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  • Second Circuit Ruling May Expose Debt Collection Law Firms to Increased FDCPA Claims

    Courts

    On November 14, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed a Southern District of New York dismissal of a lawsuit against a debt collection law firm regarding actions taken during state court collection proceedings. Concluding that the plaintiff had stated a claim against the law firm under two sections of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), a three-judge panel vacated the dismissal and remanded for further proceedings consistent with its decision.

    The appeal stems from the law firm’s actions in attempting to collect on a default judgment entered against the plaintiff. After receiving a restraining notice from the law firm, the plaintiff’s bank placed a restraint on his checking account and the law firm told plaintiff that, unless he made a payment, he would have to get a court order to lift the restraint. The plaintiff sought such an order on the grounds that all the money in his checking account was Social Security Retirement Income (SSRI) and, therefore, exempt from restraint. The plaintiff claimed that the law firm’s objection to his request contained false statements in violation of the FDCPA and New York law because the plaintiff had earlier provided the law firm with documents supporting his exemption claim.

    In finding the complaint states a claim under FDCPA section 1692e, the Court rejected, among other arguments made by the law firm, the notion that FDCPA liability cannot be imposed based on conduct in litigation; the opinion contrasts bankruptcy court proceedings—where the Second Circuit has found the filing of false statements of claim does not violate the FDCPA—with those of state courts, “where . . . the consumer, often unfamiliar with the law governing garnishment of bank accounts, has the benefit of neither counsel nor a bankruptcy trustee.” The Court also held that “a debt collector engages in unfair or unconscionable litigation conduct in violation of [FDCPA] section 1692f when . . . it in bad faith unduly prolongs legal proceedings or requires a consumer to appear at an unnecessary hearing.”

    Courts Appellate FDCPA Second Circuit Debt Collection

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  • CFPB Urges Supreme Court to Reject Tribal Lenders' Petition

    Courts

    On November 9, the CFPB filed a brief with the Supreme Court opposing the petition for a writ of certiorari submitted by online tribal lending entities.  The lenders are challenging a January decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which ordered the entities to comply with a CFPB investigation (previously covered by Infobytes). The litigation stems from the issuance of a civil investigative demand (CID) by the CFPB to online lending entities owned by Native American tribes. The entities argue that due to tribal sovereignty, the CFPB does not have jurisdiction over the small-dollar lending services in question. The district court and the Ninth Circuit concluded that the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA) did not expressly exclude tribes from the CFPB’s enforcement authority and therefore, the entities cannot claim tribal sovereign immunity.

    In its brief opposing the certiorari petition, the CFPB argues that the Ninth Circuit’s holding does not conflict with any prior Supreme Court or court of appeals decision, making further review unwarranted. The CFPB also argues, among other things, that Supreme Court review is unnecessary because “[t]he question at this juncture is solely whether the Bureau may obtain information from petitioners pursuant to a CID,” not “whether petitioners are subject to the Bureau’s regulatory authority.” 

    Courts CFPB Payday Lending Consumer Lending U.S. Supreme Court Appellate Ninth Circuit

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  • District Court Upholds $60 Million Jury Verdict for Credit Reporting Agency’s Use of OFAC Alert

    Courts

    On November 7, the Northern District Court of California upheld a $60 million jury verdict against a credit reporting agency regarding the use of its OFAC Alert (previously covered by InfoBytes). The verdict stems from a 2012 class action lawsuit in which the plaintiffs allege the defendant had failed to distinguish law-abiding citizens from drug traffickers, terrorists, and other criminals with similar names found on the Treasury Department’s OFAC database. Following the defendants motion for judgment as a matter of law or a new trial, the district court agreed with the jury’s findings that the defendants (i) “willfully fail[ed] to follow reasonable procedures to assure the maximum possible accuracy of the OFAC information it associated with members of the class’’; (ii) “willfully failed to clearly and accurately disclose OFAC information in the written disclosures it sent to members of the class”; and (iii) “failed to provide class members a summary of their FCRA rights with each written disclosure made to them.”

    Courts FCRA OFAC Credit Reporting Agency Consumer Finance

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  • District Court Denies Summary Judgement to Both Parties, Cites Issue of Material Fact Concerning Prepopulated Electronic Signature

    Courts

    On October 18, a federal judge in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina denied summary judgment to both parties because there was a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether a “meaningful offer” of underinsured motorist coverage (UIM) was made. The insured’s electronic signature on the UIM form would indicate that the defendant made a “meaningful offer” of UIM coverage, as required under South Carolina law, and such coverage was rejected. The dispute however, in this case was about whether the electronic signature was prepopulated by the defendant.

