPB seeking to revise the order of the oral arguments in the upcoming PHH Corp. v. CFPB hearing before the en banc court. With all briefing on the merits having been submitted, the case awaits oral arguments, which have been set for May 24. The Bureau sought to change the order of arguments such that the CFPB presented its argument last—after both PHH and the DOJ. In seeking a change in scheduling order, the CFPB argued that the original schedule—pursuant to which the DOJ would go last—did not afford the Bureau an opportunity to respond to the DOJ’s arguments. The Court’s May 1 Order, having granted the Bureau’s Motion, provides for the following argument order:

    • Petitioners (PHH Corp.) – 30 minutes
    • Amicus Curiae United States – 10 minutes
    • Respondent (CFPB) – 30 minutes

    Also, note that the CFPB’s motion agrees-in-advance to PHH to likewise respond to both the DOJ and CFPB, should it wish to do so.

    As previously discussed in InfoBytes, the once-cooperative relationship between the CFPB and the DOJ recently turned adverse after the Sessions-led DOJ presented arguments in its latest briefing that differed markedly from both the CFPB’s positions and from the arguments asserted in briefing submitted by the Obama Administration in December 2016. For additional background, please see our recent PHH Corp. v CFPB Case Update.

    Courts Consumer Finance PHH v. CFPB RESPA Mortgages Litigation

    Share page with AddThis
  • PHH Submits Reply Brief in Case Against CFPB; DOJ Allocated 10 Minutes at May 24 Oral Argument

    Courts

    As recently covered by InfoBytes, on March 31 the CFPB and seven amicus curiae respondents each filed briefing in PHH Corp. v CFPB urging the D.C. Circuit to uphold the constitutionality of the Bureau’s single-director, independent-agency structure. On April 10, PHH filed a reply brief responding to the arguments raised by the CFPB and other respondents, and reiterating its position that, among other things, the en banc court should declare that the Dodd-Frank Act’s creation of the CFPB violated constitutional separation of powers requirements and that the only satisfactory remedy is the complete invalidation of the Bureau.

    Citing Myers v. United States, 272 U.S. 52 (1926), PHH contends that, “the Constitution does not permit Congress to assign any portion of the executive power to an ’independent’ officer who is not accountable to, and removable by, the President.” Id. at 113. Moreover, in addressing comparisons between the CFPB and the FTC, the mortgage lender’s reply argues that “[t]he CFPB’s broad executive, legislative, and adjudicative authority further refutes its claim that it is functionally ‘indistinguishable’ from the FTC in 1935” because, among other reasons, “[i]n 1935, the FTC had no substantive rulemaking powers—the FTC disclaimed that authority until 1962.” In support of this claim, PHH highlights the fact that “the CFPB has all the authority—and more—of a cabinet department such as Treasury or Justice” but “unlike most cabinet positions, the Director may unilaterally appoint every subordinate official in the agency, as well as hire and compensate all CFPB employees outside the normal competitive-service requirements” (emphasis added). In addition to addressing the constitutional issue, PHH’s reply brief also notes that the CFPB has offered no support for its effort to enforce a reinterpretation of the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act against the companies.

    Oral argument is scheduled for May 24. As provided in a Per Curiam Order issued on April 11, the Court has allocated 30 minutes per side for the argument and an additional ten minutes of argument for the United States as amicus curiae. For additional background, please see our recent PHH Corp. v CFPB Case Update.

    Courts PHH v. CFPB Consumer Finance CFPB Dodd-Frank FTC RESPA Mortgages Litigation

    Share page with AddThis
  • CFPB Director Withdraws Notification for Final Decision in Payday Lender Charges; Parties File Differing Opinions

    Courts

    On March 31, CFPB Director Richard Cordray issued an order directing the Bureau’s Office of Administrative Adjudication to withdraw a February 13 notification informing the parties that the administrative proceeding against an online payday lender and its CEO (Respondents) had been submitted for a final decision by the CFPB.  The order noted that while the withdrawal “delay[s] [the] resolution of this appeal,” Director Cordray believed it to be appropriate in that it “help[s] minimize unnecessary or duplicative proceedings and . . . facilitate[s] a more efficient resolution of this matter.”

