On July 23, the CFPB, the FTC, and 15 state authorities coordinated to take action against foreclosure relief companies and associated individuals alleged to have employed deceptive marketing tactics to obtain business from distressed borrowers. The CFPB filed three suits, the FTC filed six, and the state authorities collectively initiated 32 actions. For example, the CFPB claims the defendants (i) collected fees before obtaining a loan modification; (ii) inflated success rates and likelihood of obtaining a modification; (iii) led borrowers to believe they would receive legal representation; and (iv) made false promises about loan modifications to consumers. The CFPB and FTC allege that the defendants violated Regulation O, formerly known as the Mortgage Assistance Relief Services (MARS) Rule, and that some of the defendants also violated the Dodd-Frank Act’s UDAAP provisions and Section 5 of the FTC Act, respectively. The state authorities are pursuing similar claims under state law. For example, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced that he served a notice of intent to bring litigation against two companies and an individual for operating a fraudulent mortgage rescue and loan modification scheme that induced consumers into paying large upfront fees but failed to help homeowners avoid foreclosure.
On July 24, the CFPB issued a proposed rule to expand the scope of HMDA data reporting requirements. Section 1094 of the Dodd-Frank Act transferred responsibility for HMDA and Regulation C to the CFPB and directed the CFPB to conduct a rulemaking to expand the collection of mortgage origination data to include, among other things: (i) the length of the loan; (ii) total points and fees; (iii) the length of any teaser or introductory interest rates; (iv) the applicant or borrower’s age and credit score; and (v) the channel through which the application was made. The Dodd-Frank Act also granted the CFPB discretion to collect additional information as it sees fit. The proposed rule would implement all of the new data points required by the Dodd-Frank Act, and also would utilize the CFPB’s discretionary authority to substantially expand the number of new data points required to be reported. In addition, the CFPB’s proposal would require reporting for all dwelling-secured loans, which would include some loans not currently covered by Regulation C, including reverse mortgages, and all home equity lines of credit irrespective of their purpose. The proposal follows a review initiated by the CFPB earlier this year to assess of the potential impacts of a HMDA rulemaking on small businesses. The CFPB released a summary of that review with the proposed rule. Comments on the proposal are due by October 22, 2014. We are reviewing the proposed rule and plan to provide a more detailed summary in the coming days.
Maryland’s High Court Holds Suits Under Finder’s Fee Law Subject To Three-Year Statute Of Limitations
On July 21, the Court of Appeals of Maryland, the state’s highest court, held in responding to a question certified by the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland that alleged violations of Maryland’s Finder’s Fee Act are subject to a three-year statute of limitations. NVR Mortg. Fin. v. Carlsen, Misc. No. 11, 2014 WL 3565472 (Md. Jul. 21, 2014). In this case, a borrower sued a mortgage broker on behalf of a putative class alleging the broker violated the state’s Finder’s Fee Act by failing to make certain disclosures before collecting finder’s fees for brokering mortgages. The borrower filed suit more than three years after the alleged failure to disclose, but asserted that an alleged violation of the Finder’s Fee Act is an “other specialty” under Maryland state law and as such is subject to a 12-year state of limitations. Under state law an alleged violation of a statute is an “other specialty” only if, in relevant part, the duty, obligation, prohibition, or right sought to be enforced is created or imposed solely by the statute, or a related statute, and does not otherwise exist as a matter of common law. The court rejected the borrower’s claim that the Finder’s Fee Act created a statutory duty for mortgage brokers, and held instead that a mortgage broker owes to a borrower a common law duty to disclose all facts or information which may be relevant or material in influencing the judgment or action of the borrower in the matter. The court held, therefore, that in an action for an alleged violation the Finder’s Fee Act the duty sought to be enforced exists as a matter of common law, rather than having been created solely by the statute, and is subject to a three-year, not 12-year, statute of limitations.
