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.
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.
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.
On April 15, retail company Target agreed to set aside up to $19 million to settle claims brought by MasterCard and its credit card issuers to cover operational costs and fraud-related losses resulting from a data breach incident in 2013. According to a press release issued by Target, the agreement is dependent upon, among other things, 90 percent of eligible Mastercard accounts accepting their alternative recovery offers, either directly or through their sponsoring issuers by May 20, 2015. Eligible issuers, mostly comprising of banks and credit unions, who accept the offer will be required to release any current or future claims towards Target with respect to the data breach. All eligible issuers will receive full details of the Settlement Agreement at a later time.
Northern District of California Denies Motion to Dismiss Claims of Negligent Oversight of Loan Origination Employee
On March 31, the Northern District of California denied a Michigan-based mortgage company’s motion to dismiss a Louisiana resident’s amended complaint alleging that the company was negligent in hiring and supervising a branch manager later indicted for wire and mail fraud. Theime v. Cobb, et al., No. 13-cv-03827, 2013 WL 1477718 (N.D. Cal. Mar. 31, 2015). According to the amended complaint, a California branch manager for the mortgage company separately originated and arranged residential bridge loans under a fictitious business name and solicited money from investors, including the plaintiff, to fund the loans. The Plaintiff alleged that the activities of selling second mortgage bridge loans took place in the Defendant’s California offices using some of Defendant’s resources and that the Defendant ultimately condoned the employee’s bridge loan activities. In denying the mortgage company’s motion to dismiss, the court relied on allegations that the company was aware of and encouraged the branch manager’s separate bridge loan activity and that the manager paid her staff to work in the company’s offices and commingled offices and services.
On March 31, 2015, the Second Circuit in Truman Capital Advisors LP v. Nationstar Mortgage, LLC, No. 14-cv-3533 (2d Cir. Mar. 31, 2015), affirmed the dismissal of a lawsuit involving the auction sale of hundreds of non-performing residential mortgage loan notes. Truman Capital is an investment manager that was the winning bidder in an auction of non-performing mortgage notes that were being sold by Nationstar Mortgage, a mortgage servicing company. After the auction, the mortgage servicing company exercised its contractual right not to complete the sale of the notes for the high bid price. The investment manager then sued the mortgage servicing company in the Southern District of New York, alleging that the auction terms gave the winning bidder the right to purchase the notes. The mortgage servicer defended on the grounds that the auction terms permitted the seller to refuse to enter into a contract for the sale of the notes even after a high bidder was recognized. The district court and the Second Circuit agreed, holding that no obligation would be binding on the seller unless and until the seller executed a loan sale agreement, which never occurred. BuckleySandler LLP represented Nationstar in this matter.
On March 31, U.S. Court of Appeals in the 11th Circuit concluded that the district court properly dismissed plaintiff’s FDCPA complaint, using the concept of judicial estoppel. Ward v. AMS Servicing, LLC, 2015 WL 1432982 (11th Cir. Mar.31, 2015). In this case, the court addressed whether the Defendant was incorrect in charging the Plaintiff a monthly mortgage amount agreed to in a consent order, rather than the amount stipulated in the Note. In November 2013, the Plaintiff filed suit in the district court, alleging that Defendant violated the FDCPA by falsely representing the amount of her monthly mortgage payments. In June 2009, the Plaintiff and the original servicer of her loan entered into a loan modification for her home where she agreed that her monthly payment would be $1,182.89. Thereafter, the loan was sold with the Defendant acting as the new servicer. Subsequently, the Plaintiff fell behind on her loan and sought Chapter 13 bankruptcy protection. Read more…
On March 18, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia dismissed a lawsuit brought by a non-profit organization challenging the $13 billion global settlement agreement entered by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and a national financial services firm and banking institution arising out of the 2008 financial crisis. Better Markets, Inc. v. U.S. Dept. of Justice, No. CV 14-190 (BAH), 2015 WL 1246104 (D.D.C. Mar. 18, 2015). The plaintiff—an advocacy group founded to “promote the public interest in the financial markets”—alleged that the DOJ’s decision to enter into the 2013 settlement agreement with the firm was in violation of the Constitution, the Administrative Procedure Act, and FIRREA. The court dismissed the lawsuit on grounds that the advocacy group lacked standing, concluding that the group had failed to show “a cognizable harm, or that the relief it seeks will redress its alleged injuries.”
On March 23, the Federal Reserve and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency – both non-parties in the suit – filed briefs requesting that a district court reject a motion to compel discovery of over 30,000 documents held by a large bank. Arguing that the documents contain confidential supervisory information, the regulators asserted the bank examination privilege – “a qualified privilege that protects communications between banks and their examiners in order to preserve absolute candor essential to the effective supervision of banks.” As for scope, the regulators argued that the privilege covers the documents because they provide agency opinion, not merely fact, and that any factual information was nonetheless “inextricably linked” with their opinions. Additionally, they contended that the privilege is not strictly limited to communications from the regulator to the bank – instead, it may also cover communications made from the bank to the regulator and communications within the bank. As for procedure, the regulators claimed that a plaintiff is required to request the disclosure of privileged documents through administrative processes before seeking judicial relief, a requirement they contend exists even where a defendant bank also holds copies of the documents. Finally, the regulators argued in the alternative that the lead plaintiff has not shown good cause to override the qualified privilege, as the interests of the government in protecting the supervisory information outweighs the interest of the plaintiffs in production.
On March 19, a district court granted preliminary approval in which a large retailer agreed to pay $10 million to settle a class-action action suit related to a 2013 data breach, which resulted in the compromise of at least 40 million credit cards and theft of personal information of up to 110 million people. Under the proposed settlement, the retailer will deposit the settlement amount into escrow to pay individual victims up to $10,000 in damages. In addition, the proposed settlement requires the retailer to (i) maintain a written information security program and (ii) appoint a Chief Information Security Officer. The proposed settlement is pending court approval.
On March 13, a federal credit union filed a class action suit against a national retailer and parent company, alleging their actions during a September 2014 data breach injured credit unions, banks, and other financial institutions. Greater Chautauqua FCU v. Kmart Corp and Sears Holdings Corp., No. 15-cv-2228, (N.D.Ill. Mar.13,2015) The complaint contends that financial institutions (i) were required to, among other things, refund fraudulent charges, respond to a higher volume of customer complaints, and increase fraud monitoring efforts, and (ii) lost revenue due to a decrease in card usage after the breach was disclosed. The complaint alleges that the retailer failed to maintain adequate data security under applicable payment card industry standards, particularly in the wake of well-publicized data breaches at other retailers by third parties using similar techniques and malicious software. Moreover, the retailer failed to detect or notify customers for a period of at least five weeks. The complaint was filed in US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, and alleges damages in excess of $5,000,000 for violations of the Illinois Personal Information Protection Act, the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Act, and New York General Business Law, as well as negligence, and negligent misrepresentation and/or omission.