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  • SEC announces second-largest whistleblower award; waives “voluntary” requirement for one claimant

    Securities

    On September 6, the SEC announced a whistleblower award totaling more than $54 million— $39 million to one (the second-largest award given under the SEC’s whistleblower program) and $15 million to another—for critical information and continued assistance, which helped the agency bring an enforcement action. The redacted order highlights the denial of related-action claims by both claimants and notes an exception made to the “voluntary submission” requirement for claimant two.

    According to the order, the SEC denied claimant one’s request for an additional award based on another agency’s related action, because the claimant failed to demonstrate the causal relationship required to establish that the “submission significantly contributed to the success of the [related action].” Specifically, the SEC noted that the claimant’s information was never directly transmitted to the other agency, which relied on the SEC’s order to pursue its action. The SEC rejected the claimant’s argument that providing information directly to another agency would be “at war with Congress’ clear instruction that the identity of a whistleblower must be protected” due to the fact that the other agency may not offer the same anonymity as possible under the SEC’s whistleblower program. The SEC notes that while a whistleblower may choose not to provide the information to another agency themselves, the rules allow for the SEC to transmit the information directly, while requiring the other agency to maintain confidentiality, which was not done in this case.

    The SEC also denied claimant two’s related action request, concluding that the claimant should seek an award through the alternative program available from the other agency. The SEC noted that if the claimant were to receive a related-action award there would be the potential that the cumulative award would exceed the 30-percent ceiling established by Congress and would produce an “irrational result” encouraging “multiple ‘bites at the apple’” as it would allow whistleblowers to have multiple opportunities to adjudicate and obtain separate rewards on the same enforcement actions.

    Notably, for claimant two, the redacted order demonstrates that the SEC made an exception to the “voluntary” submission requirements under the rules. Specifically, Rule 21F-4(a)—in order to create an incentive for whistleblowers to proactively provide information about possible violations—requires that a whistleblower “must come forward before the government or regulatory authorities designated in the rule seek information from the whistleblower.” In this instance, it was undisputed that claimant two provided the SEC information after an investigative review by another agency; however, the SEC exercised discretionary authority to grant a limited waiver of Rule 21F-4(a) and permit an award to claimant two. The SEC determined that a limited waiver was appropriate because, although claimant 2 previously “appeared before [the other agency] for an investigative interview” regarding the same violations, at the time of that appearance the claimant  was unaware of the information that would ultimately be deemed by the SEC to be the “critical basis” for the whistleblower claim. The SEC concluded that once claimant two became aware of the critical information, they promptly reported it to both agencies, despite no legal obligation to do so and having no other “self-interested motive to come forward,” achieving a primary policy goal of the program to encourage prompt reporting of information about possible securities law violations.

    Securities Whistleblower Dodd-Frank

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  • District Court dismisses NFL season ticket class action because plaintiff received the “reasonably expected fruits under the contract”

    Courts

    On August 30, the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey dismissed with prejudice a putative class action alleging that an NFL team’s season ticket sales practices had violated the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing and the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act (CFA). The case was centered on the named plaintiff’s claim that the team made representations to him that his purchase of a personal seat license (PSL) would give him an exclusive right to purchase season tickets in a particular seating area in the team’s stadium. The plaintiff alleged that the team ran afoul of the CFA when, counter to its alleged representations, it opened up sales for season tickets in that area to people who had not purchased a personal seat license, thus rendering worthless the license plaintiff had purchased.

    The Court dismissed the plaintiff’s claims with prejudice because the plaintiff had received the “reasonably expected fruits under the contract.” The PSL agreement did not promise an exclusive right to purchase seats in a particular area of the team’s stadium, nor did it “purport to extend licensing or equity rights to [p]laintiff to control the ticketing policy for other” seats in that area. Rather, the PSL simply promised the plaintiff the right to purchase two seats in the area he chose, and that right had not been interfered with.

    Courts Class Action Fraud Contracts

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  • California expands state servicemember civil relief protections

    State Issues

    On September 19, the California governor signed AB 3212 that provides several benefits and protections to servicemembers under the state’s Military and Veterans Code. The legislation’s protections apply to members of the National Guard, State Military Reserve, and the Naval Militia called to full-time active state service or full-time active federal service, as well as other individuals called to full-time active duty for a period in excess of seven days in any 14-day period. Highlights of the amendments include:

