Second Circuit Court of Appeals Prohibits Courts from Granting Garnishment Orders Against Foreign Bank Branches

On November 14, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the District Court for the Southern District of New York’s October 23 ruling that prohibited courts from granting garnishment orders against certain banks for assets maintained at bank branches. The Second Circuit noted that it had previously certified to the New York Court of Appeals the following question: “whether the separate entity rule precludes a judgment credit from ordering a garnishee bank operating branches in New York to restrain a debtor’s assets held in foreign branches of the bank.” The New York Court of Appeals held that according to New York’s separate entity rule, a creditor does not have the authority to freeze assets held at a foreign branch. The New York Court of Appeals rejected the plaintiffs’ argument that in Koehler v. Bank of Bermuda Ltd., 12 N.Y.3d 533 (2009), New York abandoned the requirements of the separate entity rule, observing that “abolition of the separate entity rule would result in serious consequences in the realm of international banking to the detriment of New Yorkʹs preeminence in global financial affairs.ʺ Upholding the District Court’s October 23 ruling, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ordered that the District Court annul the restraining order on the defendants’ assets. Motorola Credit Corp. v. Nokia Corp., No. 13-2535-cv (2d Cir. Nov. 14, 2014).

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Nevada District Court Bars Foreclosure Sale of First Lien HUD-Insured Mortgage

Recently, a federal district court held that a homeowners association (HOA) foreclosure sale is not valid against HUD-insured loans. The District Court noted that the Ninth Circuit has held that federal rather than state law applies in cases involving FHA-insured mortgages to assure the protection of the federal program against loss, state law notwithstanding. The court reasoned, therefore, that in situations where a mortgage is insured by a federal agency under the FHA insurance program, state laws cannot operate to undermine the federal agency’s ability to obtain title after foreclosure and resell the property. Because an HOA foreclosure on property insured under the FHA insurance program would have the effect of limiting the effectiveness of the remedies available to the United States, the District Court held that the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution bars such foreclosure sales and renders them invalid. Washington & Sandhill Homeowners Association v. Bank of America and HUD, U.S. Dist. Ct., District of Nevada, No. 2:13-cv-01845-GMN-GWF (Sept. 25, 2014).

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Justice Scalia Places Renewed Focus on Lenity in Hybrid Civil-Criminal Statutes

On November 10, 2014, the Supreme Court denied Douglas Whitman’s petition for a writ of certiorari in Whitman v. United States, No. 14-29; Justice Antonin Scalia, joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, issued a brief statement specifically highlighting their view of the role that the doctrine of lenity should play in the interpretation of criminal statutes. Whitman asked the high court to review his 2012 conviction for securities fraud and conspiracy under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. The Second Circuit appeared to defer to the SEC’s interpretation of ambiguous language in the Act—according to Justice Scalia, such an approach would disregard the “many cases . . . holding that, if a law has both criminal and civil applications, the rule of lenity governs its interpretation in both settings.” Justice Scalia further noted that it was the exclusive province of the legislature to create criminal laws, and to defer to the SEC’s interpretation of a criminal statute would “upend ordinary principles of interpretation.” Justice Scalia’s approach may indicate potential adjustments in the ongoing effort to strike the right balance between the due process rights of targets of enforcement actions to know what the law prohibits, and deference to enforcement agencies to interpret federal statutes flexibly. BuckleySandler discussed the tension between lenity and Chevron deference earlier this year in a January 16 article, Lenity, Chevron Deference, and Consumer Protection Laws.

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Federal Court Vacates HUD Disparate Impact Rule

On November 3, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia vacated HUD’s Disparate Impact Rule under the Fair Housing Act (FHA). The court, in American Insurance Association v. United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, held that “the FHA prohibits disparate treatment only,” and therefore HUD, in promulgating the Disparate Impact Rule, “exceeded [its] authority under the [Administrative Procedures Act].” (Emphasis in original.)

