Manhattan District Attorney Indicts Payday Lenders

On August 12, Manhattan District Attorney (DA) Cyrus Vance, Jr. announced the indictment of twelve payday lending companies and related individuals for allegedly engaging in criminal usury by making high interest payday loans to Manhattan residents. According to the DA’s press release, between 2001 and 2013, one of the indicted individuals allegedly created multiple companies, including establishing one as a website and offshore corporation, to accept and process online applications for payday loans. The DA also indicted the payday lending business’ chief operating officer and legal counsel. The DA charged the defendants with 38 counts of felony first degree criminal usury and one count of conspiracy in the fourth degree. The defendants are also accused of continuing to extend such loans to New York residents for years, even after, according to the DA, they had been repeatedly warned by New York State officials of the loans’ illegality.

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Texas Federal Court Upholds HUD’s Suspension Of Mortgagee

On August 5, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas held that HUD’s decisions to immediately suspend a HUD mortgagee and its CEO were not “arbitrary and capricious” and did not violate due process. Allied Home Mortg. Corp. v. Donovan, No. H-11-3864, 2014 WL 3843561 (S.D. Tex. Aug. 5, 2014). In October 2011, a U.S. Attorney’s Office sued the mortgagee, its CEO, and related parties under the False Claims Act and FIRREA for allegedly making false statements and false claims to HUD in connection with FHA-insured mortgage loans. Shortly thereafter, based on information obtained by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, HUD immediately suspended the mortgagee’s HUD/FHA origination and underwriting approvals and suspended the CEO from participation in procurement and nonprocurement transactions as a participant or principal. The mortgagee plaintiffs argued that such suspensions were “arbitrary and capricious” (and thus violated the Administrative Procedure Act) given the age of the evidence against the CEO and the limited evidence directly attributable to the mortgagee. Specifically, the mortgagee plaintiffs argued that HUD failed to follow its own standards for issuing immediate suspensions because it did not have adequate evidence of any present or imminent threat to the financial interests of the public or HUD that would warrant an immediate suspension. The court, however, held that the evidence uncovered in the investigation was sufficient to support HUD’s action, and that HUD “drew rational inferences based on the severity, persistence, and length of the [alleged] misconduct.” The court also denied the mortgagee plaintiffs’ due process claim, reasoning that the initial suspensions were temporary and could have been administratively appealed. The court denied the mortgagee plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment and dismissed the case with prejudice.

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California Federal Court Dismisses User Information Claims Against Digital Wallet Company

On August 12, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California dismissed for failure to state a claim a putative class action alleging that a digital wallet provider made unauthorized disclosures of user information to third-party mobile app developers. Svenson v. Google Inc., No. 13-cv-04080, 2014 WL 3962820 (N.D. Cal. Aug. 12, 2014). The named plaintiff claimed that when the digital wallet provider processed payments for apps purchased through an affiliated online store, it also provided certain customer/personally identifiable information to third-party app developers, including email address, account name, home city and state, zip code, and in some instances, telephone number. The plaintiff asserted theories of breach of contract and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, as well as violations of the Stored Communications Act and California’s Unfair Competition Law. The court held that the plaintiff’s breach of contract claim failed, reasoning in part that: (i) the plaintiff was not deprived of the “benefit of the bargain” given that the allegations involved free services and a $1.77 app; and (ii) there was no support for the theory that the economic value of the plaintiff’s information was diminished (because the plaintiff failed to allege that there was a market for the information). Similarly, the court held that the plaintiff’s Unfair Competition Law claims did not allege an economic injury, and that the breach of implied covenant claims were duplicative of the breach of contract claims. The court also dismissed the plaintiff’s Stored Communications Act claims.

