Special Alert: Maryland Ruling Opens New Front in Battle Over Bank Partnership Model

On June 23, the Maryland Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court judgment holding that a non-bank entity assisting consumers obtain loans from an out-of-state bank and then repurchasing those loans days later qualifies as a “credit service business” under the Maryland Credit Services Business Act (MCSBA), requiring a state license among other obligations. CashCall v. Md. Com’r of Financial Reg., No. 24-C-12-007787, 2016 WL 3443971 (Md. Ct. App. June 23, 2016). This holding is of particular importance to marketplace lending platforms that rely on bank partnerships to originate consumer loans because, in addition to requiring a license, the MCSBA prohibits licensees from arranging loans for out-of-state banks above Maryland’s usury ceiling.

In light of the ruling, the MCSBA could provide a roadmap for other states to test the limits of federal law, which specifically authorizes banks to export interest rates permitted by their home state notwithstanding another state’s usury limitations. Perhaps in view of a potential future challenge on federal preemption grounds, the CashCall Court appears to have gone out of its way to state in dictum that the non-bank entity was the “de facto lender” based on its efforts to market, facilitate, and ultimately acquire the loans it arranged. In so doing, the Court provides a strong suggestion that it might have reached the same result relative to the state’s usury laws under the “true lender” theory that has gained some traction in other actions against non-bank entities.

While the most immediate impact of the Court’s ruling is to uphold the state financial regulator’s cease and desist order and $5.65 million civil penalty, the case also creates additional risk and uncertainty for marketplace lending platforms and other FinTech companies seeking to maintain a regulatory safe harbor through the bank partner model. We analyze here the import of this latest case as part of the appreciable tension building as state law theories appear to be increasingly penetrating chinks in the armor of federal preemption principles.

Click here to view the full Special Alert.

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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.

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Special Alert: CFPB’s Proposed Rule Regarding Payday, Title, and Certain Other Installment Loans

On June 2, 2016, the CFPB published its proposed rule (the “Proposed Rule”) addressing payday loans, vehicle title loans, and certain other installment loans (collectively “covered loans”). This alert summarizes the Proposed Rule and compares the Proposed Rule to the CFPB’s March 26, 2015 outline released pursuant to the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act (SBREFA). Those wishing to comment on the Proposed Rule must do so by September 14, 2016.

Summary of the Proposed Rule

The Proposed Rule is issued pursuant to the CFPB’s authority under section 1031 of the Dodd-Frank Act to identify and prevent unfair, deceptive, and abusive acts and practices. It defines two types of covered loans: (1) “short-term” loans that have terms of 45 days or less; and (2) “longer-term” loans with terms of more than 45 days that have a “total cost of credit” exceeding 36% and either a “leveraged payment mechanism” or a security interest in the consumer’s vehicle. A “leveraged payment mechanism” includes a right for the lender to initiate transfers from the consumer’s account and certain other payment mechanisms. The Proposed Rule would exclude (i) credit extended for the sole and express purpose of financing a consumer’s initial purchase of a good when the credit is secured by the property being purchased; (ii) credit secured by any real property or by personal property used or expected to be used as a dwelling; (iii) credit cards; (iv) student loans; (v) non-recourse pawn loans; and (vi) overdraft services and lines of credit.

The Proposed Rule would make it an abusive and unfair practice for a lender to make a covered short-term or longer-term loan without determining upfront that the consumer will have the ability to repay the loan (the “full-payment test”). For both types of covered loans, the Proposed Rule would require a lender to determine whether the consumer can afford the full amount of each payment of a covered loan when due and still meet basic living expenses and major financial obligations. As a practical matter, the full-payment test imposes restrictions on rollovers, loan sequences, and refinancing by preventing the offering of short-term loans fewer than 30 days after payoff without a showing that the borrower’s financial situation is materially improved (and capping successive short-term loans at 3 before requiring a 30-day cooling off period), and preventing the refinancing of longer-term loans without a showing that payments would be smaller or would lower the total cost of credit. The Proposed Rule also would provide conditional exemptions for certain covered loans meeting specified criteria, as discussed further below.  These conditional exemptions essentially provide alternative compliance options to the Proposed Rule’s full-payment test. Additionally, the Proposed Rule would require lenders to use and furnish information to registered information systems established to track covered loans.

Click here to view the full Special Alert.

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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.

