Special Alert: Disparate Impact Under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act After Inclusive Communities

On June 25, the Supreme Court in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. held that disparate-impact claims are cognizable under the Fair Housing Act (FHA). The Court, in a 5-4 decision, concluded that the FHA permits disparate-impact claims based on its interpretation of the FHA’s language, the amendment history of the FHA, and the purpose of the FHA.

Applicability to ECOA

When certiorari was granted in Inclusive Communities, senior officials from the CFPB and DOJ made clear that they would continue to enforce the disparate impact theory under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) even if the Supreme Court held that disparate-impact claims were not cognizable under the FHA. It is reasonable to expect that the Court’s decision will embolden the agencies, as well as private litigants, to assert even more aggressively the disparate impact theory under ECOA. Read more…

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Special Alert: Supreme Court Upholds Disparate Impact Under Fair Housing Act, But Emphasizes Limits on Such Claims

Today, the Supreme Court in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. held that disparate-impact claims are cognizable under the Fair Housing Act (FHA). In a 5-4 decision, the Court concluded that the use of the phrase “otherwise make available” in Section 804 of the Fair Housing Act supports disparate-impact claims. The Court also held that Section 805 of the Fair Housing Act (which applies to lending) permits disparate impact, reasoning that the Court “has construed statutory language similar to § 805(a) to include disparate-impact liability.” The Court also wrote that the 1988 amendments to the Fair Housing Act support its conclusion because (1) all the federal Courts of Appeals to have considered the issue at that time had held that the FHA permits disparate-impact claims; and (2) the substance of the amendments, which the Court characterized as exceptions from disparate impact, “is convincing support for the conclusion that Congress accepted and ratified the unanimous holdings of the Courts of Appeals finding disparate-impact liability.”

The Court emphasized, however, that “disparate-impact liability has always been properly limited in key respects . . . .” Specifically, the Court explained disparate-impact liability must be limited so companies “are able to make the practical business choices and profit-related decisions that sustain a vibrant and dynamic free-enterprise system.” “Entrepreneurs must be given latitude to consider market factors,” the Court explained. The Court clarified further that a variety of factors, including both “objective” and “subjective” factors, are “legitimate concerns.” Read more…

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Supreme Court Grants Cert. to Decide if Offer of Complete Relief Moots Case

On May 18, the Supreme Court granted certiorari to resolve a circuit split as to whether an offer of complete relief to a plaintiff seeking to represent a putative class moots the case. Campbell-Ewald Co. v. Gomez, 2015 WL 246885 (U.S. May 18, 2015). According to the cert. petition, the plaintiff received an unsolicited text message in 2006 from the petitioner, a firm hired by the U.S. Navy to assist with its recruitment efforts. The plaintiff claimed that the text message violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, and sought to represent a class of all non-consenting recipients of the recruitment text. Before the plaintiff had moved for class certification, the petitioner tendered an offer of judgment pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 68 and a separate informal settlement offer, both of which would have fully satisfied the plaintiff’s individual claim by offering more than the maximum statutory damages plus reasonable costs and injunctive relief. The plaintiff rejected the offers and moved for class certification. The district court rejected the petitioner’s claim that the claim was moot, but eventually granted the petitioner summary judgment on the merits on the ground that the petitioner was entitled to “derivative sovereign immunity.” The Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that the case was not moot and that the district court had improperly applied the derivative sovereign immunity doctrine. The Supreme Court granted cert. to consider both questions. As to the mootness issue, the Court will also consider whether the resolution depends on whether or not the class has been certified at the time of the offer.

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Supreme Court to Hear Historic FCRA Standing Case During October 2015 Term

On April 27, the United States Supreme Court granted a petition for a writ of certiorari seeking review of a hotly-debated question with potentially far-reaching implications: whether a mere violation of a federal statute, without more, satisfies the “injury-in-fact” standard required for constitutional standing under Article III.  The case at issue involves a plaintiff alleging violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA); specifically, the plaintiff argued that he suffered actual harm when an online search engine, acting as a credit reporting agency (CRA), published inaccurate information about his background and character in violation of FCRA provisions requiring a CRA to ensure accuracy and provide notice regarding the information it disseminates.  The district court ruled that plaintiff failed to demonstrate injury-in-fact without showing more than mere violations of the FCRA.  The Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that the violation of federal statutory rights is sufficient to show constitutional standing, and that a plaintiff need not demonstrate any actual damages in order to file suit.  Notably, the Ninth Circuit did not opine that the “harm” alleged by the plaintiff – the online search engine portrayed him as wealthier and more educated than he actually was – affected him economically by impeding his employment prospects. Read more…

