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  • Second Circuit Ruling May Expose Debt Collection Law Firms to Increased FDCPA Claims

    Courts

    On November 14, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed a Southern District of New York dismissal of a lawsuit against a debt collection law firm regarding actions taken during state court collection proceedings. Concluding that the plaintiff had stated a claim against the law firm under two sections of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), a three-judge panel vacated the dismissal and remanded for further proceedings consistent with its decision.

    The appeal stems from the law firm’s actions in attempting to collect on a default judgment entered against the plaintiff. After receiving a restraining notice from the law firm, the plaintiff’s bank placed a restraint on his checking account and the law firm told plaintiff that, unless he made a payment, he would have to get a court order to lift the restraint. The plaintiff sought such an order on the grounds that all the money in his checking account was Social Security Retirement Income (SSRI) and, therefore, exempt from restraint. The plaintiff claimed that the law firm’s objection to his request contained false statements in violation of the FDCPA and New York law because the plaintiff had earlier provided the law firm with documents supporting his exemption claim.

    In finding the complaint states a claim under FDCPA section 1692e, the Court rejected, among other arguments made by the law firm, the notion that FDCPA liability cannot be imposed based on conduct in litigation; the opinion contrasts bankruptcy court proceedings—where the Second Circuit has found the filing of false statements of claim does not violate the FDCPA—with those of state courts, “where . . . the consumer, often unfamiliar with the law governing garnishment of bank accounts, has the benefit of neither counsel nor a bankruptcy trustee.” The Court also held that “a debt collector engages in unfair or unconscionable litigation conduct in violation of [FDCPA] section 1692f when . . . it in bad faith unduly prolongs legal proceedings or requires a consumer to appear at an unnecessary hearing.”

    Courts Appellate FDCPA Second Circuit Debt Collection

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  • CFPB Urges Supreme Court to Reject Tribal Lenders' Petition

    Courts

    On November 9, the CFPB filed a brief with the Supreme Court opposing the petition for a writ of certiorari submitted by online tribal lending entities.  The lenders are challenging a January decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which ordered the entities to comply with a CFPB investigation (previously covered by Infobytes). The litigation stems from the issuance of a civil investigative demand (CID) by the CFPB to online lending entities owned by Native American tribes. The entities argue that due to tribal sovereignty, the CFPB does not have jurisdiction over the small-dollar lending services in question. The district court and the Ninth Circuit concluded that the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA) did not expressly exclude tribes from the CFPB’s enforcement authority and therefore, the entities cannot claim tribal sovereign immunity.

    In its brief opposing the certiorari petition, the CFPB argues that the Ninth Circuit’s holding does not conflict with any prior Supreme Court or court of appeals decision, making further review unwarranted. The CFPB also argues, among other things, that Supreme Court review is unnecessary because “[t]he question at this juncture is solely whether the Bureau may obtain information from petitioners pursuant to a CID,” not “whether petitioners are subject to the Bureau’s regulatory authority.” 

    Courts CFPB Payday Lending Consumer Lending U.S. Supreme Court Appellate Ninth Circuit

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  • Seventh Circuit Upholds Ruling That Excludes Insurance Coverage for Overdraft Fees

    Courts

    On October 12, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed an Indiana District Court’s 2016 ruling, agreeing that an insurance company does not bear the responsibility for covering a bank’s $24 million class action settlement under a policy provision that excludes coverage for any case involving fees. In upholding the lower court’s decision, the three judge panel concluded that the insurance company had no duty to defend or indemnify the bank on the basis that the underlying overdraft fee claims fall under “Exclusion 3(n)” in the bank's professional liability insurance policy, which states that the insurance company “shall not be liable for [l]oss on account of any [c]laim . . . based upon, arising from, or in consequence of any fees or charges.” Class claims alleging that the bank manipulated its debit processing to “maximize overdraft revenue” by charging purportedly excessive fees to consumers who overdraw their checking and savings accounts triggered the exclusion. The panel also noted that an insurance company’s decision to include fee exclusions in banking liability policies is designed to prevent the “moral hazard” of allowing banks to “freely create other customer fee schemes” knowing they could easily secure coverage.

