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On September 13, the CFPB filed a complaint against a pension advance company, its owner, and related entities (defendants) based upon alleged violations of the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA) and the Truth in Lending Act (TILA). In a complaint filed with the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, the Bureau charged that the defendants engaged in deceptive practices in violation of the CFPA when they allegedly misrepresented to customers that “lump-sum” pension advances were not loans and carried no applicable interest rate, even though customers were required to pay back advances at amounts equivalent to a 183 percent interest rate and often incurred fees such as one-time $300 set up fees, monthly management fees, and 1.5 percent late fees. According to the Bureau, the defendants allowed customers to take out advance payments ranging from $100 to $60,000. The defendants then allegedly provided the income streams as 60- or 120-month cash flow payments to third-party investors, promising between 6 and 12 percent interest rates. Moreover, the defendants allegedly failed to provide customers with TILA closed-end-credit disclosures. The complaint seeks civil penalties, monetary and injunctive relief.
As previously covered in InfoBytes, the pension advance company initiated a suit against the CFPB in January 2017 after the Bureau declined to set aside or keep confidential a civil investigative demand served against the company. The suit challenged the Bureau’s constitutionality and argued that the company was likely to suffer irreparable harm from being identified as being under investigation. However, in a split decision, the D.C. Circuit Court ultimately denied the company’s bid for an emergency injunction, citing the now-vacated majority opinion in PHH v. CFPB.
On September 11, the Department of Justice announced a settlement with a Nebraska apartment complex owner resolving allegations that it violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) by unlawfully charging lease termination fees for 65 servicemembers. The complaint, which was filed on the same day as the settlement, alleges that between January 2012 and June 2017, the apartment complex owner imposed early lease termination fees, ranging from $78 to almost $1,500, on servicemembers who sought termination due to qualifying military orders under the SCRA. The settlement requires the apartment complex owner, among other things, to (i) pay more than $76,000 in damages to the 65 identified servicemembers; (ii) pay a $20,000 civil money penalty, and (iii) develop policies and procedures related to SCRA lease terminations.
On September 11, the Washington state Attorney General announced the filing of a lawsuit against a towing company for allegedly auctioning off a servicemember’s car while he was deployed, in violation of the Washington Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act (WSCRA). The complaint argues that the towing company impounded and unlawfully sold a deployed servicemember’s car without first determining the military status of the car’s owner and without obtaining a court order, as required by the WSCRA. The complaint rejects the towing company’s arguments that the responsibility fell on the servicemember’s creditor to redeem the vehicle as the legal owner because the law places the duty for determining military status on the party enforcing the lien. The complaint seeks restitution for the servicemember and a permanent injunction. Additionally, the complaint seeks civil penalties of up to $55,000 for a first offense and up to $110,000 for subsequent offenses, as allowed by the WSCRA.
On September 7, the FTC announced a series of settlements with the operators of a Georgia-based debt collection business for allegedly violating the FTC Act by making false, or misleading claims and threats during debt collection. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in November 2017, the FTC filed a complaint alleging that the defendants threatened legal action, garnishment, and imprisonment if purported debts were not paid, and in other instances, attempted to collect debts after consumers provided proof that the debt was paid off. Each settlement order (available here, here, and here) imposes a $3.4 million penalty against the defendants, which, after surrendering certain assets, will be partially suspended due to the inability to pay. The settlement orders ban the defendants from the business of debt collection, and prohibit the defendants from (i) misrepresenting information related to financial products and services, and (ii) disclosing, using, or benefitting from the consumer information obtained through the course of the debt collection activities.
