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On May 8, 2018, the House of Representatives used the Congressional Review Act (“CRA”) to vote to repeal the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB’s) March 2013 bulletin addressing indirect auto lending and compliance with the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (“ECOA”). That vote follows the Senate’s April 18 CRA vote to repeal the bulletin. President Trump is expected to sign the joint resolution (S.J. Res. 57) within 10 days.

In that bulletin, the CFPB (under the leadership of former director Richard Cordray) had stated that some indirect auto lenders may be subject to ECOA and Regulation B, and advised them to “take steps to ensure that they are operating in compliance” with those antidiscrimination principles. Most significantly, the bulletin noted that indirect auto lenders may have direct liability under ECOA for allegedly discriminatory pricing disparities. In an indirect auto lending arrangement, instead of providing financing directly to the consumer, the auto dealer facilitates financing through a third party. The CFPB bulletin stated that some indirect auto lenders have policies that allow dealers to mark up lender-established rates and then compensate dealers for those markups, which may result in pricing disparities on a basis prohibited under ECOA.

As explained in a prior Mayer Brown Legal Update, the CRA allows Congress to pass a resolution of disapproval of an agency rule within 60 legislative session days of the rule’s publication. Such a resolution, if passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the President (or passed by a two-thirds majority in both houses to overcome a presidential veto), invalidates the rule. The CRA allows Congress to use expedited procedures that effectively prohibit filibusters in the Senate.

The 60-day clock for introduction of a disapproval resolution in Congress begins on the “submission or publication” date of the rule, which the CRA defines as the later of the date on which Congress receives the agency’s report related to the rule or the date the rule is published in the Federal Register, if it is published. Although the CFPB issued its indirect auto lending bulletin more than 60 days ago, the CFPB did not submit to Congress a report on the bulletin or publish it in the Federal Register, so arguably the 60-day clock did not begin in 2013.

Upon signing this resolution, President Trump will have used the CRA to invalidate 16 agency rules. Prior to the Trump administration, the CRA had been used only once to invalidate a rule. However, this resolution marks the first time Congress has used the CRA to invalidate agency guidance. Previously, Congress had used the CRA only to repeal rules that the respective agencies viewed as legislative rules or regulations subject to the Administrative Procedure Act’s notice-and-comment requirements. Unlike those legislative rules, the CFPB’s indirect auto lending bulletin is informal guidance that, as the Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) concluded, “offers clarity and guidance on the Bureau’s discretionary enforcement approach.” Nonetheless, the GAO found that the CFPB bulletin qualifies as a “rule” subject to the CRA. The GAO has responded to requests from members of Congress to opine on the status of agency issuances by consistently noting that the scope of the definition of a rule under the CRA is broad. In a 2012 letter, the GAO explained that the “definition of a rule has been said to include ‘nearly every statement an agency may make.’”

If the CRA is available to Congress to invalidate agencies’ non-rule guidance that was not reported to Congress or published in the Federal Register, it is unclear what, if any, timing boundaries apply. This novel approach could implicate a large swath of informal agency guidance issued since the CRA’s passage. Further, a CRA disapproval extends beyond the rule (or non-rule guidance) itself, and prohibits the agency from issuing any rule that is “substantially the same” as the invalidated rule, absent subsequent statutory authorization.

It is unclear, however, what this means in the context of agency guidance. If agency guidance is an interpretation of existing statutes and regulations, and Congress repeals only the guidance/interpretation, but not the existing statutes (or regulations, if applicable), it is possible that an agency could simply attempt to return to its initial stance (for instance, a CFPB director could possibly refocus on indirect auto lenders, using an approach similar to that announced in the CFPB’s 2013 bulletin). Certainly, the actions of Congress under the CRA do not protect entities from scrutiny by the Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission, or the states, which also have enforcement authority under ECOA, or from private plaintiffs, who have a cause of action.

In any event, Congress definitely has clarified that it is willing to use the CRA to invalidate both agency regulations and informal guidance, and it remains to be seen which additional Obama-era regulations or guidance documents may be the CRA’s next victim.

On March 8, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”) finalized the amendment to its 2016 Mortgage Servicing Final Rule (“2016 Final Rule”) to clarify the transition timing for mortgage servicers to provide periodic statements and coupon books when a consumer enters or exits bankruptcy.

