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  • DOJ says CFPB structure is unconstitutional, but urges Supreme Court to deny writ since case is a “poor vehicle”

    Courts

    On December 10, the DOJ filed a brief in response to a Texas bank and two associations’ (petitioners) petition for writ of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court, challenging the constitutionality of the CFPB’s structure, with the DOJ arguing that the Bureau’s structure infringes on the president’s responsibility to ensure that federal laws are faithfully executed, but urging the court to deny the writ as the case is a “poor vehicle” for the constitutionality consideration. Specifically, the DOJ argues that the decision would warrant review by the full court, which would be unlikely due to newly appointed Judge Kavanaugh’s involvement in the January 2018 D.C. Circuit en banc decision in PHH v. CFPB (covered by a Buckley Sandler Special Alert). Additionally, the DOJ acknowledges that the petitioners’ standing to sue “is sufficiently questionable to present a significant vehicle problem,” as the Texas bank is supervised by the OCC and the two associations are not regulated by the Bureau. On the merits, however, the DOJ agrees with the petitioners that statutory restriction on the president’s authority to remove the Bureau’s director violates the constitution. Citing to Judge Kavanaugh’s dissent opinion in the PHH en banc decision, the DOJ asserts that not only does the for-cause removal restrict the president’s powers to ensure the laws are faithfully executed, a single-director lacks the attributes of a multi-member commission that would warrant a for-cause removal provision. The DOJ concludes that the proper remedy would be to sever the for-cause provision while leaving the remaining applicable portions of the Dodd-Frank Act intact. Lastly, the DOJ notes that since it would not argue in favor of constitutionality, it recommends that if the Court were to grant certiorari, it should wait until the Bureau’s new director, Kathy Kraninger, has an opportunity to decide if the Bureau would defend the judgment before appointing an amicus curiae.  

    As previously covered by InfoBytes, the petitioners asked the Court (i) whether the CFPB as an independent agency headed by a single director that can only be removed from office for cause violates the Constitution’s separation of powers; (ii) whether a 1935 Supreme Court case upholding removal restrictions on members of the FTC should be overturned; and (iii) whether the CFPB’s “perpetual, on-demand funding streams” are permitted under the Appropriations Clause. The petition for writ resulted from a June decision by the D.C. Circuit upholding summary judgment against the petitioners, based on the D.C. Circuit en banc decision in PHH v. CFPB, which concluded the Bureau’s single-director structure is constitutional.

    Courts DOJ PHH v. CFPB U.S. Supreme Court Single-Director Structure CFPB

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  • Court grants summary judgment in favor of FTC and Florida State Attorney General in debt relief scam case

    Courts

    On December 10, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida granted the FTC and the Florida Attorney General’s motion for summary judgment against an individual accused of participating in a scheme that allegedly targeted financially distressed consumers through illegal robocalls selling bogus credit card debt relief services and interest rate reductions. According to a 2016 complaint, several interrelated companies and the founder of such companies (defendants), among other things, allegedly violated the FTC Act, the Telemarketing Sales Rule, and the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act by (i) claiming to be “licensed enrollment center[s]” for major credit card networks with the ability to work with a consumer’s credit card company or bank to substantially and permanently lower credit card interest rates; (ii) charging up-front payments for debt relief and rate-reduction services; and (iii) pitching credit card debt-elimination services, claiming the defendants could access money from a government fund to pay off consumers’ credit card debt in 18 months, when in actuality, no such government fund existed. In some cases, the defendants instructed consumers to stop paying their credit-card bills, resulting in “significant harm in the form of reduced creditworthiness, higher interest rates on their existing credit-card debt, and higher overall credit-card debt due to the accrual of late fees and interest charges.”

    The court entered a permanent injunction ordering the defendant founder of the companies involved to pay over $23 million in equitable monetary relief. The order also permanently restrains and enjoins such defendant from, among other things, participating—whether directly or indirectly—in (i) telemarketing; (ii) advertising, marketing, selling, or promoting any debt relief products or services; or (iii) misrepresenting material facts.