    Courts Appellate Seventh Circuit Overdraft Class Action Settlement Litigation

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  • Ninth Circuit Claims California Licensing Law Violates Dormant Commerce Clause

    Courts

    On October 10, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit handed down an opinion concerning alleged violations of certain California statutes by an Ohio-based mortgage servicer (plaintiff). The panel held that the plaintiff is likely to prevail in its bid for a court order blocking the enforcement of the state’s financial code by certain California district attorneys because the law violates the Dormant Commerce Clause—a legal doctrine that prohibits states from unduly burdening interstate commerce. The defendants allege that the plaintiff violated Section 12200 of the California Financial Code, which requires a prorater—a person who is compensated for receiving monies from debtors and distributing the funds to creditors—to obtain a California prorater license and be incorporated in the state before conducting business on an interstate basis. The panel determined that “[t]his form of discrimination between in-state and out-of-state economic interests is incompatible with a functioning national economy, and the prospect of each corporation being required to create a subsidiary in each state is precisely . . . [what] the Dormant Commerce Clause exists to prevent.” Consequently, the panel vacated the district court’s order denying a preliminary injunction, and remanded for further proceedings.

    The panel also affirmed the district court’s ruling that the plaintiff was required to disclose in its mail solicitations to homeowners that it “lacked authorization from lenders,” and opined that the plaintiff would most likely not prevail in its effort to challenge allegations that it violated sections of the California Business and Professions Code on a First Amendment basis. The First Amendment, the panel reasoned, “does not generally protect corporations from being required to tell prospective customers the truth.”

    Finally, in a portion of the opinion in which one of the circuit judges dissented, the panel reversed a district court’s order dismissing both cases under Younger v. Harris “because the cases had proceeded beyond the ‘embryonic stage’ in the district court before the corresponding state cases were filed.” Judge Montgomery—who otherwise joined the opinion with respect to the Dormant Commerce Clause and First Amendment questions—argued that the district court's dismissal under Younger should have been upheld because “[b]oth cases arrived in federal court…as a preemptive strike by [the plaintiff] to enjoin state district attorneys from enforcing state statutes in state court.”

    Courts Appellate Licensing Ninth Circuit

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  • Texas Appeals Court Cites Khoury, Dismisses Trial Court’s Summary Judgment Under UETA

    Courts

    On October 3, a three-judge panel of a Texas Court of Appeals reversed and remanded, while affirming in part, a trial court’s decision concerning an alleged breach of contract over a $230 million sale agreement. On appeal were three issues, including a challenge to the grounds on which the trial court granted summary judgement under the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA). The trial court concluded that the “parties did not agree to conduct business electronically and that the alleged contract did not contain a valid electronic signature.” But the panel reversed the decision, holding that an agreement between parties to conduct transactions by electronic means “need not be explicit” under UETA, and finding that the parties’ email negotiations constituted “at least some evidence that the parties agreed to conduct some of their transactions electronically.” and The panel also cited their earlier decision in Khoury v. Tomlinson, that was previously discussed in InfoBytes, to address the question of whether the emails between the two parties were signed electronically. Khoury ruled that an email satisfied the writing requirement because it was an electronic record, and that the header, which included a “from” field constituted as a signature because that field served the same “authenticating function” as a signature block. Consequently, because there was “at least some evidence that the relevant emails were signed as defined in UETA,” the trial court in this matter erred in granting summary judgment.

    Further, because the panel found that there still remain questions regarding whether the parties actually formed an agreement concerning the sale of assets, the panel stated they were unable to determine “as a matter of law, under the particular facts of this case, whether such a contract is illusory.” Thus, the trial court erred in granting summary judgment on these grounds as well.

    The remainder of the trial court’s judgments were affirmed, and the case was remanded for further proceedings consistent with the opinion.

