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  • Georgia Attorney General reaches settlement with mortgage company to resolve allegations concerning unauthorized third-party fees

    State Issues

    On August 1, the Georgia Attorney General announced a settlement with a New Jersey-based mortgage company to resolve allegations that it charged unauthorized fees to Georgia consumers in violation of the state’s Fair Business Practices Act. According to the Attorney General’s office, the company allegedly marketed various third-party products and services, such as insurance products and home warranty programs, for certain mortgages it serviced and added the charges for these products and services to consumers’ monthly mortgage bills without their knowledge. Under the settlement terms, the company is required to (i) comply with the Fair Business Practices Act; (ii) refrain from soliciting third-party products and/or services to Georgia consumers; (iii) cease all billing for the alleged third-party products and services; (iv) notify consumers currently being billed for the alleged third-party products and services that the remainder of their contracts may be cancelled without penalty; (v) pay $25,000 in restitution; and (vi) pay $50,000 to the Attorney General’s office to go towards fees, penalties, investigation and litigation costs, and future consumer protection and education costs.

    State Issues State Attorney General Enforcement Fees Consumer Finance Settlement

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  • Bipartisan group of state Attorneys General seek legislative enhancements to combat anonymous shell companies

    State Issues

    On August 2, a bipartisan group of 24 state Attorneys General sent a letter to ranking leaders of the House Financial Services Committee expressing support for legislation that requires disclosure of the owners of companies at the time of incorporation—in order to prevent “individuals from using anonymous shell companies to evade accountability”—but encouraged the adoption of additional components. The letter emphasizes that the use of anonymous shell companies allows criminals to launder and spend money attained through activities such as human trafficking and drug dealing, and legislative change could assist states in their investigation and enforcement against these crimes. Specifically, the letter requests that legislation addressing anonymous shell companies include the following components: (i) availability of information to state and local law enforcement to assist in civil and criminal investigations and provide states authority to enact relevant state laws; (ii) continued access to information throughout the investigation; and (iii) the definition of “beneficial ownership” does not allow loopholes that can be exploited by criminals.

    State Issues State Attorney General Beneficial Ownership House Financial Services Committee

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  • FTC and New York Attorney General reach deal with debt collection firm

    Courts

    On July 20, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York issued a judgment to resolve a suit brought by the FTC and the New York Attorney General against a debt collection firm and an affiliated officer (defendants) accused of allegedly engaging in deceptive and abusive practices, including unlawfully threatening to arrest consumers if debts were not paid. (See previous InfoBytes coverage here.) Under the stipulated final order for permanent injunction and settlement of claims pursuant to the FTC Act and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, the defendants—who have not admitted to the allegations—are held jointly and severally liable for paying the more than $22.5 million under a suspended judgment should it ever be determined that the financial disclosures provided to the state and the FTC were not completely truthful, accurate, or complete. The defendants are also banned from the debt collection industry and required to file compliance reports with the FTC. The judgment further authorizes the receiver to liquidate the debt collection firm’s assets.

    Courts FTC State Attorney General Debt Collection FTC Act FDCPA

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  • Texas Attorney General leads 14-state brief to 5th Circuit challenging CFPB structure

    State Issues

    On July 10, the Attorney General of Texas and 13 other state Attorneys General filed an amici curiae brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, challenging the constitutionality of the CFPB. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in April, the 5th Circuit agreed to hear a challenge by two Mississippi-based payday loan and check cashing companies to the constitutionality of the CFPB’s single-director structure in response to a CFPB action filed against the companies. The brief encourages the appellate court to disagree with the en banc decision of the D.C. Circuit, which upheld the Bureau’s structure (covered by a Buckley Sandler Special Alert). Instead, the Attorneys General argue, the court should find the structure unconstitutional rendering “all its actions unlawful.” The brief poses similar arguments to past challenges, including (i) the director should be removable at will by the president and (ii) the president’s removal power should only be restricted for multi-member commissions.

    Notably, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York recently disagreed with the D.C. Circuit decision, concluding the CFPB’s organizational structure is unconstitutional and terminated the Bureau as a party to an action because the agency lacked the authority to bring claims under the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA). (Previously covered by InfoBytes here.)

    State Issues Courts CFPB Succession Consumer Finance CFPA State Attorney General

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  • New York Attorney General: Don’t delay action if CFPB appeals constitutionality determination

    Courts

    On July 9, the New York Attorney General and a New Jersey-based litigation funding company and its affiliates filed a joint letter in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York addressing how the parties would like to proceed in the legal matter after the court terminated the CFPB as a party to the action. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in June, the district court held the agency’s structure is unconstitutional and therefore not allowed to bring claims under the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA), but allowed the Attorney General to continue the action. The letter discusses the parties’ desired path for the litigation should the Bureau choose to appeal the court’s constitutionality determination. If the Bureau should appeal, the defendants request the court allow the immediate appeal and stay the current litigation, while the Attorney General disagrees with allowing the immediate appeal and “would like the case to proceed as expeditiously as possible.”