    • Extension of Interest Rate Protection. The legislation extends the prohibition on charging an interest rate in excess of six percent on any obligations bearing interest to 120 days after military service. The legislation also extends the six percent interest rate protection for student loans to one year after military service, which previously only applied to mortgage obligations.
    • Written response for Good Faith Requests for Relief. The legislation requires that any person who receives a good faith request from a servicemember for relief and believes the servicemember is not entitled to the relief to provide, within 30 days of the request, a written response acknowledging the request. The written response must include (i) the basis for asserting that the request was incomplete or that the servicemember is not entitled to the relief; (ii) information/materials that are missing, if the servicemember’s request was deemed incomplete; and (iii) contact information. If the written response is not provided, the person waives any objection to the request, and the servicemember shall be entitled to the relief requested.
    • Extension of the Default Judgment Protection. At any stage in any action or proceeding in which a servicemember is involved, the court may stay an action or proceeding during the period of military service or 120 days thereafter (previously 60 days).
    • Inclusion of Motor Vehicles in the Lease Termination Protection. Existing state law allows for the termination of leases of premises that are occupied for dwelling, professional, business, agricultural, or similar purposes by the servicemember, upon entry into military service. The legislation now mirrors the federal Servicemember Civil Relief Act protections for motor vehicle lease termination. Specifically, it provides that a servicemember may terminate a motor vehicle lease after the servicemember’s entry into military service for a period of not less than 180 days. Additionally, it provides for cancelation of leases executed while in a period of military service if the servicemember receives military orders for a change of permanent station from a location in the continental U.S. to a location outside the continental U.S., or from a location in a state outside the continental U.S. to any location outside that state, or to deploy for a period not less than 180 days.

    State Issues Military Lending SCRA Servicemembers Auto Finance Interest Rate Student Lending Mortgages

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  • California reinstates provisions of Homeowner Bill of Rights

    State Issues

    On September 14, the California governor signed SB 818, which permanently reinstates and amends certain provisions of California’s Homeowner Bill of Rights (HBOR), which expired on January 1, 2018. The revised and restored provisions of the HBOR, among other things, require entities that foreclosed on more than 175 first lien mortgages and deeds of trust on owner-occupied residences during the prior reporting year to: (i) stop foreclosure proceedings if a complete loan modification application is submitted and pending, a homeowner is in compliance with a foreclosure prevention alternative, or an appeal of a loan modification denial is pending; (ii) include in the notice of default a specified declaration regarding contact with a borrower; (iii) send a written notice of a loan modification denial, specifying the reasons for the denial and providing foreclosure prevention alternatives; (iv) assign a single point of contact to any borrower who requests foreclosure prevention assistance; (v) not charge fees in conjunction with applications for foreclosure prevention alternatives; and (vi) honor loss mitigation alternatives following servicing transfers. The legislation also adds a legislative intent clause that emphasizes that any amendment, addition, or repeal of an HBOR section will not have the effect to release, extinguish, or change any liability under a previous section that was in effect at the time of an action.

    State Issues State Legislation Mortgages Consumer Protection Mortgage Servicing Mortgage Modification

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  • California governor approves revisions to Student Loan Servicing Act

    State Issues

    On September 14, the California governor approved AB 38 amending the state’s Student Loan Servicing Act (Act). The Act provides for the licensure, regulation, and oversight of student loan servicers by the California Department of Business Oversight (CDBO). Among other things, the amendments: (i) clarify the circumstances under which the Commissioner of the CDBO may deny a student loan servicer’s application; (ii) remove debt collectors of defaulted student loans from the definition of a “student loan servicer”; (iii) authorize the Commissioner to require license applicants and licensees to submit required filings with, and pay assessments to, the Commissioner through the Nationwide Multistate Licensing System and Registry; (iv) require the Commissioner to report violations of the Act “as well as other enforcement actions and information to the licensing system and registry to the extent that the information is a public record”; and (v) extend to 10 business days the time for a licensee to acknowledge receipt of a qualified written request from a borrower. The amendments also grant the Commissioner the authority to prescribe circumstances under which electronic records, including applications, financial statements, and reports, may be accepted.

    State Issues State Legislation Student Lending Student Loan Servicer Licensing NMLS

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  • D.C. Circuit remands SEC case to be heard by new ALJ

    Courts

    On September 19, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit remanded an SEC case against an investment adviser and his company for a new hearing before another Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) or before the Commission in accordance with the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Lucia v. SEC. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in June, the Supreme Court held that SEC ALJs are “inferior officers” subject to the Appointments Clause of the Constitution. After the decision in Lucia, the SEC moved to remand the case for a new hearing. In response, the investment adviser moved to have the SEC’s previous orders, including those imposing penalties, set aside in whole, arguing that remand is not authorized in this circumstance; citing to Lucia, the investment adviser argued the penalties resulted from an unconstitutional hearing and the language concerning remand for a new hearing in Lucia was dicta and carried no weight. The D.C. Circuit rejected this argument and denied the motion to set aside in part, citing D.C. Circuit precedent in stating “carefully considered language of the Supreme Court, even if technically dictum, generally must be treated as authoritative.”