On July 24, House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) sent a letter to Attorney General Holder raising questions about the DOJ’s “inclination to enter into settlement agreements with respect to mortgage securities fraud” claims. The Chairman notes that large RMBS settlements to date have been predicated on violations of FIRREA, which allows the DOJ to initiate lawsuits seeking civil money penalties. The letter suggests the DOJ’s decision not to litigate or secure a criminal plea diverges from the agency’s strategy in other contexts. Chairman Issa asks the DOJ to produce, by August 14, all documents and communications since January 2011 referring or relating to two recent major RMBS settlements, as well as any policies in effect during that time governing the decision to conclude pre-suit negotiations.
Bankruptcy Court Refuses To Dismiss Class Suit Claiming Bank’s Credit Reporting Practices Violated Bankruptcy Code
On July 22, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York rejected a bank’s motion to dismiss a putative class action adversary proceeding alleging that certain of the bank’s credit reporting practices violated U.S. bankruptcy law. In re Haynes, No. 11-23212, 2014 WL 3608891 (S.D.N.Y. Jul. 22, 2014). The named plaintiff-debtor alleged that the bank charged off and sold his debt, which was subsequently discharged in bankruptcy, but failed to correct his credit report that listed the debt, post-discharge, as being only “charged off,” rather than being “discharged in bankruptcy.” The bank moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim, arguing that because it sold the debt pre-bankruptcy, it did not have an obligation under the FCRA or Sections 727 and 524(a) of the Bankruptcy Code to correct the debtor’s credit report. The court denied the bank’s motion on the grounds that (i) the bank continues to have an economic interest in the debt—notwithstanding its sale—because the bank continues to receive a percentage payment of the proceeds of each debt repaid to it and forwarded to the debt’s purchaser; and (ii) by failing to correct the credit reports, the bank is enhancing its purchasers’ ability to collect on the debt.
Over the past week, members of Congress from both parties have sent several letters to the Department of Education (DOE or ED) regarding its ongoing rulemaking related to the ways higher education institutions request, maintain, disburse, and otherwise manage federal student aid disbursements. As part of that rulemaking, the DOE is considering changes that would, among other things, clarify permissible disbursement practices and agreements between education institutions and entities that assist in disbursing student aid, and increase consumer protections governing the use of prepaid cards and other financial instruments. In general, the letters from Congress express concern that the draft rule is too broad and will limit student access to financial services. For example, in a July 17 letter from Congressman Luetkemeyer (R-MO), Senator Hoeven (R-ND), and 40 other lawmakers, including six Democrats, the members expressed concern that the DOE proposal could cover any account held by a student or a parent of a student if the financial institution had any arrangement, however informal, with a school and regardless of when or why the account was opened. The members support efforts to protect students from abuses made in disbursing student aid, but ask the DOE to tailor the rule such that it could not be construed so broadly as to restrict students’ access to financial services. Earlier this year, another group of lawmakers called on the DOE to “mandate contract transparency, prohibit aggressive marketing, and ban high fees when colleges partner with banks to sponsor debit cards, prepaid cards, or other financial products used to disburse student aid.”
On July 24, the OFAC released a settlement agreement with a large bank to resolve apparent violations of narcotics sanctions regulations. The settlement agreement states that during separate periods from September 2005 through March 2009, the bank allowed transactions to be processed for certain individuals designated under the narcotics sanctions regulations, and failed to timely file blocked property reports regarding accounts owned by other designated individuals. The bank did not admit to any allegation made or implied by the apparent violations, but agreed to pay approximately $16.5 million to resolve the matter. The agreement explains that most of the apparent violations were disclosed by the bank to OFAC as a result of remedial action designed to correct a screening deficiency giving rise to the apparent violations, but that such disclosures do not qualify as voluntarily self-disclosed to OFAC within the meaning of OFAC’s Economic Sanctions Enforcement Guidelines because they were substantially similar to apparent violations of which OFAC already was aware.
