BuckleySandler Secures Second Circuit Victory in Lender-Placed Insurance Rate Case

On July 22, BuckleySandler secured a substantial victory before the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Representing a global insurance company in a nationwide lender-placed insurance (“LPI”) class action brought by mortgage borrowers, the Firm argued on interlocutory appeal that the Second Circuit should reverse the district court’s denial of its motion to dismiss on the basis of the “filed-rate” doctrine. Ordinarily, the filed-rate doctrine provides that rates approved by the applicable regulatory agency – including LPI rates – are per se reasonable and unassailable in judicial proceedings brought by ratepayers. The district court, however, held that the plaintiffs’ claims were not barred by the doctrine because, rather than directly billing the plaintiffs for the LPI premiums, the insurance company initially charged the premiums to the plaintiffs’ mortgage servicer who, in turn, charged the borrowers. The Second Circuit reversed the Southern District of New York’s decision, holding that the filed-rate doctrine applied notwithstanding the fact that the mortgage servicer served as an intermediary to pass on the LPI rates to borrowers. Because the plaintiffs’ claims ultimately rested on the premise that the LPI rates approved by the regulators were too high and included impermissible costs, the Second Circuit held that the claims were barred by the filed-rate doctrine.

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CFPB Publishes Eighth Edition of Supervisory Highlights

On June 23, the CFPB published its eighth edition of Supervisory Highlights, covering supervisory activities from January 2015 through April 2015. The latest edition identifies issues with dual-tracking at mortgage servicers and the need for improved quality control measures at consumer reporting agencies. The report also provided supervisory observations related to debt collection, student loan servicing, mortgage origination and servicing, and fair lending. Notably, the report reveals that non-public supervisory actions and self-reported violations at banks and nonbanks in the areas of mortgage origination, fair lending, mortgage servicing, deposits, payday lending, and debt collection resulted in $11.6 million in remediation to more than 80,000 consumers during the first four months of 2015.

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New York Court of Appeals Rules Possession of Note, Rather than Mortgage, Conveys Standing to Commence Foreclosure Action

On June 11, the New York Court of Appeals held that a loan servicer who holds the note has standing to commence a mortgage foreclosure action against a borrower even if the servicer cannot show that it also holds the mortgage.  See Aurora Loan Servs., LLC v. Taylor, 2015 NY Slip Op 04872 (Jun. 11, 2015).  The court reasoned that the servicer did not need to show possession of the mortgage because “the note, and not the mortgage, is the dispositive instrument that conveys standing to foreclose under New York law.”  In Aurora, the defendant borrowers had executed an adjustable rate note and a mortgage in 2006.  The mortgage designated Mortgage Electronic Recording Systems, Inc. (“MERS”) as nominee, but the note was not transferred to MERS with the mortgage.  After the borrowers defaulted, the servicer took possession of the note and filed for foreclosure against the borrowers.  In reaching its decision, the court disregarded borrowers’ argument that the involvement of MERS somehow impacted the servicer’s standing to foreclose.

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CFPB and FTC Announce Settlement with National Mortgage Servicing Company

On April 21, the CFPB and the FTC announced a joint enforcement action against a national mortgage servicing company, ordering the company to pay roughly $63 million in relief and penalties for allegedly mishandling home loans for borrowers who were trying to avoid foreclosure. Both regulators allege that from 2010 to 2014, the servicing company failed to honor modifications made to loans it acquired from other firms. According to the complaint, the company allegedly insisted that homeowners make the higher monthly payments and also make payments before providing loss mitigation options. Moreover, the CFPB and FTC claim the company illegally harassed borrowers who fell behind, made false threats, and revealed debts to the borrowers’ employers. The servicing company will pay $48 million in relief to eligible homeowners and a $15 million civil money penalty to the CFPB.

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OCC Issues Updated RESPA Examination Guidance to Supervised Institutions

On April 14, the OCC issued the “Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act” booklet as part of the Comptroller’s Handbook, which is prepared for use by OCC examiners in connection with their examination and supervision of national banks and federal savings associations (collectively, “banks”). The revised booklet, which replaces a similarly titled booklet issued in October 2011, reflects updated guidance relating to mortgage servicing and loss mitigation procedures resulting from the multiple amendments made to Regulation X over the past several years. Notable revisions reflected in the revised booklet include: (i) the transfer of rulemaking authority for Regulation X from HUD to the CFPB; (ii) new requirements relating to mortgage servicing; (iii) new loss mitigation procedures; (iv) prohibitions against certain acts and practices by servicers of federally related mortgage loans with regard to responding to borrower assertions of error and requests for information; and (v) updated examination procedures for determining compliance with the new servicing and loss mitigation rules. The OCC notified its applicable supervised financial institutions of the changes affecting all banks that engage in residential mortgage lending activities by distributing OCC Bulletin 2015-25.

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Utah Enacts Money Transmitter Act

On March 27, Utah Governor Gary Herbert signed S.B. 24, which modifies provisions related to persons and entities subject to the jurisdiction of Utah’s Department of Financial Institutions (DFI), amends the state’s Mortgage Lending and Servicing Act, and enacts the Money Transmitter Act. The Money Transmitter Act establishes new licensing requirements and grants rulemaking authority to the DFI to (i) prohibit practices that are misleading, unfair, or abusive, (ii) promote full disclosure of the terms and conditions of agreements between a customer and a money transmitter, and (iii) assure uniform application of applicable state or federal laws and regulations.

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Second Circuit Affirms Dismissal of Lawsuit over Mortgage Auction Terms

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.

