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  • Maryland expands scope of unfair and deceptive practices under the Maryland Consumer Protection Act, increases maximum civil penalties

    State Issues

    On May 15, the Maryland governor signed HB1634, the Financial Consumer Protection Act of 2018, which expands the definition of “unfair and deceptive trade practices” under the Maryland Consumer Protection Act (MPCA) to include “abusive” practices, and violations of the federal Military Lending Act (MLA) and Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). The law also, among other things:

    • Civil Penalties. Increases the maximum civil penalties for certain consumer financial violations to $10,000 for the initial violation and $25,000 for subsequent violations
    • Debt Collection. Prohibits a person from engaging in unlicensed debt collection activity in violation of the Maryland Collection Agency Licensing Act or engaging in certain conduct in violation of the federal FDCPA.
    • Enforcement Funds. Requires the governor to appropriate at least $700,000 for the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) and at least $300,000 to the Office of the Commissioner of Financial Regulation (OCFR) for certain enforcement activities.
    • Student Loan Ombudsman. Creates a Student Loan Ombudsman position within the OCFR and establishes specific duties for the role, including receiving, reviewing, and attempting to resolve complaints from student loan borrowers.
    • Required Studies. Requires the OCFR to conduct a study on Fintech regulation, including whether the commissioner has the statutory authority to regulate such firms. The law also requires the Maryland Financial Consumer Protection Commission (MFCPC) to conduct multiple studies, including studies on (i) cryptocurrencies and initial coin offerings and (ii) the CFPB’s arbitration rule (repealed by a Congressional Review Act measure in November 2017).

    State Issues UDAAP SCRA Military Lending Act FDCPA Student Lending Arbitration Civil Money Penalties Fintech Cryptocurrency State Legislation

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  • 3rd Circuit holds FDCPA statute of limitations begins to run on occurrence, not discovery, of violations, splitting from 4th and 9th Circuits


    On May 15, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit issued an en banc ruling that the statute of limitations on the ability to sue for a violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) is one year from the date the Act is violated. The ruling is a departure from contrary decisions issued by the 4th and 9th Circuits, which both held that the statute of limitations begins to run when a violation is discovered, not when it occurs.

    Citing the FDCPA’s provision that claims must be filed “within one year from the date on which a violation occurs,” the court found that intent of the FDCPA is that the statute of limitations should begin to run at the moment the alleged wrongdoing happens, and not when the cause of action is discovered. The Court found that the 4th and 9th Circuits’ decisions to the contrary failed to analyze the “violation occurs” language of the statute.

    However, the court noted that its holding does not serve to undermine the doctrine of equitable tolling, and “should not be read to foreclose the possibility that equitable tolling might apply to FDCPA violations that involve fraudulent, misleading, or self-concealing conduct.” This question was not addressed, the court noted, because the plaintiff-appellant failed to preserve the issue on appeal.

    Courts FDCPA Debt Collection Third Circuit Appellate

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  • 7th Circuit affirms summary judgment for consumers in FDCPA suit


    On May 2, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit affirmed four district court decisions granting summary judgment in favor of consumers who alleged a debt collector violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) by communicating debts to credit reporting agencies without indicating the debts were disputed. According to the opinion, the debt collector sent the four consumers a debt validation notice regarding an alleged credit card debt. More than 30 days later, a local legal aid organization sent the debt collector’s general counsel a notice of representation for each of the four consumers, noting, “the amount reported is not accurate.” After the attorney letters were sent, the debt collector reported the debts to the credit reporting agencies. The consumers each filed a separate action in district court alleging a violation of the FDCPA, and each district court granted the consumer summary judgment, finding the debt collector did not handle the letters properly. In the consolidated appeal, the 7th Circuit agreed with the district courts, holding that the actions of the debt collector were “a clear violation of the statute” as each attorney letter stated the amount was inaccurate and the debt collector still reported the debts without noting they were disputed. While the panel noted that there is no clear definition of “dispute” under the FDCPA, the court concluded, “there is simply no other way to interpret [the] language” of the attorney letter, rejecting the debt collector’s “bona fide error defense.”

