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  • District court dismisses FDCPA suit, rules least sophisticated debtor would not be misled by placement of dispute language

    Courts

    On July 18, the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey dismissed a class action lawsuit alleging a debt collector failed to provide clear instructions that debt disputes must be submitted in writing in order to be valid as required under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). According to the opinion, the plaintiff claimed that the debt collection company misled her into believing she could orally dispute her debt by placing phrases such as “Should you have any questions regarding this account, please feel free to call us” on a debt collection notice she received. However, the debt collector argued that instructions in the notice, which provided the consumer with her rights under the FDCPA, could not be overshadowed or contradicted by including a phone number. The court agreed, referencing two 3rd Circuit cases as precedent, and stated that “merely providing contact information and encouraging a telephone call are insufficient standing alone to undermine an otherwise clear validation notice.” In this instance, the notice “only invites her to call if she has general questions regarding the account.” Furthermore, according to the judge, even the least sophisticated debtor would not be misled by a phone number listed separately from dispute instructions.

    Courts FDCPA Debt Collection Class Action

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  • 8th Circuit reverses district court’s decision, rules compound interest not contractually agreed upon violates FDCPA

    Courts

    On July 16, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit reversed a district court’s decision, holding that under Minnesota law, compound interest cannot be collected unless specifically agreed to in a contract. The decision results from a suit filed by a consumer alleging that a law firm violated the Fair Debt Collection Practice Act (FDCPA) when it sent a debt collection letter seeking payment of credit card debt while asserting that the consumer owed compound interest. The consumer’s suit alleged that the debt’s owner, debt collector, and law firm (defendants) “used a false, deceptive, or misleading representation or means . . . and an unfair or unconscionable means” when attempting to collect the debt. Specifically, the consumer alleged the principal balance included interest on the contractual interest—which he claimed he did not agree to in the underlying credit card agreement—and that as a result, the defendants misrepresented the amount of debt and attempted to collect interest that was not permitted under Minnesota law. The district court dismissed the consumer’s claim, finding that he failed to state an FDCPA claim because he did not allege a materially false statement in the collection letter. The 8th Circuit reversed however, finding that the consumer stated a claim under the FDCPA because a demand to pay an amount of debt that is unauthorized under state law is actionable as a false statement or unfair collection attempt, and that a false representation of the amount of a debt that overstates what is owed under state law is a material violation of the FDCPA. The appellate court also rejected the law firm’s argument that there was no FDCPA violation because the agreement authorized the total amount of interest stated in the letter, further declining to calculate the interest under the credit-card terms provided by the law firm because the consumer had contested the terms as unauthenticated.

    Courts Appellate Eighth Circuit FDCPA Debt Collection Consumer Finance

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  • New Jersey appeals court says statute of limitations does not apply in allegedly fraudulent mortgage application

    Courts

    On July 13, the Superior Court of New Jersey Appellate Division reversed a trial court’s decision, ruling that a deceased homeowner’s family (defendants) had provided sufficient evidence to show that a division of a national bank (lender) had knowingly engaged in predatory lending practices when it approved a fraudulent mortgage application in violation of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act (Act). According to the opinion, in 2007 when the now deceased homeowner purchased a house, the lender may have been complicit in creating and approving a fraudulent loan application that, among other things, stated falsely that (i) the homeowner was a small business owner with a monthly income of $30,000 rather than $1,500, and (ii) the down payment came from the homeowner, when it supposedly came from a second mortgage offered to him from the same lender. The homeowner defaulted on payments in 2010 and passed away in 2012. In 2015, the defendants responded to a foreclosure complaint filed by the bank, alleging that the Act barred plaintiff’s claims due to the lender’s fraudulent actions, including the aforementioned material misrepresentations. However, the trial court granted summary judgment to the lender on the grounds that claims of fraud brought by the defendants were “untenable” and outside the statute of limitations. The appellate court disagreed and remanded to allow for discovery, ruling that the defendants were permitted to introduce evidence of fraud in defense of the homeowner’s estate even through the statute of limitations had expired. “The doctrine of equitable recoupment permits a defendant to assert an otherwise stale claim and avoid the statute of limitations, where the defendant uses the claim as a shield instead of a sword,” the appellate court stated.

