Subscribe to our InfoBytes Blog weekly newsletter and other publications for news affecting the financial services industry.
Court approves $17 million class action settlement with mortgage company and real estate service companies for alleged RESPA violations
On August 27, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California approved a class action settlement agreement resolving allegations against a national mortgage company and a real estate services family of companies (defendants) for allegedly arranging kickbacks for unlawful referrals of title services in violation of RESPA. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the 2015 complaint accused the defendants of violating RESPA by allegedly facilitating the exchange of unlawful referral fees and kickbacks through an affiliated business arrangement, while also directing various banks to refer title insurance and other settlement services to a subsidiary in the family of real estate services companies without informing customers of the relationship between the entities. In a stipulation of settlement filed in 2017 alongside a motion for preliminary approval, defendants indicated that they continued “to deny each and all of the claims and contentions alleged in the [a]ction . . . [but] have concluded that the further conduct of the [a]ction against them would be protracted and expensive.” The stipulation further noted that “substantial amounts of time, energy and resources have been and, unless this [s]ettlement is made, will continue to be devoted to the defense of the claims asserted in the [a]ction.”
The approved settlement class encompasses more than 32,000 transactions related to borrowers who closed on mortgage loans originated by the mortgage company between approximately November 2014 through November 2015, and who paid any title, escrow or closing related charges to the real estate services companies. The defendants will pay $17 million into a settlement fund, which covers payment to class members as well as attorney’s fees and costs.
1st Circuit holds homeowners who defaulted on an allegedly unlicensed mortgage loan cannot escape time bars for their claims
On August 23, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit held that homeowners who defaulted on a refinance loan on their Massachusetts property could not void the transaction or enjoin their property’s foreclosure sale. The appellate court determined that the homeowners’ claims that the lender violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act, the Truth in Lending Act, and the Massachusetts consumer protection statute were all time-barred. The homeowners argued that the statute of limitations never began to run because the lender was not licensed to lend money in the state, making the original note and mortgage “akin to forgeries and thus ‘void ab initio,’” but the court held that there was “no authority for this unusual proposition.” The court also refused to toll the limitations period under the doctrine of fraudulent concealment, which requires the plaintiff “to make a threshold showing of due diligence,” because the homeowners filed their claims more than five years after they retained counsel and ten years after they granted the mortgage at issue.
On August 14, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois held that RESPA (and its implementing Regulation X) does not require a plaintiff to wait until a property is foreclosed upon to bring an action for a violation of Regulation X’s loss mitigation requirements. The plaintiff filed a complaint against her mortgage servicer for (among other claims) allegedly violating RESPA when the company initiated a foreclosure action while she had a pending loss mitigation application, even though the company did not ultimately foreclose on the property. The company moved to dismiss the RESPA claim as unripe and the court disagreed, finding there is no language in the statute or implementing regulation that states a plaintiff must wait. Conversely, the implementing regulation “expressly states that the prohibited action is a servicer making ‘the first notice or filing required by applicable law…’” and, therefore, the plaintiff’s claim did not fail for lack of ripeness. The court ultimately dismissed the plaintiff’s action against the company, however, finding the plaintiff did not adequately plead actual damages, and granted the plaintiff leave to file an amended complaint.
On June 7, acting Director of the CFPB, Mick Mulvaney, dismissed the Bureau’s action against PHH, which spawned years of litigation and a constitutional challenge to the CFPB’s structure. In January, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit issued its en banc decision concluding the CFPB’s structure is constitutional but affirmed the October 2016 panel opinion that the CFPB misinterpreted RESPA and its statute of limitations (covered by a Buckley Sandler Special Alert). The $109 million penalty imposed on PHH by the CFPB was vacated and the case was sent back to CFPB leadership for review. On June 6, in response to an order by Mulvaney, PHH and the Bureau’s enforcement counsel filed a joint statement addressing whether further proceedings were necessary and jointly recommended dismissal of the matter.
On June 6, Mulvaney reportedly removed all current members of the Consumer Advisory Board (CAB), the Community Bank Advisory Council (CBAC), and the Credit Union Advisory Council (CUAC). In a blog post, the Bureau’s policy associate director for external affairs noted that the changes to the advisory boards were in response to the comments received from the Bureau’s Request for Information (RFI) on external engagements (previously covered by InfoBytes here). The comment period for the RFI closed on May 29. According to the blog, the Bureau will still continue its statutory obligation under the Dodd-Frank Act to convene the CAB and provide forums for the CBAC and the CUAC. The councils will be re-staffed with a smaller membership from the 2018 application and selection process. The changes come only a few days after it was reported that Mulvaney canceled his meeting with the CAB for the second time since he took on the acting director role.
On May 24, the OCC released its Semiannual Risk Perspective for Spring 2018, identifying and reiterating key risk areas that pose a threat to the safety and soundness of national banks and federal savings associations. Priorities focus on credit, operational, compliance, and interest risk, and while the OCC commented on the improved financial performance of banks from 2016 to early 2018, in addition to the “incremental improvement in banks’ overall risk management practices,” the agency also noted that risks previously highlighted in its Fall 2017 report have “changed only modestly.” (See previous InfoBytes coverage here.)
