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  • District Court denies service provider’s motion to dismiss on several grounds, rules Bureau’s structure is constitutional

    Courts

    On August 3, the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana denied a Texas-based service provider’s motion to dismiss a suit brought by the CFPB over allegations that the service provider engaged in unfair, deceptive, and abusive acts or practices in violation of the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA) by assisting three tribal lenders in the improper collection of short-term, small-dollar loans that were, in whole or in part, void under state law. (See previous InfoBytes coverage here.) The defendants moved to dismiss the claims on multiple grounds: (i) the Bureau’s structure is unconstitutional; (ii) the claims are not permitted under the CFPA; (iii) the complaint “fails to, and cannot, join indispensable parties;” and (iv) certain claims are time-barred.

    In answering the service provider’s challenges to the Bureau’s constitutionality, the court ruled that the CFPB’s structure is legal and cited to orders from nine district courts and an en banc panel of the D.C. Circuit Court, which also rejected similar arguments. (See Buckley Sandler Special Alert.) Addressing whether the Bureau’s claims were permitted under the CFPA, the court ruled that other courts have held that enforcing a prohibition on amounts that consumers do not owe is different from establishing a usury limit, and that moreover, “[t]he fact that state law may underlie the violation . . . does not relieve [d]efendants . . . of their obligation to comply with the CFPA.” Regarding the defendants’ argument that the complaint should be dismissed on the grounds of failure to join an indispensable party because the tribal lenders possess sovereign immunity to the suit, the court wrote that “[u]nder these circumstances, the Court will not create a means for businesses to avoid regulation by hiding behind the sovereign immunity of tribes when the tribes themselves have failed to claim an interest in the litigation.” Furthermore, the court found that the remedies sought by the Bureau would not “impede the [t]ribal [l]enders’ ability to collect on their contracts or enforce their choice of law provisions directly.” Finally, the court stated that, among other things, the service provider failed to show that the Bureau’s suit fell outside the CFPA’s three-year statute of limitations for filing claims after violations have been identified.

    Courts CFPB Consumer Finance CFPA Consumer Lending Usury State Issues

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  • District court approves stipulated final judgment in favor of CFPB against one of the operators of online lending operation

    Courts

    On July 23, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri approved a stipulated final judgment and order against one of the two dozen defendants in the CFPB’s suit against an alleged online payday lending operation. In 2014, the Bureau filed a complaint against numerous entities and three individuals, accusing the defendants of violating the Consumer Financial Protection Act, Truth in Lending Act, and Electronic Fund Transfer Act by, among other things, purchasing information from online lead generators in order to access checking accounts to illegally deposit payday loans and withdraw fees without consumer consent, along with falsifying loan documents as evidence that the consumers had agreed to the loans. The stipulated final judgment and order resolved the Bureau’s claims against one of the individual defendants, an in-house accountant who monitored the bank accounts and the movement of funds between the entity and individual defendants. While the settling defendant neither admitted nor denied the Bureau’s allegations (except with respect to jurisdiction), he agreed to pay a civil money penalty of $1 (based, in part, on his inability to pay) and to fully cooperate with the Bureau. 

    Courts CFPB CFPA EFTA TILA Payday Lending

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  • District court dismisses CFPB suit against law firm over debt collection letters

    Courts

    On July 25, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio entered judgment against the CFPB in its lawsuit against a law firm that had previously collected debts for the State of Ohio under the direction of former Ohio Attorney General and Bureau Director Richard Cordray. The Bureau’s claims focused on whether demand letters sent on firm letterhead were misleading if attorneys were not meaningfully involved in preparing those letters. As previously covered in InfoBytes, the CFPB sought a permanent injunction and fines against the law firm for violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and the Consumer Financial Protection Act. However, according to the court’s memorandum opinion and order following a May 2018 trial, the Bureau did not meet its burden of supporting its claims by a preponderance of the evidence because, even if attorneys did not review every account before a demand letter was sent, attorneys were “meaningfully and substantially involved in the debt collection process both before and after the issuance of demand letters.” The court also concluded that the Bureau’s expert witness “did not present credible evidence from which the finder of fact could infer that any consumer’s [sic] were misled by [the firm’s] demand letter,” and therefore there was “no evidence that any consumer’s decision on when and whether to pay a debt was influenced by the inclusion of the attorney identifiers in [the firm’s] demand letters.” Instead, in the court’s words, “[t]he demand letters accurately describe the identity and legal description of the entity sending the letter. As such, it cannot be described as false or misleading simply for correctly identifying [itself] as a law firm.”  The court entered judgment against the Bureau on all counts and assessed all the costs of the action to the Bureau.