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Special Alert: Second Circuit Reverses SDNY Judgment; Rules Fraud Claim Based on Contractual Promise Cannot Support FIRREA Violation Without Proof of Fraudulent Intent at the Time of Contract Execution

On May 23, in an opinion delivered by Circuit Judge Richard Wesley, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the District Court for the Southern District of New York’s (SDNY) July 30, 2014 judgment ordering a bank and its lender subsidiary to pay penalties in excess of $1.2 billion for alleged violations of section 951 of the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act of 1989 (FIRREA), 12 U.S.C. § 1833a. U.S. v. Countrywide Home Loans, Inc., Nos. 15-469, 15-499 (2d Cir. May 23, 2016). In relevant part, FIRREA imposes civil penalties for violations of the federal mail and wire fraud statutes that affect a federally insured financial institution. The Government had alleged in the case that the lender subsidiary had defrauded Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (collectively, the GSEs), by originating mortgage loans through its High Speed Swim Lane (HSSL) loan origination process that it allegedly knew to be of poor quality, and subsequently selling those loans to the GSEs despite representations in the contracts between the GSEs and lender subsidiary that the loans were of investment quality. At trial, the Government presented evidence that high-level employees of the lender subsidiary “knew of the pre-existing contractual representations, knew that the loans originated through HSSL were not consistent with those representations, and nonetheless sold HSSL Loans to the GSEs pursuant to those contracts.” The defendants argued on appeal that, under common-law principles of fraud the Government’s trial evidence proved, at most, a series of intentional breaches of contract which did not suffice as a matter of law to establish fraud.

The Second Circuit agreed with defendants and reversed the judgment of the district court. The court held that:

a contractual promise can only support a claim for fraud upon proof of fraudulent intent not to perform the promise at the time of contract execution. Absent such proof, a subsequent breach of that promise—even where willful and intentional—cannot in itself transform the promise into a fraud.

Thus, the Second Circuit concluded that under common law principles, which were incorporated into the mail and wire fraud statutes, “the proper time for identifying fraudulent intent is contemporaneous with the making of the promise, not when a victim relies on the promise or is injured by it.” The Second Circuit further held that “where allegedly fraudulent misrepresentations are promises made in a contract, a party claiming fraud must prove fraudulent intent at the time of contract execution; evidence of a subsequent, willful breach cannot sustain the claim.”

Click here to view the full Special Alert.

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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.

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Special Alert: SCOTUS Vacates Ninth Circuit Decision in Case Alleging Procedural FCRA Violations

On May 16, the United States Supreme Court issued an opinion vacating the Ninth Circuit’s 2014 ruling that a plaintiff had standing under Article III of the Constitution to sue an alleged consumer reporting agency as defined by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), for alleged procedural violations of the FCRA, 15 U.S.C § 1681 et seq. Spokeo v. Robins, No. 13-1339 (U.S. May 16, 2016). According to plaintiff Thomas Robins, the reporting agency violated his individualized (rather than collective) statutory rights by reporting inaccurate credit information regarding Robins’s wealth, job status, graduate degree, and marital status in willful noncompliance with certain FCRA requirements. In a 6-2 opinion delivered by Justice Alito, the Court ruled that Robins could not establish standing by alleging a bare procedural violation because Article III requires a concrete injury even in the context of statutory violation. Here, the Ninth Circuit erred in failing to consider separately both the “concrete and particularized” aspects of the injury-in-fact component of standing. The Court opined that the Ninth Circuit’s analysis was incomplete:

[T]he injury-in-fact requirement requires a plaintiff to allege an injury that is both “concrete and particularized.” Friends of the Earth, Inc. v. Laidlaw Environmental Services (TOC), Inc., 528 U.S. 167, 180-181 (2000) (emphasis added). The Ninth Circuit’s analysis focused on the second characteristic (particularity), but it overlooked the first (concreteness). We therefore…remand for the Ninth Circuit to consider both aspects of the injury-in-fact requirement.

Read more…

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Special Alert: CFPB Plans to Propose TRID Amendments in July

Director Cordray announced yesterday in a letter to industry trade groups that the CFPB has “begun drafting a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on the Know Before You Owe Rule.” However, contrary to some reports, the proposal is not imminent. Instead, Director Cordray stated that the Bureau “hope[s] to issue the NPRM in late July,” which means that final amendments will likely come late in the year.

In addition, it does not appear that the CFPB is contemplating extensive changes to the rule. Instead, the letter states that the Bureau plans to “incorporat[e] some of the bureau’s existing informal guidance, whether provided through webinar, compliance guide, or otherwise, into the regulation text and commentary” and to address “places in the regulation text and commentary where adjustments would be useful for greater certainty and clarity.”  Read more…

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