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Eighth Circuit Holds Loan Guarantors Are Not Applicants Under ECOA

On August 5, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit held that ECOA clearly provides that a person does not qualify as an applicant under the statute solely by virtue of executing a guaranty to secure the debt of another. Hawkins v. Comm. Bank of Raymmore, No. 13-3065, 2014 WL 3826820 (8th Cir. Aug. 5, 2014). In this case, two individuals executed personal guaranties to secure several loans made to a residential development company owned by their husbands. After the company defaulted on the loans, the bank accelerated the loans and demanded payment from the company and the two individual guarantors. The guarantors, in turn, sued the bank, seeking damages and an order declaring their guaranties void and unenforceable, alleging that the bank required them to execute the guaranties securing the company’s loans solely because they are married to their respective husbands—the owners of the company. The guarantors asserted that such a requirement constituted discrimination against them on the basis of their marital status, in violation of ECOA. The court held that “the plain language of ECOA unmistakably provides that a person is an applicant only if she requests credit,” and that “a person does not, by executing a guaranty, request credit.” In doing so the court rejected the Federal Reserve Board’s implementing regulation that interpreted the term applicant to include guarantors. The court’s holding also creates a split with the Sixth Circuit, which recently “came to the contrary conclusion, finding it to be ambiguous whether a guarantor qualifies as an applicant under the ECOA.”

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Minnesota Supreme Court Rejects Twombly/Iqbal Pleading Standard

On August 6, the Minnesota Supreme Court held in a foreclosure-related case that the plausibility standard announced in Twombly and Iqbal does not apply to civil pleadings in Minnesota state court. Walsh v. U.S. Bank, N.A., No. A13-0742, 2014 WL 3844201 (Minn. Aug. 6, 2014). A borrower sued her mortgage lender to vacate the foreclosure sale of her home, claiming the lender failed to properly serve notice of the non-judicial foreclosure proceeding. The bank moved to dismiss the suit based on the plausibility standard established by the U.S. Supreme Court in Twombly, which requires plaintiffs to plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” The Minnesota Supreme court held that the state’s traditional pleading standard is controlling, and not the federal standard established in Twombly. The court explained that under the state standard, “a claim is sufficient against a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim if it is possible on any evidence which might be produced, consistent with the pleader’s theory, to grant the relief demanded.” The court identified five reasons the state rule applies: (i) the relevant state rule does not clearly require more factual specificity; (ii) the state’s rules of civil procedure express a strong preference for short statements of facts in complaints; (iii) the sample complaints attached to the rules show that short, general statements are sufficient; (iv) the rules allow parties to move for a more definite statement if a pleading is overly vague; and (v) there are other means to control the costs of discovery.

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SDNY Judge Approves RMBS Consent Judgment But Questions Second Circuit’s Standard For Reviewing Agency Consent Judgments

On August 5, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York Judge Jed Rakoff approved a consent judgment between the SEC and a financial institution to resolve allegations that the institution violated securities laws in connection with certain mortgage-backed securities. SEC v. Citigroup Global Markets Inc., No. 11-7387, 2014 WL 3827497 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 5, 2014). Earlier this year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit vacated and remanded the district court’s earlier decision to reject the proposed settlement, holding that the proper standard for reviewing a proposed enforcement agency consent judgment is whether the proposed consent decree is fair and reasonable, and in the event the agreement includes injunctive relief, whether “the public interest would not be disserved.” On remand, Judge Rakoff approved the consent judgment stating that based on the underlying record, “the Court cannot say that the proposed Consent Judgment is procedurally improper or in any material respect fails to comport with the very modest standard imposed by the Court of Appeals.” Judge Rakoff noted his concern, however, that “as a result of the Court of Appeals decision, the settlements reached by governmental regulatory bodies and enforced by the judiciary’s contempt powers will in practice be subject to no meaningful oversight whatsoever.”

