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  • NY District Court holds CFPB structure is unconstitutional

    Courts

    On June 21, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York terminated the CFPB as a party to an action against a New Jersey-based finance company and its affiliates (defendants), concluding that the CFPB’s organizational structure is unconstitutional and therefore, the agency lacks authority to bring claims under the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA). As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Bureau and the New York Attorney General’s office (NYAG) filed a lawsuit in in February 2017, claiming the defendants engaged in deceptive and abusive acts by misleading first responders to the World Trade Center attack and NFL retirees with high-cost loans by mischaracterizing loans as assignments of future payment rights, thereby causing the consumers to repay far more than they received. The defendants sought dismissal of the case, arguing that, among other things, “the CFPB’s unprecedented structure violates fundamental constitutional principles of separation of powers, and the CFPB should be struck down as an unconstitutional administrative agency.”

    The court denied the defendants’ motion as to the NYAG, finding that it had plausibly alleged claims under the CFPA and New York law and had the independent authority to pursue those claims.  But the court concluded that the CFPB lacked such authority, noting that it was not bound by the recent decision of the D.C. Circuit upholding the Bureau’s constitutionality in PHH v. CFPB (covered by a Buckley Sandler Special Alert).  The court instead adopted portions of two separate dissents from that decision to conclude that the Bureau’s single director structure is unconstitutional and that the defect cannot be remedied by striking the limitations on the president’s authority to remove the Bureau director because the “removal for cause” provision is “at the heart of Title X” of Dodd-Frank.  Quoting one of the PHH dissents, the court stated, “I would strike Title X in its entirety.” 

    The court also rejected an attempt by acting Director Mulvaney to salvage the Bureau’s claims.  Although the action was initiated by Director Cordray, the Bureau filed a notice in May ratifying that decision and arguing that, because the Bureau is currently led by an acting director who can be removed by the president at will, defendants’ motion to dismiss the Bureau’s claims should be denied.  The court disagreed, concluding that the constitutional issues presented in the case “are not cured by the appointment of Mr. Mulvaney” because “the relevant provisions of the Dodd-Frank Act that render the CFPB’s structure unconstitutional remain intact.”

    Courts PHH v. CFPB State Attorney General CFPB CFPB Succession Consumer Finance CFPA

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  • Court allows certain City of Oakland claims to proceed against national bank

    Courts

    On June 15, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California granted in part and denied in part a national bank’s motion to dismiss an action brought by the City of Oakland, alleging violations of the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and California Fair Employment and Housing Act. In its September 2015 complaint, Oakland alleged that the bank violated the FHA and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act by providing minority borrowers mortgage loans with less favorable terms than similarly situated non-minority borrowers, leading to disproportionate defaults and foreclosures causing reduced property tax revenue for the city. After the 2017 Supreme Court decision in Bank of America v. City of Miami (previously covered by a Buckley Sandler Special Alert), which held that municipal plaintiffs may be “aggrieved persons” authorized to bring suit under the FHA against lenders for injuries allegedly flowing from discriminatory lending practices, Oakland filed an amended complaint. The amended complaint expanded Oakland’s alleged injuries to include (i) decreased property tax revenue; (ii) increases in the city’s expenditures; and (iii) neutralized spending in Oakland’s fair-housing programs. The bank moved to dismiss all of Oakland’s claims on the basis that the city had failed to sufficiently allege proximate cause. The court granted the bank’s motion without prejudice as to claims based on the second alleged injury to the extent it sought monetary relief and claims based on the third alleged injury entirely. The court allowed the matter to proceed with respect to claims based on the first injury and, to the extent it seeks injunctive and declaratory relief, the second injury.

    Courts Fair Housing FHA Lending Consumer Finance Mortgages

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  • CA Attorney General secures $67 million in debt relief for former students of defunct for-profit school

    State Issues

    On June 13, the Superior Court of the State of California ordered a California-based student loan provider to halt all debt collection efforts and forgive the balances on over 30,000 private student loans, which were used for programs at a now defunct for-profit college. According to the announcement by the California Attorney General, Xavier Becerra, the debt relief totals $67 million for the former students. The complaint, filed on the same day as the order, alleges the company engaged in unlawful debt collection practices, including sending borrowers notices threatening legal action, to collect on the student loans at issue. In addition to the debt forgiveness, the order requires the company to (i) refund all payments made on the student loans by California-residents after August 1, 2017; (ii) refund payments made prior to August 1, 2017 by borrowers who received allegedly unlawful debt collection notices; and (iii) delete negative credit reporting associated with the student loans for all of the for-profit students around the country.

