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  • Ninth Circuit: payday lenders not vicariously liable under TCPA for text messages

    Privacy, Cyber Risk & Data Security

    On January 10, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed that three payday lenders and two marketing companies (together, the defendants) did not indirectly violate the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) by accepting marketing help from a separate lead generator company that used a program to send text-messaged advertisements. In upholding the district court’s decision, the three judge panel concluded that “it is undisputed” that the defendants did not enter into a contract with the lead generator company, and further, that the lead generator company did not act as their agent or purported agent. The plaintiff-appellant that received the text-messaged advertisement—which directed consumers who clicked on the link within the message to a loan application website controlled by one of the defendants—filed a putative class action complaint, certified by the district court, against the defendants to allege that they were vicariously liable for sending the text messages in violation of the TCPA. Specifically, the plaintiff-appellant claimed the defendants ratified the lead generator company’s actions when they accepted leads even though they knew the leads were being generated through text messages. The district court granted summary judgments for all the defendants, and ruled they were not vicariously liable for the lead generator company’s actions, and that additionally, the plaintiff-appellant failed to present evidence that defendants had actual knowledge that the texts were being sent in violation of the TCPA. The appellate panel also noted that because one of the defendants—a contracted lead provider—had “no ‘knowledge of facts that would have led a reasonable person to investigate further,’ . . . [the defendant] cannot be deemed to have ratified [the] actions and therefore is not vicariously liable.”

    Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security Courts Ninth Circuit Appellate TCPA Payday Lending

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  • Fifth Circuit Claims Loan Modification Communications Are Not Debt Collection Activities Under TDCA

    Courts

    On December 11, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled that a mortgage servicer’s communications about a potential loan modification do not constitute “debt collection activity” under the Texas Debt Collection Act (TDCA). The servicer had initially told borrowers that they could apply for a loan modification but later informed them that they were not eligible. The borrowers unsuccessfully appealed the determination with the servicer, yet prior to a final determination on the appeal, the servicer sent a statement reflecting a new monthly payment in the amount that the borrowers had been requesting. The borrowers made one payment in that amount, which the servicer accepted, but weeks later the servicer sent a letter stating that the mortgage was still in default. In affirming the district court’s judgment in favor of the mortgage servicer, the three-judge panel determined that while “modification discussions may constitute debt collection activities under the TDCA when those discussions are used as a ruse to collect debt,” the borrowers failed to make such a showing, and instead the servicer’s misrepresentations were “merely poor customer service.”

    Courts Debt Collection Appellate Mortgage Servicing Fifth Circuit

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  • Jury Verdict Clears Student Loan Servicer in FCA Suit

    Courts

    On December 5, after a five-day trial, a jury in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia entered a unanimous verdict clearing a Pennsylvania-based student loan servicing agency (defendant) accused of improper billing practices under the False Claims Act (FCA) and bilking the federal government of millions of dollars. The plaintiff—a former Department of Education employee whistleblower—sought treble damages and forfeitures under the FCA. The case stems from a qui tam suit originally filed in 2007, in which the plaintiff alleged that multiple state-run student loan financing agencies overcharged the U.S. government through fraudulent claims to the Federal Family Education Loan Program in order to unlawfully obtain 9.5 percent special allowance interest payments. Although the district court dismissed four of the agencies from the suit in 2009, ruling that they were state agencies and therefore immune from lawsuits brought by a qui tam relator, a Fourth Circuit Panel eventually reversed the ruling with respect to the Pennsylvania-based state agency defendant, holding that the entity “is an independent political subdivision, not an arm of the commonwealth,” and “therefore a 'person' subject to liability under the False Claims Act.” The panel held that the defendant failed to qualify as a state entity because the defendant’s board is responsible for decision-making and its revenue derives from commercial activities, notwithstanding the fact that the defendant is operated by state employees and is required to deposit its funds in the state’s treasury.

    Upon remand, the district court cleared the way for the jury trial by denying the defendant’s motion for judgment on the pleadings, which argued that the plaintiff cannot establish the materiality requirement set under Universal Health Services, Inc. v. U.S. ex rel. Escobar. In a memorandum opinion, the court concluded that the Department of Education continuing to pay claims even after becoming aware of the loan servicer’s billing practices did not, in fact, change the definition of materiality under the FCA, and therefore, did not “merit reconsideration of this court’s ruling that plaintiff stated a plausible claim.”

    The case then went to jury trial in November, leading to the jury’s verdict in favor of the defendant. 

    Courts False Claims Act / FIRREA Student Lending Appellate

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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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