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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studies, including studies on (i) cryptocurrencies and initial coin offerings and (ii) the CFPB’s arbitration rule (repealed by a Congressional Review Act measure in November 2017).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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  • 11th Circuit holds national bank did not waive arbitration for unnamed plaintiffs

    Courts

    On May 10, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit held that a national bank did not waive its right to arbitration with respect to the unnamed plaintiffs in five class actions. The decision stems from multiple class action filings against that bank and over a dozen other banks in 2008 and 2009, alleging unlawful overdraft practices. In late 2009, the actions were consolidated and the bank filed answers to the five complaints, in each answer stating, “[a]bsent members of the putative classes have a contractual obligation to arbitrate any claims they have against [the bank].” The bank originally chose to not move for arbitration against the named class members, but after the Supreme Court decision in AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, the bank filed a motion to compel the named plaintiffs to arbitrate. The appellate court affirmed the district court’s denial of the motion. The bank then moved to compel arbitration against the unnamed class members, which the district court denied and the appellate court vacated, holding that the lower court lacked jurisdiction to rule on the arbitration obligations without a class certification. After the district court granted class certification, the bank moved to compel arbitration against the unnamed class members again and the district court denied the motion, holding that the bank “acted inconsistently with its arbitration rights” during the precertification litigation efforts.

    In vacating the district court’s decision, the appellate court concluded that the bank had not acted inconsistently with respect to the unnamed plaintiffs and had expressly stated it wished to preserve arbitration rights against those class members when the matter became ripe. The panel vacated the district court’s order and remanded for further proceedings.

    Courts Arbitration Eleventh Circuit Appellate Overdraft Class Action

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  • 11th Circuit denies motion to compel arbitration; rules claims relate to BSA violations and not to terms of user agreement

    Courts

    On April 23, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit upheld a district court’s decision to deny a global money services business’s motion to compel arbitration under the doctrine of equitable estoppel. According to the unpublished opinion, the plaintiff-appellee—a customer of a now defunct cryptocurrency exchange (defunct exchange)—filed a proposed class action against the money services business and the CEO of the defunct exchange, alleging that when the money services business liquidated bitcoin into cash for two accounts that the CEO opened, it aided and abetted the defunct exchange’s breach of fiduciary duty and the CEO’s theft of customer assets. The customer claimed that the money services business had a duty under the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) to monitor or investigate the CEO’s actions, detect the CEO’s theft of customer assets, and report the CEO’s suspicious activity to appropriate authorities. However, the business argued that when the CEO opened his accounts, he agreed to be bound by an arbitration clause in the user agreement, and that therefore, under the doctrine of equitable estoppel, the customer was bound by the arbitration clause because the customer’s claims were based on the user agreement. The district court rejected the business’s argument and found that the customer was not asserting any rights or benefits that arose out of the user agreement but rather on duties created under the BSA. The 11th Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision, stating that the customer’s claims were predicated on duties the defendant-appellant owed under federal statutes and regulations as well as state common law and not on enforcing the terms of the user agreement, and, therefore, the customer could not be compelled to arbitrate the claim.

    Courts Financial Crimes Fintech Virtual Currency Arbitration Class Action Appellate Eleventh Circuit Bank Secrecy Act

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  • Court upholds clickwrap agreement, reiterating that general principles of contract apply

    Fintech

    On March 28, the U.S. District Court of New Mexico enforced an arbitration agreement entered into by a consumer on a website. Before completing a purchase of a product through the defendant’s website, the plaintiff had to check a box next to a statement that she had read and agreed to the terms of the hyperlinked user agreement, which included an arbitration clause. The defendant was able to present evidence that it was impossible for the plaintiff to complete the purchase without checking the box and clicking on a button to accept the agreement. Plaintiff provided testimony that she couldn’t remember ever seeing the terms of use or agreeing to them.