Specific areas of concern noted by the OCC include: (i) easing of commercial credit underwriting practices; (ii) increasing complexity and severity of cybersecurity threats; (iii) use of third-party service providers for critical operations; (iv) compliance challenges under the Bank Secrecy Act; (v) challenges in risk management involving consumer compliance regulations; and (vi) rising market interest rates, including certain risks associated with the “potential effects of rising interest rates, increasing competition for retail and commercial deposits, and post-crisis liquidity regulations for banks with total assets of $250 billion or more, on the mix and cost of deposits.” Additionally, concerns related to integrated mortgage disclosure requirements under TILA and RESPA previously considered a key risk have been downgraded to an issue to be monitored.
District court sanctions banker for violating consent order issued by CFPB and Maryland Attorney General
On May 21, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland granted in part and denied in part a motion for sanctions brought by the CFPB and the Consumer Protection Division of the Maryland Attorney General’s Office (plaintiffs) against a banker (defendant) previously held in civil contempt for violating a final judgment order prohibiting him from participating in the mortgage industry. As previously covered in InfoBytes, in April 2015, a joint enforcement action alleging participation in a mortgage-kickback scheme in violation of RESPA and state law was bought against the defendant, five other individuals, and a Maryland title company. According to the 2018 sanctions order, a stipulated final judgment and order between the parties was approved in November 2015, which, among other things, limited the defendant—who neither admitted nor denied the allegations—from participating in the mortgage industry for two years but did not prohibit him “from acting solely as a personnel or human-resources manager for a mortgage business operated by a FDIC insured banking institution. . . .”
However, in August 2017, the court held the defendant in civil contempt for failing to comply with the order when it was discovered that the defendant (i) owned and operated mortgage businesses in violation of the order, while claiming to be employed as a human resources professional at one of the businesses; (ii) operated bank branches in Maryland and California; (iii) failed to upload the final judgment and order into the Nationwide Mortgage Licensing System and Registry (NMLSR); and (iv) failed to comply with stipulated reporting requirements. The plaintiffs’ proposed sanctions sought to disgorge all of the defendant’s income from 2015 until the date of compliance and impose a lifetime ban from the industry. In issuing the sanctions, the court ordered that all contemptuous income since the final judgment should be disgorged and extended the original two-year ban another two years—minus the exemption for employment as an HR professional. The defendant is further required to post the sanctions order on the NMLSR within 60 days.
On April 10, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of a RESPA action because the plaintiff did not properly establish actual damages arising out of her non-receipt of a response to her Qualified Written Request (QWR) to the bank. The opinion explains that the plaintiff’s property was vandalized in 2014 and the bank received insurance money to escrow for repairs. In 2015, the bank released funds for the repairs and subsequently, the plaintiff’s contractor abandoned the job; the property was then vandalized twice more. On September 5, 2015, the plaintiff sent the bank a letter asking about the status of her loan, specifically regarding how insurance money was being handled. The bank sent a response to the letter on September 25, 2015, but the plaintiff alleges she never received the bank’s response and contends the bank’s failure to respond to her QWR caused her emotional distress and contributed to her divorce. The 7th Circuit agreed with the district court that the plaintiff failed to establish how a response to her QWR would have resolved her financial inability to make the required repairs since RESPA does not require the bank to pay money in response to a written request. Moreover, the Appeals Court held that some of the plaintiffs asserted injuries, such as her divorce, are outside the scope of RESPA.
Court holds lenders may not require borrowers to use an affiliated appraisal management company under RESPA; denies class certification
On February 7, a magistrate judge of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia recommended denial of a motion for class certification in a case alleging that a mortgage lender, an affiliated appraisal management company (AMC), and the individual owner, through trusts, of both the lender and the AMC committed RESPA violations. The plaintiffs alleged that the individual owner received a thing of value, i.e, profit distributions from the AMC, that were generated from the lender’s referrals to the AMC in violation of Section 8(a) of RESPA, notwithstanding the exemption for affiliated business arrangements, (i) because no disclosure of the affiliation was provided to the borrowers, or (ii) because, even when a disclosure was provided, the borrowers were required to use the AMC.
While reviewing whether the class would have standing, the court disagreed with the defendant’s assertion that the affiliated business arrangement exemption under Section 8(c)(4) of RESPA, which generally bans the required use of an affiliate, but permits a lender to impose its choice of an attorney, credit reporting agency, or real estate appraiser to represent the lender’s interest, should be interpreted to permit the mortgage lender’s required use of an affiliated AMC. The defendants argued that allowing a consumer to shop for an appraisal management company would be inconsistent with TILA and Regulation Z, whose official commentary to Section 1026.37(f)(2) lists “appraisal management company fee” as an example of an item that may be disclosed under “services you cannot shop for” in the Good Faith Estimate. The court rejected that assertion, stating that there are multiple settlement services the lender may require the consumer to use which do not run afoul of RESPA or TILA and that Section 8 is only implicated where there is a kickback involved. The court further examined the plain meaning of Section 8(c)(4) and determined that, from a statutory interpretation perspective, an appraiser and an appraisal management company are not “one and the same.”