On July 23, HUD issued Mortgagee Letter 2014-16, which requires FHA mortgagees to retain electronic copies of certain foreclosure-related documents and extends the record retention period to seven years after the life of an FHA-insured mortgage. HUD advises that, in addition to any requirements for retaining hard copies or original foreclosure-related documents, loss-mitigation review documents also must be retained in electronic format. Those documents include: (i) evidence of the servicer’s foreclosure committee recommendation; (ii) the servicer’s Referral Notice to a foreclosure attorney, if applicable; and (iii) a copy of the document evidencing the first legal action necessary to initiate foreclosure and all supporting documentation, if applicable. The letter adds that mortgagees also must retain in electronic format a copy of the mortgage, the mortgage note, or the deed of trust. If a note has been lost, mortgagees must retain both an electronic and hard copy of a Lost Note Affidavit. The letter is effective for all foreclosures occurring on or after October 1, 2014.
Recently, the Federal Reserve Board released two payments-related reports: (i) a report to Congress on government-administered general use prepaid cards; and (ii) a detailed report on the Federal Reserve’s 2013 payments study. The report on government-administered prepaid cards analyzes the $502 million in fee revenue collected by issuers in 2013, a majority of which was attributable to interchange fees. For consumer-related fees, the report indicates such fees derived primarily from ATM-related charges. The second report details findings from the 2013 Federal Reserve Payments Study, the fifth in a series of triennial studies conducted by the Federal Reserve System to comprehensively estimate and study aggregate trends in noncash payments in the United States. The paper expands on the 2013 summary findings originally published last December, and includes, among many other things, the following new findings: (i) credit cards are more prevalent than other general-purpose card types; (ii) among general-purpose cards with purchase activity in 2012, consumers preferred debit cards, with an average use of 23 payments per month, compared with an average of 11 payments per month for general-purpose credit cards and 10 payments per month for general-purpose prepaid cards; (iii) although the number of ATM cash withdrawals using debit cards and general-purpose prepaid cards dropped slightly, growth in the value of ATM withdrawals continued to exceed inflation; (iv) the number of online bill payments reported by major processors, which included those initiated through online banking websites and directly through billers and settled over ACH, exceeded three billion in 2012; and (v) there were more than 250 million mobile payments made using a mobile wallet application, and at least 205 million person-to-person or money transfer payments.
On July 8, Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee signed HB 7997, which extends the state’s licensing requirements to include companies servicing a loan, directly or indirectly, as a third-party loan servicer. Under the existing state statute, the term “loan” means any advance of money or credit, including mortgage loans, educational loans, and other consumer loans. The new law adds new definitions for servicing and third-party loan servicer, establishes for such servicers a $1,100 annual licensing fee, and requires licensed servicers to: (i) maintain at least $100,000 capital; (ii) obtain a bond; (iii) maintain segregated borrower accounts; and (iv) maintain certain records. The law also establishes prohibited acts and practices for third-party servicers, including, among others: (i) knowingly misapplying loan payments to the outstanding balance of a loan or to escrow accounts; (ii) requiring unnecessary forced placement of insurance; (iii) failing to provide loan payoff information as required; (iv) collecting private mortgage insurance beyond the date required; (v) failing to timely respond to consumer complaints; and (vi) charging excessive or unreasonable fees to provide loan payoff information. The law exempts depository institutions and licensed lenders and other licensed entities. The new rules and requirements take effect July 1, 2015.
