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  • Fourth Circuit States Violation of FCRA that Fails to Demonstrate a Concrete Injury Not Enough for Standing


    On May 11, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit issued an opinion vacating a nearly $12 million judgment in a class action brought on behalf of a 69,000 member class, concluding that a credit reporting agency’s decision to list a defunct credit card company—rather than the name of its current servicer—on an individual’s credit report does not, without more, create a sufficient injury under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)for purposes of Article III standing. Furthermore, although the lead plaintiff alleged that he suffered a cognizable “informational injury,” in that he was denied the source of the adverse information on the report, the appeals court found that he failed to “demonstrate a concrete injury” as a result of the allegedly incorrect information listed on the credit report. (See Dreher v. Experian Info. Sols., Inc., No. 15-2119, 2017 WL 1948916 (4th Cir. May 11, 2017).)

    The 2014 class action complaint against the credit reporting agency was filed by an individual who—when undergoing a background check for a security clearance—received a credit report that listed a delinquent credit card account with a creditor that had transferred the debt to a new servicer that was not listed as a source of information. When servicing the defunct company’s accounts, the new servicer had decided to do business using the creditor’s name, and directed the credit reporting agency to continue to reflect that name on the tradeline appearing for those specific accounts on its credit reports. The plaintiffs asserted that the credit reporting agency “deliberately [withheld] and inaccurately [stated] the identity of the source of reported credit information,” in violation of the FCRA. The credit reporting company sought summary judgment on the claims, arguing that the individual and the class lacked standing under the FCRA. However, the district court ruled in favor of the member class finding that the credit reporting company “committed a willful violation of . . . the [FCRA].”

    In vacating the district court’s ruling, the Fourth Circuit opined that under the FCRA, a plaintiff “must have (1) suffered an injury in fact, (2) that is fairly traceable to the challenged conduct of the defendant, and (3) that is likely to be redressed by a favorable judicial decision.” The Fourth Circuit concluded that the individual could not clear the first hurdle. To establish “injury in fact,” the plaintiff must show that he or she suffered an invasion of a legally protected interest that is concrete and particularized. While the plaintiff alleged that the credit reporting agency had violated the FCRA by failing to “clearly and accurately disclose to the consumer . . . [t]he sources of the information [in the consumer’s file at the time of the request],” the Fourth Circuit concluded that the statutory violation alone did not create a concrete informational injury sufficient to support standing. “Rather, a constitutionally cognizable informational injury requires that a person lack access to information to which he is legally entitled and that the denial of that information creates a ‘real’ harm with an adverse effect.” In this instance, “the account had no legitimate effect on the [plaintiff’s] background check process, and [t]hus receiving a creditor’s name rather than a servicer’s name—without hindering the accuracy of the report of efficiency of the credit report resolution process—worked no real world harm.” Instead, the Fourth Circuit categorized the plaintiff’s allegations as chiefly “customer service complaints”—a type of harm unrelated to those Congress sought to prevent when enacting the FCRA.

    Courts FCRA appellate Class Action

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  • PHH v. CFPB Update: D.C. Circuit Hears Oral Arguments Before En Banc Court


    On May 24, the en banc U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit heard oral arguments in the matter of PHH Corp. v. CFPB. The parties and the Department of Justice generally presented their arguments as expected based on their briefs. However, questions from some members of the court indicated doubts about the conclusion by a panel of the court in October 2016 that the CFPB’s structure was unconstitutional. In particular, multiple members of the court repeatedly pressed PHH’s counsel on whether prior Supreme Court decisions upholding the constitutionality of the Federal Trade Commission and other independent agencies led by presidential appointees who could only be removed “for cause” prevented the D.C. Circuit from concluding that the president lacked sufficient authority over the CFPB’s Director.

    Notably, however, in response to statements by PHH that current CFPB Director Richard Cordray could remain in his position after the expiration of his term in July 2018 until a successor was confirmed by the Senate, the CFPB’s counsel stated that, in the Bureau’s view, the “for cause” removal limitation no longer applied once the Director’s term expired, and the president could then remove the Director “at will.”