    Courts Appellate Digital Commerce Electronic Signatures UETA

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  • Second Circuit Upholds Large Monetary Judgment Against International Bank

    Courts

    On September 28, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed a New York District Court’s 2015 ruling, which requires a major international bank to pay $806 million for selling allegedly faulty mortgage-backed bonds to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. In the original suit brought by the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), FHFA alleged that the bank overstated the reliability of the loans for sale. In upholding the lower court’s decision, the Second Circuit concluded that the marketing prospectus used to sell the mortgage securities to Fannie and Freddie between 2005 and 2007 contained “untrue statements of material fact.” Specifically, the prospectus falsely stated that the loans were compiled with the underwriting standards described therein, including standards related to assessing the creditworthiness of the borrowers and appraising the value of properties.

    As previously covered in InfoBytes, the same international bank recently settled with FHFA regarding residential mortgage-back securities trusts purchased in the same timeframe.

    Courts Litigation Second Circuit Appellate Securities FHFA Fannie Mae Freddie Mac Mortgages

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  • Eleventh Circuit Holds a Debt Collector’s Voicemail Qualifies as a “Communication” Under FDCPA

    Courts

    On September 22, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reversed and remanded, while affirming in part, a lower court’s decision concerning whether a voicemail left by a debt collector constitutes a “communication” and how “meaningful disclosure” should be interpreted under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). The panel answered the first issue by noting that the FDCPA’s definition of “communication” includes “the conveying of information regarding a debt [either] directly or indirectly to any person through any medium.” Therefore, the panel opined, under the statutory language, the only requirement for the voicemail to qualify as a communication was that it convey to the consumer that the call concerned a debt—which it did. Accordingly, the appellate court reversed the district court’s dismissal of the claim under section 1692e of the FDCPA and remanded for further proceedings consistent with their findings.

    However, the panel agreed with the lower court’s interpretation of “meaningful disclosure” under section 1692d of the FDCPA—which protects consumers from “harassment and abuse” by prohibiting debt collectors from “placing telephone calls without meaningful disclosure of the caller’s identity.” Specifically, the panel held that a debt collector need only provide the name of the company and the nature of its debt collection business on the call. The statute does not require disclosure of the individual employee’s name as this additional information would not be useful to a consumer. Consequently, the appellate court upheld the district court’s decision to dismiss the claim under section 1692d.

    Courts FDCPA Appellate Eleventh Circuit Debt Collection Litigation

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  • Eleventh Circuit Enforces Binding Arbitration Agreement

    Courts

    On September 26, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit held that a customer is bound to a mandatory arbitration clause in his deposit account agreement with a national bank. In doing so, the appellate court reversed the Florida district court’s decision, which denied the national bank’s motion to compel arbitration. In 2010, the customer filed a putative class action over the charging of overdraft fees associated with a bank account he held jointly with his wife. The case concerns an account agreement signed by the customer when he transferred an existing account into the joint account in 2001. The appellate court reasoned that the customer “was on notice that signing the 2001 signature card represented the start of a new contractual relationship” and therefore, subject to the updated arbitration clause.

    The CFPB’s new arbitration rule, which went into effect September 18, does not allow companies subject to the rule to use arbitration clauses to stop consumers from being part of a class action. However, as previously discussed in InfoBytes, the House passed a disapproval resolution under the Congressional Review Act to repeal the rule. A similar measure is expected to be considered by the Senate within the next week.

    Courts Litigation Eleventh Circuit Appellate Class Action Arbitration CFPB CRA

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  • Eleventh Circuit Rules Credit Reporting Agency Did Not Willfully Violate FCRA

    Courts

    In an August 24 opinion, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit held that a credit reporting agency had not interpreted the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) in an “objectively unreasonable” manner when it included in a plaintiff’s credit report that the plaintiff was an authorized user of her parents’ delinquent credit card account. In doing so, the appellate court upheld the Georgia district court’s decision to dismiss the class action lawsuit over allegations that two credit reporting agencies failed to take reasonable precautions to ensure the accuracy of the plaintiff’s credit score. The appellate court concluded that including the information was a reasonable interpretation of the FCRA obligation to “follow reasonable procedures to assure the maximum possible accuracy” of the reported information—meaning the report must be technically accurate. Because this interpretation was not objectively unreasonable, the plaintiff could not plead that the violations were willful.