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FDIC Releases Final Technical Assistance Video to Cover Mortgage Servicing Rules

On February 13, the FDIC released the third and final technical assistance video intended to assist bank employees to comply with certain mortgage rules issued by the CFPB. The final video addresses the Mortgage Servicing Rules and the “Small Servicer” exemption. The first video, released on November 19, 2014, covered the ATR/QM Rule, and the second video, released on January 27, covered the Loan Originator Compensation Rule.

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Mortgage Servicer Settles with California Regulator

On January 23, the California Department of Business Oversight (DBO) announced a $2.5 million settlement with a national mortgage servicer for failing to provide loan information to the state regulator. According to the consent order, the company must also (i) pay an independent third-party auditor selected by the DBO to ensure the servicer provides all requested information to DBO; (ii) cover administrative costs associated with the case; and (iii) cease acquiring new mortgage servicing rights that include loans secured by California properties until the DBO is satisfied that the servicer can satisfactorily respond to certain requests for information and documentation made in the course of a regulatory exam.

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OCC Reports Continued Improvement in First-Lien Mortgage Performance

On December 19, the OCC announced the release of its quarterly Mortgage Metrics Report. The report highlights the mortgage performance of first-lien mortgages serviced by seven national banks and one federal savings association through September 30, 2014. Notably, the report showed 93 percent of mortgages were current and performing at the end of the quarter, compared with 92.9 percent at the end of the previous quarter and 91.4 percent a year earlier. Also, the report showed a 41.5 percent decrease in foreclosure activity in the last year. The mortgages included in this portfolio represent 46 percent of all residential mortgages in the U.S., approximately 24 million loans totaling $4.0 trillion in principal balances.

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FHFA Issues Advisory Bulletin, Tightens Oversight of Single-Family Servicers and Sellers

On December 1, the FHFA issued an advisory bulletin highlighting its supervisory expectation that Fannie and Freddie maintain the safety and soundness of their operations by closely assessing the risk profile of lenders and servicers. Under the new framework, any new lender or servicer that enters into a contract with Fannie or Freddie will undergo a thorough assessment of their capital levels, business models and whether they would be able to fulfill certain responsibilities under economic downturns. This includes buying back faulty mortgages or being able to work with borrowers to avoid foreclosure. Other risks, such as potential legal troubles, will also be examined.

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CFPB Proposes Amendments to Mortgage Servicing Rules

On November 20, the CFPB announced the issuance of a proposed rule to amend RESPA (Reg. X) and TILA (Reg.Z). The proposed rule changes primarily focus on clarifying, revising or amending (i) Regulation X’s servicing provisions regarding force-placed insurance, early intervention, and loss mitigation requirements; and (ii) periodic statement requirements under Regulation Z’s servicing provisions. In addition, the proposed amendments also revise certain servicing requirements that apply when a consumer is a potential or confirmed successor in interest, is in bankruptcy, or sends a cease communication request under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Further, the proposed rule makes technical corrections to several provisions of Regulations X and Z. The public comment period will be open for 90 days upon publication in the Federal Register.

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Ohio Appeals Court Rules Documents Flawed, Reverses Previous Foreclosure Judgment

On October 22, the Ninth District Court of Appeals reversed a summary judgment decision allowing a trust unit of a bank to foreclose on a home. In this case, the loan servicers were unable to prove who held the promissory note when the trust unit requested a foreclosure order from the trial court. Employees at both servicers failed to attach records relied upon in their respective affidavits, but rather provided copies of the promissory note, mortgage, and the assignment of the mortgage. The Court held that the copies “do not establish when or if the Bank came into possession of the Note or that the Bank was in possession of the Note at the time of the filing of the complaint.” Deutsche Bank Natl. Trust Co. v. Dvorak, 2014-Ohio-4652 29, Ohio. Ct. App., 27120 (Oct.22, 2014)

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Senator Warren And Congressman Cummings Urge GAO To Study Economic Vulnerability Of Non-Bank Mortgage Servicers, Risks To Consumers

On October 20, Senator Warren and Congressman Cummings co-authored a letter to the GAO requesting that the agency investigate possible effects on the non-bank servicing industry in the event of an economic downturn. In addition, the duo urged the GAO to study the potential risks to consumers should a major non-bank servicer fail. The letter stems from a report recently issued by the FHFA-OIG. The report cites that the rise in non-bank mortgage servicers “has been accompanied by consumer complaints, lawsuits, and other regulatory actions as the servicers’ workload outstrips their processing capacity.”

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NY DFS Addresses Concerns Regarding Loan Servicer’s Noncompliance Issue

On October 21, New York DFS’s Superintendent Lawsky issued a letter to a large loan servicer institution regarding its systems and processes, most significantly the practice of backdating letters to borrowers. As a result of the alleged backdating issue, Lawsky’s letter highlights the servicer’s failure to meet state and federal agreements concerning its communication timing with borrowers on requests for mortgage modifications or the initiation of foreclosure proceedings. According to the letter, potentially hundreds of thousands of borrower letters were incorrectly dated. The DFS alleged that one letter in particular contained a time lapse of nearly a year: “[The servicer’s] system shows that [it] sent a borrower a pre-foreclosure dated May 23, 2013, stating that the borrower was in default and at risk of foreclosure. Yet, a conflicting notice record in [the servicer’s] system indicates that the notice was created on April 9, 2014.” The NYDFS stresses the urgency the servicer must take to remedy these issues by fixing its systems, and notes that it “intends to take whatever action is necessary to ensure that borrowers are protected.”

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