    In contrast to the constitutional issue, the questioning on other aspects of the case was minimal and did not indicate that the en banc court was inclined to revisit the panel’s determination that the CFPB misinterpreted the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) when applying it to PHH’s practices, violated due process by failing to give PHH proper notice of its interpretation, and improperly failed to apply RESPA’s statute of limitations in its administrative proceedings.

    At the direction of the en banc court, the oral arguments in PHH followed those in Lucia v. SEC, a case addressing whether the SEC’s administrative law judges (ALJs) violate the appointments clause of the U.S. Constitution. Although this issue was not discussed during the PHH oral arguments, the CFPB originally brought its claims against PHH before an ALJ borrowed from the SEC and the court had previously suggested that a finding that the SEC ALJs were improperly appointed could also justify reversal of the CFPB’s decision against PHH. (See previous Special Alert here.)

    A decision from the en banc court is not expected for months. Importantly, while questioning during oral argument is often used as a barometer of the potential outcome of a case, the questions asked by a judge do not necessarily indicate how that judge will vote on a particular issue. Judges often use oral argument to see how the parties and their colleagues will respond to hypotheticals, rather than to share their views of the case.

    Courts Consumer Finance CFPB RESPA PHH v CFPB

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  • Company Accused of Bilking 9/11 First Responders Out of Millions of Dollars Says CFPB Action Unlawful


    On May 15, a New Jersey-based finance company and its affiliated parties filed a motion to dismiss allegations that it scammed first responders to the World Trade Center attack and NFL retirees with high-cost loans. As previously covered in InfoBytes, the CFPB and the New York Attorney General’s office (NYAG) claimed the defendants engaged in deceptive and abusive acts by misleading consumers into selling expensive advances on benefits to which they were entitled by mischaracterizing extensions of credit as assignments of future payment rights, thereby causing the consumers to repay far more than they received. The defendants’ motion to dismiss was prompted, in part, by the recent PHH v. CFPB decision in which the court held that the CFPB’s single director leadership structure is unconstitutional and, thus, that the agency must operate as an executive agency supervised by the President. Here, the defendants argue, the complaint issued against them is a “prime example of how the unchecked authority granted to the CFPB leads to administrative overreach that has a profound effect on the businesses and individuals the agency targets.”

    In response to the claims that they mischaracterized credit, the defendants assert that the complaint is “based on the erroneous theory that—despite clear contractual terms and the weight of legal authority to the contrary—these transactions are not true sales, but instead are ‘extensions of credit’ under the Consumer Financial Protection Act [(CFPA)], and therefore the [defendants] deceived consumers by labeling the agreements as sales.” The CFPA defines an extension of “credit” as “the right granted by a creditor to a debtor to defer payment of debt or to incur debt and defer its payment.” In this instance, the defendants contend, there is no debt, no repayment obligation, and no “right granted to defer payment of a debt” because the consumers are the sellers of the asset.

    The defendants argue that (i)“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”; (ii) because these transactions do not fall into the CFPA’s definition of credit, the case lacks a federal cause of action; and (iii) “each cause of action in the [c]omplaint individually fails to state a claim for relief, including because the Government is flat out wrong in its contention that the underlying settlement proceeds are not assignable.”

    Courts Consumer Finance CFPB Enforcement State AG PHH v CFPB UDAAP

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  • Ninth Circuit Grants Petition to Hear FTC v. AT&T Appeal En Banc


    On May 9, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit granted a petition for rehearing en banc filed by the FTC in a case involving whether the Commission may regulate an internet service provider’s slowing down of data after a customer has used a specified amount of data under an “unlimited” plan.

    The FTC’s 2014 complaint alleged that AT&T’s practice of “data throttling,” and its subsequent failure to adequately inform its customers of this practice, violated Section 45(a) of the FTC Act. A federal district court dismissed the complaint, rejecting AT&T’s argument that it was exempt from FTC Section 45(a) enforcement because it is a common carrier. Section 45(a) allows the Commission to “prevent persons, partnerships or corporations, except . . . common carriers . . . from using . . . unfair or deceptive acts or practices” (emphasis added). The court held, however, that the common carrier exception applies only when the entity has the status of a common carrier and is engaging in common carrier activity. The district court order also held that “[w]hen this suit was filed, AT&T’s mobile data service was not regulated as common carrier activity by the [FCC],” and that “[o]nce the Reclassification Order of the [FCC] (which now treats mobile data [service] as common carrier activity) goes into effect, that will not deprive the FTC of any jurisdiction over past alleged misconduct as asserted in this pending action.”