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Supreme Court Grants Federal Agencies Wide Discretion in Interpreting Regulations

On March 9, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) does not require federal agencies to go through the formal rulemaking process when making changes to rules interpreting regulations, or “interpretive rules,” even if those changes are significant. This decision, Perez v. Mortgage Bankers Association, is of impactful significance to federal agencies and regulated entities alike because it overrules long-standing precedent—known as the D.C. Circuit’s Paralyzed Veterans doctrine—that required agencies to engage the public in the formal notice-and-comment period before issuing new interpretations of previously promulgated regulations. Here, the Court held that the Paralyzed Veterans doctrine is contrary to the APA’s rulemaking previsions and imposes unwarranted procedural obligations on federal agencies.

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U.S. Supreme Court To Hear Arguments Involving Guarantor-Spouse’s Eligibility for ECOA Protection

On March 2, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments to resolve claims as to whether spousal guarantors could assert ECOA as a defense against a bank’s collection efforts requiring them to guarantee their spouse’s loans. In the case at bar, two men borrowed more than $2 million to fund a real estate development company, and their wives guaranteed the loan. Subsequently, the husbands were unable to make payments and the bank declared default and ordered payment both from the company and the wives as guarantors. Later, the wives filed suit against the bank claiming the bank’s requirement that they guarantee the loans as a condition of the credit constituted discrimination on the basis of marital status. The lower court granted summary judgment in favor of the bank, and the Eighth Circuit affirmed, finding the wives were not “applicants” for credit under ECOA. Hawkins v. Community Bank of Raymore, 761 F.3d 937 (8th Cir. 2014) cert. granted, No. 14-520, 2015 WL 852422 (U.S. Mar. 2, 2015)

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Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments on Fair Housing Act Disparate Impact Case

On January 21, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project, in which Texas challenged the disparate impact theory of discrimination under the Fair Housing Act (FHA). In their questions to counsel, the Justices focused on (i) whether the phrase “making unavailable” in the FHA provides a textual basis for disparate impact, (ii) whether three provisions of the 1988 amendments to the FHA demonstrate congressional acknowledgement that the FHA permits disparate impact claims, and (iii) whether the Court should defer to HUD’s disparate impact rule. The Court is expected to issue its ruling by the end of June. For more information on the oral argument, please refer to our previously issued Special Alert.

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Special Alert: Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments on Fair Housing Act Disparate Impact Case

This morning, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project, in which Texas challenged the disparate impact theory of discrimination under the Fair Housing Act (FHA).  Twice before, the Court granted certiorari on this issue, but in both cases the parties reached a settlement prior to oral arguments.

As described further below, in their questions to counsel, the Justices focused on (i) whether the phrase “making unavailable” in the FHA provides a textual basis for disparate impact, (ii) whether three provisions within the 1988 amendments to the FHA demonstrate congressional acknowledgement that the FHA permits disparate impact claims, and (iii) whether they should defer to HUD’s disparate impact rule.

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Supreme Court Holds That Notice of Rescission Is Sufficient For Borrowers to Exercise TILA’s Extended Right to Rescind

As previously reported in our January 15 Special Alert, the Supreme Court held in Jesinoski v. Countrywide Home Loans, Inc. that a borrower seeking to rescind a loan pursuant to the Truth In Lending Act’s (“TILA’s”) extended right of rescission need only submit notice to the creditor within three years to comply with the three-year limitation on the rescission right. TILA gives certain borrowers a right to rescind their mortgage loans. Although that right typically lasts only for three days from the time the loan is made, 15 U.S.C. § 1635(a), it can extend to three years if the creditor fails to make certain disclosures required by TILA, 15 U.S.C. § 1635(f). Petitioners in the case had mailed a notice of rescission to Respondents exactly three years after the loan was made and Respondents responded shortly thereafter by denying that Petitioners’ had a right to rescind. A year after submitting their notice of rescission—four years after the loan was made—Petitioners filed a lawsuit seeking a declaration of rescission and damages. In his opinion for the unanimous Court, Justice Scalia stated that the statutory language “leaves no doubt that rescission is effected when the borrower notifies the creditor of his intention to rescind. It follows that, so long as the borrower notifies within three years after the transaction is consummated, his rescission is timely.” BuckleySandler submitted an amicus curiae brief in the case on behalf of industry groups, arguing that notice alone is insufficient to effectuate rescission under Section 1635(f).

