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  • 7th Circuit says “door hanger” company that performs property inspections for mortgage servicer is not a debt collector

    Courts

    On August 10, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit affirmed a lower court’s ruling that a company (defendant) that performed inspections for a mortgage servicer is not a “debt collector” under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) and was not liable for claims brought by a putative class of homeowners. According to the opinion, the defendant entered into a contract with the mortgage servicer to perform inspections to determine whether properties were still occupied for homes with defaulted mortgage payments of 45 days or more if the servicer was unable to contact the homeowner directly. When performing the inspections, the defendants left door hangers on the plaintiffs’ properties containing instructions to contact the mortgage servicer, which the plaintiffs claimed violated the FDCPA's disclosure requirements, including the requirement to disclose the creditor’s name, the amount owed, and that the debtor can dispute the debt. However, the lower court ruled—and the appellate court affirmed—that the defendant was not a “debt collector” for purposes of the FDCPA. The court found that the activities did not constitute direct debt collection because the door hangers did not demand payment and did not reference the underlying debt. The court also held that the defendant was not engaged in “indirect” debt collection, agreeing with the characterization of the lower court that the activities were more akin to those of a “messenger” than those of an “indirect” debt collector.

    Courts Seventh Circuit Appellate Mortgages Mortgage Servicing Debt Collection

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  • District Court rules student loan servicer must turn over Department of Education borrower records to Bureau

    Courts

    On August 10, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania ordered a loan servicer hired by the Department of Education (Department) to service loans it owns to turn over certain Department-owned student loan borrower documents to the CFPB, which relate to the servicer’s collection and management of its federal student loan borrowers’ payments. During the course of the ongoing litigation (see previous InfoBytes coverage here), the servicer withheld the documents in discovery on the grounds that they belonged to the Department and were therefore protected from disclosure by the Privacy Act. Moreover, the servicer asserted that the dispute was really between the Bureau and the Department because, in order to turn over the documents, the servicer would first have to obtain permission from the Department.

    However, according to the opinion issued by the court, turning over the documents would not violate the defendants’ agreement with the Department or violate federal privacy law. Specifically, the court stated that “there is no dispute that the borrower documents at issue are in the possession of [d]efendants, even if, as [d]efendants assert, they are owned by the Department,” and as such, under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, “requests can be made for production of documents, electronically stored information, and things in ‘the responding party’s possession, custody or control.’” Furthermore, the court stated that “the Privacy Act’s general prohibition on disclosure of records . . . does not create a qualified discovery privilege” and cannot be used as a means to “block the normal course of court proceedings, including court-ordered discovery.”

    Courts Student Lending CFPB Department of Education

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  • District Court dismisses ADA claim against credit union on standing grounds

    Courts

    On August 7, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois dismissed claims that a credit union’s website violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), holding that the plaintiff lacked standing because he was not (and was ineligible to be) a member of the credit union. According to the opinion, the plaintiff is permanently blind and alleged that the credit union’s website did not comply with ADA requirements that are applicable to online website accessibility. The district court granted the credit union’s motion to dismiss on standing grounds, finding the plaintiff had no plausible reason to use the credit union’s website because the website was directed at members of the credit union, and the plaintiff was not (and was ineligible to be) a member.

    Courts Americans with Disabilities Act Credit Union

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  • Maryland Court of Appeals holds foreign securitization trusts do not need to be licensed in the state as collection agencies

    Courts

    On August 2, the Maryland Court of Appeals, in a consolidated appeal of four circuit cases, held that foreign statutory trusts are not required to obtain a debt collection agency license under the Maryland Collection Agency Licensing Act (MCALA) before filing foreclosure actions in state circuit courts. The decision results from two cases consolidated before the Court of Special Appeals and two actions appealed directly from circuit court proceedings, in which substitute trustees acting on behalf of two Delaware statutory trusts initiated foreclosure proceedings on homeowners who had defaulted on their mortgage payments. The homeowners challenged the foreclosure actions, arguing that the Delaware statutory trusts acted as collection agencies under MCALA by “obtain[ing] mortgage loans and then collet[ing] mortgage payments through communication and foreclosure actions” without being licensed. The lower courts dismissed all four foreclosure actions, finding the Delaware statutory trusts did not fall under the trust exemption to MCALA and were in the business of collecting consumer debts and therefore, subject to the MCALA licenses requirements, which both trusts had not obtained.