    In 2016, a three-judge Ninth Circuit panel reversed, holding that AT&T is exempt from Section 45(a) as a common carrier. See Fed. Trade Comm'n  v. AT&T Mobility LLC, 835 F.3d 993 (9th Cir. 2016). The en banc court’s order vacates that ruling pending review by the full Ninth Circuit. Per the Ninth Circuit’s May 10 order, en banc oral argument will occur the week of September 18, 2017. The exact date and time will be announced in a separate order. Notably, given the recent uncertainty over which regulatory agency will oversee common carriers—the FTC or the FCC—the timing of this ruling is important.

    Courts FTC appellate

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  • CFPB, DOJ Argue Against State AGs Request to Redirect Unused Consumer Redress Funds


    On May 10, the CFPB filed a brief and the DOJ filed a separate “Statement of Interest of the United States of America” opposing a request by the Attorneys General of Connecticut, Indiana, Kansas, and Vermont (State AGs) to intervene in a CFPB lawsuit to address the distribution of unclaimed settlement funds.

    As previously reported in InfoBytes, in December 2014 the CFPB sued a telecommunications company over allegations that it violated Dodd-Frank and the Consumer Financial Protection Act by knowingly allowing third-party aggregators to bill unauthorized charges to its wireless telephone customers and failing to respond to consumer complaints for nearly a decade. Under the terms of the 2015 Stipulated Final Judgment and Order, the company was required to set aside $50 million for consumer redress. The consumer claims period expired with approximately $15 million remaining unclaimed, and the State AGs sought to have those funds deposited with the National Association of Attorneys General to be used for “consumer protection purposes.” Specifically, in their  January 3 Memorandum in Support of Joint Motion to Intervene to Modify Stipulated Final Judgment and Order, the State AGs asked that, “[a]ny funds not used for such equitable relief will be deposited . . . with the National Association of Attorneys General”—instead of being deposited in the Treasury as disgorgement—to be used to “train, support and improve the coordination of the state consumer protection attorneys charged with enforcement of the laws prohibiting the type of unfair and deceptive practices alleged by the CFPB in this [a]ction.”

    In its memorandum opposing the joint request to intervene, the CFPB countered that although the redress plan provides that the Bureau may, in consultation with certain states and the FCC, apply unused redress funds to “other equitable relief reasonably related to the Complaint’s allegations,” it has not proposed doing so and any undistributed amounts are to be directed to the Treasury. The DOJ supported the CFPB’s position, arguing that the State AGs’ motion is untimely because that the States were “well aware of this action” over 18 months before filing their motion. The DOJ further asserted that “beyond being consulted by the CFPB if remaining funds were to be devoted to further equitable relief, the Consent Order afforded the States no role with respect to distribution of the remaining Redress Amount funds.”

    Courts Consumer Finance CFPB DOJ State AG

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  • Supreme Court Rules that FDCPA Law Not Applied to Time-Barred Debt Bankruptcy Claim


    In a ruling handed down on May 15, the United States Supreme Court held that a debt collector’s filing of a proof of claim on time-barred debt in a consumer bankruptcy proceeding is not a “false, deceptive, misleading, unfair, or unconscionable” debt collection practice within the meaning of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). See Midland Funding, LLC v. Johnson, Case No. 16-348, 581 U.S. ___ (2017). Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito joined in Justice Breyer’s decision. Justice Gorsuch took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

    The Midland case arises out of a 2014 Chapter 13 petition, in response to which the defendant debt-collector filed a proof of claim for the payment of decades-old unpaid credit card debt the company had acquired. After the bankruptcy court dismissed the time-barred claim, the debtor filed a separate civil action in District Court alleging that the debt collector had violated the FDCPA. Finding that application of the FDCPA was precluded by the Bankruptcy Code, the District Court dismissed the suit. However, the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reversed, finding “no irreconcilable conflict between the FDCPA and the [Bankruptcy] Code.” See Johnson v. Midland Funding, LLC, 823 F.3d 1334, 1336 (11th Cir. 2016). 