Court approves final class action settlement; previously ruled that extended overdrawn balance charge fees are “interest” under National Bank Act
On August 31, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California granted final approval to a class action settlement, resolving a suit alleging that a national bank’s overdraft fees exceeded the maximum interest rate permitted by the National Bank Act (NBA). According to the order, the settlement ends a putative class action concerning the bank’s practice of charging a $35 “extended overdrawn balance charge” fee (EOBCs) on deposit accounts that remained overdrawn for more than five days when funds were advanced to honor an overdrawn check. Class members argued that the fee amounted to interest and—when taken into account as a percentage of an account holder’s negative balance—exceeded the NBA’s allowable interest rate. The bank countered, stating that “EOBCs were not ‘interest’ and therefore cannot trigger the NBA.” A 2016 order denying the bank’s motion to dismiss, which departed from several other district courts on this issue, found that “covering an overdraft check is an ‘extension of credit’” and therefore overdraft fees can be considered interest under the NBA. The bank appealed the decision to the 9th Circuit in April 2017, but reached a settlement last October with class members.
Under the terms of the approved settlement, the bank will refrain from charging extended overdraft fees for five years—retroactive to December 31, 2017—unless the U.S. Supreme Court “expressly holds that EOBCs or their equivalent do not constitute interest under the NBA.” The bank also will provide $37.5 million in relief to certain class members who paid at least one EOBC and were not provided a refund or a charge-off, and will provide at least $29.1 million in debt reduction for class members whose overdrawn accounts were closed by the bank while they still had an outstanding balance as a result of one or more EOBCs applied during the class period. The bank also will pay attorneys’ fees.
On August 28, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin dismissed an action against a credit union, holding that the credit union’s decision to consider only dispute-free credit reports of all applicants does not amount to a “prohibited basis” under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA). According to the opinion, the credit union required the consumer to remove his disputed debts from his credit report in order for his application for a home equity loan to move forward. After the disputes were removed, the consumer’s credit score dropped below the minimum required by the credit union, and his application was denied. In December 2017, the consumer brought an action against the credit union, alleging that he was discriminated against in violation of ECOA for exercising his dispute rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) and the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). The court rejected the consumer’s arguments, concluding that the FDCPA and the FCRA do not give a consumer a right to dispute debts, but rather a right to ensure that disputed debts are accurately reported as such. The court also rejected the consumer’s theory of recovery under ECOA, finding that his arguments were inconsistent with ECOA’s implementing regulation, Regulation B. The court determined that Regulation B allows a creditor to restrict the types of credit history that it will consider if the restrictions are applied to all applicants without regard to a prohibited basis. Because the dispute-free restriction was applied to all applicants of the credit union equally, the consumer’s claim failed.
6th Circuit holds that failing to report a trial modification plan can constitute incomplete reporting under FCRA
On August 23, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit held that a borrower met the requirements necessary for a Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) claim to proceed when two mortgage servicers failed to report the existence of a trial modification plan when reporting the borrower was delinquent to reporting agencies. In 2014, a borrower brought an action against three credit reporting agencies and two mortgage servicers alleging, among other claims, violations of the FCRA due to payments being reported as past due while successfully making payments under a trial modification plan (also referred to as a Trial Period Plan, or “TPP”) and working towards a permanent modification. Regarding the FCRA claim, the 6th Circuit reversed the lower court’s decision granting the servicers’ motion for summary judgment, finding that the borrower met the statutory requirements for an FCRA claim because failing to report the existence of a TPP can constitute “incomplete reporting” in violation of the statute. The 6th Circuit rejected the servicers’ argument that the Home Affordable Modification Program guidelines “encouraged, but did not require” that they report a TPP. The court acknowledged this distinction but noted that “[r]eporting that [a borrower] was delinquent on his loan payments without reporting the TPP implies a much greater degree of financial irresponsibility than was present here.” The court remanded the case to the district court to determine whether the servicers conducted a reasonable investigation after the borrower disputed the reporting.