    Courts State Attorney General FTC Debt Relief Robocalls FTC Act Telemarketing Sales Rule State Issues

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  • District Court rejects dismissal bid, determining plaintiff sufficiently alleged ICO tokens were unregistered stock

    Courts

    On December 10, the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey denied a motion to dismiss a putative class action, finding the plaintiff sufficiently alleged that a company’s sale of unregistered cryptocurrency tokens were “investment contracts” under securities law. According to the opinion, the plaintiff filed the proposed class action against the company alleging it sold unregistered securities in violation of the Securities Act after purchasing $25,000 worth of tokens during the company’s initial coin offering (ICO). The company moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing that the tokens were not securities subject to the registration requirements of the Act. The court applied the three-prong “investment contract” test from SEC v. W.J. Howey Co.—“the three requirements for establishing an investment contract are: (1) an investment of money, (2) in a common enterprise, (3) with profits to come solely from the efforts of others”—and determined the token sales met the requirements. Focusing on the second and third prongs, because the company acknowledged the first was satisfied, the court concluded that the plaintiff sufficiently alleged the existence of a common enterprise by showing a “horizontal commonality” from the pooling of the contributions used to develop and maintain the company’s tasking platform. As for the third prong, the court determined the investors had an expectation of profit rather than simply a means to use the tasking platform, as demonstrated by the company’s marketing of the ICO as a “‘unique investment opportunity’ that would ‘generate better financial returns[.]’”

    Courts Securities Initial Coin Offerings Virtual Currency Fintech

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  • 7th Circuit holds consumers can be expected to read second page of two-page collection letter, affirms dismissal of FDCPA action

    Courts

    On December 7, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a consumer’s class action against a debt collection company for allegedly violating the FDCPA by indicating “additional important information” was on the back of the first page when the required validation notice was actually on the front of the second page. According to the opinion, the consumer alleged the debt collection notice “misleads the unsophisticated consumer by telling him that important information is on the back, but instead providing the validation notice on the front of the second page, thereby ‘overshadowing’ the consumer’s rights” under the FDCPA. The debt collector moved to dismiss the action for failure to state a claim and the district court granted the dismissal and declined to allow the consumer leave to amend the complaint.

    On appeal, the 7th Circuit determined that the location of the validation notice—which “is clear, prominent, and readily readable”—did not overshadow the consumer’s FDCPA rights or misrepresent the importance of the notice, notwithstanding the language on the first page indicating the important information would be on the back of the first page, not on the top of the second page. The 7th Circuit explained, “The FDCPA does not say a debt collector must put the validation notice on the first page of a letter. Nor does the FDCPA say the first page of a debt-collection letter must point to the validation notice if it is not on the first page. Nor does the FDCPA say a debt collector must tell a consumer the validation notice is important. Nor does the FDCPA say a debt collector may not tell a consumer that other information is important.” The appellate court rejected the consumer’s unsophisticated consumer argument, concluding that "[e]ven an unsophisticated consumer—maybe especially one—can be expected to read page two of a two-page collection letter." Moreover, the appellate court upheld the denial of the consumer’s request to amend her complaint, noting that no proposed amendment would push the plaintiff’s “original claim into the realm of plausibility.”

    Courts Seventh Circuit Appellate FDCPA Validation Notice Debt Collection

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  • 9th Circuit reverses lower court’s dismissal of TILA rescission enforcement claims

    Courts

    On December 6, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit reversed a lower court’s decision to dismiss TILA allegations brought against a bank, finding that the statute of limitations for borrowers to bring TILA rescission enforcement claims is based on state law, and is six years in the state of Washington. The panel opined that, because TILA does not specify a statute of limitations for when an action to enforce a TILA recession must be brought, “courts must borrow the most analogous state law statute of limitations and apply that limitation period” to these type of claims, which, in Washington, is the six-year statute of limitations on contract claims. According to the opinion, the plaintiffs refinanced a mortgage loan in 2010, but failed to receive notice of the right to rescind the loan at the time of refinancing in violation of TILA’s disclosure requirements. Consequently, the plaintiffs had three years—instead of three days—from the loan’s consummation date to rescind the loan. In 2013, within the three-year period, the plaintiffs notified the bank of their intent to rescind the loan. However, instead of taking action in response to the plaintiffs’ notice, the bank instead began a nonjudicial foreclosure nearly four years after the rescission demand, declaring that the plaintiffs were in default on the loan. The plaintiffs filed suit in 2017 to enforce the recession, which the bank moved to dismiss on the argument that the claims were time barred. According to the panel, the lower court wrongly interpreted the plaintiff’s request for damages under the Washington Consumer Protection Act “as a claim for monetary relief under TILA”—which has a one-year statute of limitations—and dismissed the plaintiffs’ claim as time barred without leave to amend. However, the consumers were seeking a declaratory judgment and an injunction, not damages.

