On June 12, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California denied Castle & Cooke Mortgage’s motion to dismiss in a putative class action brought by affected borrowers stemming from Castle and Cooke’s 2013 settlement with the CFPB. The underlying complaint is based on the allegation that the “loan officer who sold plaintiff his mortgage loan was paid a bonus that was based, at least in part, on the fact that plaintiff received a more expensive and/or less favorable loan than he otherwise would have received.” The complaint seeks various remedies, including actual and statutory damages under the Truth in Lending Act. The complaint contains four separate causes of action: (i) violations of TILA, (ii) violations of the Utah Residential Mortgage Practices and Licensing Act, (iii) unjust enrichment under Utah law, and (iv) violations of the California Unfair Competition Law. Castle & Cooke only moved to dismiss the final two claims. In denying Castle & Cooke’s motion to dismiss, the court found that both challenged claims could be pursued, rejecting Castle & Cooke’s arguments that the claims were inappropriate given the remedies available under TILA. With this denial, the plaintiffs will be able to continue pursuing all four causes of action as the litigation continues.
Today, the DOJ unsealed an eighteen-count indictment in Brooklyn, New York charging a Turkish citizen (Defendant) with organizing worldwide cyberattacks against at least three U.S. payment processors’ computer networks. The Defendant’s organization allegedly used “sophisticated intrusion techniques” to hack the computer systems, stealing prepaid debit card data and subsequently using the stolen data to make ATM withdrawals in which standard withdrawal limits were manipulated to allow for greater withdrawals. According to the indictment, the Defendant managed a group of co-conspirators responsible for distributing the stolen card information to “cashing crews” around the world, who then used the information to conduct tens of thousands of fraudulent ATM withdrawals and fraudulent purchases. Within two days – February 27 and 28, 2011 – the DOJ alleges that the “cashing crews withdrew approximately $10 million through approximately 15,000 fraudulent ATM withdrawals in at least 18 countries.” The remaining two operations, occurring in late 2012 and early 2013, resulted in ATM withdrawals of roughly $5 million and $40 million, respectively. The Defendant, along with other high-ranking members of the conspiracy, received the funds from the fraudulent operations via wire transfer, electronic currency, and personal delivery of U.S. and foreign currency. The Defendant was arrested in Germany on December 18, 2013, and was extradited to the United States on June 23, 2015. The charges against the Defendant follow previous charges against members of the conspiracy, including the arrest of a member of the New York cashing crew.
On June 15, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York unsealed a 2013 plea agreement under which American FIFA Executive Committee Member Chuck Blazer secretly pleaded guilty to ten charges related to corruption in the soccer organization. Mr. Blazer agreed to forfeit more than $1.9 million, and to pay back-taxes and penalties on more than $11 million in unreported income.
According to the plea agreement, Mr. Blazer began cooperating with the DOJ’s investigation in December of 2011, even agreeing to work undercover making secret recordings. The unsealing of the plea agreement is the latest development in the ongoing fallout from the racketeering, wire fraud, and money laundering indictments announced three weeks ago by the DOJ against soccer executives at FIFA and others tied to the organization. Mr. Blazer’s testimony at his plea hearing in November 2013 was unsealed two weeks ago.
