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  • Legislation Introduced to Codify “Valid-When-Made” Doctrine

    Federal Issues

    On July 19, Representative Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), the Vice Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, and Representative Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) introduced legislation designed to make it unlawful to change the rate of interest on certain loans after they have been sold or transferred to another party. As set forth in a July 19 press release issued by Rep. McHenry’s office, the Protecting Consumers’ Access to Credit Act of 2017 (H.R. 3299) would reaffirm the “legal precedent under federal banking laws that preempts a loan’s interest as valid when made.”

    Notably,  a Second Circuit panel in 2015 in Madden v. Midland Funding, LLC overturned a district court’s holding that the National Bank Act (NBA) preempted state law usury claims against purchasers of debt from national banks. (See Special Alert on Second Circuit decision here.)The appellate court held that state usury laws are not preempted after a national bank has transferred the loan to another party. The Supreme Court denied a petition for certiorari last year. According to Rep. McHenry, “[t]his reading of the National Bank Act was unprecedented and has created uncertainty for fintech companies, financial institutions, and the credit markets.” H.R. 3299, however, will attempt to “restore[] consistency” to lending laws following the holding and “increase[] stability in our capital markets which have been upended by the Second Circuit’s unprecedented interpretation of our banking laws.”

    Federal Issues Federal Legislation Fintech Lending Second Circuit Appellate Usury National Bank Act

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  • District Court Order Dismissing TCPA Claim Reversed on Appeal

    Courts

    On July 10, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held that a single telemarketing call to a consumer established a concrete injury sufficient to support a Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) suit against a New Jersey-based fitness company. The appellate court reversed the District Court’s dismissal of the suit “because the TCPA provides [the consumer] with a cause of action, and her alleged injury is concrete.”

    The appellate court considered two questions in the appeal: (i) was the alleged robocall a violation of the TCPA? If so, (ii) is the alleged injury concrete enough to provide Article III standing to sue under the United States Constitution? The court answered the first question by noting that the TCPA prohibits robocalls and prerecorded messages to cellular phones and that it “does not limit—either expressly or by implication—the statute's application to cell phone calls.” In answering the second question, the court determined that the alleged injury is exactly the kind of injury the TCPA was created to prevent: a nuisance or invasion of privacy.

    The Third Circuit remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with their findings.

    Courts Appellate Third Circuit TCPA Federal Issues Litigation

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  • Debt Collector Liable for Violating FDCPA and TCPA

    Courts

    On July 3, the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed that a debt collector violated the Telephone Consumer Practices Act (TCPA) when it called a consumer’s cell phone without the consumer’s consent, resulting in a damages award of $34,500. Additionally, the appellate court reversed the district court’s decision regarding a Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) claim for sending a collection letter to the consumer without taking proper precautions to ensure the consumer’s account number would remain private. The debt collector put forth the defense of bona fide error regarding its alleged violations of the FDCPA. The appellate court, citing Supreme Court precedent, rejected the defense, holding that bona fide error could be claimed only in the case of a clerical or factual error, but a “mistaken interpretation of the law is inexcusable under the FDCPA’s bona fide error defense.” The Third Circuit remanded the FDCPA claim to the district court to enter judgment for the consumer and calculate the damages the debt collector must pay.

    Courts Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security Third Circuit Debt Collection TCPA FDCPA Appellate

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  • Attorney General Sessions Issues Memorandum Ending Payments to Third-Party Organizations as Part of Future Settlement Agreements

    Courts

    On June 7, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memorandum entitled “Prohibition on Settlement Payments to Third Parties” instructing the Department of Justice (DOJ) to cease entering into settlement agreements that include payments to third-party organizations. Attorney General Sessions stated in a press release released by the DOJ, “[w]hen the federal government settles a case against a corporate wrongdoer, any settlement funds should go first to the victims and then to the American people—not to bankroll third-party special interest groups or the political friends of whoever is in power.”

    Summary of Memorandum. The memorandum, which became effective immediately and applies to future settlements, notes that previous settlement agreements involving the DOJ required “payments to various non-governmental, third-party organizations . . . [that] were neither victims nor parties to the lawsuits.” The memorandum now states that DOJ “attorneys may not enter into any agreement on behalf of the United States in settlement of federal claims or charges . . . that directs or provides for a payment or loan to any non-governmental person or entity that is not a party to the dispute.” The following are “limited” exceptions:

    • “the policy does not apply to an otherwise lawful payment or loan that provides restitution to a victim or that otherwise directly remedies the harm that is sought to be redressed, including, for example, harm to the environment or from official corruption”;
    • “the policy does not apply to payments for legal or other professional services rendered in connection with the case”; and
    • “the policy does not apply to payments expressly authorized by statute, including restitution and forfeiture.”