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Special Alert: Supreme Court Holds That Notice of Rescission is Sufficient For Borrowers to Exercise TILA’s Extended Right to Rescind

The Supreme Court on January 13, 2015 held in Jesinoski v. Countrywide Home Loans, Inc. that a borrower seeking to rescind a loan pursuant to the Truth In Lending Act’s (“TILA’s”) extended right of rescission need only submit notice to the creditor within three years to comply with the three-year limitation on the rescission right. TILA gives certain borrowers a right to rescind their mortgage loans. Although that right typically lasts only for three days from the time the loan is made, 15 U.S.C. § 1635(a), it can extend to three years if the creditor fails to make certain disclosures required by TILA, 15 U.S.C. § 1635(f). Petitioners in the case had mailed a notice of rescission to Respondents exactly three years after the loan was made and Respondents responded shortly thereafter by denying that Petitioners’ had a right to rescind. A year after submitting their notice of rescission—four years after the loan was made—Petitioners filed a lawsuit seeking a declaration of rescission and damages.

The Court’s opinion resolved a circuit split over whether borrowers exercising their right to rescind certain loans pursuant to Section 1635(f) must file a lawsuit to rescind their loans within the three-year period set forth in that section or can satisfy the timing requirements by merely submitting notice of rescission to the creditor. In his opinion for the unanimous Court, Justice Scalia stated that the statutory language “leaves no doubt that rescission is effected when the borrower notifies the creditor of his intention to rescind. It follows that, so long as the borrower notifies within three years after the transaction is consummated, his rescission is timely.” The Court rejected Respondents’ argument that a court must be involved in a rescission under Section 1635(f). Read more…

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Justice Scalia Places Renewed Focus on Lenity in Hybrid Civil-Criminal Statutes

On November 10, 2014, the Supreme Court denied Douglas Whitman’s petition for a writ of certiorari in Whitman v. United States, No. 14-29; Justice Antonin Scalia, joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, issued a brief statement specifically highlighting their view of the role that the doctrine of lenity should play in the interpretation of criminal statutes. Whitman asked the high court to review his 2012 conviction for securities fraud and conspiracy under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. The Second Circuit appeared to defer to the SEC’s interpretation of ambiguous language in the Act—according to Justice Scalia, such an approach would disregard the “many cases . . . holding that, if a law has both criminal and civil applications, the rule of lenity governs its interpretation in both settings.” Justice Scalia further noted that it was the exclusive province of the legislature to create criminal laws, and to defer to the SEC’s interpretation of a criminal statute would “upend ordinary principles of interpretation.” Justice Scalia’s approach may indicate potential adjustments in the ongoing effort to strike the right balance between the due process rights of targets of enforcement actions to know what the law prohibits, and deference to enforcement agencies to interpret federal statutes flexibly. BuckleySandler discussed the tension between lenity and Chevron deference earlier this year in a January 16 article, Lenity, Chevron Deference, and Consumer Protection Laws.

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Jesinoski Case Raises TILA Questions

On November 4, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Jesinoski v. Countrywide Home Loans, Inc., No. 13-648, to resolve a circuit split on whether under TILA a borrower who has provided notice of rescission within three years must also file a lawsuit within that three-year period, or whether such a borrower may file a lawsuit even after the three-year period lapses. In the court below, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the creditor that a borrower must file suit within three years to rescind a loan under TILA. As noted in BuckleySandler attorneys’ November 4 article, Justices’ Questioning In Jesinoski May Be Cause For Concern, during oral arguments the Justices closely questioned counsel on the statutory text. While lawyers for the borrowers and the Department of Justice met with little opposition from the bench, the Justices struggled with the argument advanced by counsel for the creditor. Ultimately, as discussed in BuckleySandler’s article, “Questions from both conservative and liberal judges suggest that both camps may be more receptive to the textual reading advanced by the Jesinoskis.” BuckleySandler attorneys also filed an amici curiae brief on behalf of industry groups in this case.

