Foreign statutory trusts that acquire delinquent residential mortgage loans are NOT required to be licensed under the Maryland Collection Agency Licensing Act (the “Act”), based on an opinion released today by the Maryland Court of Appeals. The opinion reverses lower court rulings that called for such licensing. According to the opinion, the Act’s plain language is ambiguous as to whether the Maryland General Assembly intended foreign statutory trusts, acting as a special purpose vehicle in the mortgage industry, to obtain a license as a collection agency. The court conducted a fulsome review of the original legislative history, subsequent legislation, and related statutes to discern legislative intent.

Finding that the original impetus for licensing was to address abuses in the debt collection industry, the court held that the General Assembly did not intend for foreign statutory trusts to obtain a collection agency license under the Act before their substitute trustees filed foreclosure actions in various circuit courts. As a result, the court held that the lower courts improperly dismissed foreclosure actions (which the courts had done simply because the two foreign statutory trusts that had acquired the delinquent mortgage loans were not licensed under the Act before the substitute trustees instituted the foreclosure proceedings).

Of particular interest in the opinion is the conclusion that a foreign statutory trust is not “doing business” as a collection agency. The court wrote:

 Applying that definition of “business” as used in [the Act] to the consolidated cases before us presents further ambiguity. Specifically, the foreign statutory trusts that own the mortgage loans in the cases sub judice do not have any employees or offices, do not have any registered agent, and do not have any specifically identified pursuit in the State of Maryland. Instead, [the trusts] both act solely through trustees and substitute trustees. Therefore, it would be hard for this Court in the first instance to conclude that the foreign statutory trusts engage, either directly or indirectly, in the business of a collection agency when it is hard to deduce if these entities are even conducting “business” under Funk and Wagnall’s definition.

The earlier, now overturned, opinions had set off a frenzy within the Maryland foreclosure bar and the delinquent loan holders they represent. Many foreclosure law firms simply were unwilling to pursue foreclosures unless the owner of a loan that had been acquired in a delinquent status was licensed as a collection agency, and Maryland had to create an entirely new process to license trusts. Underlying the confusion was the view that a trust simply is not “doing business” as a matter of law, and thus a state did not have jurisdiction to require the licensing of the trust. The earlier Maryland opinions followed a twisted logic that a trust may not be “doing business” in the state as a matter of Maryland law on foreign qualifications, but is “doing business” as a collection agency. The plain speaking Maryland Court of Appeals concluded that doing business means doing business, and not doing business means not doing business — a logical conclusion that is elegant in its simplicity.

On July 30, 2018, the U.S. Department of the Treasury issued its much-anticipated report on reshaping Fintech regulation.  “A Financial System That Creates Economic Opportunities — Nonbank Financials, Fintech, and Innovation,” available here, focuses on the regulation of financial technology and makes more than 80 recommendations related to Fintech and nonbank financial policy, including:

  • endorsing so-called regulatory sandboxes;
  • ending the CFPB’s small-dollar lending rule;
  • increasing consumers’ control over their data;
  • establishing a national data breach notification standard; and
  • endorsing the OCC’s Fintech charter proposal.

The report also proposes an approach to conforming some of the differences in state-by-state financial regulation and advocates for greater legal certainty in nonbank lending.  Stay tuned for Mayer Brown’s forthcoming analysis of the key aspects of the report.

 

On July 26, 2018, the Federal Reserve Board (“FRB”) announced the launch of a new publication called the Consumer Compliance Supervision Bulletin. Similar to the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection’s (“BCFP”) Supervisory Highlights, the new publication summarizes examiners’ observations from recent supervisory activities and offers guidance on what supervised institutions can do to address consumer compliance risks. The first bulletin focuses on three areas: fair lending, unfair or deceptive acts or practices (“UDAP”), and recent regulatory and policy developments. Continue Reading Key Takeaways from the Fed’s July 2018 Consumer Compliance Supervision Bulletin

On October 17, 2017, in response to an investigation concluding that title insurance companies and agents were spending millions of dollars a year in “marketing costs” provided to attorneys, real estate professionals, and mortgage lenders in the form of meals, gifts, entertainment, free classes, and vacations that ultimately were passed on to consumers through heightened title insurance rates, the New York Department of Financial Services (“DFS”) issued Insurance Regulation 208, in which it identified a non-exhaustive list of prohibited inducements and permissible marketing expenses. The new rule went into effect on February 1 of 2018. Five months later, on July 5th, 2018, the New York State Supreme Court (the state’s trial-level court) annulled the part of the DFS regulation addressing marketing practices, holding that any such rule must be issued by the state legislature, not a regulating agency. Continue Reading New York Court Annuls DFS Effort to Curb Unscrupulous Title Practices

On June 20, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) published an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (“ANPR”) that seeks public comment on whether and how to amend its 2013 rule under the Fair Housing Act (“FHA”). The ANPR follows HUD’s May 10 announcement of its intention to formally seek public comment on the rule in light of the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc., in which the Court recognized disparate impact as a cognizable theory under the FHA, but imposed meaningful limitations on the application of the theory.

