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  • City of Philadelphia’s discriminatory lending lawsuit moves forward

    Lending

    On January 16, a federal judge in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania denied a national bank’s motion to dismiss the City of Philadelphia’s (City) claims that the bank engaged in alleged discriminatory lending practices in violation of the Fair Housing Act (FHA). As previously covered in InfoBytes, the City filed a complaint in May of last year against the bank alleging discrimination under both the disparate treatment and disparate impact theories. The City asserted that the bank’s practice of offering better terms to similarly-situated, non-minority borrowers or refusing to make loans in minority neighborhoods has led to foreclosures and vacant homes, which in turn, has resulted in a suppression of property tax revenue and increased cost of providing services such as police, fire fighting, and other municipal services. In support of its motion to dismiss, the bank argued, among other things, that the City’s claim (i) is time barred; (ii) improperly alleges the disparate impact theory; and (iii) fails to allege proximate cause as required by a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling (see previous Special Alert here).

    While the court expressed “serious concerns about the viability of the economic injury aspect of the City’s claim with regard to proximate cause,” the court found that the bank “has not met its burden to show why the City’s entire FHA claim should be dismissed.” Consequently, the court held that the case may proceed to discovery beyond the two-year statute of limitations period for FHA violations in order to provide the City an opportunity to prove whether the bank’s policy caused a racial disparity that constituted a violation continuing into the limitations period.

    Lending State Issues Fair Lending Redlining FHA U.S. Supreme Court Disparate Impact Mortgages

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  • U.S. government, national bank parties enter $5 million False Claims Act settlement

    Courts

    On January 5, the U.S. Government reached a $5 million settlement with a national bank and its affiliates (together, the bank parties) to resolve a lawsuit concerning allegations that the bank parties violated the False Claims Act (FCA) by engaging in improper foreclosure-related practices. The settlement is not an admission of liability by the bank parties. Specifically, as previously covered in InfoBytes, the lawsuit primarily alleged that the bank parties knowingly used rubber-stamped surrogate signed endorsements and false mortgage assignments to support false claims for mortgage insurance from the Federal Housing Administration. The lawsuit also asserted a reverse FCA claim alleging that the bank parties made false statements when entering into the 2012 National Mortgage Settlement. The U.S. Government, the bank parties, and the relator who initially brought the suit stipulated to the dismissal with prejudice concerning 39 “Implied Certification and False Statement Claims,” along with all claims brought or that could have been brought by the relator, but without prejudice as to any other claims that could be brought by the U.S. Government. Under the terms of the settlement agreement, the bank parties are required to pay $3.4 million to the U.S. Government—$891,000 of which will be paid to the relator who originally brought the suit. In addition, the bank parties will pay the relator an additional $1.6 million in attorneys’ fees and litigation costs and expenses.

    Courts Foreclosure Mortgage Servicing Mortgages Settlement False Claims Act / FIRREA FHA

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  • DOJ Announces Settlement With Mortgage Lender to Resolve Alleged False Claims Act Violations

    Lending

    The DOJ announced a $11.6 million settlement on December 8 with a Louisiana-based direct endorsement mortgage lender and certain affiliates to resolve allegations that the lender violated the False Claims Act by falsely certifying compliance with federal requirements in order to obtain insurance on mortgage loans from the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). According to the DOJ’s press release, between January 2005 and December 2014, the lender (i) certified loans that failed to meet HUD’s underwriting and origination requirements for FHA insurance; (ii) paid incentives to underwriters in violation of the “underwriter commission prohibition,” and continued to make incentive payments even after HUD notified the lender of commission prohibition noncompliance in 2010; and (iii) failed to, in a timely manner, “self-report material violations of HUD requirements” or perform quality reviews. The settlement also fully resolves a False Claims Act qui tam lawsuit that had been pending in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas.

    Lending DOJ False Claims Act / FIRREA FHA Settlement HUD Courts

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  • FHA Will Stop Insuring Mortgages With Pace Loans

    Federal Issues

    In ML 2017-18, FHA announced that it will no longer insure mortgages encumbered by Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) obligations due to their superior lien status. The December 7 letter is a reversal of the policies outlined in ML 2016-11, which allowed for, in certain circumstances, the continued payment obligation to PACE on foreclosed FHA-insured properties. The new guidance is effective 30 days after issuance of the letter. 

