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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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  • Second Circuit Cites Spokeo, Rules No Standing to Sue for Violation of FACTA

    Courts

    On September 19, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued an opinion ruling that a merchant who had printed the first six numbers of a consumer’s credit card on a receipt violated the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA), but that because the violation did not cause a concrete injury, the consumer did not have standing to sue the merchant. Under FACTA, merchants are prohibited from including more than the final five digits of a consumer’s credit card number on a receipt. In this instance, the plaintiff filed a complaint in 2014, followed by an amended complaint later that same year, in which he alleged that he twice received printed receipts containing the first six digits of his credit card number, in violation of FACTA. The plaintiff claimed that the risk of identity theft was a sufficient injury to establish standing. The defendants argued that that the first six digits of the credit card account only identified the card issuer and did not reveal any information about the consumer, which did not “raise a material risk of identity theft.” Citing a Supreme Court ruling in Spokeo v. Robins, the district court opined that a procedural violation of a statute is not enough to allow a consumer to sue, because it must be shown that the violation caused, or at least created a material risk of, harm to the consumer—which, in this case, was not present. Accordingly, the appellate court affirmed the district court’s dismissal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, but found that the district court erred in dismissing the suit with prejudice.

    Courts Litigation FACTA Second Circuit U.S. Supreme Court

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  • CFPB UDAAP Claim in Structured Settlement Factoring Case Moves Forward

    Courts

    On September 13, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland allowed a UDAAP claim brought by the CFPB to move forward in which the defendants allegedly employed abusive practices when purchasing structured settlements from consumers in exchange for lump-sum payments. The court also dismissed several UDAAP claims related to an attorney acting as a financial advisor in the transactions. The 2016 complaint alleged that defendants violated the Maryland Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA) by encouraging consumers to take advances on their structured settlements and falsely representing that the consumers were obligated to complete the structured settlement sale, “even if they [later] realized it was not in their best interest.” According to the complaint, many of the consumers “’did not understand the risks or conditions of the advances, including that the advances did not bind them to complete the transactions.” The CFPB also alleged several counts based on the conduct of an attorney acting as a financial advisor for the transactions, who allegedly provided “virtually no advice,” and whose services were arranged and directly paid by the structured settlement buyer.

    In the order and memorandum, the court rejected several of the defendants’ arguments to dismiss based on procedural grounds and allowed the CFPB’s UDAAP claim against the structured settlement buyer and its officers to proceed. However, the court dismissed the claims related to the financial advisor, finding that he satisfied the requirements for an exemption under the CFPA for attorneys engaged in the practice of law.

    Courts CFPB UDAAP Litigation Structured Settlement CFPA

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  • CSBS Files Motion in Opposition to OCC’s Motion to Dismiss Fintech Charter Challenge

    FinTech

    On September 13, the Conference of State Bank Supervisors (CSBS) filed its response to the OCC’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought against the agency, which challenged its statutory authority to create a special purpose national bank (SPNB) charter for fintech companies. As previously discussed in InfoBytes, the OCC argued in its motion to dismiss that the CSBS lawsuit was premature because the agency has not reached a decision on whether it will make SPNB charters available to fintech companies or other nonbank firms. The OCC further asserted that under the National Bank Act (NBA), its interpretation of “the business of banking” deserves Chevron deference. In its response, CSBS disagreed and argued that in December 2016 the OCC “formally announced” its decision to begin chartering nonbanks, and that with the publication of a supplement to its Licensing Manual—which both stated its authority to issue SPNP charters to “institutions that neither take deposits nor are insured by the [FDIC]” and “invited interested parties to initiate the application process”—the OCC “crystalized its position.”

    In addressing other issues raised by the OCC in support of dismissal of the lawsuit, CSBS argued that:

    • CSBS has sufficient injury for standing because the OCC’s decision to grant charters interferes with states’ sovereignty and the ability to oversee and enforce state licensing and consumer protection laws;
    • the court must test the underlying legal premise, which is that the “OCC lacks the requisite statutory authority under the [NBA] to encroach upon the regulation of nonbanks by issuing national bank charters to institutions that do not take deposits, and therefore do not engage in the ‘business of banking’” because “there is no point in either [the] OCC or its charter applicants devoting resources to ultra vires charters that will be invalidated”;
    • the OCC’s position that CSBS has “failed to state a claim” concerning the interpretation of the “business of banking” is unsupported, and the court “must consider the statutory context of the term, including a regulatory regime that encompasses not only the NBA, but also other federal banking statutes” to conclude that the “business of banking” necessarily includes the taking of deposits; and
    • if the OCC seeks to expand its authority “into areas traditionally occupied by states, courts require a clear showing that Congress, acting through the agency, has approved such a result”—which the OCC has not shown.

