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  • Judge Issues Ruling that Federal Safe Harbor Provision Applies in RESPA Case

    Courts

    On July 13, a federal judge in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky issued an opinion holding that a safe harbor provision for affiliated business arrangements under Section 8(c)(4) of RESPA protects a Louisville law firm's relationship with a string of now-closed title insurance agencies. (See CFPB v. Borders and Borders, Plc, No. 3:13-cv-01047-CRS-DW (W.D. Ky. July 13, 2017)). In 2013, the CFPB alleged the firm violated RESPA by paying kickbacks for real estate settlement referrals through a network of joint ventures with the principals of nine title insurance companies. (See previous InfoBytes summary here.) The judge granted the firm’s motion for summary judgment on only one safe harbor question, stating that the firm’s agreements with the title insurance agencies qualified as “affiliated business arrangements” because it “disclosed the relationship…, the customers could reject the referral, and the Bureau failed to show that the [title insurance companies] received anything of value beyond their ownership interests.”

    The judge rejected the firm's claim that the CFPB cannot seek disgorgement as a remedy and further declined to address the firm’s ultra vires argument that the CFPB is an unconstitutional agency and therefore lacks legal authority to bring suit, stating that the en banc decision in PHH Corp. v. CFPB has not yet been issued.

    Notably, however, the judge appeared to suggest that case could be appealed because the firm’s other arguments fail to qualify for RESPA safe harbors under Sections 8(c)(1) and 8(c)(2).

    Courts CFPB RESPA Mortgages Litigation Disgorgement Safe Harbor

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  • Enforcement Actions Announced by CFTC for Fraud, Registration Violations in Florida

    Courts

    On July 11, the CFTC announced that the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida entered an order for final judgment by default against two individuals and their company for fraudulently soliciting investors in a commodity pool, misappropriating pool participants’ funds, and committing futures fraud, among other things. According to the CFTC complaint filed on January 26 of 2017, the defendants fraudulently marketed their company to prospective participants, materially misrepresented their past trading success using fabricated high rates of return, provided account statements to investors showing fictitious increases in value, and failed to disclose defendant’s previous permanent injunction on trading.

    In addition to imposing a permanent injunction on trading and registration, the Court ordered defendants to pay civil monetary penalties of almost $1.85 million as well as restitution of $459,613. An appointed monitor will oversee the defendants’ payment of restitution. The Court also required one of the defendants to affirmatively disclose his violations in any future marketing materials, presentations, speeches or websites. The required disclosure names his violations, the amount of restitution and civil penalties he must pay, along with the case numbers of his CFTC actions.

    Both of the defendants recently pleaded guilty to related criminal charges. One defendant was sentenced to one year and one day in prison in connection with her guilty plea to one count of obstruction of justice, and the other defendant is awaiting sentencing in connection with his guilty plea to one count of wire fraud.

    Courts Federal Issues CFTC Securities Enforcement Fraud Litigation

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  • International Bank Settles RMBS Claims with FHFA for $5.5 Billion

    Securities

    On July 12, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), as conservator of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (GSEs), announced a $5.5 billion settlement with an international bank. The settlement resolves FHFA’s claims, lodged in a federal lawsuit in the District of Connecticut, that the bank violated federal and state securities laws in relation to residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) trusts purchased by the GSEs between 2005 and 2007. The settlement covers all RMBS “issued, sponsored, sold, or underwritten by . . . [d]efendant between January 1, 2004 and December 31, 2008,” which is intended to include all securities for which FHFA brought claims against the bank in the District of Connecticut action. Under the terms of the agreement, the bank will pay $4.525 billion of the settlement amount to Freddie Mac, and approximately $975 million to Fannie Mae.

    Securities Federal Issues Settlement RMBS Freddie Mac Fannie Mae FHFA Litigation

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  • Fifth Circuit Affirms Debt Collector Violation of FDCPA

    Consumer Finance

    On July 6, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that a debt collector violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) when it failed to notify credit reporting agencies that a consumer had disputed a debt. The Fifth Circuit further determined that this failure was sufficient to comprise a concrete injury conferring standing for the consumer to sue.