In the Disparate Impact Rule, HUD provided that “[l]iability may be established under the Fair Housing Act based on a practice’s discriminatory effect . . . even if the practice was not motivated by a discriminatory intent.” 24 C.F.R. § 100.500. It then articulated a burden shifting framework for such claims. Id. § 100.500(c)(1)-(3). In vacating HUD’s Disparate Impact Rule, the court reviewed the text of the FHA and concluded that “the FHA unambiguously prohibits only intentional discrimination.” (Emphasis in original.) The court explained that the FHA lacks the “effects-based language” that makes disparate impact claims cognizable under other anti-discrimination statutes. The court reasoned that this lack of effects-based language created “an insurmountable obstacle to [HUD’s] position regarding the plain meaning of the Fair Housing Act.” The court further reasoned that this textual reading is consistent with the FHA’s statutory scheme and, in the case of insurance products, required by the McCarran-Ferguson Act.

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Jesinoski Case Raises TILA Questions

On November 4, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Jesinoski v. Countrywide Home Loans, Inc., No. 13-648, to resolve a circuit split on whether under TILA a borrower who has provided notice of rescission within three years must also file a lawsuit within that three-year period, or whether such a borrower may file a lawsuit even after the three-year period lapses. In the court below, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the creditor that a borrower must file suit within three years to rescind a loan under TILA. As noted in BuckleySandler attorneys’ November 4 article, Justices’ Questioning In Jesinoski May Be Cause For Concern, during oral arguments the Justices closely questioned counsel on the statutory text. While lawyers for the borrowers and the Department of Justice met with little opposition from the bench, the Justices struggled with the argument advanced by counsel for the creditor. Ultimately, as discussed in BuckleySandler’s article, “Questions from both conservative and liberal judges suggest that both camps may be more receptive to the textual reading advanced by the Jesinoskis.” BuckleySandler attorneys also filed an amici curiae brief on behalf of industry groups in this case.

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Special Alert: Federal Court Vacates HUD’s Disparate Impact Rule

Today, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia vacated HUD’s Disparate Impact Rule under the Fair Housing Act (FHA).  The court, in American Insurance Association v. United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, held that “the FHA prohibits disparate treatment only,” and therefore HUD, in promulgating the Disparate Impact Rule, “exceeded [its] authority under the [Administrative Procedures Act].”  (emphasis in original).

In the Disparate Impact Rule, HUD provided that “[l]iability may be established under the Fair Housing Act based on a practice’s discriminatory effect . . . even if the practice was not motivated by a discriminatory intent.”  24 C.F.R. § 100.500.  It then articulates a burden shifting framework for such claims.  Id. § 100.500(c)(1)-(3).
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Eleventh Circuit Vacates Dismissal, Rules Bank Officers Subject To Negligence Claims Under Georgia Law

On October 24, based on the Georgia Supreme Court’s response to the federal appellate court’s certified questions, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit issuedper curiam opinion overturning a district court’s order to dismiss a lawsuit under Georgia’s business judgment rule. In this case, the court addressed whether bank directors and officers of failed banking institutions could be held liable under the state’s law for claims of ordinary negligence and breach of fiduciary duty based on ordinary negligence. In light of the responses from the Georgia Supreme Court, the Eleventh Circuit noted, “a bank director or officer may violate the standard of care established by O.C.G.A. § 7–1–490, even where he acts in good faith, where, with respect to the process by which he makes decisions, he fails to exercise the diligence, care, and skill of ‘ordinarily prudent men [acting] under similar circumstances in like positions.’” The case was remanded back to the district court for further proceedings. FDIC v. Skow, No. 12-15878, WL 5394321 (11th Cir. Oct. 24, 2014)

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Massachusetts Suit Against Fannie and Freddie Dismissed

On October 21, a federal judge dismissed the claims brought by the State AG that the GSEs violated state law by putting limits on the sale of pre- and post-foreclosure homes. Commonwealth v. Fed. Hous. Fin. Agency, No. 14-12878-RGS, 2014 BL 295733 (D. Mass. Oct. 21, 2014). In this case, the State argued that the GSEs violated a state law by refusing to sell homes in foreclosure to nonprofit organizations who intended to restructure the loan and sell or rent the property back to the original homeowner at a lower price. The 2012 state law forbids banks and lenders from refusing to consider offers from legitimate buyback programs solely because the property will be resold to the former homeowner. The judge dismissed the lawsuit agreeing with the FHFA, conservator of the GSEs, that the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 (HERA) allows the FHFA to enforce restrictions under its conservatorship mandate authorized by Congress. Further, the judge noted that “Congress, by enacting HERA’s Anti-Injunction Clause, expressly removed such conservatorship decisions from the courts’ oversight.” The State is expected to appeal the decision.

