On November 27, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit held that HUD’s supplemental ten factor test for determining whether RESPA’s affiliated business arrangements safe harbor applies is not entitled to deference or persuasive weight, and determined that a real estate agency and its affiliated title servicers companies satisfied RESPA’s statutory affiliated business arrangements safe harbor provision. Carter v. Welles-Bowen Realty, Inc., No. 10-3922, 2013 WL 6183851 (6th Cir. Nov. 27, 2013). On behalf of a putative class, a group of homebuyers who used a real estate agency’s settlement services claimed that the agency and two title services companies violated RESPA’s referral fee prohibition. The agency and title companies asserted that they satisfied RESPA’s affiliated business arrangements safe harbor provision because (i) they disclosed the arrangement to the homebuyers, (ii) the homebuyers were free to reject the referral, and (iii) the companies only received a return from the referral through their ownership interest. The homebuyers countered that the companies must also demonstrate that they were bona fide providers of settlement services under HUD’s ten factor test for distinguishing sham business arrangements, which HUD established in a 1996 policy statement. A district court granted summary judgment in favor of the companies, finding that HUD’s ten factor test was void for unconstitutional vagueness. On appeal, the Sixth Circuit affirmed but on different grounds. The Sixth Circuit held that HUD’s policy statement is not entitled to Chevron or Skidmore deference because the statement provides only ambiguous guidelines HUD intends to consider rather than HUD’s interpretation of the statute. As a result, the companies’ compliance with the three conditions set out in the statute sufficed to obtain the exemption under the affiliated business safe harbor provision. The Sixth Circuit noted that “a statutory safe harbor is not very safe if a federal agency may add a new requirement to it through a policy statement.”
On December 5, ACLU-affiliated entities and borrower advocacy groups filed a lawsuit in the Northern District of California seeking to compel FHFA to produce “all [FHFA] records pertaining to the use of eminent domain to purchase mortgages.” Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment v. Fed. Hous. Fin. Agency, No. 13-5618 (N.D. Cal. Dec. 5, 2013). Specifically, the plaintiffs seek to compel FHFA to respond to a FOIA request that demanded, among other things, (i) all communications and records of meetings between FHFA leadership and financial services industry trade associations and individual companies; (ii) all FHFA records regarding the City of Richmond’s proposal to seize certain mortgages; and (iii) all studies and analyses of the impact of eminent domain or principal reduction proposals relied upon by FHFA in support of materials it released in August 2013 outlining potential actions the agency could take in response to local efforts to employ eminent domain to seize mortgages. The complaint details the organizations’ position on eminent domain as a tool to implement principal reduction, which the organizations complain FHFA has improperly failed to pursue on its own. The request and complaint suggest that FHFA’s eminent domain position was unduly influenced by the financial services industry and “is advancing the interests of Wall Street firms at the expense of the nation’s homeowners.” This latest challenge of FHFA’s positions on eminent domain and principle reduction precede, potentially by days, an anticipated vote to confirm Representative Mel Watt (D-NC) to serve as FHFA Director.
On December 2, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that a set of parens patriae suits filed by the Mississippi Attorney General (AG) against credit card issuers is not subject to federal jurisdiction under the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA) or National Bank Act (NBA) preemption. Hood v. JP Morgan Chase & Co., No. 13-60686, 2013 WL 6230960 (5th Cir. Dec. 2, 2013). The consolidated appeal involves cases originally filed by the AG in state court against six credit card issuers for allegedly violating the Mississippi Consumer Protection Act in connection with the marketing, sale, and administering of certain ancillary products, including payment protection plans. After the card issuers removed the cases, a federal district court denied the state’s motion to remand, holding that it had subject matter jurisdiction because: (i) the cases were CAFA mass actions; (ii) the NBA (and the Depository Institutions Deregulation and Monetary Control Act for one state-chartered bank defendant) preempted some of the state law claims; and (iii) it had supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state law claims. The Sixth Circuit disagreed and held that the card issuers failed to prove that any card holder met CAFA’s individual amount in controversy requirement, rejecting the issuers’ argument that the state is the real party in interest and its claims for restitution and civil penalties exceed the threshold. The court also rejected the issuers’ argument—and the district court’s holding—that the payment protection plans were part of the loan agreement and the fees associated with the plans constitute “interest,” such that the state’s challenge to the plans was an implicit usury claim preempted by the NBA. Instead, the court held that while the plans could conceivably fit within the definition of “interest,” there is no clear rule on this subject that demands removal. Moreover, the court held that even if the payment protection plan fees are “interest,” the claims still would not be preempted because the state does not allege that the issuers charged too much interest, but rather challenges the alleged practice of improperly enrolling customers in the plans. The court reversed the district court and remanded for further proceedings consistent with its opinion.