    As for whether the court continues to have jurisdiction over the remaining claims, the Attorney General argues that the federal district court continues to have subject matter jurisdiction over the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA) claims and supplemental jurisdiction over the state law claims. The defendants disagree and interpret the June decision to strike all substantive provisions of the CFPA that would form the basis for federal jurisdiction.

    The letter states the Bureau has not yet decided if it will pursue an appeal of the court’s determination.

    Courts State Attorney General CFPB CFPA Consumer Finance

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  • New York Attorney General announces settlement with auto dealership over deceptive practices targeting non-English speakers

    State Issues

    On July 5, the New York Attorney General announced a settlement with an auto dealership to resolve allegations that it engaged in deceptive practices targeted towards non-English speakers. The auto dealership allegedly misled consumers about the actual cost of their purchases and offered false refinancing promises. According to the announcement, the dealership allegedly (i) provided English documents to non-English speaking consumers containing loan terms and aftermarket items different from those discussed during the actual sale, including “supplemental service contracts, gap insurance policies, or special protections for tires, fabric, glass, or paint that added thousands of dollars to the auto sale or lease contracts”; and (ii) told consumers it would refinance their loans at a lower rate after receiving complaints of overcharges and unwanted aftermarket items. However, the Attorney General asserts that the dealership failed to honor the refinancing promises. Under the terms of the settlement, the dealership is required to reform its business practices, refrain from engaging in the alleged deceptive business practices, modify its employee training and complaint handling process, and produce sales and lending documents in languages for non-English speakers prior to the signing of any documentation in English. The dealership must also pay over $423,000 to cover restitution, penalties, fees, and costs to the state.

    State Issues State Attorney General Fair Lending Settlement Auto Finance

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  • International bank settles with Illinois Attorney General for $20 million for alleged RMBS misconduct

    State Issues

    On July 3, the Illinois Attorney General announced a settlement with an international bank to resolve allegations of misconduct in the bank’s marketing and sale of residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) in the lead-up to the 2008 financial crisis. According to the press release, the bank allegedly failed to disclose accurately the risk of the RMBS investments when selling the securities. Under the terms of the settlement, the bank has agreed to pay $20 million to the state, which will be divided between three state retirement systems. This settlement follows several other RMBS-related actions taken by the Attorney General.

    As previously covered in InfoBytes, earlier in March, the bank reached a settlement with the New York Attorney General to resolve similar allegations.

    State Issues State Attorney General Settlement RMBS Mortgages

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  • 21 Attorneys General oppose “Madden fix” legislation

    State Issues

    On June 27, the Colorado and New York Attorneys General led a coalition of 21 state Attorneys General in a letter to congressional leaders opposing HR 3299 (“Protecting Consumers’ Access to Credit Act of 2017”) and HR 4439 (“Modernizing Credit Opportunities Act”), which would effectively overturn the 2015 decision in Madden v. Midland Funding, LLC.  Specifically, H.R. 3299 and H.R. 4439 would codify the “valid-when-made” doctrine and ensure that a bank loan that was valid as to its maximum rate of interest in accordance with federal law at the time the loan was made shall remain valid with respect to that rate, regardless of whether the bank subsequently sells or assigns the loan to a third party.

    The letter argues that the legislation “would legitimize the efforts of some non-bank lenders to circumvent state usury law” and it was not Congress’ intention to authorize these arrangements with the creation of the National Bank Act. In support of their position, the Attorneys General cite to a 2002 press release by the OCC and the more recent OCC Bulletin 2018-14 on small dollar lending, which stated the agency “views unfavorably an entity that partners with a bank with the sole goal of evading a lower interest rate established under the law of the entity’s licensing state(s).” (Previously covered by InfoBytes here.) The letter also refers to an 1833 Supreme Court case, Nichols v. Fearson, which held that a “valid loan is not invalidated by a later usurious transaction involving that loan” but was not relevant to the decision in Madden  because the borrower’s argument related to preemption. Ultimately, the Attorneys General conclude the legislation would erode an “important sphere of state regulation” as state usury laws have “long served an important consumer protection function in America.”

    State Issues Madden Usury State Attorney General National Bank Act OCC

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  • FTC and New York Attorney General announce action against phantom debt operation

    Consumer Finance

    On June 27, the FTC and the New York Attorney General’s Office announced charges against two New York-based phantom debt operations and their principals. The complaint alleges they ran a deceptive and abusive debt collection scheme involving the marketing and selling of fictitious loan debt portfolios and collecting on debts consumers did not owe. The charges brought against the operations allege violations of the FTC Act, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, and New York state law. According to the complaint, the debt broker knowingly purchased fabricated debt from a phantom debt collection operation previously charged by the FTC and the Illinois Attorney General in a separate action for selling fabricated debt. (As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Illinois-based operation was banned from the debt collection business and prohibited from selling debt portfolios.) The debt broker then engaged a debt collection agency and its owner to collect on the fabricated debt using illegal collection tactics, while continuing to purchase debts and place them for collection despite having knowledge that consumers disputed the debts. The complaint seeks, among other things, injunctive relief, restitution, and disgorgement.

    Consumer Finance FTC State Attorney General Debt Collection Debt Buyer FTC Act FDCPA State Issues

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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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