    Courts CFPB Debt Collection FDCPA CFPA

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  • CFPB announces settlement with Alabama-based operation for allegedly failing to properly disclose finance charges

    Consumer Finance

    On July 19, the CFPB announced a settlement with a small-dollar lending operation that allegedly failed to properly disclose finance charges and annual percentage rates associated with auto title loans in violation of the Truth in Lending Act (TILA) and the prohibition on deceptive practices in the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA). According to the consent order, the Alabama-based operation, which owned and operated approximately 100 retail lending outlets in Alabama, Mississippi, and South Carolina under several names, materially misrepresented the finance charges consumers would incur for Mississippi auto title loans by disclosing a finance charge based on a 30-day term while having consumers sign a 10-month payment schedule. The Bureau asserts that “[c]onsumers acting reasonably likely would not understand that the finance charge disclosed in the loan agreement does not actually correspond to their loan payment term.” Furthermore, the Bureau contends that the operation also failed to disclose the annual percentage rate on in-store advertisements as required under TILA. The order requires the operation to pay redress in the amount of $1,522,298, which represents the total undisclosed finance charges made directly or indirectly by affected consumers on their loans. However, based on defendants’ inability to pay this amount, full payment is suspended subject to the operation’s paying $500,000 to affected consumers. In addition to the penalties, the operation is prohibited from continuing the illegal behavior and the operation’s board must ensure full compliance with the consent order.

    Consumer Finance CFPB Settlement CFPA TILA Auto Finance Disclosures

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  • Texas Attorney General leads 14-state brief to 5th Circuit challenging CFPB structure

    State Issues

    On July 10, the Attorney General of Texas and 13 other state Attorneys General filed an amici curiae brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, challenging the constitutionality of the CFPB. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in April, the 5th Circuit agreed to hear a challenge by two Mississippi-based payday loan and check cashing companies to the constitutionality of the CFPB’s single-director structure in response to a CFPB action filed against the companies. The brief encourages the appellate court to disagree with the en banc decision of the D.C. Circuit, which upheld the Bureau’s structure (covered by a Buckley Sandler Special Alert). Instead, the Attorneys General argue, the court should find the structure unconstitutional rendering “all its actions unlawful.” The brief poses similar arguments to past challenges, including (i) the director should be removable at will by the president and (ii) the president’s removal power should only be restricted for multi-member commissions.

    Notably, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York recently disagreed with the D.C. Circuit decision, concluding the CFPB’s organizational structure is unconstitutional and terminated the Bureau as a party to an action because the agency lacked the authority to bring claims under the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA). (Previously covered by InfoBytes here.)

    State Issues Courts CFPB Succession Consumer Finance CFPA State Attorney General

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  • New York Attorney General: Don’t delay action if CFPB appeals constitutionality determination

    Courts

    On July 9, the New York Attorney General and a New Jersey-based litigation funding company and its affiliates filed a joint letter in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York addressing how the parties would like to proceed in the legal matter after the court terminated the CFPB as a party to the action. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in June, the district court held the agency’s structure is unconstitutional and therefore not allowed to bring claims under the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA), but allowed the Attorney General to continue the action. The letter discusses the parties’ desired path for the litigation should the Bureau choose to appeal the court’s constitutionality determination. If the Bureau should appeal, the defendants request the court allow the immediate appeal and stay the current litigation, while the Attorney General disagrees with allowing the immediate appeal and “would like the case to proceed as expeditiously as possible.”

    As for whether the court continues to have jurisdiction over the remaining claims, the Attorney General argues that the federal district court continues to have subject matter jurisdiction over the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA) claims and supplemental jurisdiction over the state law claims. The defendants disagree and interpret the June decision to strike all substantive provisions of the CFPA that would form the basis for federal jurisdiction.

    The letter states the Bureau has not yet decided if it will pursue an appeal of the court’s determination.

    Courts State Attorney General CFPB CFPA Consumer Finance

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  • NY District Court holds CFPB structure is unconstitutional

    Courts

    On June 21, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York terminated the CFPB as a party to an action against a New Jersey-based finance company and its affiliates (defendants), concluding that the CFPB’s organizational structure is unconstitutional and therefore, the agency lacks authority to bring claims under the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA). As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Bureau and the New York Attorney General’s office (NYAG) filed a lawsuit in in February 2017, claiming the defendants engaged in deceptive and abusive acts by misleading first responders to the World Trade Center attack and NFL retirees with high-cost loans by mischaracterizing loans as assignments of future payment rights, thereby causing the consumers to repay far more than they received. The defendants sought dismissal of the case, arguing that, among other things, “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.”