    Courts Appellate Mortgages Foreclosure Fraud State Issues

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  • 5th Circuit rules FHFA structure violates Constitution’s separation of powers

    Courts

    On July 16, in a divided opinion, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part a lower court’s decision that addressed two claims brought by a group of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (government-sponsored entities or GSEs) shareholders: (i) whether the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) acted within its statutory authority when it adopted a dividend agreement, which requires the GSEs to turn over every quarter “dividends equal to their entire net worth” to the Treasury Department; and (ii) whether the structure of the FHFA is unconstitutional and in violation of the separation of powers. The lower court previously dismissed the shareholder’s statutory claims and granted summary judgment in favor of the Treasury Department and the FHFA on the constitutional claim. In addressing the first claim, the appellate court agreed with the lower court and found the government-sponsored entities’ payments acceptable under the agency’s statutory authority and that the FHFA was lawfully established by Congress through the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008, which places restrains on judicial review. However, the appellate court reversed the lower court’s decision as to the second claim and agreed with shareholders that Congress went too far in insulating the FHFA’s single director from removal by the president for anything other than cause, ruling that the agency’s structure violates Article II of the Constitution. “We hold that Congress insulated the FHFA to the point where the Executive Branch cannot control the FHFA or hold it accountable,” the opinion stated. The divided appellate panel remanded to the lower court for further proceedings.

    Earlier this year, in response to a challenge to the CFPB's single-director structure, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit en banc upheld the CFPB’s constitutionality in a 7-3 decision (see Buckley Sandler Special Alert). The 5th Circuit is also scheduled 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 which 14 state Attorney General filed an amici curiae brief encouraging the appellate court to disagree with the en banc decision of the D.C. Circuit. (See previous InfoBytes coverage here and here.)

    Courts Appellate Fifth Circuit FHFA Fannie Mae Freddie Mac Congress CFPB

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  • 6th Circuit affirms no breach of contract for processing ACH transactions in order received

    Courts

    On July 6, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit affirmed a district court’s decision, holding that there was no breach of contract between a consumer and a bank arising from the order in which the bank processed automated clearing house (ACH) transactions against the consumer’s checking account. According to the opinion, the consumer brought two state law breach of contract claims against the bank alleging that the order in which the bank processed ACH transactions against his checking account resulted in eight initial overdraft fees. Addressing the first breach of contract claim, the appeals court rejected the consumer’s argument that the agreement required the bank to process ACH transactions in the order incurred by the consumer. According to the agreement, “transactions will be processed ‘as they occur on their effective date for the business day on which they are processed’”—not necessarily the actual date that the transaction was initiated. Under the ACH Guidelines, the “effective date” is the date when the merchant presents the transactions to the ACH Operator (the Federal Reserve). Specifically, the bank processed the transactions in the order presented in the Federal Reserve’s batch files. The 6th Circuit also rejected the consumer’s second breach of contract claim, which asserted that the bank’s initial debiting of eight overdraft fees violated the parties’ agreement. Under the terms of the parties’ agreement, the consumer was not required to pay more than five overdraft fees per day, and while the initial debiting of the eight charges constituted a breach, the next-business-day reversal eliminated any damages. Accordingly, the appeals court affirmed the lower court’s decision to grant summary judgment in favor of the bank.

    Courts Sixth Circuit Appellate ACH

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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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  • California Court of Appeal: State required to return $331 million to mortgage settlement fund

    Courts

    On July 10, the California Third District Court of Appeal reversed in part a Superior Court’s 2015 decision to abstain from issuing a writ directing the Legislature to appropriate funds to restore the money the state allegedly unlawfully took out of the National Mortgage Settlement Deposit Fund (the NMS Deposit Fund). The NMS Deposit Fund was created in 2012 to hold the state’s share of $2.5 billion allocated as part of a settlement agreement reached between the federal government, 49 states, and five of the largest U.S. mortgage servicers. (See previous InfoBytes coverage here on the 2012 settlement.) According to the opinion, three groups filed a lawsuit in 2014 against California Governor Jerry Brown and the state’s director of finance and controller alleging they unlawfully diverted money from the NMS Deposit Fund to make bond payments and offset general fund expenditures. The groups sought a writ of mandate compelling the state government to pay back approximately $350 million in diverted funds. While the Superior Court agreed that the money had been improperly diverted, the court asserted it lacked “constitutional authority” to restore the funds; however, the court ordered the state to restore the funds “as soon as there is a sufficient appropriation ‘reasonably’ and ‘generally’ available for such purpose.” Conversely, the Third District Court of Appeal disagreed, citing to case law supporting the groups’ position that the court could order the money back. Among other things, under the law, the money still belongs in the NMS Deposit Fund, and not in the state’s General Fund. Furthermore, the fact that the state’s director of finance unlawfully diverted the money in contravention of state law and the settlement’s terms only makes for a “more compelling case” that the Superior Court should have issued a writ.