    Federal Issues FHA Mortgages PACE Programs

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  • Third Treasury Report Calls on HUD to Reconsider Application of Disparate Impact Rule to the Insurance Industry

    Federal Issues

    On October 26, the U.S. Treasury Department published a report outlining a number of recommendations for ways to manage systemic risk primarily within the asset management and insurance industry.  A section of the report, however, also discusses HUD’s potential application of the disparate impact rule to the insurance industry—specifically related to homeowner’s insurance. The report, “A Financial System That Creates Economic Opportunities—Asset Management and Insurance,” is the third in a series of four the Treasury plans to issue in response to President Trump’s Executive Order 13772 (EO), which mandated a review of financial regulations for inconsistencies with promoted “Core Principles.” (See Buckley Sandler Special Alert on the EO here and InfoBytes coverage on the first two reports here.)

    HUD is authorized to adjudicate housing discrimination claims and issue rules relating to the Fair Housing Act. According to the report, Treasury recommends that HUD reconsider the use of the disparate impact theory to the insurance industry. The report notes a number of problems and challenges that would arise from applying disparate impact to the insurance industry. In particular, the report identifies potential challenges because (i) “state insurance regulations ordinarily prohibit the consideration of protected characteristics in the evaluation and pooling of risk” and at least one state expressly prohibits the collection of this data; (ii) the rule could impose unnecessary burdens on insurers and lead to actions that are not actuarially sound in an effort to avoid underwriting practices that may result in disparate outcomes; and (iii) it may be inconsistent with the McCarran-Ferguson Act and other existing state laws.

    The report also recommends, among other things, that Congress clarify the “business of insurance” exception that generally excludes these services from the CFPB’s jurisdiction. The report recommends clarification to this exception to eliminate uncertainty about the CFPB’s jurisdiction and the potential overlap between the Bureau and state insurance regulators. A fact sheet accompanying the report further highlights Treasury’s recommendations to evaluate systemic risk, streamline regulations, rationalize international engagement, and promote economic growth.

    Federal Issues Department of Treasury FHA Asset Management HUD Disparate Impact CFPB Systemic Risk Insurance

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  • FinCEN Encourages Communication from Financial Institutions Affected by the California Wildfires; FDIC Offers Regulatory Relief; FHA Extends Foreclosure Moratorium

    Federal Issues

    California Wildfire Relief. On October 19, FinCEN announced that financial institutions affected by the California wildfires should contact FinCEN and their functional regulator regarding any delays in their ability to file Bank Secrecy Act reports and to keep FinCEN and the regulators apprised of subsequent changes in their circumstances.

    On October 20, the FDIC announced steps to provide regulatory relief to financial institutions and facilitate recovery in areas of California affected by recent wildfires. The FDIC is encouraging banks to work constructively with borrowers affected by the wildfires, including extending repayment terms, restructuring existing loans, or easing terms for new loans. The FDIC noted that financial institutions may receive favorable Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) consideration in support of disaster recovery and will consider regulatory relief from certain filing and publishing requirements.

    Hurricane Relief. On October 20, HUD issued an additional 90-day extension of the initial disaster foreclosure moratorium for FHA mortgaged properties located in specified areas impacted by the recent hurricanes. The foreclosure moratorium applies to the initiation of foreclosures and foreclosures already in process. The new extended dates are as follows: February 21, 2018 for Hurricane Harvey, March 9, 2018 for Hurricane Irma, and March 19, 2018 for Hurricane Maria.

    As previously discussed in InfoBytes, several federal agencies have announced regulatory relief for victims of recent natural disasters.

    Federal Issues Disaster Relief FinCEN Bank Secrecy Act FDIC FHA Foreclosure Mortgages HUD Mortgage Modification

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  • HUD Secretary Carson Testifies at House Financial Services Committee Hearing, Discusses Use of FCA Against FHA Lenders

    Federal Issues

    On October 12, Secretary of HUD, Ben Carson, testified at a hearing before the House Financial Services Committee. The hearing entitled “The Future of Housing in America: Oversight of the Department of Housing and Urban Development,” provided an update on HUD’s vision for federal housing policy and touched upon topics such as the conservatorship of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the agency’s role in hurricane disaster relief, and regulatory reform efforts. In his written testimony, Carson reaffirmed his personal interest, and that of the President Trump’s Administration, in working with the Committee on housing finance reform, specifically referencing the FHA mortgage insurance program and Ginnie Mae mortgage-backed security guaranty as “vital components” of the housing finance system. Towards the end of the three-hour-long hearing, Carson was asked by Representative Dave Trott (R-MI) about the federal government’s “unprecedented” use of the False Claims Act (FCA) as a means to “impose outrageous penalties against lenders for immaterial defects” in HFA loan originations, which, according to Rep. Trott, is turning lenders away from FHA lending and is resulting in increased costs to borrowers. Carson stated that his staff is already engaged in discussions with the DOJ staff and is “committed to getting that resolved, because it’s ridiculous, quite frankly.” Carson added, “I’m not exactly sure why there had been such an escalation previously, but the long-term effects of that escalation is obviously providing fewer appropriate choices for consumers, and that’s exactly the opposite of what we should be doing.”

