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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studies, including studies on (i) cryptocurrencies and initial coin offerings and (ii) the CFPB’s arbitration rule (repealed by a Congressional Review Act measure in November 2017).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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  • Court holds text message advertisements sent by internet domain provider do not violate TCPA

    Courts

    On May 14, the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona granted an internet domain provider’s motion for summary judgment, holding that the platform used by the company to send text message advertisements did not qualify as an “autodialer” under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). The plaintiff filed a putative class action in 2016 asserting that the company, without his consent, sent him a single text message offering a discount on new products in violation of the TCPA. The company filed for summary judgment arguing that the platform it uses to send messages is not an “autodialer.” Citing to the recent D.C. Circuit decision in ACA International v. the FCC (covered by a Buckley Sandler Special Alert) which narrowed the FCC’s 2015 interpretation of “autodialer”, the Court agreed with the company. The Court held that the text was not sent automatically or without human intervention because the company had to “log into the system, create a message, schedule a time to send it, and perhaps most importantly, enter a code to authorize its ultimate transmission.”

    As covered by InfoBytes, the FCC’s Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau released a notice seeking comment on the interpretation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) in light of the recent D.C. Circuit decision in ACA International.

    Courts TCPA Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security Autodialer

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  • 3rd Circuit reverses district court’s decision, rules TILA provisions misapplied to unauthorized-charge suit

    Courts

    On May 16, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit reversed a district court’s decision, holding that the lower court, among other things, misapplied a TILA provision under Regulation Z that requires cardholders to dispute charges within 60 days of the “first periodic statement that reflects the alleged billing error.” According to the opinion, the plaintiff-appellant filed a suit against the bank after he was allegedly rebilled for a $657 fraudulent money transfer charge that originally appeared on his statement in July 2015. The charge was originally removed from his account but reappeared in mid-September of that year after the bank claimed the charge was valid after verifying transaction details. The plaintiff-appellant challenged the decision in writing, and later filed a complaint against the bank, alleging he had “timely submitted a written notice of billing error,” and that the bank “had neither credited the charge nor conducted a reasonable investigation” and imposed liability of more than $50. The district court dismissed the complaint with prejudice for failure to state a claim, which the plaintiff appealed.

    At issue, the three-judge panel determined, were two provisions under TILA: (i) the “Fair Credit Billing Act” (FCBA), which stipulates that creditors must “comply with particular obligations when a consumer has asserted that his billing statement contains an error,” and (ii) the “unauthorized-use provision,” which requires certain conditions to be met before a credit card issuer can hold the cardholder liable, up to a limit of $50, for any unauthorized use. The panel first addressed the district court’s finding that the bank’s obligations under FCBA were “never triggered” because his written notice came 63 days after the July statement first included the charge. The panel held that, because the plaintiff-appellant’s August billing statement showed a credit to his account for the charge and that “there was no longer anything to dispute” and no reason to believe his statement contained a billing error, the 60-day time limit should have started when the bank rebilled him in September. In addressing the second issue, the district court held that plaintiff-appellant was not entitled to “reimbursement” under the unauthorized-use claim. However, the panel opined that he was not seeking reimbursement but rather “actual damages,” for which the statute does provide relief. “We conclude that a cardholder incurs ‘liability’ for an allegedly unauthorized charge when the issuer, having reason to know the charge may be unauthorized, bills or rebills the cardholder for that charge,” the panel wrote.

    Courts Third Circuit Appellate Fair Credit Billing Act TILA Regulation Z Consumer Finance

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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

    Courts

    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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  • FinCEN issues ruling temporarily suspending beneficial ownership requirements for automatic renewal products for 90 days

    Financial Crimes

    On May 16, FinCEN issued a ruling to provide a 90-day limited exceptive relief from the requirements for covered financial institutions to obtain and verify the identity of beneficial owners of legal entity customers with respect to certificate of deposit rollovers and loans that renew automatically. As previously covered in InfoBytes, FinCEN clarified that covered financial institutions seeking to renew a loan or roll over a certificate of deposit must treat these as new accounts and require their legal entities customers to certify or confirm beneficial owners, “even if the legal entity is an existing customer.” FinCEN acknowledged, however, that certain covered financial institutions with automatic processes that do not treat these types of rollovers or renewals as new accounts, have expressed concerns regarding their ability to comply with the rule’s requirements. As a result, FinCEN’s ruling will apply to qualified products and services that were established before the May 11 compliance date and will continue until August 9, during which time FinCEN will re-evaluate the requirement to determine whether more permanent relief is needed.

    Financial Crimes FinCEN Beneficial Ownership

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  • 9th Circuit will not rehear interest on escrow preemption decision

    Courts

    On May 16, a panel of three judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit denied the petition for an en banc rehearing of its March decision, which held that a California law that requires a bank to pay interest on escrow funds is not preempted by federal law. In addition to the national bank’s appeal for a rehearing, the OCC notably filed an amicus brief supporting the rehearing, arguing that the court “comprehensively misinterpreted” the Supreme Court’s 1996 decision Barnett Bank of Marion County v. Nelson. (Previously covered by InfoBytes here.) The panel noted that the full court had been advised of the bank’s petition for rehearing, and no judge had requested a vote on rehearing.