    Courts State Issues Mortgages Appellate

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  • Florida Supreme Court: Lender may file second suit for deficiency claim provided foreclosure court has not adjudicated the claim

    Courts

    On July 5, the Florida Supreme Court held that Section 702.06, Florida Statutes (2014), allows a lender pursuing a deficiency claim in a foreclosure action in one court to bring a separate action against the homeowner in another court provided the foreclosure court that has reserved jurisdiction has not yet adjudicated the deficiency claim. Section 702.06 provides in part that, “In all suits for the foreclosure of mortgages . . . . [t]he complainant shall also have the right to sue at common law to recover for such deficiency, unless the court in the foreclosure action has granted or denied a claim for a deficiency judgment.” At issue was a residential property that was foreclosed by final judgment. In the judgment, the foreclosure court expressly reserved jurisdiction to rule on any future deficiency claim, although no one tried to adjudicate the claim in that forum. The mortgage loan purchaser filed a separate action against the homeowner in a different court and obtained a deficiency judgment. On appeal from that action, the First District Court of Appeal disagreed with several other Florida appellate courts and concluded that the trial court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction because the original foreclosure court had previously reserved jurisdiction. The high court unanimously disagreed, holding that a “reservation of jurisdiction is not a grant or denial of the claim. The foreclosure court would have only ‘granted or denied’ the deficiency judgment if it had adjudicated the claim. Therefore, [§ 702.06, Fla. Stat.] plainly precludes the separate action only where the foreclosure court has actually ruled on the claim—as held by the Second, Third, Fourth and Fifth District Courts of Appeal.” In issuing its ruling, the high court quashed the decision of the First District Court of Appeal and approved the certified conflict decisions of the four other appellate courts.

    Courts State Issues Foreclosure Lending Deficiency Claim

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  • International bank must maintain $500 million bond securing $806 million RMBS judgment

    Courts

    On July 5, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York issued a memorandum opinion and order stating that an international bank must maintain the $500 million bond it had filed in 2015 to secure $806 million in damages owed to the Federal Housing Finance Agency for selling allegedly faulty residential mortgage-backed securities to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The court had stayed execution of the judgment pending appeal, and the stay expired on July 5, following the Supreme Court’s denial without comment of the bank’s petition for writ of certiorari. (See previous InfoBytes coverage here.) According to the district court opinion and order, the bank maintained that the stay order required the bond to remain in effect only through July 5, even though the bank was not required to pay the final judgment until July 20. The court disagreed, explaining that a “more natural reading of the [s]tay [o]rder and the [b]ond together is that the [b]ond must remain in place until two conditions are met: (1) the stay of execution ends and (2) the [f]inal [j]udgment is satisfied. Condition 1 has now been met, but not condition 2.” The court added that the bank is free to satisfy the final judgment prior to its July 20 due date, at which point the bond could be dissolved prematurely.

    Courts FHFA RMBS Bond U.S. Supreme Court Fannie Mae Freddie Mac

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  • Court preliminarily approves $11.2 million settlement for post-payment interest charges on FHA mortgages

    Courts

    On July 5, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa preliminarily approved a $11.2 million settlement in a proposed class action against a national bank for allegedly improperly charging interest on pre-paid FHA-insured mortgages. According to the complaint filed in 2016, the bank charged post-payment interest on FHA-insured mortgages without providing the proper disclosures required by FHA. Specifically, the complaint alleges that the bank did not use the FHA-approved form to provide the disclosures to consumers. The settlement requires the bank to place $11.2 million in an escrow account for class distributions; settlement expenses; and attorneys’ fees, which, according to settlement documents, will not exceed 28 percent. The court found that the settlement fell “within the range of reasonableness” and met the requirements for preliminary approval.

    Courts Class Action Settlement FHA Prepayment Mortgages

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