    Federal Issues HUD House Financial Services Committee DOJ False Claims Act / FIRREA Mortgages FHA

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  • DOJ Civil Rights Division Issues Annual Report to Congress

    Federal Issues

    In September, the DOJ Civil Rights Division issued its Annual Report to Congress regarding its 2016 activities related to the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA), the Fair Housing Act (FHA), and the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). Highlights include:

    • Fair lending: The DOJ opened 18 fair lending investigations; filed seven lawsuits and settled six of them; and obtained almost $37 million in relief. At the end of 2016, the DOJ had 33 open fair lending investigations.
    • Servicemembers Civil Relief Act: In November 2016, the DOJ announced a new pilot program funding additional attorneys and resources to support enforcement efforts related to the SCRA. In addition, the DOJ entered into two SCRA settlements, initiated a new lawsuit (subsequently settled in 2017), and continued to support distribution of compensation under the National Mortgage Settlement.
    • ECOA/FHA Referrals: The DOJ received 22 ECOA and FHA referrals in 2016; opened eight investigations from these referrals; and noted that all but one of the lawsuits filed by the Civil Rights Division in 2016 were based in part on referrals.

    Federal Issues DOJ Congress Enforcement ECOA FHA SCRA Fair Lending

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  • District Court Fines Mortgage Brokers More Than $298 Million for Alleged FCA/FIRREA Violations

    Courts

    On September 14, a federal judge in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas ruled after a five-week jury trial that defendants, who allegedly submitted fraudulent insurance claims after acquiring risky loans, were liable for treble damages and the maximum civil penalties allowed under the False Claims Act (FCA) and the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act (FIRREA). According to the court, the evidence presented at trial demonstrated that the damages suffered by the U.S. were a “foreseeable consequence” of the defendants’ misconduct and that such misconduct was part of an “prolonged, consistent enterprise of defrauding the [U.S.],” warranting a higher level of penalties. The jury found that one of the defendants along with its CEO “submitted or caused to be submitted 103 insurance claims” while misrepresenting that its branches were registered by HUD, causing the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) to sustain damages in excess of $7 million. A separate mortgage broker defendant was found to have submitted or caused to be submitted 1,192 insurance claims causing over $256 million in damages to the FHA due to the “reckless” underwriting of loan applications, in violation of FCA. The court rejected the defendants’ request for lenient civil penalties, finding the defendants’ behavior to be “custom-designed to flout the very program that relied upon [defendants’] diligence and compliance” and demonstrating “a patent unwillingness to accept responsibility for their actions.” The FIRREA penalties resulted from defendants submitting false annual certifications to HUD that were intended “to serve as a separate and independent quality check on the [defendant’s] branches,” but instead led to injury in the form of borrowers entering into default or foreclosures, as well as elevated mortgage insurance premiums.

    The judge imposed over $291 million in FCA treble damages and penalties against the three defendants. Additionally, each defendant was fined $2.2 million in FIRREA penalties for actions that “were neither isolated or relatively benign . . . [but] were reckless, egregious, and widely injurious.”

    Courts Lending Mortgages False Claims Act / FIRREA Litigation Insurance FHA HUD

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  • HUD Releases Mortgagee Letter Providing Home Equity Conversion Mortgage Servicing Implementation Guidance

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

    On August 24, HUD published Mortgagee Letter 2017-11, which provides directions for FHA-approved mortgagees to implement certain servicing policy changes outlined in the Federal Housing Administration: Strengthening the Home Equity Conversion Mortgage Program Final Rule (HECM Final Rule), published in the Federal Register in January 2017. The HECM Final Rule’s servicing requirements (including the additional guidance set forth in Mortgagee Letter 2017-11), will take effect for all FHA case numbers assigned on or after September 19, 2017. The Mortgagee Letter furnishes additional details on the following areas of servicing policy included in the HECM Final Rule: (i) “Default for Unpaid Property Charges”; (ii) “Sale of Property Securing a Due and Payable HECM”; and (iii) “Cash for Keys Incentive and Relocation Incentive.”

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance HUD FHA Mortgage Servicing Federal Register Home Equity Loans HECM

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