    Fintech Courts CSBS OCC Litigation

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  • District Court Grants Preliminary Settlement Approval in SCRA Class Action Suit

    Courts

    On September 13, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina granted preliminary approval to settle a class-action suit resolving allegations that a national bank overcharged military families on interest and fees related primarily to mortgage and credit card accounts in violation of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). The order also, in the context of the proposed settlement only, preliminarily certifies the class, which is comprised of members who—after September 11, 2001—were entitled to “additional compensation related to military reduced interest rate benefits from [the bank].” The plaintiffs filed the complaint against the bank in 2015 claiming alleged violations of the SCRA, TILA, and the North Carolina Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act. In May 2016, the court denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss the first amended complaint, and at the end of 2016, the parties agreed to mediation. A second amended complaint—now the operative complaint—was filed just prior to the motion for preliminary approval. While the bank has not admitted any wrongdoing, it has agreed to refrain from using an “interest subsidy method for interest benefits calculations for a five-year period,” which, plaintiffs pleaded, can lead to higher costs.

    According to the terms of the memorandum in support of the motion for preliminary approval, class members will receive payments based on the strength of their individual claims, considering such factors as: (i) loan type; (ii) whether they previously received remediation from the bank, and how much; and (iii) the eligible period for interest rate refunds. The memorandum further stipulates that approximately $15.4 million of the nearly $42 million overall settlement will be provide to class members who have not received or deposited any payments from the bank. Unclaimed amounts from the first round will be pooled with the remainder of the settlement to be allocated as outlined in the distribution plan. A final approval hearing is scheduled for February of next year.

    Courts SCRA TILA Servicemembers Mortgages Credit Cards Class Action Litigation Settlement

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  • District Court Cites Spokeo, Refuses to Certify TCPA Class Action Suit

    Courts

    On August 15, a federal judge in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois Eastern Division granted a pet health insurance company’s (defendants) motion to strike class allegations in a Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) lawsuit over alleged robocalls. Citing a recent Supreme Court ruling in Spokeo v. Robins, the judge opined that because evidence proved some of the class members agreed to receive calls, plaintiffs failed to establish a lack of consent and could therefore not claim to have suffered a concrete injury. In 2014, plaintiffs filed a suit against the defendants proposing certification of two classes—“advertisement” and “robocall”—alleging that calls were made to individuals’ cell phones without specific consent and arguing that these calls were a form of “advertising,” which, pursuant to FTC rules, requires express written consent. However, the defendants’ position—for which the judge ruled in favor—was that because affidavits signed by individuals during the pet adoption process show that some of the class members consented to receive calls about special offers (electing not to opt-out), these individuals would not be able to prove injury under the Spokeo standard. Thus, issues of individualized consent would predominate, making it impossible for plaintiffs to “establish a lack of consent with generalized evidence.” Furthermore, the court stated that if plaintiffs agreed to receive calls—as defendants claim a significant number did, just not in writing—a lack of written evidence does not make the calls unsolicited.

    Courts TCPA Class Action Litigation U.S. Supreme Court

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  • OCC Files Motion Seeking Dismissal of NYDFS Fintech Challenge

    FinTech

    On August 18, the OCC filed a motion in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York to dismiss a lawsuit brought by the New York Department of Financial Services (NYDFS) challenging the OCC’s fintech charter, which would allow the OCC to consider applications from fintech firms for Special Purpose National Bank Charters (SPNB). See Vullo v. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, Case 17-cv-03574 (S.D.N.Y., Aug. 18, 2017). In a memorandum supporting its motion to dismiss, the OCC argued that the case is not ready for judicial review because NYDFS’ claims that the charter is unlawful and would grant preemptive powers over state law are “contingent on future actions that [the] OCC might or might not take.” Therefore, because NYDFS “cannot point to any injury-in-fact that it has suffered as a result of [the] OCC’s purported actions . . . all of the potential injuries . . . are future-oriented and speculative, and therefore insufficient to confer standing.” Citing Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, the OCC asserted that injury must be “likely”—not just “speculative” in nature.