Additionally, the court disagreed with the defendants argument that the plaintiffs’ payment to the AMC was covered under the exception in Section 8(c)(2) of RESPA because the payment was not a “thing of value” under Section 8(a). In rejecting the defendants’ argument, the court noted the kickback at issue is the profit ultimately paid to the individual owner, not the plaintiffs’ payment to the AMC, and the defendants did not present any authority that the exception applies when the payment is for ownership interest.
The court ultimately recommended the denial of the class certification because plaintiffs did not demonstrate that ascertaining the class was administratively feasible, including the problem of ascertaining which loans were federally related mortgage loan and which were not. The court also concluded that, given the number of individual inquiries in the case, the requirement that common question of law and fact predominate was not satisfied.
On April 28, the Pennsylvania Department of Banking and Securities adopted regulations to effectively incorporate Subpart C of the CFPB’s RESPA mortgage servicing regulations (Regulation X), which were amended effective as of April 19. The adopted regulations address, among other things, (i) disclosure requirements; (ii) mortgage servicing transfers; (iii) escrow payments and account balances; (iv) forced-place insurance; and (v) loss mitigation procedures. The adopted regulations were effective on April 28.
On May 2, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York granted in part and denied in part a mortgage loan owner and mortgage loan servicer’s motion to dismiss a consumer’s lawsuit alleging various violations of TILA, RESPA, FDCPA, TCPA and certain New York state laws. The court’s decision explains that the mortgage loan owner first initiated foreclosure proceedings against the consumer in 2009, but in August 2013 that action was dismissed and the parties executed a modification agreement. The consumer argues in the amended complaint that the mortgage debt is time-barred based on the six year statute of limitations to enforce the mortgage note, starting the clock with the 2009 foreclosure filing. The consumer alleges that after the statute of limitations expired, the mortgage servicer contacted the consumer by mail and by telephone to collect the mortgage debt, totaling over 600 calls placed by an autodialer and up to four threatening collection letters per month since 2015. The court, however, agreed with the mortgage companies that the execution of the 2013 modification agreement restarted the statute of limitations and therefore, the consumer’s alleged violations of New York state laws and the FDCPA failed because the mortgage debt was not time-barred. The court also held that the consumer failed to plead sufficient facts to support the alleged violations of TILA, RESPA, and New York’s General Business Law. In contrast, the court denied the mortgage servicer’s motion to dismiss the consumer’s claim under the TCPA, holding that the mortgage application signed by the consumer did not clearly consent to contact by an autodialer on his cell phone.
- Valerie L. Hletko to discuss "Forecasting litigation and settlement trends in the mortgage servicing and fair lending context" at the American Conference Institute National Forum on Residential Mortgage Regulatory Enforcement & Litigation
- Michelle L. Rogers and Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Building a govt affairs program; Government investigations” at the TechGC National Summit
- Tina Tchen to deliver keynote address at the American Bar Foundation Montgomery Summer Research Diversity Fellowship 30th Anniversary Celebration
- Douglas F. Gansler to discuss "Privacy, security and protection of your assets in contracts; Security exercises and tactical measures" at the TechGC National Summit
- H Joshua Kotin will discuss federal regulatory developments in mortgage lending and servicing at the Mortgage Bankers Association of Arkansas Fall Conference
- Kate Shrout to discuss "Conducting workplace investigations" at the TechGC National Summit
- Kathryn R. Goodman to discuss "HECM servicing policies and updates" at the National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association Annual Meeting & Expo
- Fredrick S. Levin to discuss "Reverse mortgage litigation trends" at the National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association Annual Meeting & Expo
- Melissa Klimkiewicz to speak at the "Digital marketing compliance roundtable" at the National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association Annual Meeting & Expo
- Hank Asbill to discuss "The role of the media in white collar criminal investigations and the Mueller probe" at the American Bar Association White Collar Crime Town Hall
- John C. Redding to discuss "Regulatory compliance update" at PowerSports Finance
- Matthew P. Previn to discuss "Enforcement trends: Who is doing what and how?" at the Cambridge Forums Inc. Forum on Consumer Finance Litigation & Enforcement
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Protect yourself from a CFPB investigation" at the National Association of Settlement Purchasers Conference
- Tina Tchen to deliver keynote address at the American Bar Association Professional Success Summit
- Andrea K. Mitchell to discuss "Developments in fair lending law" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Summit on Diversity and Inclusion
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Consumer financial services" at the Practising Law Institute Banking Law Institute
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "New CDD Rule: Pitfalls in compliance" at the American Bankers Association/American Bar Association Financial Crimes Enforcement Conference