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Third Circuit Upholds Dismissal of Pay-to-Play Class Action

Recently, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit upheld a lower court’s decision to dismiss a class action lawsuit against a large financial institution for allegedly violating Section 8 of RESPA. Riddle v. Bank of America Corp., No. 13-4543 (3rd Cir. Oct. 15, 2014).The complaint, originally filed in 2012, alleged that, between 2005 and 2007, the defendant profited hundreds of millions of dollars from illegal referrals from private insurance companies. The plaintiffs failed to prove that the defendant engaged in fraudulent concealment that the plaintiffs relied upon. As a result, the Third Circuit dismissed the plaintiffs’ claim, citing the expiration of the one-year statute of limitations. The court noted, “the clock has run on the plaintiffs’ RESPA claims, and despite ample opportunity, they are unable to create a triable fact that they are entitled to equitable tolling.”

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Third Circuit Reverses Lower Court Decision, Rules Envelope Revealing Consumer’s Account Number Violates the FDCPA

Recently, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reversed a lower court’s holding that the disclosure of a consumer’s account is not a “benign” disclosure and, therefore, violates the FDCPA. Douglass v. Convergent Outsourcing, No. 13-3588, 2014 WL 4235570 (3d Cir. Aug. 28, 2014). In this case, a debt collector sent a consumer a dunning letter in a window envelope, and the consumer’s account number was visible through the window.  The consumer brought a claim under § 1692f(8) of the FDCPA, which bars debt collectors from using any language or symbol other than the collector’s address on any envelope sent to the consumer.  The debt collector contended that the claim must fail because the account number was “benign language” that was not prohibited by § 1692f(8) of the FDCPA. The Third Circuit held that even if “benign language” was exempt from § 1692f(8)’s prohibition (a question that the court declined to decide), the consumer’s account number was not benign.  In particular, the court noted that the disclosure of the account number threatened the consumer’s privacy because it was a “core piece of information pertaining to the status as a debtor and the debt collection effort.”

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Eleventh Circuit Refuses To Compel Arbitration In Dispute Between Loan Servicer and Borrower

On October 2, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed a district court’s decision refusing to compel arbitration sought by a servicer in a dispute with a borrower over the terms of a loan agreement. Inetianbor v. Cashcall, Inc. No. 13-13822 (11th Cir. 2014). In Inetianbor, the plaintiff and the servicer had a dispute as to whether the borrower had satisfied his obligations under the terms of the loan agreement. When the borrower refused to pay amounts the servicer believed it was due, the servicer reported the purported default to the various credit agencies. The borrower sued the servicer who subsequently moved to compel arbitration under the terms of the loan agreement. The loan agreement’s forum selection clause required any dispute be resolved in arbitration by the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Nation (the “Tribe”). The Tribe, however, declined to arbitrate the dispute. The district court allowed the suit to proceed in federal court on the grounds that the arbitral forum was not available to hear the dispute. On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s refusal to compel arbitration. The Eleventh Circuit held that the forum selection clause was integral to the loan’s arbitration provision. Because the arbitral forum was unavailable to hear the dispute, arbitration was not an option under the terms of the agreement and the district court was correct in refusing to compel arbitration.

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U.S. Supreme Court Grants Cert. (again) in FHA Disparate Impact Case