    The court, in upholding the agreement, reiterated that electronic contracts are still governed by traditional contract principles, including reasonable notice and unambiguous assent requirements. Because the agreement was made available, twice via hyperlink, and because the plaintiff acknowledged her awareness and assent of the agreement by clicking a button in the affirmative twice, the court held that the plaintiff had sufficient notice and had demonstrated adequate assent to the terms. This decision reinforces the effectiveness of electronic arbitration agreements and the use of hyperlinks to present documents, when presented in a manner consistent with underlying contract law.

    Fintech Courts ESIGN Arbitration

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  • 2nd Circuit finds bankruptcy claim non-arbitrable

    Courts

    On March 7, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit denied a bank’s motion to compel arbitration, holding that arbitration of the debtor’s claims would present an inherent conflict with the intent of the Bankruptcy Code because the dispute concerns a core bankruptcy proceeding. The debtor’s claims against the bank relate to a purported refusal to remove a “charge-off” status on the debtor’s credit file after the debtor was released from all dischargeable debts through a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The bankruptcy court allowed the debtor to reopen the proceeding in order to file a putative class action complaint against the bank alleging that the designation amounted to coercion to pay a discharged debt. The bank moved to compel arbitration, based on a clause in the debtor’s cardholder agreement, and the court denied the motion. On appeal, the district court affirmed the bankruptcy court’s decision. In affirming both lower courts’ decisions, the 2nd Circuit reasoned that a claim of coercion to pay a discharged debt is an attempt to undo the effect of the discharge order and, therefore, “strikes at the heart of the bankruptcy court’s unique powers to enforce its own orders.” The circuit court found the debtor’s complaint to be non-arbitrable based on a conclusion that it would create an inherent conflict with the intent of the bankruptcy code.

    Courts Second Circuit Arbitration Bankruptcy Appellate

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  • 3rd Circuit holds payday lender’s arbitration clause unenforceable

    Courts

    On February 27, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit held that an arbitration clause is unenforceable if the corresponding forum selection provision designates a forum that does not actually exist. According to the opinion, in 2012 the plaintiff obtained a $5,000 loan from the defendant, an online loan servicer. An arbitration provision accompanying the loan agreement stated that arbitration would be conducted by an authorized representative of a specific tribal nation. The plaintiff subsequently sued the defendants for allegedly violating the federal Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act, and various New Jersey state laws. The defendants filed a motion to compel arbitration, which the lower court denied. In affirming the lower court’s decision, the 3rd Circuit concluded that the tribal arbitration forum referenced in the loan agreement does not actually exist and “because the loan agreement’s forum selection clause is an integral, non-severable part of the arbitration agreement,” the entire arbitration agreement is unenforceable.

    As previously covered by InfoBytes, in January, a district court judge ordered the same online loan servicer and its affiliates to pay a $10 million penalty for offering high-interest loans in states with usury laws barring the transactions. The penalty was based on a September 2016 finding that online loan servicer was the “true lender” of the loans issued through entities located on tribal lands. The penalty was significantly reduced from the CFPB’s request of over $50 million. 

    Courts Arbitration Third Circuit Payday Lending Appellate

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  • Texas Supreme Court says borrowers must arbitrate with payday lender

    Courts

    On February 23, the Texas Supreme Court affirmed a state appeals court panel decision which found that borrowers’ claims in a class action alleging a payday lender’s wrongful use of the criminal justice system to collect unpaid debts were subject to an arbitration agreement in their loan contracts with the payday lender. According to the opinion, the borrowers entered into loan contracts with the payday lender and used postdated checks as security for the loans. The payday lender deposited the postdated checks after the borrowers defaulted on their payment obligations, which resulted in the checks being returned for insufficient funds. The borrowers were then charged by the State of Texas for the issuance of bad checks and the charges were ultimately dismissed. The borrowers filed a class action lawsuit against the payday lender alleging the wrongful use of the criminal justice system to collect on their unpaid loans and asserted violations of, among other things, the Deceptive Trade Practices Act and Consumer Protection Act. The trial court denied the payday lender’s motion to compel arbitration because the court found that the class action allegations related to the use of the criminal justice system and not the underlying loan contract, and that the payday lender waived its right to arbitration by invoking the judicial process. Upon appeal, the panel versed the trial court’s decision. In affirming the appeals court panel holding, the Texas Supreme Court agreed that the class action suit was “factually intertwined with the loan contracts” and therefore, the arbitration provision applied and there was insufficient evidence to support the trial court’s holding that the payday lender waived its right to arbitrate.