    As previously covered by InfoBytes, in a class action filed by former students, the Department of Education was recently barred by a preliminary injunction from continuing collection efforts on student loans used for the same defunct for-profit college.

    State Issues State Attorney General Student Lending Debt Cancellation Debt Collection Consumer Finance Lending Courts

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  • Court approves $12 million settlement between FTC and student debt relief company

    Courts

    On June 8, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California approved an order requiring an owner and his multiple student debt relief companies (defendants) to pay almost $12 million to settle allegations that the defendants violated the FTC Act and Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR) when marketing and selling student debt relief services. As part of a coordinated effort between the FTC and state law enforcement called Operation Game of Loans, the FTC filed a complaint in September 2017 alleging the defendants, among other things, charged upfront and monthly fees to enroll students in free government programs to manage student loan debt, but did not perform any services. Additionally, the FTC alleged that the defendants marketed themselves as associated with the Department of Education and called consumers listed on the Do Not Call Registry. Under the settlement order, in addition to the nearly $12 million fine, the defendants are permanently banned from: (i) advertising, marketing, promoting, offering, or selling debt relief or credit repair products or services, or assisting others in such activities; (ii) misrepresenting or assisting others in misrepresenting information relating to any products or services and, specifically, financial products or services; (iii) making any misleading or unsubstantiated representation or assisting others in making any such representation about the benefits, performance, or result of any financial product or service; and (iv) engaging in any unlawful telemarketing practices. The defendants neither admit nor deny any of the FTC’s allegations.

    Courts Consumer Finance FTC Federal Issues Enforcement Student Lending Debt Relief

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  • CFPB publishes quarterly consumer credit trends: End-of-year credit card borrowing

    Federal Issues

    On June 7, the CFPB released the latest quarterly consumer credit trends report, which focuses on credit card borrowing patterns at the end of the year using data from the CFPB’s Consumer Credit Panel. The report notes that consumer spending peaks each year during the “holiday shopping season” in November and December, with retail sales more than $50 billion higher in December than any other month. The CFPB highlighted some key findings regarding credit card borrowing and repayment patterns around this time: (i) credit card and retail store card debt steadily rise before the end of the calendar year and then gradually fall through March; (ii) consumers with subprime credit scores do not experience the same “seasonality” in borrowing that consumers with superprime credit scores do—they are much more likely to have higher utilization rates of available credit before the holiday shopping season; and (iii) seasonal delinquency patterns may indicate financial distress at the end of the year for some credit card users.

    Federal Issues CFPB Credit Cards Consumer Finance Payments

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  • FTC settles with North Carolina-based debt collection business and its principals

    Consumer Finance

    On June 4, the FTC announced settlements with a North Carolina-based debt collection business and its principals resolving allegations that the business violated the FTC Act and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) by making false, unsubstantiated, or misleading representations regarding debt owed on payday loans or other debts and threatening legal action. As previously covered in InfoBytes, the business allegedly used a variety of “trade names” that sound like law firms to threaten individuals if they failed to pay debt they did not actually owe or that the defendants had no right to collect. The terms of the settlement call for a $2.7 million judgment against the business and one of the principals, as well as a $1.8 million judgment against the remaining principal, with all parties jointly and severally liable for approximately $1.6 million. The judgments will be partially suspended after defendants surrender certain assets. The settlements also prohibit all defendants from debt collection activities as well as from buying or selling debt in the future.