    On appeal, the 9th Circuit rejected three possible statute of limitations offered by the lower court. The panel also rejected plaintiffs’ argument that no statute of limitations apply to TILA recession enforcement claims, and held that it could not be assumed that “Congress intended that there be no time limit on actions at all”; rather, federal courts must borrow the most applicable state law statute of limitations. Because the mortgage loan agreement was a written contract between the plaintiffs and the bank, and the plaintiffs’ suit was an attempt to rescind that written contract, Washington’s six-year time limit on suits under written contracts must be borrowed. Therefore, the panel concluded that the plaintiffs’ suit was not time-barred and reversed and remanded the case for further proceedings.

    Courts Ninth Circuit Appellate TILA Rescission Mortgages State Issues

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  • Court grants summary judgment, finding no concrete harm in alleged kickback scheme

    Courts

    On December 7, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland granted a motion for summary judgment filed by a real estate team and title company (defendants), finding that an alleged kickback scheme involving the defendants did not constitute a violation of RESPA, and that the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate that they suffered from any concrete harm. According to the court, the plaintiffs filed a suit on behalf of a putative class more than four and a half years after they purchased their home, claiming the defendants violated RESPA by allegedly “using a ‘sham’ marketing agreement . . . to disguise an illegal kickback scheme,” which provided the real estate team with “unearned fees” through settlement referrals to the title company. The plaintiffs further argued that they were entitled to equitable tolling because the kickback scheme was allegedly concealed in an undisclosed marketing and services agreement, and that even if the agreement had been disclosed, it would have seemingly appeared to be valid. However, the court found “no genuine issue of material fact that the [p]laintiffs failed to exercise reasonable diligence to discover their claim” because at the time of closing, “they knew that they could choose their own settlement and title company” but elected not to. In addition, the court disagreed with the plaintiffs’ argument that they had Article III standing because they were “deprived of impartial and fair competition between settlement services,” finding that the plaintiffs were not overcharged for services due to the alleged kickback scheme and failed to show that the costs of settlement services were unnecessarily increased.

    Moreover, the court found that the plaintiffs (i) did not inquire about a potential relationship between the defendants; (ii) did not claim dissatisfaction with the title company services provided; and (iii) did not claim that the fees paid to the title company were “unreasonable or undeserved.” Furthermore, the court found that the claim was barred by RESPA’s one-year statute of limitations and that equitable tolling did not apply.

    Courts Mortgages RESPA Spokeo Kickback

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  • District Court rejects dismissal bid for California interest on escrow class action

    Courts

    On December 7, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California denied a bank’s motion to dismiss a putative class action alleging the bank violated the California Unfair Competition Law (UCL) by not paying interest to residential mortgagors on funds held in escrow accounts, as required by California law. The three plaintiffs filed the complaint against the bank after the March decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in Lusnak v. Bank of America, which held that a national bank must comply with a California law that requires mortgage lenders to pay interest on the funds held in a consumer’s escrow account. (Previously covered by InfoBytes here.) The plaintiffs argued that the 9th Circuit decision requires the bank to comply with the California law requiring interest on funds held in escrow.

    In response, the bank filed a motion to dismiss, or in the alternative to stay the case, on the basis that the plaintiffs failed to provide the bank with notice and an opportunity to cure alleged misconduct prior to judicial action as required by the mortgage deed, and that the plaintiff’s claims were preempted by the Home Owners Loan Act (HOLA). The court rejected these arguments, finding that the plaintiff’s failure to comply with the ambiguous provisions in the mortgage deed do not foreclosure their claims, concluding “[t]o deprive Plaintiffs of recourse to their statutory rights based on an ambiguous contractual provision would also frustrate the consumer protection purposes of those statutes.” As to the HOLA argument, the court acknowledged that HOLA preempted the state interest law as to the originator of the mortgages, a now-defunct federal thrift, but disagreed with the bank’s assertion that the preemption attached throughout the life of the loan, including after the loan is transferred to a bank whose own lending is not covered by HOLA. Specifically, the court looked to the legislative intent of HOLA and noted it was unclear if Congress intended for preemption to attach through the life of the loan, but found a clear goal of consumer protection. Therefore, the court concluded that “[a]llowing preemption may run contrary to HOLA's purpose and could result in a gross miscarriage of justice” by depriving homeowners of state law protections.

    Additionally, the court rejected as moot the alternative request to stay the case pending the Supreme Court’s resolution of Lusnak, because the Supreme Court denied the petition of writ in that case in November (covered by InfoBytes here).