    In its opinion, the appellate court focused on FDCPA § 807(8) and § 809(b), since the debt collector argued that the requirements in § 809 apply to § 807(8), relieving it of its notification duty under § 807(8). Although the appellate court found that the consumer had not disputed his debt under § 809, it agreed with the district court that this failure did not obviate the debt collector’s responsibility under § 807(8). The appellate court found that the debt collector was in violation of the FDCPA for passing on “credit information which is known or which should be known to be false, including the failure” to notify credit agencies of consumer’s disputed debt. Additionally, the appellate court determined that the debt collector’s violation of § 807(8) “exposed [the consumer] to a real risk of financial harm caused by an inaccurate credit rating.”

    Consumer Finance Courts Federal Issues Debt Collection FDCPA Fifth Circuit Litigation

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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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  • CFTC Enters into First-Ever Non-Prosecution Deals in Spoofing Investigation

    Securities

    On June 29, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) entered into non-prosecution agreements with three futures traders who admitted to engaging in “spoofing” in the U.S. Treasury futures market between 2011 and 2012 (see non-prosecution agreements here, here, and here). Spoofing involves placing bids or offers with the intent to cancel before execution. Here, the traders placed a small bid or offer on one side of the market and a large bid or offer on the opposite side of the market to be cancelled almost immediately (often in less than one second). The traders used the strategy to get smaller orders filled (and filled more quickly) at favorable prices.

    This is the first time the CFTC has used non-prosecution agreements, which the Director of Enforcement called “a powerful tool to reward extraordinary cooperation in the right cases, while providing individual and organizations strong incentives to promptly accept responsibility for their wrong doing and cooperate with the Division’s investigation.” In announcing the agreements, the CFTC lauded the traders’ “timely and substantial cooperation,” noting that their efforts provided assistance in connection with a $25 million settlement with the multinational bank they worked for earlier this year.

    Securities Litigation Federal Issues CFTC Broker-Dealer Enforcement

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  • Second Circuit Affirms No Actual Harm in FACTA Suit

    Courts

    On June 26, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that, without concrete evidence of actual harm, a consumer lacks standing under the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA) to sue a merchant for printing credit card expiration dates on receipts. The consumer alleged that printing the expiration date on her credit card receipt led to a material risk of identity theft, and therefore constituted an injury-in-fact sufficient to confer Article III standing. The court disagreed, noting that Congress’s amendments to FACTA belie that expiration dates on credit card receipts increase the risk of identity theft. Moreover, the court held that the consumer failed to allege actual harm from the merchant’s practice.

    The court’s decision in Cruper-Wienmann comes approximately one month after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, 136 S. Ct. 1540, 194 L. Ed. 2d 635 (2016), as revised (May 24, 2016), which held that “bare procedural violation[s], divorced from any concrete harm” are not enough to establish standing.

    Courts Second Circuit Litigation FACTA

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  • CFPB Sues Credit Repair Companies for $2 Million

    Consumer Finance

    On June 27, the CFPB filed two complaints in the District Court for the Central District of California against several credit repair companies and affiliated individuals. The CFPB alleged that these defendants violated the Consumer Financial Protect Act and the Telemarketing Sales Rule by charging consumers illegal fees and misleading consumers about services (see complaints here and here).

    According to a CFPB press release, the defendants allegedly “[c]harged illegal advance fees” such as initial consultation fees, and set-up fees prior to providing certain services. Defendants also allegedly “[f]ailed to disclose limits on ‘money-back guarantees’” and “[m]isled consumers about the benefits of their services” by suggesting they could remove negative information from credit reports and “substantial[ly] increase” credit scores.

    The CFPB submitted a proposed final judgment for each suit. In the first suit, the CFPB proposed a civil money penalty of over $1.5 million, and restrained defendants from working in credit repair services or maintaining an ownership interest in any company that provides credit repair services for a period of five years. In the second suit, the CFPB sought similar injunctive relief, and also proposed “equitable monetary relief in the form of disgorgement . . . in the amount of $500,000.”

