District Court Denies Motion to Dismiss Class Action Against Debt Collection Firm Over “Misleading” Collection Letters

On December 15, the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey denied a motion to dismiss a class action suit against a fund and law firm specializing in debt collection. Marucci et al v. Cawley & Bergmann, LLP et al, No. 13-cv-4884 (D.N.J. Dec. 15, 2014). The suit claims that the firm violated the FDCPA by not informing consumers that interest was accruing on the amount specified in their collection letters. According to the complaint, the debt collection letters used by the firm “would lead the least sophisticated consumer to believe that payment of the amount stated in the letter would satisfy the Debt, when in fact interest is accruing and the consumer may still owe additional accrued interest.” The court found that the plaintiff’s interpretation of the letter was sufficiently reasonable to state a claim.

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District Court Awards Florida Couple Over $1 Million In Robocalls Suit

Recently, the U.S. District Court for the District of Florida denied a major bank’s motions to vacate and modify a judgment that awarded a Florida couple a total of $1,051,000 – approximately $1,500 per unauthorized call. Coniglio v. Bank of America, N.A., No. 8:14-CV-01628-EAK-MAP (M.D. Fla. December 4, 2014). In a complaint filed in July, the couple claimed the bank violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act after they received over 700 calls in four years, including calls from an automated telephone dialing system, without their consent. The calls began as a result of the couple falling behind on their mortgage payments in 2009. In October, the Court agreed with the couple’s claims and ordered the bank to pay the awarded amount.

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Second Circuit Overturns Two Insider Trading Convictions

On December 10, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit overturned, and further, dismissed two of the DOJ’s insider trading convictions. United States of America v. Newman and Chiasson, Nos. 13-1837-cr(L), 13-1917-cr(con) (2nd Cir. Dec. 10, 2014). In a 28-page decision, the Court noted “erroneous” jury instruction, the Government’s lack of evidence that personal benefit was received by the alleged insiders, and the inability to prove the alleged insiders actually knew that they were trading on inside information. The ruling now narrows the scope of what constitutes insider trading and will likely impact other pending insider-trading cases. It is anticipated that the Government will appeal the Court’s decision.

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Third Circuit Affirms Whistleblowers Must Arbitrate Under Dodd-Frank

On December 8, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held that application of Dodd-Frank’s Anti-Arbitration provision did not apply to causes of action asserted under the Anti-Retaliation Dodd Frank Provision due to the limiting language of the arbitration law. Khazin v. TD Ameritrade Holding Corp, No. 14-1689 (3rd Cir. Dec.8, 2014). In 2013, the plaintiff filed suit in the District of New Jersey alleging that he had been fired in the preceding year for whistleblowing. According to the complaint, the retaliation occurred after the plaintiff questioned a supervisor about the pricing of a financial product that did not comply with relevant securities regulations. The District Court ruled that Dodd Frank’s Anti-Arbitration Provision did not prohibit the enforcement of arbitration agreements that were signed before the enactment of Dodd-Frank. Rather than deciding on the timing issue, however, the Court of Appeals upheld the decision on statutory construction grounds based on the limiting language of the Anti-Arbitration provision indicating that it only applied to causes of action contained within the same section, and not all allegations under Dodd-Frank.

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Federal District Court Looks to State Statute of Limitations for SCRA Action

On November 25, 2014, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan applied the state’s three-year statute of limitations for conversion in granting a motion to dismiss a servicemember’s claims of wrongful foreclosure and eviction under the SCRA. Johnson v. MERS, Inc., No. 14-CV-10921, 2014 WL 6678951 (E.D. Mich. Nov. 25, 2014). The plaintiffs argued that, because the SCRA does not explicitly provide its own limitations period within which a suit must be brought, there was no limit for SCRA-based claims; however, the court rejected this argument. Following Supreme Court precedent, the court looked to the most analogous state law and applied its limitations period to the plaintiffs’ SCRA claim. The court considered, and ultimately rejected, plaintiffs’ argument to apply Michigan’s unlimited limitations period for egregious acts under the state’s criminal law. Similarly, the court held that both the ten-year limitations period for breach of contract and the six-year catch-all limitations period did not apply. Ultimately the court concluded that Michigan’s three-year statute of limitations for civil conversion claims was the most analogous to plaintiffs’ SCRA claims. As a result, plaintiffs’ claims were dismissed as time-barred.

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Minnesota Federal Judge Allows Data Breach Suit Against Target to Proceed

On December 2, District Judge Paul Magnuson denied Target’s motion to dismiss the class action suit brought by banks in response to its 2013 data breach.  In re: Target Corporation Customer Data Security Breach Litigation, MDL No. 14-2522 (D. Minn., Dec. 2, 2014).  The banks have alleged four claims against Target: (i) a general negligence claim that Target breached its duty to provide security and prevent the data breach; (ii) that Target violated Minnesota’s Plastic Security Card Act (PSCA) by retaining customer data which was subsequently stolen; (iii) that a violation of the PSCA is negligence per se; and (iv) a negligent misrepresentation by omission claim that Target made public statements regarding the strength of their data security system when they knew or should have known it was deficient.  The first three were allowed to proceed and the last was dismissed with leave to amend the complaint for a failure to allege the requisite reliance upon Target’s assertion of its secure system.  Notably, Judge Magnuson found that the PSCA applies to all transactions completed by a company operating in Minnesota, not just transactions occurring within the state.

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Tenth Circuit Reverses District Court Ruling, Allows Credit Union To Pursue Lawsuit Against Mortgage Lender For Misappropriating Loan Funds

Recently, the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit reversed a district ruling allowing a Texas-based credit union to sue against a mortgage lender. In 2003, the credit union’s predecessor in interest entered into a funding service agreement with the mortgage lender which originated 26 mortgage loans to individual borrowers. The credit union alleged that the mortgage lender and its closing agents wrongfully induced the predecessor to fund loans to “straw borrowers” as a vehicle to misappropriate $14 million in loan proceeds. In 2007, the credit union and its predecessor in interest entered into a purchase and assumption agreement (PAA). According to the Court, when two parties to a contract agree to its terms, as pursuant to the PAA, a third party cannot object. Further, the Court noted that, because of the PAA, the credit union had all rights to pursue claims on behalf of the predecessor in interest. A district court had previously ruled that the credit union was not a proper plaintiff and dismissed the case. The dismissal was reversed. Security Service FCU v. First American Mortgage Funding, LLC, No. 13-1133 (10th Cir. Nov. 4, 2014).

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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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