The ANPR, together with the statement of Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection Acting Director Mick Mulvaney this spring that the Bureau would be “reexamining the requirements of ECOA” in light of “a recent Supreme Court decision” (i.e., Inclusive Communities), signals that the Trump administration is likely seeking to retreat from the Obama administration’s enthusiastic use of disparate impact liability in lending discrimination cases.

The Disparate Impact Rule and Inclusive Communities

HUD finalized its disparate impact rule in February 2013. The rule codified HUD’s Obama-era view that disparate impact is cognizable under the FHA. In contrast to disparate treatment claims, in which a plaintiff must establish a discriminatory motive, a disparate impact claim challenges practices that have a disproportionately adverse effect on a protected class that is not justified by a legitimate business rationale. The rule states that a practice has a “discriminatory effect” where “it actually or predictably results in a disparate impact on a group of persons or creates, increases, reinforces, or perpetuates segregated housing patterns because of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin.” HUD explained that it had “consistently concluded” that facially neutral policies that resulted in a discriminatory effect on the basis of a protected characteristic violated the FHA, and that the rule merely “formalize[d] its longstanding view.” The rule also formalized a three-part burden-shifting test for determining whether a practice had an unjustified discriminatory effect.

At the time HUD issued the rule, the nonprofit Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. was embroiled in a lawsuit against the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs, in which it brought a disparate impact claim under the FHA. After HUD issued the disparate impact rule, the Texas Department filed a petition for a writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court on whether the FHA recognized disparate impact claims. In its 2015 decision, the Supreme Court held that disparate impact claims are cognizable under the FHA, but the Court articulated a rigorous standard for a successful claim. The Court did not explicitly address the merits of HUD’s rule, nor did the rule form the basis of its holding.  Continue Reading HUD Seeks Public Comment on Disparate Impact Rule

In a June 21, 2018 opinion, Judge Loretta Preska of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York held that the structure of the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection (“BCFP” or the “Bureau”) is unconstitutional. This ruling is inconsistent with the D.C. Circuit’s en banc decision in PHH Corp. v. CFPB (“PHH”).

The case, CFPB v. RD Legal Funding, LLC, involves joint claims brought by the Bureau and the New York State Office of the Attorney General. RD Legal offers cash advances to consumers waiting on payouts from settlement agreements or judgments entered in their favor. The claims allege that the company defrauded 9/11 first responders and NFL retirees by misleading them regarding cash advances that were represented as valid sales but instead were loans made in violation of state usury law.

RD Legal argued that the BCFP’s structure as an independent bureau within the Federal Reserve System violates Article II of the United States Constitution, as the Bureau’s Director can be removed only “for inefficiency, neglect of duty, or malfeasance in office.” In reviewing that claim, Judge Preska sided with one of the dissenting opinions in PHH. Specifically, she noted that she “disagrees with the holding of the en banc court and instead adopts Sections I-IV of Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s dissent…, where, based on considerations of history, liberty, and presidential authority, Judge Kavanaugh concluded that the CFPB ‘is unconstitutionally structured because it is an independent agency that exercises substantial executive power and is headed by a single director.’” Continue Reading SDNY Finds BCFP Structure Unconstitutional, Breaking With DC Circuit

Nearly seven months into Mick Mulvaney’s tenure as Acting Director of the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection (Bureau), the agency issued just its second enforcement action under his leadership on June 13, 2018. You may have missed it, as the press release was not pushed out through the Bureau’s email notifications and the cursory press release may have flown under your radar. The settlement is with a parent company and its subsidiaries that originated, provided, purchased, serviced, and collected on high-cost, short-term secured and unsecured consumer loans. The consent order contains allegations of violations of the prohibition on unfair practices under the Consumer Financial Protection Act and of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, and requires the respondents to pay a $5 million civil money penalty. Notably, the consent order does not require any consumer redress, despite Mr. Mulvaney’s stated intent to only pursue cases with “quantifiable and unavoidable” harm to consumers.

Debt Collection Practices

The Bureau alleges that respondents engaged in unfair in-person debt collection practices, including discussing debts in public, leaving the respondents’ “field cards” (presumably identifying the respondents) with third parties (including the consumers’ children and neighbors), and visiting consumers’ places of employment. The Bureau alleges that these practices were unfair because they caused substantial injury such as humiliation, inconvenience, and reputational damage; consumers could not reasonably avoid the harm because consumers were not informed of whether and when such visits would occur and could not stop respondents from engaging in the visits; and any potential benefit in the form of recoveries were outweighed by the substantial injury to consumers. The consent order notes that respondent attempted 12 million in-person visits to more than 1.3 million consumers over a five-year period, and requires respondents to cease in-person collection visits at consumers’ homes, places of employment, and public places.

The Bureau also alleges that the respondents made collection calls to consumers at their places of employment even after being told that the consumers could not receive calls at work, and called third parties in a manner that risked disclosing the debts. The Bureau further alleges that respondents did not heed cease-contact requests with respect to these parties. The Bureau alleges that such practices were unfair for the same reasons as the in-person collection practices described above.