Georgia District Court Rules SEC’s Use of Administrative Law Judges In Insider Trading Case “Likely Unconstitutional”
On June 8, in Hill v. Securities And Exchange Commission, Civ. Action No. 1:15-CV-1801-LMM, a Georgia federal judge ruled that the Securities and Exchange Commission’s use of an in-house Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) to preside over an insider-trading case was “likely unconstitutional.” In Hill, after a nearly two-year investigation, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) served Charles Hill, a self-employed real estate developer who was not registered with the SEC, with an Order Instituting Cease-And-Desist Proceedings under Section 21C of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (“Exchange Act”), alleging liability for insider trading in violation of Section 14(e) of the Exchange Act and Rule 14e-3. The SEC alleged that Hill, using inside information he received, purchased and then sold a large quantity of Radiant Systems, Inc. stock, profiting approximately $744,000. In addition to the cease-and-desist order, the SEC sought a civil penalty and disgorgement from Mr. Hill. The SEC sought to collect the civil penalty through an administrative hearing using an in-house ALJ. Mr. Hill filed this action to challenge the SEC’s decision to use an administrative proceeding, and asked the Court to (i) declare the proceeding unconstitutional; and (ii) enjoin the proceeding from occurring until the Court issues its ruling. The Court granted, in part, and denied, in part, his request. Read more…
New York Court of Appeals Rules Possession of Note, Rather than Mortgage, Conveys Standing to Commence Foreclosure Action
On June 11, the New York Court of Appeals held that a loan servicer who holds the note has standing to commence a mortgage foreclosure action against a borrower even if the servicer cannot show that it also holds the mortgage. See Aurora Loan Servs., LLC v. Taylor, 2015 NY Slip Op 04872 (Jun. 11, 2015). The court reasoned that the servicer did not need to show possession of the mortgage because “the note, and not the mortgage, is the dispositive instrument that conveys standing to foreclose under New York law.” In Aurora, the defendant borrowers had executed an adjustable rate note and a mortgage in 2006. The mortgage designated Mortgage Electronic Recording Systems, Inc. (“MERS”) as nominee, but the note was not transferred to MERS with the mortgage. After the borrowers defaulted, the servicer took possession of the note and filed for foreclosure against the borrowers. In reaching its decision, the court disregarded borrowers’ argument that the involvement of MERS somehow impacted the servicer’s standing to foreclose.
The Second Circuit Court of Appeals’ recent decision in Madden v. Midland Funding, LLC held that a nonbank entity taking assignment of debts originated by a national bank is not entitled to protection under the National Bank Act (“NBA”) from state-law usury claims. In reaching this conclusion, the Court appears to have not considered the “Valid-When-Made Doctrine”—a longstanding principle of usury law that if a loan is not usurious when made, then it does not become usurious when assigned to another party. If left undisturbed, the Court’s decision may well have broad and alarming ramifications. The decision could significantly disrupt secondary markets for consumer and commercial credit, impacting a broad cross-section of financial services providers and other businesses that rely on the availability and post-sale validity of loans originated by national or state-chartered depository institutions.
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Questions regarding the matters discussed in this Alert may be directed to any of our lawyers listed below, or to any other BuckleySandler attorney with whom you have consulted in the past.
On May 29, US District Judge Katherine Forrest sentenced Ross Ulbricht – operator of the online dark market known as Silk Road – to life in prison without the possibility of parole. As previously reported, Ulbricht was found guilty by a federal jury on February 4, 2015 for his alleged creation, ownership, and operation of a website where activities included narcotics distribution, computer hacking, and conspiracy. In addition to a life in prison sentence, Ulbricht has been ordered to pay over $180 million to the federal government. During the year and a half-long legal process of convicting and sentencing Ulbricht, the DOJ also charged two former federal agents with wire fraud and money laundering of digital currency, and held several government auctions to sell bitcoins seized during its investigation of Silk Road.
2nd Circuit Reinstates Consumer Class Action Against National Debt Buyer Through Preemption Decision
On May 22, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled against a debt collection firm, holding that “non-national bank entities are not entitled to protections under the National Bank Act (“NBA”) from state-law usury claims merely because they are assignees of a national bank.” Madden v. Midland Funding, LLC, No. 14-2131-cv, 2015 WL 2435657 (2nd Cir. May 22, 2015). The Second Circuit’s holding reversed the Southern District of New York’s decision, which held that it was permissible for the firm to charge a consumer an interest rate of 27%—a rate exceeding New York’s 25% usury limit—because the firm was an assignee of a national bank. The Second Circuit vacated the District Court’s judgment “[b]ecause neither defendant is a national bank nor a subsidiary or agent of a national bank, or is otherwise acting on behalf of a national bank, and because application of the state law on which [the plaintiff’s] claim relies would not significantly interfere with any national bank’s ability to exercise its powers under the NBA.” Id. at *1. According to the court, extending “NBA preemption to third-party debt collectors such as the defendants would be an overly broad application of the NBA” which “would create an end-run around usury laws for non-national bank entities that are not acting on behalf of a national bank.” Id. at *5. The Second Circuit also vacated the District Court’s judgment as to the plaintiff’s FDCPA claim and the denial of class certification because those rulings were predicated on the District Court’s preemption analysis. The case, which has been argued on the premise that New York state usury law applies, has been remanded back to the district court to determine choice-of-law based on a Delaware choice-of-law clause in the original debt agreement.