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Ninth Circuit Holds State AG Credit Card Add-On Suits Belong In State Court

On August 1, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that neither the federal question statute nor the Class Action Fairness Act provide a federal district court with subject matter jurisdiction over the Hawaii Attorney General’s (AG) suit against credit card issuers over allegedly deceptive marketing of add-on products. Hawaii v. HSBC Bank Nev., N.A., No. 12-263, 2014 WL 3765697 (9th Cir. Aug. 1, 2014). The Hawaii AG filed suits in state court against several credit card issuers asserting three state law causes of action based on allegations that the issuers deceptively marketed and enrolled Hawaii cardholders in various debt protection products. After the issuers removed the cases to federal court, the district court refused to remand, holding that at least one claim in each case was preempted by the National Bank Act. The court reasoned that the AG implicitly challenged the “rate of interest” on outstanding credit card balances by alleging the issuers charged “significant fees” for “minimal benefits” and had “increased profits by substantial sums,” and explained that the National Bank Act completely preempts state laws regulating the interest rates charged by nationally chartered banks. The appeals court disagreed, concluding—as the Fifth Circuit did last year in a similar case—that regardless of how state law labels the claims, the AG’s complaints did not challenge the “rate of interest” that issuers charged and are not preempted. Further, the court held that CAFA does not provide an alternative basis for federal jurisdiction because the AG’s suits are common law parens patriae suits that specifically disclaimed class status, and, as such, they are not class actions.

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SDNY Orders Bank To Pay $1.3 Billion Following Verdict In GSE Civil Fraud Case

On July 30, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ordered a bank to pay a nearly $1.3 billion civil penalty after a jury found the bank liable in October 2013 on one civil mortgage fraud charge arising out of a program operated by a mortgage lender the bank had acquired. The case was the first in which the government alleged violations of FIRREA in connection with loans sold to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The government originally sought damages of $1 billion based on alleged losses incurred by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Subsequently the government argued the penalty should be calculated not based on loss to the GSEs, but rather based on gross gain to the lender, in order to accomplish “FIRREA’s central purpose of punishment and deterrence.” The government calculated a gross gain of $2.1 billion, and requested that the court impose a penalty in that amount.

In its order on civil penalties, the court noted that FIRREA provides no guidance on how to calculate a gain or loss or how to choose a penalty within the broad range permitted. To quantify the gain or loss on the 17,611 loans at issue, the court focused on the general principle that the “civil penalty provisions of FIRREA are designed to serve punitive and deterrent purposes and should be construed in favor of those purposes.” The court determined that both gain and loss should be viewed in terms of how much money the lender “fraudulently induced” the GSEs to pay. Even though many of the loans were in fact high quality, the Court included all of the loans in the gain and loss analysis because the jury found that the lender engaged in an intentional scheme to defraud the GSEs and that the lender intended to represent loans as being materially higher quality than they actually were. The court reasoned that the “happenstance that some of the loans may still have been of high quality should not relieve the defendants of bearing responsibility for the full payments they received from the scheme, at least not if the purposes of the penalty are punishment and deterrence.” As a result, the Court found the proper measure of both gain and loss to be the amount Fannie and Freddie paid for all loans at issue, and set $2,960,737,608 as the statutory maximum for the penalty. As a compensating factor, the court considered that 57.19 percent of the loans were not materially defective and reduced the penalty to 42.81 percent of the statutory maximum, or $1,267,491,770.

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Court Holds Payday Lender Violated EFTA By Requiring Preauthorization For Electronic Repayment

On July 30, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California held that a payday lender whose loan agreements requiredborrowers to consent to electronic withdrawals of their scheduled loan payments violated the federal Electronic Fund Transfer Act’s prohibition on the conditioning of credit on a borrower preauthorizing electronic fund transfers (EFTs) for repayments. De La Torre v. CashCall, Inc., No. 8-3174, 2014 WL 3752796 (N.D. Cal. Jul. 30, 2014). The court previously certified a class seeking to recover actual and statutory damages under the EFTA. The class borrowers claim that the lender required borrowers to agree to electronic transfers of scheduled payments as a condition to obtaining their loans. The borrowers alleged those EFTs caused borrowers to incur insufficient fund fees on the accounts from which the loan payments were withdrawn. On summary judgment, the court rejected the lender’s argument that its promissory notes authorized, but did not require, payment by EFT, and that the EFTA only prohibits the conditioning of the extension of credit upon a requirement to make all loan payments by EFT. The court held that the plain meaning of the statute dictates that a violation of the EFTA occurs “at the moment of conditioning—that is, the moment the creditor requires a consumer to authorize EFT as a condition of extending credit to the consumer.” The court held that by extension, the borrowers also established that the lender violated the Unfair Competition Law. The court granted summary judgment in favor of the borrowers on both their EFTA and UCL claims. However, the court held that whether the EFTA violation caused borrowers to incur the insufficient fund fees is a disputed fact, which should be decided after liability is determined and with the borrowers’ claims for statutory damages and restitution.