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CFPB, State AGs Weigh In On TILA Rescission

This week, the CFPB and 25 states filed amicus briefs in Jesinoski v. Countrywide Home Loans, Inc., No. 13-684, a case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court that may resolve a circuit split over whether a borrower seeking to rescind a loan transaction under TILA must file suit within three years of consummating the loan, or if written notice within the three-year rescission period is sufficient to preserve a borrower’s right of rescission. In short, the CFPB argues, as it has in the past, that no TILA provision requires a borrower to bring suit in order to exercise the TILA-granted right to rescind, and that TILA’s history and purpose confirm that a borrower who sends a notice of rescission in the three-year period has exercised the right of rescission. The state AGs similarly argue that TILA’s plain meaning allows borrowers to preserve their rescission right with written notice. In so arguing, the government briefs aim to support the borrower-petitioner seeking to reverse the Eighth Circuit’s holding to the contrary. The majority of the circuit courts that have addressed the issue, including the Eight Circuit, all have held that a borrower must file suit within the three-year rescission period.

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Supreme Court Holds President May Make Recess Appointments During Intra-Session Recesses Of Sufficient Length

On June 26, the Supreme Court rejected the federal government’s challenge to a January 2013 decision by the D.C. Circuit that appointments to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) made by President Obama in January 2012 during a purported Senate recess were unconstitutional. NLRB V. Noel Canning, No. 12-1281, 2014 WL 2882090 (U.S. Jun. 26, 2014). A five-member majority of the Court held that Presidents are permitted to exercise authority under the Recess Appointments Clause to fill a vacancy during both intra-session and inter-session recesses of sufficient length, and that such appointments may fill vacancies that arose prior to or during the recess.

The Court determined that the phrase “recess of the Senate” is ambiguous, and that based on the functional definition derived from the historical practice of past presidents and the Senate, it is meant to cover both types of recesses. Further, the court held that although the Clause does not indicate how long a recess must be before a president may act, historical practice suggests that a recess less than 10 days is presumptively too short. The Court did not foreclose the possibility, however, that appointments during recesses of less than 10 days may be permissible in unusual circumstances. The Court also validated the Senate’s practice of using pro forma sessions to avoid recess appointments, holding the Senate is in session when it says it is, provided it retains capacity to conduct business. Because the Senate was in session during its periodic pro forma sessions, and because the recess appointments at issue were made during a three-day recess between such sessions, the appointments were invalid.

A minority of the Court concurred in the judgment, but endorsed a narrower reading of the President’s authority to make recess appointments and the Senate’s ability to avoid triggering the President’s recess-appointment power. Writing for that minority, Justice Scalia explained that the plain constitutional text limits the President’s recess appointment power to filling vacancies that first arise during the recess. The minority reading of the Clause also limits the President’s recess appointment power to recesses between legislative sessions, and not intra-session ones. CFPB Director Richard Cordray was appointed in the same manner and on the same day as the NLRB members whose appointments were at issue in this case, but was subsequently re-nominated and confirmed for the position. He later ratified CFPB actions taken during the period he served as a recess appointee.

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Supreme Court Upholds Securities Class Action “Fraud On The Market” Theory

On June 23, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a challenge to the long-standing “fraud-on-the-market” theory, on which securities class actions often are based. Halliburton v. Erica P. John Fund Inc., No. 13-317, 2014 WL 2807181 (Jun. 23, 2014). Halliburton petitioned the Court after an appeals court relied on the theory to affirm class certification in a securities suit against the company, even after the appeals court acknowledged that no company misrepresentation affected its stock price. The theory at issue derives from the Court’s holding in Basic Inc. v. Levinson, 485 U.S. 224 (1988) that a putative class of investors should not be required to prove that each individual actually relied in common on a misrepresentation in order to obtain class certification and prevail on the merits. The petitioner argued that empirical evidence no longer supports the economic theory underlying the Court’s holding in Basic allowing putative class members to invoke a classwide presumption of reliance based on the concept that all investors relied on the misrepresentations when they purchased stock at a price distorted by those misrepresentations. The Court declined to upset the precedent set in Basic, holding that the petitioner failed to show a “special justification” for overruling presumption of reliance because petitioner had failed to establish a fundamental shift in economic theory and that Basic’s presumption is not inconsistent with more recent rulings from the Court. The Court also declined to require plaintiffs to prove price impact directly at the class certification stage, but agreed with the petitioner that a defendant may rebut the presumption and prevent class certification by introducing evidence that the alleged misrepresentations did not distort the market price of its stock.

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