    Consumer Finance Courts Enforcement CFPB Litigation Credit Scores CFPA Telemarketing Sales Rule

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  • Second Circuit Affirms No Unilateral Revocation Under TCPA

    Courts

    On June 22, the Second Circuit held in Reyes v. Lincoln Automotive Financial Services, No. 16-2014-cv, 2017 WL 2675363 (2nd Cir. June 22, 2017), that the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) does not permit a consumer to unilaterally revoke his or her consent to be contacted by telephone when that consent was given as a “bargained-for consideration in a bilateral contract.” The defendant had leased an automobile from the plaintiff. As a condition of that lease agreement, the plaintiff consented to receive automated or manual telephone calls from the defendant. After the plaintiff defaulted, the defendant regularly called the plaintiff and continued to do so even after the plaintiff allegedly revoked his consent. To support his argument that the TCPA permits him to revoke his consent, the plaintiff relied on prior case law and a recent ruling from the FCC that stated that under the TCPA, “prior express consent” can be revoked. The Second Circuit, however, distinguished this case from those relied on by the plaintiff on the grounds that the prior cases and the FCC’s ruling support the proposition that consent not given in exchange for consideration, and which is not part of a binding legal agreement, can be revoked. The Court further stated that where the consent is not provided gratuitously but is instead an express provision of a contract, the TCPA does not allow such consent to be unilaterally revoked.

    Courts Litigation TCPA FCC Federal Issues Second Circuit

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  • CFPB Director Challenges House Financial Services’ Report on Bureau’s Role in Fraudulent Accounts Scandal Investigation

    Consumer Finance

    On June 14, CFPB Director Richard Cordray issued a letter to Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Tex.) in response to the House Financial Services Committee’s (Committee) June 6 interim majority staff report on the investigation of the role federal financial regulators played in detecting and remedying a major national bank’s practice of opening unauthorized bank accounts. As previously covered in InfoBytes, the Bureau issued a consent order to the bank last September over allegations that the bank employees’ improper sales practice of opening unauthorized accounts as part of an incentive compensation program was unfair and abusive. In his letter, Director Cordray defended the CFPB’s role in the investigation and detailed inaccuracies and errors in the Committee’s report.

    The Committee’s report notes that immediately after the September 8 CFPB announcement, the House Financial Services Committee began a “comprehensive investigation” to answer two questions: (i) “how and why [the bank] allowed these fraudulent activities to occur at a disturbing scale across the [b]ank for well over a decade”; and (ii) “whether or not federal financial regulators were effective in detecting and remedying [the bank’s] fraudulent branch sale practices.” According to the report, “[o]ver the course of six months, the CFPB only produced 1,010 pages of records comprised almost entirely of records easily obtainable from [the bank] or the OCC”—both of which, the report contends, have cooperated fully with the investigation. In April 2017, the CFPB received a subpoena but allegedly provided records previously produced by the bank. Due to a lack of cooperation, the Committee staff recommended the possibility of issuing deposition subpoenas to CFPB employees to investigate Director Cordray’s alleged failure to respond, as well as the suggestion of bringing contempt proceedings against Director Cordray to enforce compliance with the subpoena.

    Director Cordray responded that, among others things, the majority staff of the Committee refused to receive a September 2016 follow-up briefing from Bureau staff and failed to respond to his offer to publicly testify at a Committee hearing. Furthermore, Director Cordray states that the CFPB has submitted over 57,000 pages of records “in an effort to comply with the Committee’s broadly worded requests.” He notes the complaint about the documents in the CFPB’s production being “redundant of documents received from either [the bank] or the OCC, though the same point could be made in reverse,” and that his staff has repeatedly sought guidance from the Committee to narrow the scope but has yet to receive a response.

    In response to the Committee’s query as to why it took more than a decade to uncover the bank’s practice of opening unauthorized accounts, Director Cordray responded that the Bureau opened its doors in 2011—more than 10 years after the bank’s activities commenced according to the Committee’s report—and wasn't fully operational until 2014.

    Consumer Finance Litigation Mortgages CFPB House Financial Services Committee

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