    The March 31 order follows a March 9 order in which parties were directed to file statements indicating whether they objected to the withdrawal of the notification. The parties offered differing opinions in their responses. In their March 24 filing, Respondents agreed generally with the Bureau’s reasons for withdrawal but sought clarification on the timing of the “proposed re-notification in this matter” and, furthermore, stressed that that re-notification should only be made once the cases of PHH Corp v. CFPB, Lucia v. SEC, and Bandimere v. SEC have been resolved by their respective courts. A three-judge panel had previously ruled in PHH that the structure of the CFPB was unconstitutional and that the Bureau’s interpretations of the kickback prohibitions of the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) and RESPA’s statute of limitations provisions were erroneous. The full court granted the CFPB’s petition in February 2017 and explicitly vacated the panel’s decision (see previously posted Special Alert). Conversely, the Enforcement Counsel’s filing “respectfully” objected to the withdrawal of the notice “because resolution of the PHH matter will not determine the resolution of this proceeding and . . . any delay would be inefficient and would exacerbate the harm to affected consumers.”

    Last September, administrative law judge, the Hon. Parlen L. McKenna, recommended civil money penalties against Respondents totaling over $13 million as well as restitution of over $38 million to be paid to affected consumers. It further affirmed the CFPB’s allegations that the Respondents deceived consumers about the cost of short-term loans, thereby violating the Truth in Lending Act, the Electronic Fund Transfer Act, and the Consumer Financial Protection Act’s prohibition against deceptive acts or practices. Following the recommended decision, the Respondents filed a notice of appeal.

    Courts CFPB Payday Lending PHH v. CFPB Litigation

    Share page with AddThis
  • Case Update: PHH Corp. v CFPB

    Courts

    March 31 marked the deadline for the CFPB to file its brief in response to PHH Corporation in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit’s en banc review of the CFPB’s enforcement action against PHH for alleged violations of the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA). As previously covered by InfoBytes, the PHH case began as a challenge to a 2015 penalty the CFPB levied against PHH, which was collected as part of what the CFPB deemed – a “captive reinsurance arrangement.” In fighting the penalty, PHH called into question the Bureau’s constitutionality and in October 2016, a panel of the D.C. Circuit concluded both that the CFPB misinterpreted RESPA, and also that its single-Director structure violated the constitutional separation of powers. On February 16 of this year, however, the D.C. Circuit granted the CFPB’s petition for rehearing en banc of the October 2015 panel decision. In granting en banc review, the court sought guidance from the parties on three specific questions: 

    • Is the Bureau’s structure unconstitutional because its Director may be removed only for cause, and if so, is the appropriate remedy to sever the for-cause removal provision from the Consumer Financial Protection Act?; 
    • May the Court avoid addressing the constitutionality of the Bureau’s structure if it adopts the panel’s holdings as to PHH’s liability under RESPA (and should it adopt those holdings)?; and
    • What is the appropriate disposition of this case if this Court concludes that the SEC’s administrative law judges are “inferior officers” under Lucia v. SEC? 

    Oral argument is scheduled for May 24. This Court has allocated 30 minutes per side for the argument and, as discussed further below, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has filed an unopposed motion seeking ten minutes of argument time for the United States at the May 24 en banc hearing.