On May 12, the Ninth Circuit held that a debt collection letter did not violate the FDCPA or California’s Rosenthal Act where the amount of the debt was certain, even though the debt collector had not yet obtained a judgment. Diaz v. Kubler Corp., 2015 WL 2214634 (9th Cir. May 12, 2015). The debt collector sent a collection letter demanding that the debtor pay an amount reflecting the principal owed plus interest at an annual rate of 10%, which was the rate set forth in California law for contracts that do not stipulate a legal rate of interest. The district court granted summary judgment, holding that the debt collector could not seek to collect prejudgment interest at the statutory rate without first obtaining a judgment for breach of contract. Therefore, the court held, the debt collector had violated the FDCPA and the Rosenthal Act by attempting to collect an amount not authorized by the contract creating the debt or permitted by law. The Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that California Civil Code §3287(a) allows recovery of prejudgment interest from the time that the creditor’s right to recover is “vested,” which occurs at the time “the amount of damages become certain or capable of being made certain, not the time liability to pay those amounts is determined.” Damages “become certain or capable of being made certain” when “there is essentially no dispute between the parties concerning the basis of computation of damages if any are recoverable but where their dispute centers on the issue of liability giving rise to damage.” At that time, prejudgment interest becomes available as a matter of right. Accordingly, the debt collector’s demand for prejudgment interest did not violate the FDCPA or the Rosenthal Act.
On May 18, the Supreme Court granted certiorari to resolve a circuit split as to whether an offer of complete relief to a plaintiff seeking to represent a putative class moots the case. Campbell-Ewald Co. v. Gomez, 2015 WL 246885 (U.S. May 18, 2015). According to the cert. petition, the plaintiff received an unsolicited text message in 2006 from the petitioner, a firm hired by the U.S. Navy to assist with its recruitment efforts. The plaintiff claimed that the text message violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, and sought to represent a class of all non-consenting recipients of the recruitment text. Before the plaintiff had moved for class certification, the petitioner tendered an offer of judgment pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 68 and a separate informal settlement offer, both of which would have fully satisfied the plaintiff’s individual claim by offering more than the maximum statutory damages plus reasonable costs and injunctive relief. The plaintiff rejected the offers and moved for class certification. The district court rejected the petitioner’s claim that the claim was moot, but eventually granted the petitioner summary judgment on the merits on the ground that the petitioner was entitled to “derivative sovereign immunity.” The Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that the case was not moot and that the district court had improperly applied the derivative sovereign immunity doctrine. The Supreme Court granted cert. to consider both questions. As to the mootness issue, the Court will also consider whether the resolution depends on whether or not the class has been certified at the time of the offer.
Southern District of New York Denies Class Certification in Fair Lending Suit Against Global Investment Bank
On May 14, the District Court for the Southern District of New York denied class certification status in a fair lending suit brought by the ACLU and NCLC against a global investment bank. Adkins v. Morgan Stanley, No. 12-CV-7667 (VEC) (S.D.N.Y. May 14, 2015). The Plaintiffs had alleged that the bank, as a significant purchaser of subprime residential mortgage loans, had caused a disparate impact on African-American borrowers in Detroit in violation of the Fair Housing Act and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act. In an exhaustive 50-page opinion, the court denied class certification on multiple grounds, including the variation in loan types and the role of broker discretion. BuckleySandler anticipates the ruling will be widely cited in future fair lending class actions.