    The OCC additionally contended that NYDFS’ challenge lacks standing because:

    • The matter fails to meet the fitness and hardship prongs for ripeness and lacks evidence of concrete hardship: (i) the fitness prong is not met because the OCC’s inquiry regarding whether to offer SPNB Charters is ongoing and it has not decided whether it will accept applications for the charters; and (ii) the hardship prong is not met because the OCC averred NYDFS “will not suffer any immediate or significant hardship” if the court were to delay review of this matter.
    • Any challenge to the OCC’s 2003 amendment to Section 5.20(e)(1) is “time-barred by the statute of limitations applicable to civil actions against federal agencies.” Furthermore, “[i]nsofar as the adoption of the amendment . . . constitutes a final agency action that [NYDFS] seeks to challenge here, any cause of action would have accrued on January 16, 2004, when the Final Rule became effective. 68 Fed. Reg. 70122 (Dec. 17, 2003). Accordingly, the time for filing a facial challenge to the regulation expired on January 16, 2010.”
    • NYDFS’ complaint fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted because the OCC would have had to have issued Section 5.20(e)(1) charters—non-finalized policy statements and requests for public input alone are insufficient to satisfy the “final agency action” requirement needed to give rise to a claim under the Administrative Procedure Act. The OCC asserted it has not completed its decision-making process and that its actions have not affected rights or obligations or resulted in legal consequences.
    • Under the National Bank Act, the OCC’s interpretation of “the business of banking”—in which a special purpose bank “must conduct at least one of the following three core banking functions: receiving deposits; paying checks; or lending money”—deserves Chevron deference.
    • The OCC has statutory and constitutional authority to issue a Section 5.20(e)(1) charter because: (i) the limited judicial authority cited by the DFS is not entitled to weight; (ii) the historical understanding of “bank” is consistent with the OCC’s interpretation; and (iii) any SPNB charters issued to fintechs pursuant to Section 5.20(e)(1) would not violate the Tenth Amendment.

    See additional InfoBytes coverage on NYDFS’s challenge to the OCC’s special purpose fintech charter here and here.

    Fintech Courts OCC NYDFS Litigation

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  • Eleventh Circuit Holds TCPA Consent Can Be Partially Revoked

    Courts

    On August 10, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit held that the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) “permits a consumer to partially revoke her consent to be called by means of an automatic telephone dialing system.” As alleged in this case, when the consumer plaintiff applied for a credit card, she broadly consented to receive automated calls from the bank defendant on her cell phone. After falling behind on her payments, she started receiving automated delinquency calls from the bank. On an October 2014 call with a bank employee, the plaintiff expressed that she did not want to receive these automated calls “in the morning” and “during the work day.” The plaintiff claimed that the bank violated the TCPA by making “over 200 automated calls” thereafter during these restricted times of day, until she fully revoked consent in March 2015.

    The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida had granted summary judgment in favor of the bank, but the Eleventh Circuit reversed. The Eleventh Circuit disagreed with the bank’s legal argument that “the only effective revocations are unequivocal requests for no further communications whatsoever.” Instead, the court concluded that “the TCPA allows a consumer to provide limited, i.e., restricted, consent for the receipt of automated calls,” and that “unlimited consent, once given, can also be partially revoked as to future automated calls under the TCPA.” The court also concluded that there was an “issue of material fact” as to whether the plaintiff’s October 2014 statements constituted a partial revocation. Noting that “[t]his issue is close,” the court explained that a reasonable jury could find that the plaintiff revoked her consent to be called “in the morning” and “during the work day,” even if she did not specify exactly what times she meant. Accordingly, the court remanded for trial.