On November 26, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit held that mortgage servicers are exempted from TILA liability, despite recent amendments to the statute. Marais v. Chase Home Fin. LLC, No. 12-4248, 2013 WL 6170977 (6th Cir. Nov. 26, 2013). A borrower had alleged that her servicer violated TILA by failing to properly respond to her written request for information regarding her loan. The Sixth Circuit rejected the borrower’s argument that amendments to TILA as part of the Helping Families Save Their Homes Act of 2009 created a cause of action against mere servicers, and held that servicers who are not creditors or creditor assignees are expressly exempt from TILA liability. The court, however, held that the servicer could be liable under RESPA for damages caused by its purported deficient response to the borrower’s request for information.
On November 21, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held that the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) does not preempt an Indiana statute that bans most robocalls without exempting calls that are not made for a commercial purpose. Patriotic Veterans, Inc. v. State of Indiana, No. 11-3265, 2013 WL 6114836 (7th Cir. Nov. 21, 2013). A not-for-profit Illinois corporation seeking to use automatically dialed interstate phone calls to deliver political messages to Indiana residents sought a declaration that the Indiana Automated Dialing Machine Statute (IADMS) violates the First Amendment, at least as it applies to political messages, and also is preempted by the TCPA, which expressly exempts non-commercial calls such as political calls from the TCPA’s regulation of autodialers. Overturning the district court’s decision, the Seventh Circuit found that the Indiana statute is not expressly preempted by the TCPA because the plain language of the TCPA’s savings clause states that the federal law does not preempt any state law that prohibits the use of automatic telephone dialing systems and, even if the IADMS is considered a regulation of, rather than a prohibition on, the use of autodialers, the savings clause does not at all address state laws that impose interstate regulations on their use. The court further found that the IADMS is not impliedly preempted by the TCPA because it is possible to comply with the state statute without violating the TCPA, the state statute furthers the TCPA’s purpose of protecting the privacy interests of residential telephone subscribers, and Congress did not intend to create field preemption when it enacted the TCPA. The court, however, remanded the case to the district court to consider whether the statute violates the First Amendment.
Recently, the New York Court of Appeals, in answering questions , held that no private right of action exists for judgment debtors to seek money damages and injunctive relief against banks that allegedly violate New York’s Exempt Income Protection Act (EIPA) procedural requirements. In this case, two groups of judgment debtor plaintiffs alleged that their banks failed to provide them and other members of putative classes with exemption notices and claim forms as required by the EIPA, and asserted that the banks unlawfully froze their accounts and charged them various fees in violation of the statute. The federal district courts held that the EIPA, which provides a special exemption from satisfaction of money judgments for certain amounts and types of a debtor’s income, permits judgment debtors and creditors to bring claims against each other but provides no private right of action against the banks. On a consolidated appeal, the Second Circuit asked New York’s highest court to address the issue, given (i) there was no controlling precedent in New York that governs the cases and (ii) the questions presented involve important issues of New York state law and policy that are likely to recur. The New York Court of Appeals agreed with the federal district courts that a private right of action cannot be implied from the EIPA. As to whether judgment debtors can seek money damages and injunctive relief against banks that violate EIPA in special proceedings and, if so, whether those special proceedings are the exclusive mechanism for such relief or whether judgment debtors may also seek relief in a plenary action, the New York Court of Appeals held that the banks had no obligation under the common law to provide the notices and form, and therefore any right debtors have to enforce that obligation arises from the statute.