Under the 2016 Final Rule, mortgage servicers will be required (as of April 19, 2018) to provide modified periodic statements to borrowers who file for a bankruptcy plan and to provide unmodified (i.e., regular) statements to borrowers who subsequently exit such a plan.

However, servicers need time to transition between statement formats. As we described previously, the 2016 Final Rule would have given servicers a single billing cycle to switch the statement format. The industry informed the CFPB about operational complexities with that approach, so the CFPB proposed a rule on October 4, 2017 to address those challenges.

That proposal, which the CFPB has now finalized, replaces the single-billing-cycle transition period with a single-statement transition period. As of the date that a borrower becomes a debtor in bankruptcy, a servicer is exempt from providing the modified statement or coupon book with respect to the next periodic statement or book that would otherwise have been required, but thereafter must provide the modified statement or book.  Similarly, a servicer has a single billing cycle before it must provide a borrower who exits a bankruptcy plan with an unmodified statement or coupon book.  The Official Interpretations illustrate when and how a servicer must comply with those new requirements.

While this new transition period rule may alleviate certain operational challenges with transitioning between the modified and unmodified periodic statements, certain industry trade groups have called upon the CFPB to rethink many of the bankruptcy statement requirements altogether. With the April 19 deadline fast approaching, any additional guidance must come quickly.

On October 4, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”) issued an interim final rule and a proposed rule related to the 2016 Mortgage Servicing Final Rule to clarify the timing of and facilitate the provision of certain required communications with borrowers.

The CFPB amended its mortgage servicing rules in August 2016, to go into effect in large part on October 19, 2017 (the “2016 Final Rule”). One provision of the 2016 Final Rule requires mortgage servicers to send certain delinquent borrowers early intervention notices, modified for use with a borrower who has requested a cease in communication under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”). The FDCPA allows borrowers to request that servicers and other companies refrain from contacting them except in certain circumstances, such as when a borrower becomes delinquent. The 2016 Final Rule exempts servicers from sending the early intervention notices only in situations where the borrower does not have a loss mitigation option available or where the borrower is a debtor in bankruptcy.

Under the 2016 Final Rule, mortgage servicers, when communicating with consumers who have invoked the FDCPA’s cease communication right, were required to provide the consumers modified early intervention notices, but only once every 180 days. Continue Reading It’s All in the Timing: CFPB Addresses Timing Challenges in 2016 Mortgage Servicing Rules

On January 31, 2017, the CFPB released its Prepaid Rule Small Entity Compliance Guide to facilitate comprehension of and the implementation of the new prepaid rule on October 1, 2017. As described in our prior Legal Update, the CFPB issued the final prepaid rule in October 2016 which amends Regulation E to cover prepaid accounts including payroll card accounts, government benefit accounts, and other types of prepaid products.  The Compliance Guide details requirements of the new rule and provides examples to help illustrate key aspects including what constitutes a prepaid account, the entities subject to the new rule, disclosure obligations, and error resolution procedures, among others.

Just one day after the CFPB’s release of the Guide, Senator David Perdue (R-GA) introduced a joint resolution of disapproval aimed at wiping the prepaid rule off the books pursuant to the Congressional Review Act.  Under the CRA, Congress may overturn new federal agency regulations by reviewing them within a certain time period, passing a joint resolution of disapproval in each chamber, and obtaining the president’s signature.  On February 3, Representative Tom Graves (R-GA) followed suit, introducing a similar joint resolution in the House of Representatives.  Stay tuned for updates on whether the prepaid rule’s future may truly be in jeopardy.

On Friday, January 13, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) filed a lawsuit against a Minnesota bank in which it alleged that the bank violated the Fair Housing Act and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act by unlawfully redlining in the Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington metropolitan statistical area (“Minneapolis MSA”).  The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota, claims that from 2010 to at least 2015, the bank purposely avoided serving the credit needs of residents in majority-minority neighborhoods while meeting the credit needs of residents in majority-white neighborhoods.  The DOJ is seeking damages for aggrieved persons, civil money penalties, and injunctive relief. The bank has chosen to litigate, rather than settle, as it believes the DOJ’s claim is baseless. Continue Reading Redlining Revelations: DOJ Lawsuit Alleges Discriminatory Practices by Bank

On June 27, 2016, a New York federal jury found that a bank and its affiliated mortgage company violated the Fair Housing Act, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, and the New York City Human Rights Law by intentionally marketing to African-American and Hispanic homeowners predatory loans with default interest rates of 18 percent.