    The case concerned a plaintiff who was designated as an authorized user of her parents’ credit card when they became ill. After the plaintiff’s parents died, the account went into default, and the credit card company reported the default to consumer reporting agencies listing the consumer as an authorized user, which caused her credit score to drop by 100 points. The credit card company—responding to the plaintiff’s complaint over the inaccurate information—interceded in the matter with the credit reporting agencies. The information was expunged from the plaintiff’s report and her credit score returned to its prior level. The plaintiff then filed a consumer class action complaint in 2015, contending that the consumer reporting agencies had violated their duty under the FCRA when they failed to take reasonable precautions to ensure the accuracy of her credit score.

    At issue, the appellate court opined, was which interpretation should be applied when determining “maximum possible accuracy,” which, depending on differing court opinions, might mean (i) making certain that any included information is “technically accurate,” or (ii) ensuring the information is not only technically accurate but also not misleading or incomplete. The appellate court asserted that while the first interpretation was a less exacting reading of the FCRA, the plaintiff failed to cite any judicial precedents or agency interpretive guidance advising that reporting authorized user information was a violation. Further, the plaintiff failed to show that the credit reporting agency reported false information.

    Of note, the appellate court determined the plaintiff had shown an “injury in fact” and had standing to sue based on the following reasons: (i) reporting inaccurate credit information “has a close relationship to the harm caused by the publication of defamatory information,” which has a long provided basis as a cause of action; (ii) a concrete injury was allegedly sustained due to time spent resolving the problems resulting from the credit inaccuracies; and (iii) the plaintiff was affected personally because her credit score fell due to the reported information.

    Courts Credit Reporting Agency Appellate Eleventh Circuit FCRA

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  • CFPB Files Amicus Brief Supporting Reversal of Preliminary Injunction Freezing Department of Education’s Student Debt Collection

    Courts

    On August 21, the CFPB filed an amicus brief in the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, urging the court to reverse a trial court’s order and arguing that precluding the Department of Education (Department) from sending billions of dollars in defaulted student loans to debt collection companies is contrary to public interest. The Bureau, siding with the Department, claims the trial court’s preliminary injunction deprives “borrowers in default of access to basic information about key consumer protections and the opportunity to arrange repayment—functions performed by debt collection contractors under [the Department’s] current collections regime—[and] does not facilitate, but impedes, borrowers’ ability to enter into income-driven repayment plans, whether through rehabilitation or consolidation.” As previously reported in InfoBytes, on May 31, U.S. Court of Federal Claims Chief Judge Susan G. Braden ordered a continuation of her preliminary injunction, which prevents the Department from collecting on defaulted student loans—a process that was halted on March 29 when Judge Braden issued a temporary restraining order in this matter. The May order, Judge Braden stated, would stay in place “until the viability of the debt collection contracts at issue is resolved.”

    In its amicus brief, the Bureau contended that data presented in its 2016 Ombudsman Report (Report) providing recommendations for reforms to the current process for collection and restructuring federal student loan debt does not support the trial court’s position, a claim the court made when issuing its order. Rather, the Bureau’s position is that the Report provides several recommendations for improvements to the current system, which focus on which companies will be granted debt collection contracts and, additionally, suggests solutions such as moving rehabilitated borrowers into income-driven repayment plans. The Bureau also proposes ways policymakers can simplify and streamline the rehabilitation process. Thus, the Bureau countered, the preliminary injunction is “wholly divorced from these concerns and recommendations and is, in fact, inconsistent with them.”

    Two of the defendant-appellants also filed separate briefs August 14 and 15. The Department claimed in its August 15 brief that, as of May 31, the injunction has “deprived approximately 234,000 defaulted borrowers, holding accounts valued at $4.6 billion, of loans servicing services” and, furthermore, has resulted in approximately $2.4 million in uncollected funds.

    Notably, the appeals court issued an order on July 18 holding the defendant-appellants motions to stay in abeyance pending the trial court’s decision and denying the plaintiff-appellee’s motion to dismiss.

    Courts U.S. Court of Federal Claims Appellate Student Lending CFPB

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