On August 22, the CFPB released the latest quarterly consumer credit trends report, which focuses on the reporting of telecommunications-debt collections to nationwide consumer reporting agencies based on a sample of approximately 5 million credit records. The report notes that during the past five years approximately 22 percent of credit records contained at least one telecommunications-related (telecom-related) item, with nearly 95 percent of these telecom-related items being reported by collection agencies. The report highlights that 37 percent of consumers who reported having been contacted about a debt in collection in the prior year were contacted about a telecommunications debt, and more than one fifth of all debt collection revenue is telecom-related debt. The report also observed that a single telecom collection may be associated with multiple tradelines in a credit record over time, suggesting that telecom collections are often reassigned. Notably, however, the report suggests that while the presence of a telecom-related collection item on a credit record is most commonly associated with consumers with lower credit scores, the change in score before and after the collection item appears on the credit record is often small, and as a result, a single telecom-related collection is unlikely to affect a credit decision for those consumers.
On August 10, the CFPB submitted a request to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York for a pre-motion conference to discuss approval to file a motion requesting entry of final judgment with respect to the court’s June decision, which would allow the Bureau to appeal that decision. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the court had terminated the CFPB as a party to an action with the New York Attorney General’s office (NYAG) against a New Jersey-based finance company and its affiliates (defendants), concluding that the CFPB’s organizational structure is unconstitutional and therefore, the agency lacks authority to bring claims under the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA). The court determined that the NYAG, however, had plausibly alleged claims under the CFPA and New York law and had the independent authority to pursue those claims.
In its letter, the CFPB argues that the conditions of Rule 54(b) are met because (i) there are multiple parties still involved in the litigation; (ii) the court’s decision as to the Bureau’s claims is final; and (iii) there is no just reason for delay. Moreover, the CFPB argues that allowing the NYAG to proceed with claims under the CFPA without the Bureau’s “statutorily-assigned right to participate in CFPA claims brought by state regulators” would result in hardship or injustice that could be alleviated by an immediate appeal. Additionally, the CFPB asserts that the issues to be appealed—the constitutionality of the Bureau’s structure and whether the for-cause removal provision is severable from the rest of the CFPA—are separable from the issues that remain to be decided between the NYAG and the defendants.
In response to the Bureau’s letter, the NYAG argued that, regardless of the court’s decision under Rule 54(b), the court should not stay the case and should resolve all of its claims. The defendants responded that they do not oppose the Bureau’s Rule 54(b) request but believe NYAG’s claims should be stayed during the pendency of the Bureau’s appeal, arguing that the Bureau implied this in their request. The Bureau subsequently denied any implication that the NYAG’s claims should be stayed.
California Supreme Court says loans not subject to state interest rate caps may still be unconscionable
On August 13, the Supreme Court of California held that interest rates on consumer loans of $2,500 or more could be considered unconscionable under Section 22302 of California’s Financial Code, notwithstanding Section 22303’s maximum interest rate cap for loans under $2,500. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit asked the Supreme Court of California to address Section 22302’s application to higher cost consumer loans. In the class action that is before the 9th Circuit, consumers alleged that a lender violated the “unlawful” prong of California’s Unfair Competition Law (UCL) with an unsecured $2,600 loan carrying an APR between 96 percent and 136 percent and argued the product is “unconscionable” under Section 22302. To resolve this question, the California Supreme Court held that unconscionability is a “flexible standard” that includes the larger context surrounding the contract. The court held that, although Section 22303 specifies interest rate limitations on loans under $2,500, it does not affect whether a loan in excess of $2,500 is unconscionable, and a court may consider a loan’s interest rate in determining that a loan above this threshold violates Section 22302.
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Trends in regulatory enforcement" at the American Bar Association Banking Law Committee Meeting
- Jessica L. Pollet to discuss "Your career is impacting your life..." at the Ark Group Women Legal Conference
- Jon David D. Langlois to discuss "Successors in interest updates" at the Mortgage Bankers Association National Mortgage Servicing Conference & Expo
- Brandy A. Hood to discuss "Keeping your head above water in flood insurance compliance" at the Mortgage Bankers Association National Mortgage Servicing Conference & Expo