In 2011, eight homeowners filed suit in the Eastern District of New York, claiming that between 2004 and 2009 the bank “aggressively originated” no income refinancing loans with unfavorable terms to them because they were minority borrowers.

According to the 2014 amended complaint, the bank marketed NINA (No Income No Assets) loans to homeowners with low credit scores but substantial equity in their houses. When issuing these loans, the bank did not consider the homeowners’ ability to repay but valued the loan based on the home’s equity. Homeowners could be charged an interest rate of 18 percent if they were late by 30 days in making a single payment.

The homeowners alleged they were purposely targeted for these loans because of their poor credit and resulting likelihood of default, and that this practice had a disparate impact on African-American and Hispanic borrowers. Specifically, the complaint stated that “[s]ince black and Latino individuals are disproportionately represented among persons with low credit scores, [the bank’s] marketing of these abusive loans to this population ensured that the loans would have their greatest impact on minority homeowners.” The jury found that the bank’s practices constituted violations of the federal fair lending laws and the New York state law.

Six of the plaintiffs were awarded a combined $950,000 in damages, while the jury found that the remaining two homeowners waived their claims upon modifying their loans and were not eligible for damages. The bank has asserted its plan to appeal the decision.

Legal Services NYC, who represented several of the homeowners, stated that the case marks the first time a jury has held a bank liable for reverse redlining.

Lenders that offer loans to consumers with impaired credit should consider evaluating their practices for potential reverse redlining risk.

*Mrs. Moyer is not admitted in the District of Columbia. She is practicing under the supervision of firm principals

*Mrs. Moyer is not admitted in the District of Columbia. She is practicing under the supervision of firm principals.

On June 29, 2016, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) jointly filed a complaint against a regional bank alleging that the bank discriminated against African-American borrowers in many aspects of its mortgage lending services. The agencies alleged that the bank’s discriminatory practices violated both the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) and the Fair Housing Act. Below we outline the primary allegations in the complaint, the main terms of the consent order, and the key takeaways from this recent action. This is the CFPB’s first use of mystery shoppers to identify discrimination in a fair lending enforcement action and may offer a sign of what’s to come. Continue Reading Mystery Shopping Revelations: CFPB, DOJ, Bring Action Against Regional Bank for Discriminatory Lending Practices Confirmed by Testers*

*Mrs. Moyer is not admitted in the District of Columbia. She is practicing under the supervision of firm principals.

On June 8, 2016, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced a conciliation agreement with a bank, resolving allegations that the bank engaged in discrimination by denying the mortgage applications of African-American and Hispanic applicants at a disproportionally higher rate than white applicants.  The complaint, filed on December 23, 2011, resulted from a HUD review of the bank’s 2010 Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA) data.  During its investigation, HUD analyzed mortgages that were first denied by an automated underwriting system (AUS), and then manually underwritten, and determined that white applicants received unjustified preferential treatment in the manual underwriting process in violation of the Fair Housing Act.

Although neither the conciliation agreement nor HUD’s press release on the settlement mentioned redlining, the settlement terms included provisions typically associated with resolving redlining claims.  Continue Reading The Devil’s In the Data: HUD Settles Complaint Arising From HMDA Data*

*Mrs. Schoenfeld is not admitted in the District of Columbia. She is practicing under the supervision of firm principals

On April 29, 2016, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB” or “Bureau”) issued its fourth Fair Lending Report, which reviews the activities of the Office of Fair Lending and Equal Opportunity for the 2015 calendar year.  Last year, the CFPB’s fair lending supervisory and public enforcement actions led to $108 million in restitution to consumers and other monetary payments.  The Bureau referred eight matters to the Department of Justice (“DOJ”), and DOJ declined to independently investigate two of these matters.

The Report focuses on the following fair lending highlights: Continue Reading The CFPB Issues its 2015 Fair Lending Report