    Courts Ninth Circuit Appellate Mortgages Escrow Preemption National Bank Act Dodd-Frank OCC State Issues

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  • Federal agencies issue disaster relief guidance for North Carolina, Indiana, and Hawaii

    Federal Issues

    Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)

    On May 16, the Department of Veterans affairs released Circular 26-18-10, requesting relief for veterans impacted by Hawaii’s volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. Among other things, the Circular (i) encourages loan holders to extend forbearance to borrowers in distress because of the storms; (ii) requests that loan holders establish a 90-day moratorium on initiating new foreclosures on loans affected by the major disaster; and (iii) waives late charges on affected loans. Previously on May 14, the VA released Circular 26-18-08 and Circular 26-18-09, which provide for similar relief in areas affected by severe storms flooding in Hawaii and North Carolina. 

    FDIC

    On May 16, the FDIC issued FIL-28-2018 to provide regulatory relief to financial institutions and facilitate recovery in areas of Indiana affected by severe storms and flooding from February 14 through March 4. The FDIC is encouraging institutions to consider, among other things, extending repayment terms and restructuring existing loans that may be affected by the natural disasters. Additionally, the FDIC notes that institutions may receive favorable Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) consideration for certain development loans, investments, and services in support of disaster recovery. The FDIC also issued FIL-29-2018, which provides similar guidance for financial institutions for areas of North Carolina affected by tornadoes and severe storms on April 15.

    Find more InfoBytes disaster relief coverage here.

    Federal Issues FDIC Department of Veterans Affairs Disaster Relief CRA Mortgages

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  • D.C. Circuit rejects challenge to FTC’s 2016 staff letter on soundboard technology

    Courts

    On April 27, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit dismissed a challenge to a November 2016 FTC staff letter, which announced the FTC would treat calls using soundboard technology as robocalls. According to the D.C. Circuit opinion, the FTC’s 2016 staff letter rescinded a 2009 staff letter, which reached the conclusion that soundboard technology was not subject to robocall regulation. The Soundboard Association filed suit, seeking to enjoin the rescission of the 2009 letter, arguing that the 2016 staff letter violated the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) by issuing a legislative rule without notice and comment and that it unconstitutionally restricted speech in violation of the First Amendment. The lower court granted summary judgment for the FTC holding that the 2016 letter did not violate the First Amendment and that the letter was an interpretive rule and therefore not subject to the notice and comment requirements of the APA. Upon appeal, the D.C. Circuit vacated the lower court’s decision and dismissed the action in its entirety, holding that the 2016 letter was not a “final agency action” and therefore, the plaintiffs failed to state a cause of action under the APA.

    Courts D.C. Circuit Appellate FTC Robocalls Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security

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  • District Court rules that Federal Reserve Banks are not federal agencies under False Claims Act

    Courts

    On May 9, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York dismissed a qui tam action brought under the False Claims Act (FCA) against a national bank and its predecessors-in-interest (defendants), which alleged that the defendants presented false information to Federal Reserve Banks (FRBanks) in connection with their applications for loans. The court held that allegations of false or fraudulent claims being presented to the FRBanks cannot form the basis of an FCA action because the FRBanks cannot be characterized as the federal government for purposes of the FCA.

    The relators in the action originally brought a whistleblower lawsuit against the bank, alleging that the defendants inaccurately represented their financial condition in order to be eligible to borrow from the FRBanks’ discount window at lower interest rates. By way of background, in order for liability to incur under the FCA, a false or fraudulent claim must be made to the federal government or its agents. Therefore, the court needed to resolve two legal issues: (i) whether FRBanks should be characterized as the government or its agents for purposes of the FCA, and (ii) whether the federal government paid any portion of the loans the defendants received or reimbursed the FRBanks for issuing the loans.

    In supporting its conclusion that FRBanks are not government actors, the court reasoned that the Federal Reserve Act (FRA), which created the Federal Reserve districts and FRBanks, did not designate the FRBanks as part of an executive department or agency. The court also noted that although the Federal Reserve Board of Governors (Board) is a federal agency, each FRBank operates as a private corporation owned by private stockholders, receives no government appropriations, and generates its own income from interest earned on government securities. Furthermore, the court reasoned that the Board provides only general policy supervision, FRBank employees are not government employees, and FRBanks lack the ability to promulgate regulations and operate independently of the Board and the government.

    In resolving the second issue, the court agreed with the defendants’ argument that the bank’s loan requests did not create FCA liability for claims, because the relators did not, and could not, “allege that the [g]overnment either provided any portion of the money loaned to the defendants, or reimbursed [FRBanks] for making the loans.”

    Courts Federal Reserve False Claims Act / FIRREA Whistleblower

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  • FTC Commissioner calls for stricter penalties and structural remedies against recidivist companies that violate consent orders

    Federal Issues

    On May 14, FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra released a memo to FTC staff and commissioners calling for more forceful penalties and structural remedies against companies and individuals that fail to comply with consent orders. Chopra announced that a key consideration for the FTC will be “whether the proposed remedies address the underlying causes of the noncompliance.” He proposed several “structural remedies” for the FTC to consider implementing against “recidivist” companies such as (i) banning certain business practices; (ii) forcing divestiture or closure of problematic operating units; (iii) removing company executives and board directors responsible for overseeing conduct that violates an order; (iv) dismissing third-party compliance consultants who fail to detect conduct that violates an order; (v) targeting company executives and through “clawbacks, forfeitures, and reforms to executive compensation agreements;” and (vi) requiring firms to raise equity capital should corporate debt “create risks to consumers and competition in the form of an order violation.” Chopra stated that repeat offenders who “flout our orders must face severe consequences—irrespective of whether they are small-time scammers or sophisticated corporations.”

    Federal Issues FTC Enforcement Civil Money Penalties

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