    Courts Eleventh Circuit Appellate Litigation TCPA

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  • Ninth Circuit Rules FCRA Plaintiff Has Article III Standing

    Courts

    On August 15, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued an opinion, on remand from the U.S. Supreme Court, ruling that a consumer plaintiff could proceed with his Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) claims because he had sufficiently alleged a “concrete” injury and therefore had standing to sue under Article III of the Constitution. Robins v. Spokeo, Inc., No. 11-56843, 2017 WL 3480695 (9th Cir. Aug. 15, 2017). By way of background, the plaintiff had alleged that the defendant consumer reporting agency “willfully violated various procedural requirements under FCRA,” and consequently published an inaccurate consumer report on its website that “falsely stated his age, marital status, wealth, education level, and profession” and “included a photo of a different person.” In May 2016, the Supreme Court vacated an earlier Ninth Circuit decision, finding that the court failed to consider an essential element of Article III standing: whether the plaintiff alleged a “concrete” injury. (See previous Special Alert here.) After providing some guidance—including that the plaintiff’s injury must be “real” and not “abstract” or merely “procedural”—the high court remanded to the Ninth Circuit for further consideration. 

    On remand, the court first asked “whether the statutory provisions at issue were established to protect [the plaintiff’s] concrete interests (as opposed to purely procedural rights).” The court answered affirmatively, finding that “the FCRA procedures at issue in this case were crafted to protect consumers’ . . . concrete interest in accurate credit reporting about themselves.” Next, the court asked “whether the specific procedural violations alleged in this case actually harm, or present a material risk of harm to, such interests.” The court again answered affirmatively, finding that the plaintiff sufficiently alleged that he suffered a “real harm” to his “concrete interests in truthful credit reporting.” That is, the plaintiff sufficiently alleged that the defendant “prepared . . . an [inaccurate] report,” “that it then published the report on the Internet,” and that “the nature of the specific alleged reporting inaccuracies” was not “trivial or meaningless,” but instead covered “a broad range of material facts” about the plaintiff’s life “that may be important to employers or others making use of a consumer report.” Finally, the court found that the plaintiff’s allegations were not too speculative, because “both the challenged conduct and the attendant injury have already occurred.” After reaffirming that the plaintiff had adequately alleged the other essential elements of standing, the court remanded to the Central District of California for further proceedings.

    Courts FCRA Appellate Litigation Ninth Circuit U.S. Supreme Court

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  • District Judge Denies Student Loan Servicer’s Motion to Dismiss, Rules CFPB is Constitutional

    Courts

    On August 4, a federal judge in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania denied a motion to dismiss brought by a student loan servicer, ruling that the CFPB is constitutional, and that it has the authority to act against companies without first adopting the rules used to define a specific practice as unfair, deceptive, or abusive. Further, the court found that the Bureau’s complaint is “adequately pleaded.” As previously reported in InfoBytes, the CFPB filed a complaint in January of this year, contending that the student loan servicer systematically created obstacles to repayment and cheated many borrowers out of their rights to lower repayments, causing them to pay much more than they had to for their loans.

    Citing numerous precedents, including several which have already examined the issue of the CFPB’s constitutionality, the court disposed of several arguments raised by the student loan servicer, finding that:

    • There is no merit in the argument that the “CFPB lack[ed] statutory authority to bring an enforcement action without first engaging in rulemaking to declare a specific act or practice unfair, deceptive, or abusive,” because under the provisions of Title X of Dodd-Frank, the CFPB has the authority to declare something as “unlawful” both through rulemaking and litigation.
    • The CFPB isn’t outside the bounds of the Constitution, in part because its provision making it difficult for the President to remove the CFPB’s director isn’t any more burdensome than those of other agencies, such as the FTC. By recognizing this, and that the CFPB director “is not insulated by a second layer of tenure and is removable directly by the President,” the court ruled that the “Bureau’s structure is not constitutionally deficient.”
    • The funding method utilized by the Bureau has parallels in other federal agencies and does not affect presidential authority, stating that “although the CFPB is funded outside of the appropriations process, Congress has not relinquished all control over the agency’s funding because it remains free to change how the Bureau is funded at any time.” The court therefore found that the President’s constitutional powers have not been curtailed.

    The court dismissed the student loan servicer’s assertion that it is unable to “reasonably prepare a response” due to the vague and ambiguous nature of the complaint. Rather, the court argues that the Bureau’s complaint provides enough “multiple specific examples” to warrant a response by way of an answer.

    Courts Student Lending CFPB Dodd-Frank Litigation UDAAP

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