This week, the CFPB and 25 states filed amicus briefs in Jesinoski v. Countrywide Home Loans, Inc., No. 13-684, a case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court that may resolve a circuit split over whether a borrower seeking to rescind a loan transaction under TILA must file suit within three years of consummating the loan, or if written notice within the three-year rescission period is sufficient to preserve a borrower’s right of rescission. In short, the CFPB argues, as it has in the past, that no TILA provision requires a borrower to bring suit in order to exercise the TILA-granted right to rescind, and that TILA’s history and purpose confirm that a borrower who sends a notice of rescission in the three-year period has exercised the right of rescission. The state AGs similarly argue that TILA’s plain meaning allows borrowers to preserve their rescission right with written notice. In so arguing, the government briefs aim to support the borrower-petitioner seeking to reverse the Eighth Circuit’s holding to the contrary. The majority of the circuit courts that have addressed the issue, including the Eight Circuit, all have held that a borrower must file suit within the three-year rescission period.
On July 23, the FDIC proposed a rule to revise its assessments regulation. Specifically, the FDIC proposes changing the ratios and ratio thresholds for capital evaluations used in its risk-based deposit insurance assessment system to conform the assessments to the prompt corrective action capital ratios and ratio thresholds adopted by the prudential regulators. The proposal also would (i) revise the assessment base calculation for custodial banks to conform to the asset risk weights adopted by the prudential regulations; and (ii) require all highly complex institutions to measure counterparty exposure for deposit insurance assessment purposes using the Basel III standardized approach credit equivalent amount for derivatives and the Basel III standardized approach exposure amount for other securities financing transactions. The FDIC explains the changes are intended to accommodate recent changes to the federal banking agencies’ capital rules that are referenced in portions of the assessments regulation.Comments are due by September 22, 2014.
On July 18, FinCEN published SAR Stats—formerly called By the Numbers—an annual compilation of numerical data gathered from the Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) filed by financial institutions using FinCEN’s new unified SAR form and e-filing process. Among other things, the new form and process were designed to allow FinCEN to collect more detailed information on types of suspicious activity. As such, FinCEN describes the data presented in this first SAR Stats issue as “a new baseline for financial sector reporting on suspicious activity.” The primary purpose of the report is to provide a statistical overview of suspicious activity developments, including by presenting SAR data arranged by filing industry type for the more than 1.3 million unique SARs filed between March 1, 2012 and December 31, 2013. In addition, the redesigned annual publication includes a new SAR Narrative Spotlight, which focuses on “perceived key emerging activity trends derived from analysis of SAR narratives.” The inaugural Spotlight examines the emerging trend of Bitcoin related activities within SAR narrative data. It states that FinCEN is observing a rise in the number of SARs flagging virtual currencies as a component of suspicious activity, and provides for potential SAR filers an explanation of virtual currencies and the importance of SAR data in assessing virtual currency transactions.
On July 23, FINRA announced that the SEC approved a new rule prohibiting FINRA-supervised firms and registered representatives from conditioning settlement of a customer dispute on—or otherwise compensating a customer for—the customer’s agreement to consent to, or not to oppose, the firm’s or representative’s request to expunge such information from the Central Registration Depository (CRD) system. The CRD system is an online registration and licensing system for the securities industry, which contains information regarding members and registered representatives, such as personal information, registration, and employment history, as well as disclosure information including criminal matters, regulatory and disciplinary actions, civil judicial actions, and information relating to customer complaints and disputes. The information FINRA makes public through BrokerCheck is derived from CRD. Brokers who wish to have a customer dispute removed from the CRD system and, thereby, from BrokerCheck, must obtain a court order confirming an arbitration award recommending expungement relief. FINRA will announce the effective date of the new rule in a regulatory notice to be published shortly.
On July 14, a national bank, numerous related companies, and several of their third-party collection vendors agreed to pay $75 million to resolve class claims that the bank and other parties violated the TCPA by using an automatic telephone dialing system and/or an artificial prerecorded voice to call mobile telephones without prior express consent. The bank maintains that its customer agreement provided it with prior express consent to make automated calls to customers on their mobile telephones, and that the TCPA permits prior express consent to be obtained after the transaction that resulted in the debt owed. Although they agreed to resolve the matter through settlement to avoid further costs of litigation, the bank and other defendants deny all material allegations.