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…

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Third Circuit Finds RESPA Claims in Captive Mortgage Reinsurance Case Untimely and Not Subject to Equitable Tolling

Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling that the class action plaintiffs had not satisfied the elements of equitable tolling where they filed their lawsuit several years after the applicable statute of limitations had expired. Cunningham v. M&T Bank Corp., No. 15-1412 (3d Cir. Feb. 19, 2016). The Court noted that claims under RESPA have a one-year statute of limitations, running from the date of the occurrence of the violation, which begin “at the closing of the loan,” citing In re Cmty. Bank of N. Virginia, 622 F.3d 275, 301–02 (3d Cir. 2010). The Court outlined three elements to establish equitable tolling, “(1) that the defendant actively misled the plaintiff; (2) which prevented the plaintiff from recognizing the validity of her claim within the limitations period; and (3) where the plaintiff’s ignorance is not attributable to her lack of reasonable due diligence in attempting to uncover the relevant facts;” and emphasized that each of the plaintiffs were provided a disclosure before closing about the captive reinsurance arrangement, and that after closing the plaintiffs took no steps to investigate whether the bank’s captive reinsurance program might violate state or federal law.

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District Court Concludes Mortgage Servicer’s Actions Violated RESPA

On January 28, the U.S. District Court for the Western Division of Washington, having determined that a mortgage loan servicer violated the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) and committed the tort of outrage, ordered the servicer to pay more than $200,000 in economic and emotional distress damages to a borrower. Lucero v. Cenlar FSB, No. 13-0602 (W.D. Wash. Jan. 28, 2016). The borrower and servicer had agreed to a loan modification in early 2013. However, the borrower believed that the servicer was misreporting her loan as delinquent, in spite of the modification. In April 2013, the borrower filed a lawsuit against the mortgage servicer alleging “that [it] violated its credit reporting obligations” and “seeking damages related to the way in which [the mortgage servicer] (and others) had sought to foreclose on her mortgage.” The servicer then began charging the plaintiff for attorney’s fees and costs that it was incurring in defending the ongoing litigation. The plaintiff requested additional information regarding the charges on numerous occasions, but it was not until June 2014 that the servicer’s counsel said “that the fees that were charged to her account had incurred in this litigation, that they are recoverable under the Deed of Trust, and that the notifications were required by a federal regulation.” The court found that the servicer “failed to timely and fully respond to [the plaintiff’s] March 25, 2014 requests for information regarding the nature of and jurisdiction for the fees that were appearing on her monthly statements,” a violation RESPA, which requires “servicers to respond to a qualified written request…for information within specified time frames.” It also held that the charging of attorney’s fees to the borrower was not permitted under the Deed of Trust under the circumstances. In awarding emotional distress damages, the court stated that the servicer’s message to the plaintiff – “continue this litigation and we will take your home” – was “beyond the bounds of decency and [] utterly intolerable.”

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CFPB Responds to MBA Letter, Clarifies TRID Implementation Expectations

On December 29, the CFPB responded to a December 21, 2015 letter from the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) regarding “lingering misperceptions and technical ambiguities” in TRID regulations that went into effect on October 3. The CFPB’s letter notes that, given inevitable yet unintentional errors in the early stages of the mortgage industry’s implementation of the regulations, regulators’ initial examinations will focus on industry members’ good faith efforts to ensure compliance with the rule. The CFPB further emphasized that examinations will be “corrective and diagnostic, rather than punitive.” Regarding cure provisions for violations of the rule, the letter states that TRID allows for corrections of specific post-closing errors, such as correcting non-numerical clerical errors and curing violations of monetary tolerance limits, if they exist. Moreover, TILA provisions regarding the corrections of errors will continue to apply to integrated disclosures: “TILA has long permitted creditors to cure violations, provided the creditor notifies the borrower of the error and makes appropriate adjustments to the account before the creditor receives notice of the violation from the borrower. 15 U.S.C. 1640(b).” The CFPB’s letter further advises the MBA that while TRID integrates disclosure requirements under RESPA and TILA, it does not “change the prior, fundamental principles of liability under either TILA or RESPA.”

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Fannie Mae Updates Servicing Guide; GSEs Update the Uniform Closing Dataset

On November 25, Fannie Mae issued Servicing Guide Announcement SVC-2015-14 to reveal recent updates to the Servicing Guide. Specifically, Fannie Mae updated guidance relating to 10 areas, including but not limited to: (i) the Remittance of Property (Hazard) Insurance Loss Proceeds for Short Sales; (ii) Pledge of Servicing Rights and Transfers of Interest in Servicing Compensation; (iii) Timeline Requirements for HAMP Expanded “Pay for Performance” Incentive Notices; (iv) Early Delinquency Counseling Requirements; and (v) the removal of the Borrower Notification Sample Letter Exhibit.

In separate November 17 announcements, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (collectively the GSEs) revealed updates to the Uniform Closing Dataset, developed as part of the Uniform Mortgage Data Program to facilitate lender submission of the Closing Disclosure Form under the new TILA/RESPA regulations. The updates revise Appendix A: Closing Disclosure Mapping to the MISMO and Appendix H: UCD Delivery Specification and include: (i) newly added data points; (ii) changes to conditionality for several data points; (iii) changes/additions to the enumerated values; and (iv) updates to conditionality details.

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