    The Supreme Court reversed. Writing for a 5-3 majority, Justice Breyer explained why the Court disagreed with the Eleventh Circuit panel’s conclusion that Midland was potentially liable for damages under the FDCPA for attempting to collect in bankruptcy on decade-old credit card debt. The Court held that the filing of a time-barred claim in a bankruptcy proceeding is not “false, deceptive, or misleading” because, among other reasons, “[t]he law has long treated unenforceability of a claim (due to the expiration of the limitations period) as an affirmative defense” and therefore “we see nothing misleading or deceptive in the filing of a proof of claim that, in effect, follows the Code’s similar system.” The ruling also noted several differences between bankruptcy proceedings and a civil action to collect a debt—including that the “audience in [consumer] bankruptcy cases includes a trustee . . . likely to understand” the nature of a proof of claim and the necessity of objecting where appropriate.

    Justice Sotomayor filed a dissenting opinion—joined by Justice Ginsburg and Justice Kagan—arguing that attempting to collect time-barred debt is both “unfair” and “unconscionable” because, among other reasons, the business model adopted by “professional debt collectors” depends on the hope “that no one notices that the debt is too old to be enforced by the courts.” Justice Sotomayor’s dissent also took issue with the majority’s claim that “structural features of the bankruptcy process reduce the risk that state debt will go unnoticed and thus be allowed,” agreeing with the Government’s amicus brief that trustees “cannot realistically be expected to identify every time-barred . . . claim filed in every bankruptcy.”

    Courts FDCPA Debt Collection U.S. Supreme Court

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  • Eleventh Circuit Rules that Return of a Certified Mail Receipt Satisfies Regulation X of RESPA


    In a per curiam opinion issued on March 1, 2017, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of a complaint alleging that a mortgage servicer had violated Regulation X of the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (“RESPA”) by failing to “correctly or timely acknowledge receipt of his [written request for information (“RFI”)].” See Meeks v. Ocwen Loan Servicing LLC, [Order] No. 16-15536 (11th Cir. Mar. 1, 2017). Regulation X requires that, within five days of receiving an RFI, mortgage servicers must “provide to the borrower a written response acknowledging receipt of the information request.” 12 C.F.R. § 1024.36(c). Plaintiff alleged that the mortgage servicer violated 12 C.F.R. § 1024.36(c) when it signed and sent a Certified Receipt on the same day as receiving the RFI and when it sent a substantive response nine days later. Plaintiff sought actual damages of less than $100 and attorneys’ fees and costs.

    The Eleventh Circuit ruled, as a matter of first impression, that the mortgage servicer’s return of the Certified Receipt , which the plaintiff’s attorney “unquestionably received,” satisfied Regulation X. Alternatively, the Court affirmed the district court’s decision because the plaintiff “did not suffer any compensable damages from [the] alleged violation” and plaintiff’s counsel’s notice of error “falsely question[ed] the servicer’s receipt in order to create a claim for damages.” As to the claim for statutory damages, the Eleventh Circuit held that the plaintiff lacked Article III standing because he did not suffer a concrete injury-in-fact. Rather, because the plaintiff (and his attorney) “had undisputed actual knowledge of receipt of the RFI,” plaintiff “suffered at most ‘a bare procedural violation.’”

    Courts Lending Mortgages RESPA Regulation X

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  • D.C. Circuit Holds CID Unenforceable Due to “Perfunctory” Notification of Purpose