    The court denied the defendants’ motion as to the NYAG, finding that it had plausibly alleged claims under the CFPA and New York law and had the independent authority to pursue those claims.  But the court concluded that the CFPB lacked such authority, noting that it was not bound by the recent decision of the D.C. Circuit upholding the Bureau’s constitutionality in PHH v. CFPB (covered by a Buckley Sandler Special Alert).  The court instead adopted portions of two separate dissents from that decision to conclude that the Bureau’s single director structure is unconstitutional and that the defect cannot be remedied by striking the limitations on the president’s authority to remove the Bureau director because the “removal for cause” provision is “at the heart of Title X” of Dodd-Frank.  Quoting one of the PHH dissents, the court stated, “I would strike Title X in its entirety.” 

    The court also rejected an attempt by acting Director Mulvaney to salvage the Bureau’s claims.  Although the action was initiated by Director Cordray, the Bureau filed a notice in May ratifying that decision and arguing that, because the Bureau is currently led by an acting director who can be removed by the president at will, defendants’ motion to dismiss the Bureau’s claims should be denied.  The court disagreed, concluding that the constitutional issues presented in the case “are not cured by the appointment of Mr. Mulvaney” because “the relevant provisions of the Dodd-Frank Act that render the CFPB’s structure unconstitutional remain intact.”

    Courts PHH v. CFPB State Attorney General CFPB CFPB Succession Consumer Finance CFPA

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  • CFPB fines installment lender $5 million for improper collection and credit reporting practices

    Federal Issues

    On June 13, the CFPB ordered a South Carolina-based installment lender and its subsidiaries to pay $5 million in civil money penalties for allegedly making improper in-person and telephonic collection attempts in violation of the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA) and inaccurately furnishing information to credit reporting agencies in violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). According to the consent order, between 2011 and 2016, the company and its subsidiaries (i) initiated collection attempts at consumers’ homes and places of employment; (ii) routinely called consumers at work to collect debts, sometimes after being told they were not allowed to receive calls; and (iii) contacted third parties and disclosed or were at risk of disclosing the existence of the consumer’s debt. The CFPB also alleges that the company and its subsidiaries failed to implement reasonable credit reporting procedures and failed to correct inaccurate information furnished to credit reporting agencies. In addition to the $5 million civil money penalty, the company and its subsidiaries must (i) cease improper collection practices; (ii) correct the credit reporting errors; and (iii) develop a comprehensive compliance plan.

    Federal Issues CFPB CFPA UDAAP FCPA Enforcement Debt Cancellation

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  • Court denies attorney’s move for summary judgment against CFPB as premature

    Courts

    On June 4, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland issued a Memorandum to Counsel denying defendants’ dispositive motions in a UDAAP action brought by the CFPB alleging the defendants employed abusive practices when purchasing structured settlements from consumers in exchange for lump-sum payments. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in September 2017, the court allowed the CFPB to move forward with its UDAAP claim against the company, its affiliates, and its officers but dismissed claims related to an attorney, finding that he satisfied the requirements for an exemption under the Maryland Consumer Financial Protection Act (MCFPA) for attorneys engaged in the practice of law. In December 2017, the CFPB filed an amended complaint, arguing that the consumers typically did not know the defendant was an attorney or acting as their attorney. The court agreed, holding that “it is logically impossible for a ‘client’ to form an attorney-client relationship with someone she does not know is an ‘attorney,’” and allowed the CFPB to resume the actions against the attorney.

    The attorney again moved to dismiss the amended complaint, or in the alternative for summary judgment on the claims. The court denied the motion to dismiss because it was based on the attorney’s disagreement with the CFPB’s allegation that the consumers were never informed he was an attorney—an inappropriate ground for such a motion. As for the motion for summary judgment, the court agreed with the CFPB that the motion was premature because discovery was ongoing.

    Courts CFPB Structured Settlement UDAAP CFPA

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  • Court enters default judgment in favor of CFPB against debt relief companies

    Courts

    On May 22, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland entered a default judgment, in favor of the CFPB, against two debt relief companies, their service provider, and their owners (defendants) for allegedly misleading consumers about their debt validation program. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the CFPB filed a complaint in October 2017 against the defendants for allegedly violating the Telemarketing Sales Rule and the Consumer Financial Protection Act by, among other things, purportedly claiming to be affiliated with the federal government and misrepresenting the abilities of their services. In granting the CFPB’s request for default judgment, the court held that the defendants failed to defend the action and ordered they pay almost $5 million in restitution, as well as $16 million in civil money penalties. In addition to the fines, the defendants are prohibited from engaging in telemarketing, debt relief and credit repair activities in the future.

    Courts CFPB Consumer Finance Debt Relief Enforcement CFPA Telemarketing Sales Rule UDAAP

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