    Courts Mortgages Escrow National Bank Act HOLA Dodd-Frank Ninth Circuit Appellate

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  • CFPB sues mortgage company for allegedly deceiving veterans about refinance benefits

    Courts

    On December 6, the CFPB announced the filing of a complaint and proposed final judgment in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada against a non-bank mortgage company for allegedly deceiving veterans about the benefits of refinancing their mortgages in violation of the Consumer Financial Protection Act. According to the complaint, during in-home presentations, the company would allegedly use flawed “apples to apples” comparisons between the consumers’ mortgages and an Interest Rate Reduction Refinancing Loan (a loan, guaranteed by the Department of Veterans Affairs, which allows veterans to refinance mortgages at lower interest rates). The Bureau alleges the presentations misrepresented the future cost savings of the refinance by (i) inflating the future amount of principal owed under the existing mortgage; (ii) overestimating the future loan’s term, which underestimated the future monthly payments; and (iii) overestimating the total monthly benefit of the loan after the first month.

    If ordered by the court, the judgment would require the company to pay $268,869 in redress to consumers and a civil penalty of $260,000; it would also prohibit the company from misrepresenting the terms or benefits of mortgage refinancing.

    Courts CFPB Civil Money Penalties Military Lending Department of Veterans Affairs IRRRL Refinance Mortgages

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  • District Court rules text message inviting a responsive text does not violate TCPA

    Courts

    On November 29, the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey partially denied a company’s motion to dismiss proposed class action allegations that it violated the TCPA when it used an automatic telephone dialing system (ATDS) to send unsolicited text messages to customers’ cell phones that resulted in additional message and data charges. According to the opinion, the company sent three text messages to the plaintiff who responded to two of them. The first message gave the plaintiff the option to send “STOP” to opt out or “HELP” to receive assistance. Because the plaintiff texted “HELP” in response, the court found that the plaintiff consented to receiving the company’s second message; the court found that the third follow-up message was permissible because it was a single “confirmatory message” sent after the plaintiff texted “STOP” after receiving the second follow-up message. However, the court determined that the plaintiff satisfied the burden of showing at this stage in the proceedings that the first text message was sent from a company with whom he had no prior relationship and had not provided consent. “When an individual sends a message inviting a responsive text, there is no TCPA violation,” the judge ruled. “The TCPA prohibits a party from using an ATDS ‘to initiate any telephone call to any residential telephone line using an artificial or prerecorded voice to deliver a message without the prior express consent of the called party,’ unless the call falls within one of the statute’s enumerated exemptions.”

    The court further denied the company’s motion to stay pending the FCC’s interpretation of what qualifies as an ATDS in light of the decision reached by the D.C. Circuit in ACA International v. FCC, stating, among other things, that the company “has not established the FCC proceedings will simplify or streamline the issues in this matter” and that the plaintiff is entitled to discovery concerning the company’s communication devices.

    Courts TCPA Autodialer Class Action FCC ACA International

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  • Court certifies class in FDCPA action against student loan debt collector

    Courts

    On December 3, the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey granted class certification to a group of borrowers alleging that a debt collection company misrepresented late charges accruing on student loan debt after default, in violation of the FDCPA section 1692e, among other sections. The lead plaintiff brought the action against the debt collector after receiving a letter regarding her defaulted federal Perkins student loans, which stated “[d]ue to interest, late charges, and other charges that may vary from day to day, the amount due on the day you pay may be greater” even though the plaintiff later learned that Perkins loans cannot accrue late charges after default. After the FDCPA’s 1692e claim survived summary judgment, the plaintiff moved to certify the class, while the debt collector opposed the certification and separately moved to dismiss the class claim for lack of standing. In denying the motion to dismiss and granting certification, the court held the borrower had standing as she met the requirement of showing a concrete and particularized injury, stating “when a debt collector violates Section 1692e by providing false or misleading information, the informational injury that results—i.e., receipt of that false or misleading information—constitutes a concrete harm under Spokeo.” The court found that the borrower met the requirements for class certification, including the numerosity requirement as evidenced by the almost 3,000 letters sent by the debt collection company to New Jersey loan holders. Moreover, the court found that the class claims would predominate over individual ones since there exist common questions of law or fact insofar as class members received the same or substantially similar letters from the collector.

    Courts FDCPA Debt Collection Student Lending Class Action Spokeo

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