    Courts State Issues Arbitration Payday Lending

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  • District judge denies law firm’s motion to compel arbitration

    Courts

    On February 12, a judge for the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin held that a debt collection law firm could not compel a plaintiff to settle claims in arbitration because the law firm was not a party to the arbitration agreement it sought to enforce. According to the opinion, the plaintiff filed a proposed class action suit against the law firm and a credit card issuer for allegedly violating the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) by publishing the plaintiff’s credit score on a complaint to obtain payment filed with a local country circuit court. The plaintiff subsequently dismissed the claims against the credit card issuer after resolving the issues outside of the court. The law firm filed a motion to compel arbitration, arguing that it is a third party co-defendant of a claim subject to an arbitration provision, which covered the credit card issuer, cardholders, and third party co-defendants. In denying the motion to compel, the judge held that the law firm is not a co-defendant “at the only time that matters, which is when the court is deciding the motion to compel arbitration” because the credit card issuer is no longer a party to the lawsuit. The judge also noted that if the credit card issuer wanted an associated law firm to be covered by the arbitration provision, it could have used broader language in the agreement.

    Courts Arbitration Debt Collection FCRA FDCPA

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  • District court grants motion to compel arbitration, cites failure to dispute scope of clause

    Courts

    On January 29, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania granted a motion to compel arbitration, finding that an arbitration clause set forth under extension agreements with an automobile finance company to refinance and extend the plaintiff’s loan obligation is “valid and enforceable.” Additionally, the court ruled that alternative motions to dismiss filed by other defendants were moot, and then stayed and administratively closed the matter pending the resolution of the claims subject to arbitration. The plaintiff alleged violations of her Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act, and several other state and federal credit statutes, when defendants—including the automobile finance company—repossessed her vehicle despite having signed extension agreements. In response to the defendants’ assertion that her claims were subject to the arbitration clause, the plaintiff argued that the extension agreements were unenforceable due to the unavailability of the “designated arbitrators,” and that defendants were barred from trying to obtain “alternative relief” by relying on additional terms outlined in a second extension agreement that released defendants from liability. However, the court ruled that the plaintiff’s failure to dispute the scope of the arbitration clause meant that the defendants were “entitled to enforcement of the arbitration clause with respect to all claims and defenses asserted,” so long as the designated arbitrators are available.

    Courts Auto Finance Arbitration Debt Collection Repossession FDCPA

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  • Maryland issues bipartisan consumer protection recommendations

    State Issues

    On January 26, the Maryland Financial Consumer Protection Commission (the “Commission”) and ranking officials from the Maryland legislature announced bipartisan “Interim Recommendations” of the Commission for State and local action in response to the federal government’s “efforts to change or weaken […] important federal consumer protections.” New legislation in response to the recommendations is expected to be released in the near future. Key recommendations include, among other things: (i) requiring credit reporting agencies to provide an alert of data breaches promptly and provide free credit freezes; (ii) adopting new financial consumer protection laws in areas where the federal government may be weakening oversight; (iii) addressing potential issues with Maryland’s current payday and lending statutes; (iv) adopting the Model State Consumer and Employee Justice Enforcement Act that addresses forced arbitration clauses; and (v) adopting new laws that address new risk, such as, virtual currencies and financial technology.

    State Issues State Legislation Consumer Finance Data Breach Payday Lending Arbitration Virtual Currency Fintech Credit Reporting Agency Security Freeze

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