    Plaintiff purchased an auto insurance policy from the defendant online, and the coverage did not include UIM coverage. Plaintiff argued that he never signed the UIM coverage provision and that instead, his signature was prepopulated by the defendant’s website. The plaintiff argued that his prepopulated signature did not satisfy the requirements for a meaningful offer of UIM coverage. The defendant rebutted by stating that prepopulating portions of the UIM form is compatible with providing a meaningful offer of UIM coverage. The court was “disinclined to agree” with the defendant’s argument that a “prepopulated signature that appears on an insurance policy before the insured reads through and signals affirmative consent. . .fulfills” the UIM requirements. After reviewing the record, which was limited to screenshots produced by the plaintiff (as the defendant’s attempt to proffer additional system-based evidence was refused by the court because the defendant previously objected to producing it during discovery), the court concluded that it could not grant summary judgment to either party because of the factual dispute regarding whether the plaintiff signed the UIM provision.

    Courts Litigation Electronic Signatures Insurance

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  • FTC Settles Suit Against Credit Score Site Schemers

    Courts

    On October 26, the FTC agreed to a settlement of $760,000 with two affiliate marketers of a credit score business who allegedly committed deceptive acts to lure consumers into signing up for their monthly credit monitoring service for $30.00.

    The settlement partly resolves a suit the FTC filed in January against the credit score company, the owner, and the company’s affiliate marketers. The FTC alleged that the defendants posted fake rental ads on Craigslist and required persons responding to the ads to obtain a purportedly “free” credit report from the company’s websites before viewing the property. The defendants, however, used the credit or debit card information consumers entered to obtain the credit report and enrolled consumers for a negative option credit monitoring service with a $30.00 monthly fee.

    The order suspended the balance of the total $6.8 million judgment on the condition that the affiliate marketers pay the FTC the settled amounts. The claims against the company and the owner are ongoing.

    Courts Consumer Finance FTC Fraud Settlement Litigation

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  • Servicemember Files Writ of Certiorari, Petitions Supreme Court to Review SCRA Protections for Non-Judicial Foreclosures

    Courts

    On October 11, a servicemember filed a petition for a writ of certiorari, requesting that the U.S. Supreme Court review an opinion issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit concerning whether the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) can be applied to a mortgage loan obligation incurred during a borrower’s earlier, distinct period of military service. (See previous InfoBytes summary on Fourth Circuit opinion.) 

    Under the SCRA, servicemembers are afforded certain protections against non-judicial foreclosures of their home while in active military service. Section 3953 provides that a home mortgage “originated before the period of the servicemember’s military service and for which the servicemember is still obligated” cannot be foreclosed upon unless allowed by a court order. However, the appellate court affirmed the district court’s decision in favor of the bank, concluding that because the servicemember “incurred his mortgage obligation during his service in the Navy, the obligation was not subject to SCRA protection” even through the servicemember, after a discharge period, later re-enlisted with the Army.

    The petition argues that the appellate court “misconstrued” and narrowly interpreted the SCRA’s definition of the term “period of military service” under section 3911 by treating the servicemember’s “separate and distinct periods of military service as a single period of service.”

    Courts U.S. Supreme Court SCRA Foreclosure

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  • Seventh Circuit Upholds Ruling That Excludes Insurance Coverage for Overdraft Fees

    Courts

    On October 12, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed an Indiana District Court’s 2016 ruling, agreeing that an insurance company does not bear the responsibility for covering a bank’s $24 million class action settlement under a policy provision that excludes coverage for any case involving fees. In upholding the lower court’s decision, the three judge panel concluded that the insurance company had no duty to defend or indemnify the bank on the basis that the underlying overdraft fee claims fall under “Exclusion 3(n)” in the bank's professional liability insurance policy, which states that the insurance company “shall not be liable for [l]oss on account of any [c]laim . . . based upon, arising from, or in consequence of any fees or charges.” Class claims alleging that the bank manipulated its debit processing to “maximize overdraft revenue” by charging purportedly excessive fees to consumers who overdraw their checking and savings accounts triggered the exclusion. The panel also noted that an insurance company’s decision to include fee exclusions in banking liability policies is designed to prevent the “moral hazard” of allowing banks to “freely create other customer fee schemes” knowing they could easily secure coverage.