On October 2, the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs, et al. v. The Inclusive Communities Project, Inc., No. 13-1371, a case in which the Fifth Circuit became the first federal Circuit Court of Appeals to apply the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) “effects test” rule (see The Inclusive Communities Project, Inc., v. Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs, et al., Nos. 12-11211, 13-10306 (747 F.3d 275, March 24, 2014)), which authorizes so-called “disparate impact” or “effects test” claims under the Fair Housing Act (FHA). In granting cert., the Supreme Court accepted one of the two questions presented by the petitioners, which was, “Are disparate-impact claims cognizable under the [FHA]?” It did not accept the second question: “If disparate-impact claims are cognizable under the [FHA], what are the standards and burdens of proof that should apply?” The Supreme Court’s partial grant of the petition represents the third recent matter in which the Court has taken up the issue of whether disparate impact claims may be brought under the FHA. The first opportunity ended in February, 2012 when petitioners in Magner, et al. v Gallagher, et al., No. 10-1032, stipulated to dismissal due to concerns that “a victory could substantially undermine important civil rights enforcement throughout the nation.” The Court’s second opportunity, Township of Mount Holly, New Jersey, et al., v. Mt. Holly Gardens Citizens in Action, Inc., et al., No. 11-1507, was dismissed in November 2013, just prior to oral argument after a settlement was reached by the parties.

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Nevada Supreme Court Holds Foreclosure Of A Homeowners Association’s Assessment Lien Extinguishes A First Mortgage

On September 18, the Nevada Supreme Court decided that a homeowners association may foreclose its assessment lien non-judicially and that the foreclosure extinguishes a first mortgage. SFR Investments Pool v. US Bank (130 Nev. Adv. Opinion 75, September 18, 2014). The lender argued that, because the “superlien” law gives an HOA lien priority over a first mortgage to the extent of nine months of unpaid dues, only nine months of unpaid dues should have priority over a first mortgage, not the entire assessment lien. The Nevada Supreme Court acknowledged competing views of “payment priority” and “lien priority” proponents, but ultimately sided with the lien priority camp because of the language of the superlien statute and general principles of lien priority. The Court suggested that lenders may prevent losses associated with HOA superliens by paying off the liens or by establishing escrow accounts for HOA assessments to avoid using its own funds. The Nevada decision is consistent with an August 28 decision on the same issue by the D.C. Court of Appeals in Chase Plaza Condominium Association v. JP Morgan Chase Bank, No. 13-CV-623 & 13-CV-674 (D.C. Cir. 2014).

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Second Circuit Denies Injunctive Relief to Tribe-Owned Online Lenders Seeking Protection From New York State Regulator

On October 1, the Second Circuit affirmed the denial of a preliminary injunction sought by Native American online lenders that would have prevented the New York State Department of Financial Services (“DFS”) from restricting their lending to New York residents. Otoe-Missouria Tribe v. New York State Dept. of Fin. Servs., No. 13-3769-cv (2d Cir. 2014). The lawsuit stems from the DFS’ efforts, led by Superintendent Benjamin Lawsky, to crack down on internet-based, short-term lending businesses. As part of this effort, the DFS is seeking to bar plaintiffs—two Native American tribes allegedly providing internet loans with triple-digit interest rates—from extending loans to New York residents that violate New York’s usury laws. Plaintiffs brought suit seeking to enjoin the DFS from interfering with the tribes’ online lending business, arguing that the state’s efforts to curb their online business violated the Indian Commerce Clause because it infringed on the tribes’ fundamental right to self-government. The court rejected this argument, finding that the state’s action was directed at activity that took place entirely off tribal land and involved New York residents who sought loans without leaving the state.

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Eastern District Court Of Texas Enjoins Bitcoin Investment Scheme And Orders Founder To Pay Civil Penalty

On September 18, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas held that the defendant’s bitcoin investment program was a Ponzi scheme, and enjoined the founder and the investment program from violating Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and Sections 5 and 17(a) of the Securities Act of 1933. S.E.C. v. Shavers, No. 4:13-CV-416 (E.D. Tex. Sep. 18, 2014). The court ruled that the founder knowingly and intentionally operated the bitcoin investment program as a sham and Ponzi scheme by repeatedly making misrepresentations, both to investors and potential investors alike, concerning: (i) the use of their bitcoins; (ii) how he planned to generate the promised returns; and (iii) the safety of the investments. The founder used new bitcoins received from investors to make payments on outstanding bitcoin investments, and diverted investors’ bitcoins for his own personal use. The court granted Plaintiff’s uncontested motion for summary judgment or, in the alternative, for default judgment, and, in addition to the injunctions, ordered Defendants jointly and severally liable for disgorgement of approximately $40 million in profits, and ordered each Defendant to pay civil penalties in the amount of $150,000.

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