    Courts Seventh Circuit Appellate FDCPA Credit Reporting Agency Debt Collection

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  • 8th Circuit affirms dismissal of FDCPA claims, rules false or misleading statements must be material to be actionable


    On April 19, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit affirmed a district court’s decision to grant a debt collector’s motion for judgment on the pleadings, concluding that false or misleading statements under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) must be material to be actionable. According to the opinion, the Conciliation Court for the 4th Judicial District of Minnesota previously issued a judgment finding that the debt collector failed to demonstrate “an entitlement to relief” when the debt collector sought payment (including statutory interest) for unpaid medical services. The plaintiff-appellant subsequently filed suit against the debt collector alleging that the debt collector’s conduct before the conciliation court violated the FDCPA. The district court issued a decision—which the 8th Circuit affirmed—holding that the debt collector’s “inadequate documentation of the assignment did not constitute a materially false representation” and, although the debt collector was ultimately unable to collect on the debt, loss of a collection action, standing alone, did not establish a violation of the FDCPA under the materiality standard. Additionally, the 8th Circuit held that the debt collector did not engage in unfair practices under the FDCPA when the debt collector attempted to collect interest on the debt under a Minnesota statute simply because the debtor may have had a legal defense to application of the statute.


    Courts Eighth Circuit Appellate FDCPA Debt Collection

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  • Twenty state Attorneys General oppose bill that would remove attorneys engaged in debt collection litigation from FDCPA purview

    Federal Issues

    On April 19, a coalition of twenty state Attorneys General issued a letter to leaders of Congress expressing opposition to the Practice of Law Technical Clarification Act, HR 5082, which would amend the FDCPA to exclude law firms and attorneys engaged in debt collection-related litigation activities from the scope of the FDCPA. The House Financial Services Committee passed HR 5082 on March 21 with a vote of 35-25. In the letter, the Attorneys General state, “debt collection lawsuits comprise the majority of many state-court dockets” and note numerous actions brought by the CFPB and state Attorneys General against debt collection law firms and attorneys for illegal collection practices. The letter argues that debt collection attorneys should be held accountable when using litigation for improper purposes and that HR 5082 would preclude Attorneys General from using the FDCPA to pursue improper behavior. Additionally, the letter notes, “the FDCPA is the only consumer protection tool available to State Attorneys General in a significant number of jurisdictions where state consumer protection law does not govern the conduct of attorneys.”

    Federal Issues State Attorney General House Financial Services Committee FDCPA CFPB Debt Collection

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  • FTC and Florida Attorney General settle with debt relief scammers

    Consumer Finance

    On April 12, the FTC and the Florida Attorney General announced an $85 million settlement with three individuals who allegedly sold fake debt relief services. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in May 2017, the FTC and the Florida Attorney General filed a complaint against the individuals for allegedly violating the FTC Act, the FTC’s Telemarketing Sales Rule, and the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act. According to the complaint, consumers, after collectively paying hundreds or thousands of dollars a month for promised debt-consolidation services marketed by the individuals, discovered their debts were unpaid, their accounts had defaulted, and their credit scores damaged. Under the proposed orders (here and here), all three marketers are restrained and enjoined from “advertising, marketing, promoting, offering for sale, selling” credit repair products and services, debt relief products and services, and financial products and services. The $85 million judgment is held jointly and severally against each of the individuals with a suspended judgment for two if all material assets are surrendered. The judgment for the third individual, considered the ringleader of the operation, is not suspended and the individual is still required to surrender all material assets.

    Consumer Finance Federal Issues State Issues State Attorney General FDCPA Debt Collection FTC

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  • District court rejects motions for summary judgement on FDCPA claims filed by CFPB, debt collection law firm


    On April 9, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio rejected motions for partial summary judgment and summary judgment filed respectively by the CFPB and a law firm accused of making false representations regarding attorney involvement in debt collection calls in violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) and Dodd-Frank. As previously discussed in InfoBytes, the CFPB alleged in its complaint that the law firm sent demand letters and made collection calls to consumers that falsely implied that the consumer’s account files had been meaningfully reviewed by an attorney, when, in most cases, no attorney had reviewed the account file. Among other things, the law firm countered that, because its communications truthfully identified it as a law firm and it was acting as a debt collector, these communications were not misleading to the “least sophisticated consumer”—a factor of measurement for analyzing FDCPA violations. The court ruled that “whether the communications at issue are misleading is a question of fact that must be determined by a jury.” The jury trial is set for May 1.