    The memorandum states that it applies to “all civil and criminal cases litigated under the direction of the Attorney General and includes civil settlement agreements, cy pres agreements or provisions, plea agreements, non-prosecution agreements, and deferred prosecution agreements.”

    Courts DOJ Securities SEC Disgorgement Appellate Litigation Settlement

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  • Appeal Denied in Los Angeles Fair Housing Suit

    Courts

    On May 26, the Ninth Circuit issued decisions affirming the District Court’s decisions to grant summary judgments in two separate lawsuits brought against two different national banks by the city of Los Angeles (city). (View the district court’s summary judgments here and here). In separate appeals, the city alleged that each of the banks violated the Fair Housing Act by engaging in discriminatory mortgage lending to minority borrowers. The city also asserted that this practice resulted in risky loans and increased foreclosures, which lowered the city’s property tax revenues.

    The appellate court disagreed with the city. In both decisions, the court observed that the city’s theory of liability was based on alleged “disparate impact,” which requires the city to demonstrate both the existence of a disparity and a facially neutral policy that caused the disparity.” The court noted that under established precedent a disparate impact claim, to succeed, must be supported by evidence of a robust causal connection between the disparity and the facially neutral policy. In the first case, the court held that the city failed to show such a robust causal connection, and in the second, it found “[t]he record does not reflect that the city raised a genuine issue of material fact as to a policy or policies with a robust casual connection to the racial disparity.” (View appellate memoranda for these cases here and here).

    Courts UDAAP Mortgages Fair Lending Litigation Fair Housing Appellate

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  • Supreme Court Rules Five-Year Statute of Limitations Applies to SEC Civil Penalties

    Courts

    In a unanimous ruling handed down on June 5, the United States Supreme Court held that the SEC is bound by a five-year statute of limitations on civil penalties or the return of illegal profits, citing 28 U.S.C. §2462 of the U.S. Code, which “establishes a [five-year] limitations period for ‘an action, suit or proceeding for the enforcement of any civil fine, penalty, or forfeiture.’” Justice Sotomayor delivered the opinion.

    The decision resolves a New Mexico case dating back to 2009, in which a jury found the defendant liable for misappropriating more than $34.9 million from 1995 through July 2007 from four SEC-registered investment companies under his control. See S.E.C. v. Kokesh, 834 F.3d 1158 (10th Cir. 2016). The district court judge ordered the defendant to pay a $2.4 million civil penalty, nearly $35 million in disgorgement, and more than $18 million in prejudgment interest after finding that §2462 did not apply because “disgorgement” is not a penalty within the meaning of the statute. The defendant appealed the ruling on the grounds that the disgorgement should be set aside because the claims accrued more than five years before the SEC brought its action against him and are consequently barred under the five-year statute of limitations. However, the 10th Circuit affirmed the ruling of the lower court, agreeing that disgorgement was not a penalty.

    The Supreme Court reversed. Justice Sotomayor explained why the Court disagreed with the 10th Circuit panel’s conclusion that disgorgement was not a penalty under the statute. The Court held that disgorgement “bears all the hallmarks of a penalty” and “is imposed as a consequence of violating a public law and . . . is intended to deter, not to compensate.” Consequently, disgorgement represent a penalty, thus falling within the five-year statute of limitations of §2462.

    Courts U.S. Supreme Court Securities SEC Disgorgement Appellate Litigation

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  • Fourth Circuit States Violation of FCRA that Fails to Demonstrate a Concrete Injury Not Enough for Standing

    Courts

    On May 11, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit issued an opinion vacating a nearly $12 million judgment in a class action brought on behalf of a 69,000 member class, concluding that a credit reporting agency’s decision to list a defunct credit card company—rather than the name of its current servicer—on an individual’s credit report does not, without more, create a sufficient injury under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)for purposes of Article III standing. Furthermore, although the lead plaintiff alleged that he suffered a cognizable “informational injury,” in that he was denied the source of the adverse information on the report, the appeals court found that he failed to “demonstrate a concrete injury” as a result of the allegedly incorrect information listed on the credit report. (See Dreher v. Experian Info. Sols., Inc., No. 15-2119, 2017 WL 1948916 (4th Cir. May 11, 2017).)