Despite Mr. Mulvaney’s emphatic rejection of regulation by enforcement, the debt collection allegations in this consent order center around practices that lack any formal rulemaking. First, it appears that the Bureau is applying the guidance issued in its December 2015 bulletin, regarding unfair, deceptive and abusive acts and practices (UDAAP), which notes that in-person debt collection practices at consumers’ homes or places of employment can result in violations of the prohibition on UDAAP and the FDCPA due to the risk of disclosure of debts to third parties and the risk that such communications are at a time or place known to be inconvenient to the consumer. Second, the Bureau appears to be applying its July 2013 bulletin, which notes that prohibited practices under the FDCPA can be considered UDAAPs when employed by first-party debt collectors. Finally, the allegations suggest that the Bureau believes that debt collectors should inform consumers of their policies or practices regarding in-person collection visits despite no regulatory requirement to do so.

Credit Furnishing Practices

The Bureau alleges that respondents did not have in place any written policies and procedures regarding credit furnishing. The Bureau further alleges that the respondents furnished inaccurate information to credit reporting agencies, were slow to correct errors, overwrote corrected errors, and failed to furnish the date of first delinquency on certain accounts to credit reporting agencies. The consent order requires the respondents to consult an independent consultant to implement and maintain reasonable credit furnishing policies and procedures and to review all information furnished to a credit reporting agency since July 21, 2011.

More of the Same?

The settlement has many of the familiar trappings of the old Bureau in terms of the kind of conduct at issue and the corrective action required of the respondents (a Compliance Plan, etc.). But the consent order also reflects what appear to be new approaches to some issues. The consent order’s description of how the respondents’ actions were unfair, for example, is more fulsome than prior consent orders, including an acknowledgement that the collection tactics at issue may have a “marginal benefit in the form of more recoveries.” While this suggests that Mr. Mulvaney’s Bureau may be more thoroughly considering the third prong of unfairness (which requires a balancing of likely consumer injury with advantages to consumers or competition) than the previous leadership, the consent order still summarily concludes that the “marginal benefit” does not outweigh likely consumer injury. This conclusion is not supported by any empirical findings, notwithstanding Mr. Mulvaney’s assertion that the Bureau will engage in more quantitative analysis and his establishment of an Office of Cost Benefit Analysis. Time will tell whether the move to empirical analysis will be limited to rulemaking or will make its way to the enforcement realm as well.

Additionally, despite the allegations of substantial injury from the debt collection conduct at issue, the consent order does not require any financial consumer redress or cancellation of debts for impacted consumers. While the Bureau has been inconsistent in this regard in its past debt collection actions, it has typically required such consumer redress. For example, in a prior action involving in-person debt collection, the Bureau required that consumers be refunded any payments made within 90 days of an in-person collection visit.

It is dangerous to read too much into any one enforcement action, but what does appear clear is that the Bureau’s enforcement machinery is slowly creaking back to life after a near-freeze at the beginning of Mr. Mulvaney’s tenure. Future actions will reveal whether he was serious about there being “more math” (i.e., quantitative analysis) in the Bureau’s future and whether this action reflects a new approach to consumer redress.

Mayer Brown partner Jon Jaffe will present at an American Bankers Association webinar on June 13, entitled “How Can Your Bank Compete in the Age of the Digital Mortgage? Industry Experts Explain.” The webinar for ABA members is the first in a series intended to explore innovative mortgage business strategies in the age of “fintech.” This session will provide an overview of the evolving digital loan process, from customer acquisition to electronic closing and beyond. Jon will address legal and regulatory issues arising in connection with eMortgages and eClosings.

Last week, we wrote about how the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection (“Bureau”) under Acting Director Mick Mulvaney had surprisingly doubled down on claims of unfair, deceptive and abusive practices (“UDAAP”) brought under former Director Richard Cordray in a case against a lead aggregator (back when the Bureau referred to itself as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau). As if to prove the point that the Bureau is not backing off aggressive UDAAP claims, the very next day the Bureau filed a brief  in another case similarly supporting novel UDAAP claims brought under Cordray. The Bureau’s brief was filed in opposition to a motion to dismiss by defendants Think Finance, LLC and related entities. The case involves Bureau claims that Think Finance engaged in unfair, deceptive and abusive conduct when it attempted to collect on loans that were, according to the Bureau, void under state law. Continue Reading UDAAP Strikes Again: The New BCFP Seems a Lot Like the Old CFPB

The Office of Students and Young Consumers (Office of Students) has been an important component of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB or the Bureau) since its creation in 2011. On May 9, 2018, the CFPB’s Acting Director announced plans to fold the Office of Students into the Office of Financial Education. The Student Loan Ombudsman, a position the Dodd-Frank Act created, will also reportedly be part of the Office of Financial Education. This move could signal a major shift in the CFPB’s approach to the student loan market. 

As its name indicates, the Office of Financial Education focuses on consumer education. Specifically, its stated focus is “strengthen(ing) the delivery of financial education . . . and creat[ing] opportunities for people to obtain the skills to build their financial well being.” Given that mission, some have speculated that the recent movement of the Office of Students within the Bureau’s Office of Financial Education may lead to fewer examinations, investigations, and enforcement actions against participants in the private student loan market. Continue Reading CFPB to Eliminate Student Loan Office