Second Circuit Rules National Security Agency’s Collection of Phone Data Unlawful Under USA PATRIOT Act
In ACLU et al. v. Clapper et al., No. 14-42-CV, — F.3d —-, 2015 WL 2097814, (2d Cir. May 7, 2015), the Second Circuit reversed a lower court’s ruling that the NSA’s bulk collection of phone data can be lawfully conducted under the USA Patriot Act. The district court had dismissed the ACLU’s complaint, holding that the program was authorized under the Patriot Act. The Second Circuit vacated that ruling and remanded the matter back to the District Court. Read more…
On April 27, the United States Supreme Court granted a petition for a writ of certiorari seeking review of a hotly-debated question with potentially far-reaching implications: whether a mere violation of a federal statute, without more, satisfies the “injury-in-fact” standard required for constitutional standing under Article III. The case at issue involves a plaintiff alleging violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA); specifically, the plaintiff argued that he suffered actual harm when an online search engine, acting as a credit reporting agency (CRA), published inaccurate information about his background and character in violation of FCRA provisions requiring a CRA to ensure accuracy and provide notice regarding the information it disseminates. The district court ruled that plaintiff failed to demonstrate injury-in-fact without showing more than mere violations of the FCRA. The Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that the violation of federal statutory rights is sufficient to show constitutional standing, and that a plaintiff need not demonstrate any actual damages in order to file suit. Notably, the Ninth Circuit did not opine that the “harm” alleged by the plaintiff – the online search engine portrayed him as wealthier and more educated than he actually was – affected him economically by impeding his employment prospects. Read more…
U.S. Files Complaint Against Leading Non-Bank Mortgage Lender For Alleged Improper Underwriting Practices on FHA-Insured Loans After Lender Files Suit Against U.S. Alleging Arbitrary and Capricious Investigation Practices
On April 17, Quicken Loans filed a preemptive lawsuit against the DOJ and HUD in the Eastern District of Michigan against HUD, the HUD-IG, and DOJ, asserting that it “appears to be one of the targets (due to its large size) of a political agenda under which the DOJ is “investigating” and pressuring large, high-profile lenders into paying nine- and ten-figure sums and publicly ‘admitting’ wrongdoing, including conceding that the lenders had made ‘false claims’ and violated the False Claims Act.” Specifically, the complaint alleged that HUD, the HUD-IG, and DOJ retroactively changed the process for evaluating FHA loans, from an individual assessment of a loan’s compliance, taking into account a borrower’s individual situation, the unique nature of each property, and the specific underwriting guidelines in effect, to a sampling method which extrapolates any defects found in a small subset of loans across the entire loan population, contrary to HUD’s prior guidance and in violation of the Administrative Procedures Act. The complaint further alleged that the sampling method used by the government was flawed, and asked for declaratory and injunctive relief against the government’s use of sampling. Quicken also asked the court to rule that the FHA loans it made between 2007-2011 in fact were “originated properly in accordance with the applicable FHA guidelines and program requirements, and pose no undue risk to the FHA insurance fund,” asserting that “HUD reviewed a number of these loans and, except in a few rare instances, either concluded the loans met all FHA guidelines or that any issues were immaterial or had been cured.” Read more…
On April 21, the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit upheld the dismissal of a bank shareholders’ suit against a bank holding company – and its officers and directors – for breach of fiduciary duty. Barnes v. Harris, No. 14-4002 WL 1786861 (10th Cir. Apr. 24, 2015) The shareholders had filed a derivative suit in 2012 against the officers and directors of the bank holding company after the bank failed in 2010 and was placed into FDIC receivership. The FDIC filed a motion to intervene in the suit, which was granted. Upon a bank’s failure, the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act of 1989 (“FIRREA”) states the FDIC owns “all rights, titles, powers, and privileges of the [bank], and any stockholder … of such [bank] with respect to the [bank] and the assets of the [bank].” The applicability of FIRREA to a derivative suit against a failed bank’s holding company in this court was a question of first impression and the Tenth Circuit agreed with the Fourth, Seventh, and Eleventh Circuits who have all concluded FIRREA gives the FDIC sole ownership of shareholder derivative claims and state law must be used to determine if the claims are derivative. In this case, though the shareholders were alleging harm to the holding company, all of that harm was due to the failure of the bank, which was the holding company’s only asset. The claims were found to be derivative, with the exception of a poorly pleaded fraud complaint that belonged solely to the holding company, and the district court’s dismissal of all claims was affirmed.