    Courts Appellate Seventh Circuit Overdraft Class Action Settlement Litigation

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  • Ninth Circuit Claims California Licensing Law Violates Dormant Commerce Clause

    Courts

    On October 10, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit handed down an opinion concerning alleged violations of certain California statutes by an Ohio-based mortgage servicer (plaintiff). The panel held that the plaintiff is likely to prevail in its bid for a court order blocking the enforcement of the state’s financial code by certain California district attorneys because the law violates the Dormant Commerce Clause—a legal doctrine that prohibits states from unduly burdening interstate commerce. The defendants allege that the plaintiff violated Section 12200 of the California Financial Code, which requires a prorater—a person who is compensated for receiving monies from debtors and distributing the funds to creditors—to obtain a California prorater license and be incorporated in the state before conducting business on an interstate basis. The panel determined that “[t]his form of discrimination between in-state and out-of-state economic interests is incompatible with a functioning national economy, and the prospect of each corporation being required to create a subsidiary in each state is precisely . . . [what] the Dormant Commerce Clause exists to prevent.” Consequently, the panel vacated the district court’s order denying a preliminary injunction, and remanded for further proceedings.

    The panel also affirmed the district court’s ruling that the plaintiff was required to disclose in its mail solicitations to homeowners that it “lacked authorization from lenders,” and opined that the plaintiff would most likely not prevail in its effort to challenge allegations that it violated sections of the California Business and Professions Code on a First Amendment basis. The First Amendment, the panel reasoned, “does not generally protect corporations from being required to tell prospective customers the truth.”

    Finally, in a portion of the opinion in which one of the circuit judges dissented, the panel reversed a district court’s order dismissing both cases under Younger v. Harris “because the cases had proceeded beyond the ‘embryonic stage’ in the district court before the corresponding state cases were filed.” Judge Montgomery—who otherwise joined the opinion with respect to the Dormant Commerce Clause and First Amendment questions—argued that the district court's dismissal under Younger should have been upheld because “[b]oth cases arrived in federal court…as a preemptive strike by [the plaintiff] to enjoin state district attorneys from enforcing state statutes in state court.”

    Courts Appellate Licensing Ninth Circuit

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  • Texas Appeals Court Cites Khoury, Dismisses Trial Court’s Summary Judgment Under UETA

    Courts

    On October 3, a three-judge panel of a Texas Court of Appeals reversed and remanded, while affirming in part, a trial court’s decision concerning an alleged breach of contract over a $230 million sale agreement. On appeal were three issues, including a challenge to the grounds on which the trial court granted summary judgement under the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA). The trial court concluded that the “parties did not agree to conduct business electronically and that the alleged contract did not contain a valid electronic signature.” But the panel reversed the decision, holding that an agreement between parties to conduct transactions by electronic means “need not be explicit” under UETA, and finding that the parties’ email negotiations constituted “at least some evidence that the parties agreed to conduct some of their transactions electronically.” and The panel also cited their earlier decision in Khoury v. Tomlinson, that was previously discussed in InfoBytes, to address the question of whether the emails between the two parties were signed electronically. Khoury ruled that an email satisfied the writing requirement because it was an electronic record, and that the header, which included a “from” field constituted as a signature because that field served the same “authenticating function” as a signature block. Consequently, because there was “at least some evidence that the relevant emails were signed as defined in UETA,” the trial court in this matter erred in granting summary judgment.

    Further, because the panel found that there still remain questions regarding whether the parties actually formed an agreement concerning the sale of assets, the panel stated they were unable to determine “as a matter of law, under the particular facts of this case, whether such a contract is illusory.” Thus, the trial court erred in granting summary judgment on these grounds as well.

    The remainder of the trial court’s judgments were affirmed, and the case was remanded for further proceedings consistent with the opinion.

    Courts Appellate Digital Commerce Electronic Signatures UETA

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  • Second Circuit Upholds Large Monetary Judgment Against International Bank

    Courts

    On September 28, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed a New York District Court’s 2015 ruling, which requires a major international bank to pay $806 million for selling allegedly faulty mortgage-backed bonds to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. In the original suit brought by the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), FHFA alleged that the bank overstated the reliability of the loans for sale. In upholding the lower court’s decision, the Second Circuit concluded that the marketing prospectus used to sell the mortgage securities to Fannie and Freddie between 2005 and 2007 contained “untrue statements of material fact.” Specifically, the prospectus falsely stated that the loans were compiled with the underwriting standards described therein, including standards related to assessing the creditworthiness of the borrowers and appraising the value of properties.

    As previously covered in InfoBytes, the same international bank recently settled with FHFA regarding residential mortgage-back securities trusts purchased in the same timeframe.

    Courts Litigation Second Circuit Appellate Securities FHFA Fannie Mae Freddie Mac Mortgages

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