    Consumer Finance Debt Collection FTC Act Enforcement Settlement

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  • CFPB releases complaint snapshot on debt collection

    Consumer Finance

    On May 31, the CFPB released a complaint snapshot on debt collection, which provides a high-level overview of trends from all consumer complaints and additional details related to debt collection complaints. The CFPB reports that it has received approximately 1,492,600 total complaints as of April 1, and that “credit or consumer reporting” was the most-complained-about category in March 2018. As for debt collection, the Bureau received approximately 400,500 debt collection complaints since July 21, 2011, 27 percent of the total number of complaints. The report also highlights common themes among debt collection complaints, including (i) debts being listed on credit reports without prior written notice of the existence of the debt; (ii) debt collection companies not responding to requests for additional information; and (iii) various communication tactics used by debt collection companies, including frequent and repeated calls, calls before 8 a.m. and after 9 p.m., and calls after requests for no further telephone contact.

    Consumer Finance CFPB Consumer Complaints Debt Collection

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  • FTC settles with two student loan debt relief companies

    Federal Issues

    On May 31, as part of a coordinated effort between the FTC and state law enforcement called Operation Game of Loans, the FTC announced settlements with two student loan debt relief companies. According to the FTC, the settlements resolve claims that the companies violated the FTC Act and the Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR) by illegally charging consumers upfront fees and falsely promising to reduce or eliminate their student loan debt. The first settlement is the result of a lawsuit filed by the FTC in 2017, alleging that the company would enroll consumers in debt relief programs with an upfront fee and subsequent monthly payments, but would not fulfill promises to apply the payments to the consumers’ student loans. In addition to a $17 million fine, which will be partially suspended if the defendants turn over substantially all assets worth more than $4 million, the settlement bars the defendants from debt relief and credit repair activities in the future.

    The second settlement also results from a 2017 complaint by the FTC alleging that a Los Angeles-based company defrauded consumers through programs offering mortgage assistance and student debt relief. According to the FTC, the company falsely promised distressed homeowners assistance in preventing foreclosure and promised student borrowers reduced monthly payments or loan forgiveness purportedly through the Department of Education. The $9 million settlement, which will be partially suspended once defendants turn over all assets worth $54,000 because of their inability to pay, also bans defendants from participating in debt relief and telemarketing activities in the future.

    For more InfoBytes coverage on Operation Game of Loans see here.

    Federal Issues Consumer Finance FTC Debt Relief Enforcement Student Lending

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  • Court orders Department of Education to cease collection efforts on student loans used for defunct for-profit school

    Courts

    On May 25, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California granted in part a preliminary injunction barring the U.S. Department of Education (Department) from continuing collection efforts on student loans used for programs at a now defunct for-profit college. The for-profit school closed in 2015 after a federal fraud investigation by the Department. The decision results from a December 2017 putative class action filed by former students of the school against the Department. The complaint alleged the Department violated the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) and the Privacy Act of 1974 by its December 2017 announcement that it would use an “average earnings” metric to determine what to charge students for the value of the education they received at the college. According to the former students, the previous policy—which measured the job placement rate of graduates—would have provided full loan forgiveness for the federal student loans used for the defunct school. In response to the students’ motion for a preliminary injunction, the court granted the students’ request to prevent the Department from using the “average earnings” metric, but denied the motion to require the Department to use the previous job placement metric. Additionally, among other things, the judge denied the students’ request to order the Department to remove all negative credit reporting but did order the Department to cease collection efforts on the loans.

    Courts Department of Education Debt Collection Student Lending Lending Consumer Finance

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  • Department of Education plans to use servicers, not private debt collectors, to assist delinquent borrowers

    Federal Issues

    On May 23, the Department of Education (Department) affirmed plans to begin using “‘enhanced servicers’ to assist delinquent borrowers prior to default” instead of private debt collection agencies. The affirmation was made in a reply brief supporting the Department’s motion to dismiss an action filed by collection agencies in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims that challenged the Department’s decision to award contracts to two private debt collectors. The Department argues in the reply brief that the challenge is moot because the Department cancelled the solicitation under which the contracts were awarded to pursue a new collection plan using “enhanced servicers.” According to the brief, the new collection approach will “place a greater emphasis on customer service and early outreach to address delinquencies with a full range of early options for borrowers.”

    Federal Issues Department of Education Student Lending Debt Collection Servicing Consumer Finance

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