Federal District Court Holds Evidence Of Online Notice Regarding Arbitration Policy Change Alone Insufficient To Support Arbitration Demand
On December 2, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California denied a bank’s motion to compel arbitration, in part because the bank failed to provide evidence that its customer received an online notice of a contract change that added the arbitration clause. Martin v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., No. 12-6030, slip op. (N.D. Cal. Dec. 2, 2013). In this case, a bank customer filed suit alleging the bank violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act and the state’s Unfair Competition Law. The bank moved to compel arbitration, claiming that it properly amended the controlling customer agreement to include the arbitration clause at issue by providing written notice in a billing insert, and by providing the same notice online to customers who logged into their account. The court held that the bank failed to demonstrate the customer logged on to her online account and received the notice at issue. Similarly, the court explained that the bank’s supporting declaration only stated that the customer’s account was “targeted to receive” the written notice, but the bank did not state the customer actually was provided with the notice. The court also questioned whether the amendment adding the arbitration clause was fair, explaining that the original customer agreement allowed the bank to amend “charges, fees, or other information contained in the disclosure” and suggested that the original agreement’s terms did not indicate the addition of an arbitration agreement was an anticipated modification.
On December 3, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that the state Department of Financial Services (DFS) sent subpoenas to 16 online “lead generation” companies as part of its expanding investigation into online payday lending. The DFS alleges the target companies are engaged in deceptive or misleading marketing of illegal, online payday loans in New York, and claims lead generation companies offer access to quick cash to encourage consumers to provide sensitive personal information and then sell that information to, among others, payday lenders operating unlawfully in New York. The DFS publicly kicked off an investigation of online payday lending earlier this year when it sent letters to 35 online lenders, including lenders affiliated with Native American Tribes, demanding that they cease and desist offering allegedly illegal payday loans to New York borrowers. Under New York law, it is civil usury for a company to make a loan or forbearance under $250,000 with an interest rate exceeding 16% per year, and a criminal violation to make a loan with an interest rate exceeding 25% per year. The DFS cites as part of the basis for its expanded investigation consumer complaints about false and misleading advertising (including celebrity endorsements), harassing phone calls, suspicious solicitations, privacy breaches, and other issues.
On November 27, Pennsylvania enacted HB 1128, which updates and consolidates the state’s Motor Vehicle Sales Finance Act (MVSFA) and Goods and Services Installment Sales Act (GSISA), and includes numerous changes relevant to auto finance companies. Among other things, the bill amends the MVSFA with regard to installment sales contracts, to, among other things: (i) require installment sale contracts to include a statement informing the buyer of possible additional rights under the state Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law; (ii) add triggers allowing for an acceleration clause; (iii) require a holder to notify a buyer upon payment in full by specifying the obligation has been paid in full on the instruments which are to be returned to that buyer with delivery in 10 days of the tender date; and (iv) prohibit a buyer from waiving any provisions in the chapter, including any purported waiver affected by a contractual choice of the law of another jurisdiction contained in an installment sale contract. Other MVSFA amendments provide that only costs disclosed at the time of the installment sale can be included in the contract and specifically prohibit costs for repairs that arise after contract execution from being added to the original contract. The bill amends the GSISA to, among other things: (i) add new requirements related to repossession; (ii) specify new standards for closed-end and open-end credit agreements; and (iii) increase certain maximum allowable fees and finance charges. The changes took effect November 27, 2014.
On November 27, the Federal Reserve Board requested comments on proposed changes to its procedures for posting debit and credit entries to institutions’ Federal Reserve accounts for ACH debit and commercial check transactions. In a policy statement, the Board seeks comments on a proposal to change the posting time of ACH debit transactions processed by the Federal Reserve Banks’ FedACH service overnight to 8:30 a.m. ET from 11:00 a.m. ET to align with the posting of ACH credit transactions. For commercial check transactions, the Board seeks to move the posting time for receiving most credits for deposits and debits for presentments to 8:30 a.m. ET, and to set two other posting times at 1:00 p.m. ET and 5:30 p.m. ET. The Board is also proposing to establish a set of principles that would be applied to any new posting rules for the Reserve Banks’ same-day ACH service. In a related proposed rule, the Board offered for comment companion amendments to Regulation J to permit Reserve Banks to obtain settlement from paying banks by as early as 8:30 a.m. ET for checks that the Reserve Banks present, and to permit the Reserve Banks to require paying banks that receive presentment of checks from the Reserve Banks to make the proceeds of settlement for those checks available to the Reserve Banks as soon as 30 minutes after receiving the checks. Comments on both the policy statement and the proposed rule are due 60 days after the documents are published in the Federal Register.