    The overarching issue presented in the consolidated appeal was whether the Maryland General Assembly intended a foreign statutory trust, as owner of a delinquent mortgage loan, to obtain a license as a collection agency before directing trustees to initiate foreclosure proceedings. The court concluded that the plain language of MCALA was ambiguous as to the question and therefore, analyzed the legislative history and other similar statutes in order to determine the intent of the 1977 version of the law, as well as the reason the Department of Labor Licensing and Regulation revised the law in 2007 by departmental bill. Ultimately, the appeals court found the lower courts erred in dismissing the foreclosure actions against the homeowners, holding the General Assembly did not intend for MCALA to apply to foreclosure proceedings generally and therefore, foreign statutory trusts are not required to obtain a license under MCALA to initiate foreclosure proceedings.

    Courts State Issues Securitization Debt Collection Licensing

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  • 5th Circuit affirms dismissal of automatic stay violation claim on grounds of judicial estoppel

    Courts

    On July 27, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit affirmed a district court’s decision following a bench trial to dismiss plaintiffs’ allegations that a bank violated an automatic stay imposed during one of the plaintiff’s (debtor) bankruptcy schedules when it took foreclosure action, holding that the plaintiffs were barred by judicial estoppel from pursuing claims because the debtor failed to amend his bankruptcy schedules to disclose a quitclaim deed for his mortgage or note a change in his financial status. In this case, the debtor filed a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, but failed to list the address or creditor information for a property in which he had entered into an equity sharing agreement with his son. When the son signed a quitclaim deed conveying the property to the debtor, the deed was recorded but not listed on the bankruptcy schedules.

    According to the appellate court, the debtor failed to “disclose an asset to a bankruptcy court, but then pursue[d] a claim in a separate tribunal based on that undisclosed asset” when it filed a lawsuit against the bank for wrongful foreclosure. The doctrine of judicial estoppel requires that three elements be met: (i) “the party against whom estoppel is sought has asserted a position plainly inconsistent with a prior position”; (ii) “a court accepted the prior position”; and (iii) "the party did not act inadvertently.” The court held the first two elements were met by the plaintiff’s failure to amend his bankruptcy schedules to disclose the quitclaim deed or his legal action against the bank. The court noted, however, the debtor’s actions were not inadvertent because he was aware of the inconsistency and had a motive to conceal the asset. The appellate court specifically noted the motive to conceal was “self-evident” because the debtor’s failure to disclose his changed financial status had the potential to provide a financial benefit to the debtor. The appellate court further held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying plaintiffs' motion for a new trial, and that, moreover, the plaintiffs failed to show that the district court abused its discretion when it chose to exclude several of their exhibits.

    Courts Appellate Fifth Circuit Mortgages Bankruptcy Foreclosure

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  • Court rejects mortgage company’s motions to dismiss in two separate TCPA actions

    Courts

    On August 2, the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey denied a mortgage company’s motions to dismiss in two putative class actions (opinions available here and here) alleging violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) for unsolicited phone calls. In both cases, the mortgage company requested the court dismiss the action or, in the alternative, stay the proceedings pending guidance from the FCC regarding what constitutes an automatic telephone dialing system (autodialer) in light of the D.C. Circuit decision in ACA International v. FCC. (Covered by a Buckley Sandler Special Alert; InfoBytes coverage on the FCC’s notice seeking comment on what constitutes an autodialer, available here.) In each of the actions, consumers allege the company violated the TCPA by placing unsolicited calls to their phones using an autodialer. In denying both motions, the judge rejected the company’s argument, in one case, that it was not using “a random or sequential number generator” because the preloaded numbers belonged to the company’s customers rather than members of the public, reasoning that just because the population of numbers which may be dialed are pre-selected does not make the calling system, the next number being dialed, less random. Moreover, in the second case, the judge rejected the company’s assertion that written consent was not needed because the calls were placed to a number of customers with existing debt. The court noted the calls were regarding refinancing services and “calls to customers soliciting refinance are ‘telemarketing’ calls for a new product requiring prior express written consent under the TCPA.” As for the requests to stay the proceedings, the court held in both cases that it is unnecessary to stay the case because “whatever guidance the FCC may issue in the future will not alter the statutory definition of an [autodialer]” or previous unchanged FCC guidance pursuant to which the court decided the motions to dismiss.