    Courts CFPB Debt Collection FDCPA Dodd-Frank

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  • District Court finds that combination of litigation documents is misleading and violates FDCPA


    On March 30, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana found that serving a request for admission in connection with a complaint and a summons on a debtor in a debt collection case constituted misleading communications in violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). According to the order, an attorney served a debtor with a request for admission along with a summons to appear in court and a complaint seeking collection of an alleged debt. The request for admission sought acknowledgment that the allegations in the debt collector’s complaint were true. The court found that, as a matter of law, the combination of the documents would confuse an unsophisticated debtor because a debtor would conclude that filing an answer to the complaint was the necessary step to avoid judgment, and not realize that he or she had to do essentially the same thing separately by serving plaintiff’s counsel within thirty days or else admit the underlying allegations. While not at issue in this case, the court noted that it would be inclined to hold that “in order to avoid a violation of the FDCPA, requests for admission should always advise of the consequences of a failure to make a timely response.”

    Courts FDCPA Debt Collection

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  • 2nd Circuit: debt collectors do not need to state interest is not accruing


    On March 29, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit held that a debt collection letter, which does not disclose that the balance due is not accruing interest or fees is not misleading under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). The decision results from a 2016 lawsuit filed by two debtors who alleged that the debt collection notices they received from the defendants were “false, deceptive, or misleading” under Section 1692e of the FDCPA because the notices did not state whether the balances were accruing interest or fees. The district court awarded summary judgment in favor of the defendants after unrebutted evidence was produced to show that the debtor’s balances did not accrue interest or fees during the collection period.  In affirming the district court’s decision, the 2nd Circuit applied the “least sophisticated consumer” standard and found that even if a consumer interpreted the debt collection notice to believe the balance due was accruing interest or fees, the only harm that would exist is “being led to think that there is a financial benefit to making repayment sooner rather than later.” The panel also noted that the notice was consistent with Section 1692g of the FDCPA because interest and fees were not accruing, the balance due stated the accurate amount of the debt.

    Courts Debt Collection Second Circuit FDCPA Appellate

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  • 7th Circuit affirms debt collector verification of debt satisfies FDCPA and FCRA


    On March 21, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit held that a debt collector does not need to contact an original creditor directly in order to satisfy the verification of debt requirement under the FDCPA. According to the opinion, a consumer filed a lawsuit against a debt collection company for, among other things, allegedly violating Section 1692 of the FDCPA, which requires that a debt collector obtain verification of a debt. The debt collector had sent multiple notices to the consumer regarding a telecommunications debt, but certain digits of the original account number were incorrect. The consumer argued that the debt collector was obligated to contact the telecommunications company to confirm the account number was accurate. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the debt collector, agreeing that the debt collector’s responsibility under Section 1692 was satisfied when the notices sent to the consumer matched the telecommunications company’s description of the debt amount and debtor’s name. In affirming the lower court’s decision, the 7th Circuit stated “[i]t would be both burdensome and significantly beyond the [FDCPA]’s purpose” to “require[e] a debt collector to undertake an investigation into whether the creditor is actually entitled to the money it seeks.”

    The 7th Circuit also affirmed summary judgment for the debt collector with respect to allegations that it violated the FCRA by inadequately investigating the disputed debt. The court, noting that the debt collector’s “investigation was unquestionably reasonable,” concluded that the debt collector satisfied the requirements of the FCRA when it (i) verified the consumer’s information with her debt collection file; and (ii) after learning that the consumer disputed the accuracy of the account number associated with the debt, asked the credit reporting agencies to delete the adverse credit report.

    Courts Appellate Seventh Circuit FDCPA FCRA

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