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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.

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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.

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CFPB, State AGs Weigh In On TILA Rescission

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.

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Bank Agrees To Resolve TCPA Class Action Litigation

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.

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Ninth Circuit Holds Plaintiffs Not Required To Plead Tender Or Ability To Tender To Support TILA Rescission Claim

On July 16, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that an allegation of tender or ability to tender is not required to support a TILA rescission claim. Merritt v. Countrywide Fin. Corp., No. 17678, 2014 WL 3451299 (9th Cir. Jul. 16, 2014). In this case, two borrowers filed an action against their mortgage lender more than three years after origination of the loan and a concurrent home equity line of credit, claiming the lender failed to provide completed disclosures. The district court dismissed the borrowers’ claim for rescission under TILA because the borrowers did not tender the value of their HELOC to the lender before filing suit, and dismissed their RESPA Section 8 claims as time-barred.

On appeal, the court criticized the district court’s application of the Ninth Circuit’s holding in Yamamoto v. Bank of New York, 329 F.3d 1167 (9th Cir. 2003) that courts may at the summary judgment stage require an obligor to provide evidence of ability to tender. Instead, the appellate court held that borrowers can state a TILA rescission claim without pleading tender, or that they have the ability to tender the value of their loan. The court further held that a district court may only require tender before rescission at the summary judgment stage, and only on a case-by-case basis once the creditor has established a potentially viable defense. The Ninth Circuit also applied the equitable tolling doctrine to suspend the one-year limitations period applicable to the borrower’s RESPA claims and remanded to the district court the question of whether the borrowers had a reasonable opportunity to discover the violations earlier. The court declined to address two “complex” issues of first impression: (i) whether markups for services provided by a third party are actionable under RESPA § 8(b); and (ii) whether an inflated appraisal qualifies as a “thing of value” under RESPA § 8(a).

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C.D. Cal. Dismisses False Claims Act Qui Tam Suit Against Group of Lenders

On July 15, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California dismissed a relator real estate agent’s suit against a group of lenders the relator alleged submitted claims for FHA insurance benefits to HUD based on false certifications of compliance with the National Housing Act. U.S. ex rel Hastings v. Wells Fargo Bank, No. 12-3624, Order (C.D. Cal. Jul. 15, 2014). The relator alleged on behalf of the U.S. government that loans where borrowers received assistance from seller-funded down payment assistance programs, such as the Nehemiah Program, did not satisfy requirements for gift funds, and as a result the lenders had falsely certified compliance with the National Housing Act’s three-percent down payment requirement when seeking FHA insurance for such loans. The government declined to intervene in the case. The court agreed with the lenders and held that the complaint could not survive the False Claims Act’s public disclosure bar—a jurisdictional bar against claims predicated on allegations already in the public domain. The court explained that the public disclosure standard is met if there were either (i) public allegations of fraud “substantially similar” to the one described in the False Claims Act complaint, or (ii) enough information publicly disclosed regarding the allegedly fraudulent transactions to put the government on notice of a potential claim. Here, the court determined that claims related to seller-funded down payment assistance programs were part of a “robust public debate” well prior to the time the complaint was filed in this case, and that the debate was sufficient to put the government on notice of the alleged conduct. The court also determined that the relator was not an “original source” of the public disclosures and as such could not overcome the public disclosure bar. Because the court concluded that amendment would be futile, the court dismissed the suit with prejudice.  BuckleySandler represented one of the lenders in this case.

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