    Courts Federal Issues ALJ U.S. Supreme Court D.C. Circuit Appellate SEC

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  • Freddie Mac releases various selling updates in Guide Bulletin 2018-15

    Federal Issues

    On September 19, Freddie Mac released Guide Bulletin 2018-15, which announces selling updates, including revisions to requirements for authorized user accounts and super conforming mortgages. Specifically, when reviewing a borrower’s credit report for tradelines where a borrower is listed as an authorized user but is not the primary account holder, sellers only have to meet additional documentation requirements if they receive a feedback message containing further instructions. These changes are effective for submissions and resubmissions made on or after October 4. The Bulletin also states that effective for mortgages settled on or after December 19, Freddie Mac will no longer require the manual underwriting of super conforming mortgages with original loan amounts greater than $1 million.

    Additionally, starting October 15, enhancements to the automated cash specified payups process will take effect, which will, among other things, “include cash payups for fixed-rate [m]ortgages with certain specified loan attributes.” The Bulletin also eliminates the requirement for sellers to obtain additional documentation or evaluate the income or loss from secondary self-employment when none of this income is used for mortgage qualification purposes. Furthermore, as of September 9, as previously covered in InfoBytes, Bulletin 2018-13 updated the required time frame for evaluating credit report inquiries; it has been reduced from 120 days to 90 days.

    Federal Issues Freddie Mac Mortgages Credit Report Consumer Finance

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  • Agencies offer relief following Hurricane Florence

    Federal Issues

    On September 19, the SEC announced regulatory relief to publicly traded companies, investment companies, accountants, transfer agents, municipal advisors, and others impacted by Hurricane Florence. The SEC order conditionally exempts affected persons not able to meet a filing deadline due to the weather event and its aftermath from certain reporting and filing requirements of the federal securities laws, for the period from and including September 14 to October 26, with all reports, schedules or forms to be filed on or before October 29. Additionally, the SEC adopted interim final temporary rules that extend the filing deadlines for certain reports and forms that companies must file under Regulation Crowdfunding and Regulation A. 

    On September 18, the Department of Veterans Affairs issued Circular 26-18-18, requesting relief for homeowners impacted by Hurricane Florence. Among other things, the Circular encourages loan holders to (i) extend forbearance to borrowers in distress because of the storms; (ii) establish a 90-day moratorium from the date of the disaster on initiating new foreclosures on affected loans; and (iii) waive late charges on affected loans. The Circular is effective until October 1, 2019.

    Find continuing InfoBytes coverage on disaster relief here.

    Federal Issues SEC Department of Veterans Affairs Disaster Relief Mortgages Securities

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  • President Trump issues Executive Order delegating sanctions implementation authority; OFAC issues new CAATSA- Russia-related FAQ

    Financial Crimes

    On September 20, President Trump announced the issuance of Executive Order 13849 (E.O. 13849), “Authorizing the Implementation of Certain Sanctions Set Forth in the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA),” pursuant to national emergencies previously declared in Executive Orders 13660, 13694, and 13757. E.O. 13849 grants authority to the Secretary of the Treasury to take certain actions to implement the sanctions against identified persons, including the promulgation of regulations. Among other things, E.O. 13849 prohibits: (i) any U.S. financial institution from making loans or extending credits to sanctioned persons “totaling more than $10,000,000 in any 12-month period, unless the person is engaged in activities to relieve human suffering and the loans or credits are provided for such activities”; (ii) any foreign exchange transactions, subject to U.S. jurisdiction, in which the sanctioned person has any interest; and (iii) transfers of credit or payments between, by, or through financial institutions for the benefit of a sanctioned person subject to U.S. jurisdiction. E.O. 13849 further describes the actions that can be taken to implement the sanctions.

    In response to E.O. 13849, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control published a new CAATSA- Russia-related FAQ providing additional clarifying information.

    Find continuing InfoBytes covered on CAATSA-related sanctions here.

    Financial Crimes Department of Treasury OFAC CAATSA Russia Executive Order

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  • Class certification granted to hedge fund investors

    Financial Crimes

    On September 14, a New York federal district court granted class certification to a group of shareholder investors suing an American hedge fund management firm and two of its senior executives on the grounds that the investors were misled about a government investigation into the company’s activities in Africa. In finding that the proposed class met all the requirements for certification, the court certified a class of investors that held some of the more than 100 million outstanding shares between February 2012 and August 2014, the time period in which the firm allegedly violated the Securities Exchange Act. Plaintiffs claim that the firm told investors it was not under any pending judicial or administrative proceeding that might have a material impact on the firm, when in fact it was under DOJ and SEC investigation over allegations that its employees were bribing government officials in Africa. The allegations against the firm were made public in 2014 media reports detailing government scrutiny into its dealings in Africa.

    Click here for prior FCPA Scorecard’s coverage of this matter.

    Financial Crimes DOJ SEC Securities Exchange Act Bribery

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