OCC Issues Bulletin Regarding Temporary Extensions of SCRA Protections

On June 10, the OCC released Bulletin 2016-20 to inform national banks, federal savings associations, and federal branches and agencies of foreign banks (OCC-supervised institutions) of recent temporary amendments to the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). As previously covered in InfoBytes and as outlined in the OCC’s Bulletin, the Foreclosure Relief and Extension for Servicemembers Act 2015 extends through December 31, 2017 the SCRA provision that protects servicemembers against sale, foreclosure, or seizure of property based on a breach of a secured obligation without a court order or waiver for one year following completion of their service. The OCC’s Bulletin notes that HUD updated its “Servicemembers Civil Relief Act Notice Disclosure” (Form 92070) to reflect the temporary extensions.

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Third Circuit Upholds District Court’s Ruling in its First Case Interpreting the Scope of SCRA Protections

Last month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling that protections pursuant to the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) do not apply to a business owned by a servicemember. Davis v. City of Philadelphia, No. 15-2937 (3d Cir. May 4, 2016). In 2004, the servicemember plaintiff transferred his and his wife’s property to a Pennsylvania company that he and his wife owned. The plaintiff, having served in the military between 2008 and 2011, claimed that the property’s tax debt should have been reduced under the SCRA. The district court granted the City’s motion to dismiss, holding that because the plaintiff was not personally liable for his company’s debt, the City had not denied him relief under the SCRA.

The Third Circuit affirmed, finding that the plain language of the SCRA’s property tax interest rate cap and its protection against penalties extend only to “property…owned individually by a servicemember or jointly by a servicemember and a dependent or dependents.” 50 U.S.C. § 3991(e) (emphasis added). The SCRA defines “servicemember” as “a member of the uniformed services;” therefore, the court reasoned that property owned by a servicemember is a separate legal entity from the actual servicemember and is ineligible for the SCRA’s protections. The court held that the servicemember failed to prove that an interest in excess of six percent was assessed against him while on active duty or that he actually owned the property. Rather, because the company was the actual owner of the property and was solely liable for tax debt, the Third Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling.

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Congress Passes Bill to Extend Foreclosure Protection Element of the SCRA

On March 21, the U.S. House of Representatives passed S.B. 2393, which extends through 2017 the provision of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act’s (SCRA) that protects servicemembers against foreclosure without a court order or waiver for one year following completion of their service. On January 1, 2016, the foreclosure protection provision reverted back to the period of active duty military service plus 90 days, rather than the period of active duty military service plus one year. Upon the President’s signature, the SCRA’s protection against foreclosure without a court order or waiver will return to the period of active duty military service plus one year through December 31, 2017.       

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Senator Murray Sponsors Bill to Expand and Strengthen the SCRA

On March 17, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) sponsored the SCRA Enhancement and Improvement Act of 2016 (the Act). The Act focuses especially on student loan servicers, but encompasses all financial institutions covered by the SCRA. Although the text of the Act is not yet available, the recently issued press release on the Act describes its proposed changes to the SCRA. Among other changes, the Act would revise the SCRA by: (i) requiring automatic application of the SCRA’s interest rate cap; (ii) ensuring that student loan servicers have a dedicated SCRA representative; (iii) reducing the SCRA’s interest rate cap from 6% to 3%; (iv) protecting servicemembers when their loans are transferred or sold by requiring “sufficient notice”; (v) forgiving all federal and private student loan debt if a servicemember dies in the line of duty; (vi) expanding the interest rate cap to all debts, no matter when incurred; (vii) clarifying that servicemembers may bring a private right of action under the SCRA; (viii) doubling the fines for violations of the SCRA; and (ix) expanding certain protections on mortgages, leases, and cable and internet contracts.

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OIG Conducts Review of Department of Education Program for Ensuring Compliance with SCRA

On February 29, the Department of Education Office of Inspector General (OIG) published a response to a congressional request that the OIG conduct a review of student loan servicers’ compliance with the SCRA. The OIG analyzed SCRA reviews performed by the Department of Education (Department), obtained relevant documentation, and met with officials involved in planning and conducting SCRA program reviews. The OIG found that the Department’s sampling design for SCRA reviews did not accurately identify borrowers eligible for SCRA benefits. Specifically, the OIG found that the Department’s May 26, 2015 press release claiming 99% compliance with the SCRA was unreliable; of the 597 loans that the OIG reviewed, only 55 requested SCRA benefits and only 37 were eligible. The OIG also noted that the Department “did not make any effort to require the TIVAS [Title IV Approved Student Loan Servicers] to identify and correct all potential instances of incorrect denials of the SCRA interest rate cap.”

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