    Courts ACA International TCPA Autodialer Class Action

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  • 2nd Circuit holds NCUA lacks standing to bring derivative suit against two national banks regarding RMBS claims

    Courts

    On August 2, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit held that the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) lacked standing to bring a suit against two national banks on behalf of trusts created by the agency that held residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS). According to the opinion, in 2009 and 2010, NCUA took control of five failing credit unions, including ownership of certificates the credit unions held in RMBS trusts. NCUA then transferred the certificates into new trusts and a financial institution was appointed, pursuant to an Indenture Agreement, as Indenture Trustee. NCUA subsequently brought derivative claims on behalf of the trusts against two national banks, trustees of the original RMBS trusts. In affirming the lower court’s dismissal of the claims, the appellate panel found that the NCUA did not have derivative standing to sue on behalf of the trusts because the trusts had granted the right, title, and interest to their assets, including the RMBS trusts, to the Indenture Trustee. The 2nd Circuit reasoned that therefore only the Indenture Trustee possesses the claims, and the NCUA did not have the right to sue on behalf of the Indenture Trustee under the Indenture Agreement.

    Courts Second Circuit Appellate RMBS Standing Securities

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  • 3rd Circuit holds unpaid highway tolls are not “debts” under the FDCPA

    Courts

    On August 7, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit held that unpaid highway tolls are not “debts” under the FDCPA because they are not transactions primarily for a “personal, family, or household” purpose. According to the amended class action complaint at issue in the case, after a consumer’s electronic toll payment system account became delinquent, a debt collection agency sent notices containing the consumer’s account information in the viewable display of the notice envelope. The consumer filed suit alleging the collection agency violated the FDCPA. While the lower court held that the consumer had standing to bring the claim, it dismissed the action on the ground that the unpaid highway tolls fell outside the FDCPA’s definition of a debt. The 3rd Circuit affirmed the lower court’s decision. On the issue of standing, citing the Supreme Court’s 2016 ruling in Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins (covered by a Buckley Sandler Special Alert), the panel reasoned that the exposed account number “implicates a core concern animating the FDCPA—the invasion of privacy” and is a legally cognizable injury that confers standing. The panel agreed with the consumer that the obligation to pay the highway tolls arose out of a “transaction” for purposes of the FDCPA because he voluntarily chose to drive on the toll roads, but found the purpose of the transaction was “public benefit of highway maintenance and repair”—not the private benefit of a “personal, family, or household” service or good as required by the FDCPA. Moreover, the court concluded that while the consumer chose to drive on the roads for personal purposes, the money being rendered was primarily for public services, as required by the statute to collect tolls “to acquire, construct, maintain, improve, manage, repair and operate transportation projects.”

    Courts Third Circuit Appellate FDCPA Debt Collection Spokeo U.S. Supreme Court

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  • Court again denies request to stay CFPB payday rule compliance date

    Courts

    On August 7, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas denied a request by two payday loan trade groups to reconsider its June decision denying a stay of the compliance date (August 19, 2019) of the Bureau’s final rule on payday loans, vehicle title loans, and certain other installment loans (Rule) until 445 days after final judgment in the pending litigation. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the court granted the trade groups’ and the CFPB’s joint request to stay the lawsuit—which asks the court to set aside the Rule— because of the Bureau’s plans to reconsider the Rule, but the court denied, without explanation, the request to stay the compliance date. In denying the reconsideration request, the court acknowledged considering, among other things, the trade groups’ motion and the CFPB’s response, which supported the motion but again, did not provide a substantive justification for the denial.

    Courts CFPB Payday Rule CFPB Succession Federal Issues

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  • 3rd Circuit says business meets “principal purpose” definition of collector under the FDCPA

    Courts

    On August 7, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit held that a company using the mail and wires to collect “any debts” meets the “principal purpose” definition under the FDCPA. According to the opinion, after homeowners defaulted on a home equity line of credit, the debt was sold and the mortgage assigned to a company whose sole business is the purchase of debts entered into by third parties and collecting on those debts. After several attempts to collect the debt, the company filed a foreclosure action in Pennsylvania. The homeowners contacted the company requesting loan statements to resolve the debt but the company refused to provide statements. The homeowners later received a collection email with an even higher amount than previously communicated and filed an action alleging the company violated the FDCPA. The lower court rejected the company’s arguments that it was not a debt collector under the FDCPA’s “principal purpose” definition—any person “who uses any instrumentality of interstate commerce or the mails in any business, the principal purpose of which is the collection of any debts”—and held that the company violated the act.

    The company appealed, challenging the lower court’s determination that it met the definition of debt collector, instead arguing it was a “creditor.” The 3rd Circuit, following the plain text of the FDCPA, held that “an entity whose principal purpose of business is the collection of any debts is a debt collector regardless whether the entity owns the debts it collects.” Affirming the lower court’s determination, the appellate panel disagreed with the company, reasoning that the company admitted its sole business is collecting purchased debts and it uses “mails and wires for its business,” such that it could be “no plainer” that the company fits the “principal purpose” definition under the FDCPA.

    Courts Third Circuit Appellate FDCPA Debt Collection

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