    On April 21, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit held that a civil investigative demand (“CID”) did not advise a non-profit organization that accredits for-profit colleges of “’the nature of the conduct constituting the alleged violation which is under investigation and the provision of law applicable to such violation.’ 12 U.S.C. § 5562(c)(2).” See CFPB v. Accrediting Council for Indep. Colls.& Schs., [Order] No. 16-5174 (D.C. Cir. Apr. 21, 2017). The CID described “the nature of the conduct” as simply “unlawful acts and practices in connection with accrediting for-profit colleges.” Because this “broad and non-specific” language did not describe the purpose of the CFPB’s investigation, the Court determined that it could not ascertain whether the information sought was reasonably relevant or “the link between the relevant conduct and the alleged violation.” The Court also found that the description of the laws applicable to the violation was inadequate. The CID identified 12 U.S.C. §§ 5531 and 5536 and “any other Federal consumer financial protection law,” but the Court concluded that the citations “tell … nothing about the statutory basis for the Bureau’s investigation” considering the CFPB’s failure to identify “the specific conduct under investigation.” Notably the Court explicitly limited its ruling to the particular CID at issue and declined to address the broader question of whether the CFPB may investigate accreditation of for-profit schools.

    Courts Consumer Finance Agency Rulemaking & Guidance CFPB

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  • Second Circuit Holds Purported Class Action Plaintiff Failed to Establish Article III Standing in Data Breach Case


    In a summary order handed down May 2, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals held that a plaintiff in a purported class action lacked Article III standing to bring claims against a retailer for breach of an implied contract and for violation of New York General Business Law § 349 arising out of a data breach of the retailer’s systems. See Whalen v. Michaels Stores, Inc., __ Fed. App’x __, Nos. 16-260, 16-352 (2d Cir. May 2, 2017). The consumer-plaintiff had made purchases with her credit card at one of the defendant’s stores, and following the data breach, her credit card was physically presented to pay for two unauthorized charges in Ecuador. The fraudulent charges occurred on consecutive days, with the plaintiff canceling her card on the same day as the second charge. The defendant offered 12 months’ credit monitoring and there was no indication that personally identifying information such as plaintiff’s date of birth or social security number was stolen. Plaintiff argued that she was injured by: (i) the theft of her credit card information and the two fraudulent-purchase attempts, (ii) the risk of future identity fraud, and (iii) the time and money she spent resolving the attempted fraudulent charges and monitoring her credit.

    Citing Clapper v. Amnesty Int’l USA, 133 S. Ct. 1138 (2013), the court concluded that plaintiff did not allege a concrete and particularized injury sufficient to confer Article III standing. As to plaintiff’s first argument, the Court reasoned that she was never “asked to pay, nor did pay, any fraudulent charge.” As to the second argument, the Court stated that there was no threat of future fraud because the plaintiff’s stolen credit card was “promptly canceled,” and “no other personally identifying information—such as her birth date or Social Security number—is alleged to have been stolen.” The third argument was likewise inadequate because the plaintiff “pleaded no specifics about any time or effort that she herself has spent monitoring her credit.”

    The court also noted that these shortcomings distinguished the plaintiff from plaintiffs in other data breach cases held to have adequately established Article III standing. See Galaria v. Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co., 663 Fed. App’x 384 (6th Cir. 2016); Lewert v. P.F. Chang’s China Bistro, Inc., 819 F.3d 963 (7th Cir. 2016); Remijas v. Neiman Marcus Grp., 794 F.3d 688 (7th Cir. 2015).

    Courts Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security

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  • Nevada Company Executives Agree to Pay Tribe $2.5 Million for Participating in Embezzlement and Kickback Scheme


    On May 2, during a change of plea hearing in the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana, a Nevada-based company and three of its executives pled guilty for their roles in a scheme to help tribal officials embezzle money and provide kickbacks to its payday lender officials. Specifically, the company pled guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering, while one of the principals and the President and CEO both pled guilty to charges of “conspiracy to commit wire fraud and engaging in monetary transactions in property derived from specified unlawful activity.” The other principal pled guilty to charges of misprision of felony, according to the plea agreement. The plea agreements further stipulate that full restitution is due to the tribe in the amount of $2.5 million. The payment in the 2015 settlement of the civil case in this matter (see writ of execution in The Chippewa Cree Tribe of The Rocky Boy Reservation of Montana v. Encore Services No. 2:14-cv-01294-JCM-PAL (D. Nev. Feb. 2, 2015)) will offset the restitution in the criminal case. In addition, one of the principals and the President/CEO are responsible for paying an additional $700,000 each, according to the breakdown contained within two of the plea deals. Sentencing is scheduled for August 24.

    Courts Anti-Money Laundering Fraud Payday Lending

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