On December 3, FinCEN and the Federal Reserve Board issued a final rule to amend the definitions of “funds transfer” and “transmittal of funds” under regulations implementing the Bank Secrecy Act. The agencies finalized the rule as proposed. The changes are intended to maintain the scope of the definitions following recent related amendments to the Electronic Fund Transfer Act, so as to avoid certain currently covered transactions being excluded from BSA requirements. The changes take effect January 3, 2014.
FHFA Holds Conforming Loan Limits Steady, Announces Overhauled Mortgage Insurance Master Policy Requirements
On November 26, FHFA announced that 2014 maximum conforming loan limits will remain at $417,000, unchanged from 2013. On December 2, FHFA announced that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac soon will provide guidance to lenders and servicers regarding specific effective dates for new requirements under the entities’ aligned, overhauled mortgage insurance master policies, which guidance will include changes related to loss mitigation, claims, assurance of coverage, and information sharing. FHFA, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac anticipate that the master policies will go into effect in 2014, pending review and approval by state insurance regulators.
On November 27, HUD issued Mortgagee Letter 2013-42, granting an extension of time to Title I and II lenders and mortgagees with a December 31, 2013 fiscal year end to submit required materials and fees for annual recertification. The letter notes that FHA-approved lenders and mortgagees with a fiscal year end of December 31, 2013 or later must use the Lender Electronic Assessment Portal (LEAP) to complete the annual certification process. Given that LEAP recertification functionality will not be deployed until after March 31, 2014, lenders and mortgagees with a fiscal year end of December 31, 2013 will be unable to access LEAP within the required timeframe, and instead will have until 30 days after the deployment of LEAP functionality to complete their annual certification.
On November 25, Freddie Mac issued Bulletin 2013-24, which revises numerous short sale and deed-in-lieu of foreclosure (DIL) requirements. The bulletin updates, among other things, eligibility requirements for exceptions to borrower documentation for short sales and DILs by (i) permitting a borrower whose mortgage debt has been discharged in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy to be eligible for an exception to documentation, regardless of FICO score; and (ii) removing mortgages that were originated as investment properties from eligibility for an exception to documentation. The bulletin also requires servicers to: (i) submit a short sale or DIL recommendation to Freddie Mac for approval when the borrower’s cash reserves exceed $50,000; and (ii) delay, or ensure that foreclosure counsel delays, the next legal action in the foreclosure process when such servicers receive a first complete borrower response package (BRP) more than 37 days prior to a scheduled foreclosure sale date, and the evaluation results in an offer to proceed with a short sale or DIL. Further, the bulletin states that servicers no longer are required to conduct an expedited review when a completed BRP with a short sale purchase offer is received greater than 37 days prior to a scheduled foreclosure sale date. Finally, the bulletin updates trial period plan requirements to provide that if a borrower accepts an original trial period plan offer after receiving an appeal decision, and the borrower remains eligible for the original offer, servicers must reissue the original offer with a new trial period plan due date.
On December 4, Fannie Mae issued Servicing Guide Announcement SVC-2013-24, which: (i) updates the modification terms for the “Cap and Extend Modification for Disaster Relief” to require servicers to set the interest rate to a fixed rate; and (ii) establishes the steps servicers must follow to determine borrowers’ modified payment terms. Fannie Mae encourages servicers to implement the new requirements immediately, but will not require them to do so until February 1, 2014. The announcement likewise requires, with immediate effect, that servicers update Form 582 (Lender Record Information) promptly after any change in previously-submitted information occurs. Finally, the announcement adds to the Servicing Guide glossary a definition for “seriously delinquent mortgage loan.”