On January 9, the CFPB entered into a Consent Order and Stipulation against two medical debt-collection law firms and their president for alleged violations of the FDCPA and FCRA. Based on these allegations, the CFPB ordered the Respondents to provide $577,135 in relief to affected consumers, correct their business practices, and pay a $78,800 civil money penalty. According to the allegations set forth in the consent order, between January 2012 and August 2016, debt collectors working for the firms violated the FDCPA by giving the false impression that the firm’s “Demand Letters were from an attorney or that the firm’s attorneys were meaningfully involved in reviewing the consumer’s case or had reached a professional judgment that sending a Demand Letter or making a collection call was warranted.” The Bureau also found that the firms notarized consumer affidavits for use in debt-collection lawsuits without properly verifying the truth of the signature. The CFPB also alleged that the firms violated FCRA’s Regulation V by failing to establish, implement, and periodically review and update reasonable written policies and procedures regarding the accuracy and integrity of consumer information furnished to consumer reporting agencies.
On January 18, the CFPB initiated an enforcement action against the nation’s largest student loan servicer based upon alleged violations of the CPA, FCRA, and FDCPA. In a complaint filed with the Middle District of Pennsylvania, the Bureau charged that the student lender “systemically and illegally” created “obstacles to repayment” and “cheated” many borrowers out of their rights to lower repayments, causing them to pay much more than they had to for their loans. The CFPB “seeks to obtain permanent injunctive relief, restitution, refunds, damages, civil money penalties, and other relief.”
Later that day, the lender issued a statement categorically rejecting the CFPB’s charges, explaining: “[T]he suit improperly seeks to impose penalties  based on new servicing standards applied retroactively and applied only against one servicer. The regulator-asserted standards are inconsistent with Department of Education regulations, and will harm student loan borrowers, including through higher defaults.” The company also noted that “the timing of this lawsuit—midnight action filed on the eve of a new administration—reflects their political motivations.”
On October 19, the Ninth Circuit, in an opinion by Judge Kozinski, held that merely enforcing a security interest is not “debt collection” under the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”). Ho v. ReconTrust Co., Case: 10-56884 (Oct. 20, 2016). In so holding, the Ninth Circuit disagreed with earlier decisions by the Fourth and Sixth Circuits, creating a split that might eventually be resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court. See e.g. Piper v. Portnoff Law Associates Ltd., 396 F.3d 227, 235-36 (3d Cir. 2005); Wilson v. Draper & Goldberg PLLC, 443 F.3d 373, 378-79 (4th Cir. 2006); Glazer v. Chase Home Finance LLC, 704 F.3d 453, 461 (6th Cir. 2013).
In Ho, a borrower sued several foreclosure firms after she defaulted on her mortgage loan, alleging that the defendant-companies had violated the FDCPA by sending her default notices stating the amounts owed. The district court dismissed that claim, finding the trustee was not a debt collector engaged in debt collection under the FDCPA. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the dismissal. The Court observed that a notice of default and a notice of sale may state the amounts due, but they do not in fact demand payment. Moreover, in California, deficiency judgments are not permitted after a non-judicial foreclosure sale, so no money can be collected from the homeowner. Notably, the notices complained of in Ho are required by California law prior to exercising the right to non-judicial foreclosure.
Last week, the CFPB’s final rule amending the mortgage servicing provisions of Regulations X and Z was published in the Federal Register. The amendments were previously covered in BuckleySandler’s August 9 Special Alert. The majority of the final rule will take effect on October 19, 2017, exactly one year after its Federal Register publication date. Certain provisions related to successors in interest and bankruptcy periodic statements will become effective on April 19, 2018. The CFPB’s interpretive rule under the FDCPA addressing industry concerns and conflicts with the servicing rules in Regulations X and Z was simultaneously published in the Federal Register on October 19, 2016.
On September 21, the DOJ and FTC entered into an agreement with the former vice president of a Texas-based debt collection company, to resolve allegations that that he violated Section 5 of the FTC Act and Section 807 of the FDCPA. The stipulated order enters a civil penalty of $496,000, but suspends the majority of the judgment based on certain conditions, including cooperation in the ongoing lawsuit against his former company.