    The 2014 class action complaint against the credit reporting agency was filed by an individual who—when undergoing a background check for a security clearance—received a credit report that listed a delinquent credit card account with a creditor that had transferred the debt to a new servicer that was not listed as a source of information. When servicing the defunct company’s accounts, the new servicer had decided to do business using the creditor’s name, and directed the credit reporting agency to continue to reflect that name on the tradeline appearing for those specific accounts on its credit reports. The plaintiffs asserted that the credit reporting agency “deliberately [withheld] and inaccurately [stated] the identity of the source of reported credit information,” in violation of the FCRA. The credit reporting company sought summary judgment on the claims, arguing that the individual and the class lacked standing under the FCRA. However, the district court ruled in favor of the member class finding that the credit reporting company “committed a willful violation of . . . the [FCRA].”

    In vacating the district court’s ruling, the Fourth Circuit opined that under the FCRA, a plaintiff “must have (1) suffered an injury in fact, (2) that is fairly traceable to the challenged conduct of the defendant, and (3) that is likely to be redressed by a favorable judicial decision.” The Fourth Circuit concluded that the individual could not clear the first hurdle. To establish “injury in fact,” the plaintiff must show that he or she suffered an invasion of a legally protected interest that is concrete and particularized. While the plaintiff alleged that the credit reporting agency had violated the FCRA by failing to “clearly and accurately disclose to the consumer . . . [t]he sources of the information [in the consumer’s file at the time of the request],” the Fourth Circuit concluded that the statutory violation alone did not create a concrete informational injury sufficient to support standing. “Rather, a constitutionally cognizable informational injury requires that a person lack access to information to which he is legally entitled and that the denial of that information creates a ‘real’ harm with an adverse effect.” In this instance, “the account had no legitimate effect on the [plaintiff’s] background check process, and [t]hus receiving a creditor’s name rather than a servicer’s name—without hindering the accuracy of the report of efficiency of the credit report resolution process—worked no real world harm.” Instead, the Fourth Circuit categorized the plaintiff’s allegations as chiefly “customer service complaints”—a type of harm unrelated to those Congress sought to prevent when enacting the FCRA.

    Courts FCRA Appellate Class Action

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  • Ninth Circuit Grants Petition to Hear FTC v. AT&T Appeal En Banc

    Courts

    On May 9, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit granted a petition for rehearing en banc filed by the FTC in a case involving whether the Commission may regulate an internet service provider’s slowing down of data after a customer has used a specified amount of data under an “unlimited” plan.

    The FTC’s 2014 complaint alleged that AT&T’s practice of “data throttling,” and its subsequent failure to adequately inform its customers of this practice, violated Section 45(a) of the FTC Act. A federal district court dismissed the complaint, rejecting AT&T’s argument that it was exempt from FTC Section 45(a) enforcement because it is a common carrier. Section 45(a) allows the Commission to “prevent persons, partnerships or corporations, except . . . common carriers . . . from using . . . unfair or deceptive acts or practices” (emphasis added). The court held, however, that the common carrier exception applies only when the entity has the status of a common carrier and is engaging in common carrier activity. The district court order also held that “[w]hen this suit was filed, AT&T’s mobile data service was not regulated as common carrier activity by the [FCC],” and that “[o]nce the Reclassification Order of the [FCC] (which now treats mobile data [service] as common carrier activity) goes into effect, that will not deprive the FTC of any jurisdiction over past alleged misconduct as asserted in this pending action.”

    In 2016, a three-judge Ninth Circuit panel reversed, holding that AT&T is exempt from Section 45(a) as a common carrier. See Fed. Trade Comm'n  v. AT&T Mobility LLC, 835 F.3d 993 (9th Cir. 2016). The en banc court’s order vacates that ruling pending review by the full Ninth Circuit. Per the Ninth Circuit’s May 10 order, en banc oral argument will occur the week of September 18, 2017. The exact date and time will be announced in a separate order. Notably, given the recent uncertainty over which regulatory agency will oversee common carriers—the FTC or the FCC—the timing of this ruling is important.

