Special Alert: D.C. Circuit Panel Rejects CFPB’s RESPA Interpretation and Alters its Structure in PHH Corp. v. CFPB

On October 11, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued an opinion vacating a $109 million penalty imposed on PHH Corporation under the anti-kickback provisions of the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA), concluding that the CFPB misinterpreted the statute and violated due process by reversing the interpretation of the prior regulator and applying its own interpretation retroactively. Furthermore, the panel rejected the CFPB’s contention that no statute of limitations applied to its administrative actions and concluded that RESPA’s three-year statute of limitations applied to any actions brought under RESPA.

In addition, a majority of the panel held that the CFPB’s status as an independent agency headed by a single Director violates the separation of powers under Article II of the U.S. Constitution. However, rather than shutting down the CFPB and voiding all of its regulations and prior actions, the majority chose to remedy the defect by making the CFPB’s Director subject to removal at will by the President. In effect, this makes the CFPB an executive agency (like the Department of the Treasury) rather than, as envisioned by the Dodd-Frank Act, an independent agency (like the Federal Trade Commission). (One member of the panel, Judge Henderson, dissented from this portion of the opinion on the grounds that it was not necessary to reach the constitutional issue because the panel was already reversing the CFPB’s interpretation of RESPA.)

The panel remanded the case to the CFPB to determine whether, within the three-year statute of limitations, the payments to PHH’s affiliate exceeded the fair market value of the services provided in violation of RESPA. The CFPB is expected to petition for en banc reconsideration by the full D.C. Circuit or to seek direct review by the United States Supreme Court. Therefore, final resolution of this matter may be delayed by a year or more.

Click here to read 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.


U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit Hears Oral Arguments Regarding CFPB’s Interpretation of RESPA

On April 12, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit held oral arguments in the case PHH Corporation v. CFPB. The primary issue in the case is whether the CFPB is constitutionally and statutorily authorized to assess a $109 million penalty against the petitioner, a nonbank mortgage lender (Lender), for allegedly violating Section 8 of the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) by referring customers to certain mortgage insurance companies that purchased mortgage reinsurance at fair market value from an affiliate of the Lender. According to CFPB Director Richard Cordray, this practice was a violation of Section 8’s prohibition on kickbacks for referrals, because the mortgage insurers allegedly only purchased mortgage reinsurance in order to receive customer referrals from the Lender.

In appealing the CFPB’s action, counsel for the Lender argued that the CFPB is attempting to effectively rewrite Section 8 to prohibit activities expressly permitted by the statute’s implementing regulation, Regulation X, as well as prior agency guidance and the plain language of the statute itself. According to the Lender, its mortgage reinsurance practices had long been understood to be legal, were widespread throughout the country, and aligned with existing HUD guidance. The Lender further argued that Section 8(c)(2) permits entities to refer business so long as the referrals are not compensated, and any payments are equal to the market value cost of services actually provided. In the Lender’s case, counsel argued that the mortgage reinsurance premiums could not have been compensation for referrals, because mortgage reinsurance premiums received by the Lender’s affiliate were equal to the fair market value of mortgage reinsurance services actually rendered. The Lender further argued that the CFPB improperly ignored RESPA’s statutorily-prescribed statute of limitations (SOL) of three years when, under Section 15, RESPA clearly applies the SOL to “any action” – which, in the Lender’s view, would include an administrative action. Finally, the Lender argued that the CFPB’s structure and funding under the Dodd-Frank Act was unconstitutional in that it violated the requirement for separation of powers by, among other things, (i) restricting the President’s removal power to “for cause” removal; (ii) concentrating power in one individual; and (iii) funding the CFPB outside of the Congressional appropriations process.     Read more…


DOJ Settles with National Bank Over Underwriting Practices

On April 8, the DOJ announced a $1.2 billion settlement with a San Francisco-based bank and the bank’s Vice President of Credit-Risk – Quality Assurance to resolve allegations that the bank submitted false claims for FHA insurance in connection with loans that did not meet FHA underwriting standards. According to DOJ, “[d]uring the period May 1, 2001 through on or about December 31, 2008, [the bank] (or its predecessor) submitted to HUD certifications stating that certain loans were eligible for FHA mortgage insurance when in fact they were not.” The settlement agreement further explains that when certain of these loans defaulted, HUD paid for the insurance claims out of the Mutual Mortgage Insurance Fund. In addition, the settlement agreement states that from January 2002 through December 2010, the bank failed to inform HUD that the bank’s quality assurance personnel had determined that some of the FHA-insured loans contained a material finding. In response to this failure to self-report, the DOJ also asserted claims against the bank’s VP of Credit-Risk – Quality Assurance, as the individual responsible for overseeing the bank’s self-reporting policy and procedures. Both the bank and the individual officer acknowledged responsibility for the alleged violations as part of the settlement agreement.


FHA Publishes Consolidated Multifamily Handbook

Recently, the FHA published a new Multifamily Accelerated Processing Guide (MAP Guide) that consolidates underwriting and program requirements in one document. The revised MAP Guide is intended to “cut the time required to approve loan applications and to assure consistent application of program requirements and credit standards across all HUD processing offices.” The revised MAP Guide comes after the FHA’s February 2015 release of a draft version of the guide and incorporates revisions into four main areas: (i) technical corrections and edits based on operational guidance; (ii) incorporation of previously published policy issued since 2011, including Mortgagee Letters, Housing Notices, and Memos; (iii) inclusion of significant organizational and operational business model changes related to the Multifamily for Tomorrow transformation initiative; and (iv) revisions to policy. The new MAP Guide will become effective for all applications for FHA multifamily mortgage insurance received after May 28, 2016.


FHA Submits Annual Report to Congress, Capital Reserves Exceed 2%

On November 16, HUD released FHA’s annual report to Congress on the financial condition of its Mutual Mortgage Insurance (MMI) Fund. For the first time since 2008, the report shows that FHA’s MMI fund’s capital ratio exceeds the congressionally required 2% threshold, standing at 2.07%. The report points to FHA policy changes and program improvements as the driving factors behind the improved MMI fund capital ratio. Notably, the report states that the agency’s decision to reduce annual mortgage insurance premiums by a half percent (i) marginally decreased the projected time to reach the 2% capital ratio; (ii) enabled over 75,000 new creditworthy borrowers to purchase homes; and (iii) compensated for the credit risk of the Forward mortgage loan program. Finally, the report highlights the agency’s efforts to reduce risk and improve loss mitigation by making substantial revisions to its credit guidelines, including strengthening its underwriting guidelines to discourage extreme risk layering and prohibiting seller-funded down-payment assistance.