    CFPB’s Brief. On March 31, the CFPB filed its brief for the en banc rehearing in PHH Corp. v CFPB urging the D.C. Circuit  to uphold the constitutionality of the Bureau’s single-director, independent-agency structure. According to the CFPB, neither the Bureau’s current single-director arrangement, nor the “for-cause” restriction on the President’s removal powers prevents the Executive branch from ensuring that the nation’s laws are implemented. Specifically, the brief explains that “[t]he President has no less control over a single-director agency than he does over a multi-member commission.” The brief also sets forth the Bureau’s position that, even “[i]f this Court determines that the Bureau’s structure is unconstitutional,” the appropriate remedy is not to invalidate the agency in its entirety, but rather to “sever the for-cause removal provision” of the Dodd-Frank Act (the Act), thereby allowing the President to remove the Bureau’s director for any reason. In addition to addressing the constitutional question, the CFPB also reiterated its argument that its RESPA interpretation is correct, that PHH and its affiliates violated RESPA, and that the Act’s statute of limitations does not apply to the Bureau’s administrative enforcement authority. And, at the direction of the court, the brief also addressed the potential effect of a decision in Lucia v. SEC that a SEC administrative law judge (ALJ) was an inferior officer under the Constitution. The ALJ used by the CFPB in the PHH enforcement proceeding was, in fact, borrowed from the SEC. Notably, Lucia v. SEC is scheduled to be argued immediately before PHH Corp. v. CFPB, on May 24, 2017.

    Amicus Curiae in Support of the CFPB. Also filed on March 31 were seven amicus curiae briefs, each of which offered arguments, both legal and non-legal, in favor of the CFPB’s continued existence as an independent regulator:

    PHH’s Brief. Briefing for PHH and amicus curiae briefs in support of the mortgage lender were due on March 17. In its opening brief and addendum, PHH focused on the separation-of-powers and remedy issues, raising the RESPA interpretation issue principally in support of the claim that the CFPB’s unconstitutional structure rendered the Bureau dangerously unaccountable. The New Jersey mortgage lender noted, among other things, that Congress has no ability to cut the agency’s budget and the President cannot remove its director without cause. As a general matter, the mortgage lender has argued that the Bureau’s creation “placed massive, unchecked federal power in the hands of a single, unaccountable director” and that “[t]he director alone rules over large swaths of the field of consumer finance, subject to virtually no restraints from the representative branches.”

    DOJ BriefAs previously covered by InfoBytes, the DOJ filed its own brief in the case on March 17, arguing in support of the D.C. Circuit panel’s initial ruling and proposed remedy. The DOJ brief stated, among other things, that, “[w]hile we do not agree with all of the reasoning in the panel’s opinion,” the DOJ agrees with the panel’s conclusion that “a removal restriction for the Director of the CFPB is an unwarranted limitation on the President’s executive power” and that “the panel correctly concluded … that the proposed remedy for the constitutional violation is to sever the provision limiting the President’s authority to remove the CFPB’s Director, not to declare the entire agency and its operations unconstitutional.”  As  covered recently on InfoBytes, the DOJ presented arguments that differed both from the CFPB and from the positions previously presented by the Obama Administration in briefing submitted on behalf of the United States back in December. 

    Also, as mentioned above, on April 3, the DOJ filed an unopposed motion seeking ten minutes of argument time for the United States at the May 24 en banc hearing.

    Amicus Curiae in Support of PHH. The March 10 deadline in the en banc proceeding also brought about the filing of seven amicus curiae briefs in support of PHH’s claims and/or defenses. Six of these filings took the position that the Bureau’s current structure violates separation-of-powers principles:

    A seventh—filed by a combined group of 13 banking and residential real estate-related organizations—argued in support of the company’s interpretation of the RESPA. According to this brief, the CFPB incorrectly changed a long-standing RESPA interpretation that permitted the use of captive reinsurance companies under appropriate circumstances. The changed interpretation was contrary to the Act and to the CFPB’s own regulation. The brief also argued that the Bureau improperly changed the interpretation and applied the new interpretation in an enforcement action without proper notice.

    Courts PHH v. CFPB Consumer Finance Federal Issues RESPA DOJ Mortgages Litigation

    Share page with AddThis

Pages