    Courts FTC Appellate

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  • Fourth Circuit Permits DOJ to Reject FCA Settlement After Government Declined to Intervene; Declines to Reach Issue of Statistical Sampling

    Courts

    In an opinion handed down on February 22, the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit decided that the DOJ retains an unreviewable right to object to a proposed settlement agreement between a relator and a defendant even after the Government has declined to intervene in the case. See United States ex rel. Michaels v. Agape Senior Community, Inc., No. 15-2147 (4th Cir. Feb 14, 2017). The case concerned a qui tam relator who had alleged that Agape Senior Community and associated entities violated the FCA by submitting false claims to federal health care programs for nursing home related services that were not provided or provided to patients that were not eligible for them. After the Government declined to intervene in the case, the relator agreed to settle with defendants. However, the DOJ objected to the proposed settlement under 31 U.S.C. § 3730(b)(1)—which provides that an FCA lawsuit “may be dismissed only if the court and the Attorney General give written consent to the dismissal and their reasons for consenting”—arguing, among other things, that “the settlement amount was “appreciably less than . . . the Government’s estimate of total damages.”

    The Fourth Circuit concluded that, while a relator has the right to pursue his or her FCA claim after the United States declines to intervene, “the Attorney General possesses an absolute veto power over voluntary settlements in FCA qui tam actions.” In reaching this conclusion, the appellate panel emphasized the fact that, in an FCA case, the United States Government is a real party in interest, and, as such, it suffered damages as a result of the fraudulent conduct at issue. The holding largely aligns with existing Fifth and Sixth Circuit precedent, establishing an absolute veto power for the United States over settlements in declined FCA cases. However, the ruling stands at odds with the Ninth Circuit standard set forth in U.S. ex rel. Killingsworth v. Northrop Corp., 25 F.3d 715 (9th Cir. 1994), which ruled that, once it has declined to intervene, the Government can object to a proposed settlement only for “good cause,” and a settlement agreement may be invalidated only following a hearing to determine if the settlement is fair and reasonable.

    On the issue of statistical sampling, the district court had determined that the use of statistical sampling evidence would be improper when a case turns on the medical necessity for individual patients. Though the issue was certified for interlocutory review, the Appellate panel declined to decide this issue because, among other reasons, the use of statistical sampling is not a pure question of law and, as such, interlocutory review had been “improvidently granted.”

    Additional information and materials covering the FCA, the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act (FIRREA), and the Program Fraud Civil Remedies Act (PFCRA) can also be found in BuckleySandler’s False Claims Act and FIRREA Resource Center.

    Courts False Claims Act / FIRREA DOJ FCA Appellate

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  • 9th Circuit Panel Reverses and Remands Dismissal of Pro Se Plaintiff’s Breach of Contract Claim in Connection with Bank’s Trial Loan Modification Process

    Courts

    In an opinion filed on March 13, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed and remanded a district court’s dismissal of a homeowner-plaintiff’s breach of contract claim against a major bank for damages allegedly suffered when she unsuccessfully attempted to modify her home loan over a two-year period. Oskoui v. J.P. Morgan Chase Bank, N.A., [Dkt No. 47-1] Case No. 15-55457 (9th Cir. Mar. 13, 2017) (Trott, S.). The court also remanded with instructions to permit the pro-se plaintiff to amend her complaint to allege a right to rescind in connection with her previously-dismissed TILA claim in light of the Supreme Court’s January 2015 decision in Jesinoski v. Countrywide Home Loans, Inc. And, finally, the panel affirmed the district court’s ruling that the facts alleged demonstrated a claim under California’s Unfair Competition Law (“UCL”) because, among other reasons, the factual record supported a determination that the bank knew or should have known that the homeowner was plainly ineligible for a loan modification; yet, the bank encouraged her to apply for modifications (which she did), and collected payments pursuant to trial modification plans. 

    In reversing and remanding the district court’s ruling dismissing the breach of contract claim, the Ninth Circuit pointed to the styling on the first-page of the complaint—“BREACH OF CONTRACT”—along with allegations about the explicit offer language contained in the bank’s trial modification documents.  The Ninth Circuit relied on the Seventh Circuit’s opinion in Wigod v. Wells Fargo, which it identified as the “leading federal appellate decision on this issue of contract,” to “illuminate the viability” of plaintiff’s breach of contract claim in connection with trial plan documents.  673 F.3d 547 (7th Cir. 2012). The Ninth Circuit remanded the claim with instructions to permit the plaintiff to amend if necessary in order to move forward with her breach of contract claim.

    Courts Lending TILA UDAAP Appellate Mortgages CA UCL

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