On May 15, the Supreme Court held that a debt collector does not violate the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act (FDCPA) by knowingly attempting to collect a debt in bankruptcy proceedings after the statute of limitations for collecting that debt has expired. As explained in Mayer Brown’s Decision Alerts, the FDCPA generally prohibits a debt collector from using false, deceptive, or misleading representations or means in collecting debts. In the opinion for the Court, Justice Breyer looked to state law to determine whether the creditor had a right to payment. Under Alabama law, a creditor has the right to payment of a debt even after the limitations period has expired. Accordingly, a creditor may legitimately claim the existence of a debt even if the debt is no longer enforceable in a collection action. Likewise, the streamlined rules of bankruptcy proceedings mean that it is not obviously “unfair” for a creditor to inject an additional claim into the proceedings, even if it would be unfair for a creditor to file a standalone civil action to collect a time-barred debt.

In addition, the Court also held that the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) preempts any state law that discriminates against arbitration on its face, and any rule that disfavors contracts with features of an arbitration agreement. Mayer Brown, which represented the petitioner before the Court, explained the case in its Decision Alerts.  The FAA requires courts to place arbitration provisions on an equal footing with other contract terms. However, the Kentucky Supreme Court had refused to enforce two arbitration provisions executed by individuals holding powers of attorney, because the power-of-attorney documents did not specifically mention arbitration or the ability to waive the principals’ right to trial by jury. The Supreme Court held that Kentucky’s rule violates the FAA by singling out arbitration agreements for disfavored treatment, explaining that “the waiver of the right to go to court and receive a jury trial” is a “primary characteristic of an arbitration agreement.” The Court explained that the FAA “cares not only about the ‘enforce[ment]’ of arbitration agreements, but also about their initial ‘valid[ity]’—that is, about what it takes to enter into them.”  The Court also pointed out that a contrary interpretation would make it “trivially easy” for courts hostile to arbitration to undermine the FAA—“indeed, to wholly defeat it.”

For more docket reports and decision alerts, go to Mayer Brown’s appellate.net.

The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday passed two bills that would reform the standards for bringing federal class actions and raise the bar for keeping lawsuits in state courts.

The first bill, the Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act of 2017 (HR 985), would impose several new requirements on class action and multidistrict litigation proceedings in federal courts.  Among other things, the new requirements would include:

  • Class action plaintiffs seeking to recover monetary relief for personal injury or economic loss would be required to demonstrate that each class member suffered the “same type and scope of injury” as the named class representatives;
  • An attorney would be prohibited from representing a class in which any of the attorney’s relatives is a member;
  • Class counsel would be prohibited from recovering fees until after any monetary recovery to class members has been distributed;
  • “[A]ll discovery and other proceedings” in class actions would be automatically stayed during the pendency of any motion to transfer, motion to dismiss, motion to strike class allegations, or other motion to dispose of the class allegations, except to the extent the court finds it necessary that the parties take “particularized discovery” to preserve evidence or prevent undue prejudice;
  • Class counsel would be required to disclose any third-party funding agreement; and
  • Courts of appeal would be required to permit appeals from orders granting or denying class certification.

The second bill, the Innocent Party Protection Act (HR 725), would amend the standards for courts to find that a defendant that shares citizenship with one of the plaintiffs has been fraudulently joined to the case to prevent removal to federal court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction.  Under the bill, the joinder of such a defendant would be found to be fraudulent if, among other things, the claims against the defendant are clearly barred by state or federal law or “objective evidence clearly demonstrates that there is no good faith intention to prosecute the action against that defendant.”

The House is likely to vote on a number of other proposed tort reform measures in the coming weeks.  Notably, on Friday, March 10, 2017, the House is due to vote on the Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act of 2017 (HR 720), which would require judges to impose monetary sanctions against attorneys who file frivolous cases in federal courts.

The Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae) operates under a corporate charter, which authorizes Fannie Mae “to sue and to be sued, and to complain and to defend, in any court of competent jurisdiction, State or Federal.” 12 U.S.C. § 1723a(a). On January 18, the U.S. Supreme Court held that this “sue-and-be-sued” clause does not independently grant federal courts subject-matter jurisdiction over all cases involving Fannie Mae.  Instead, the Court (in Lightfoot v. Cendant Mortgage Corporation) held that the clause merely permits Fannie Mae to participate in a suit in any state or federal court that is already endowed with subject-matter jurisdiction over the suit.

The case arose when a mortgage borrower sued Fannie Mae in state court alleging deficiencies in the refinancing, foreclosure, and sale of her home.  Fannie Mae removed the case to federal court, citing the sue-and-be-sued clause as the basis for federal jurisdiction.  The district court denied a motion to remand the case back to state court, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed that decision.  The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case to resolve a split between the circuits.

On appeal, Justice Sotomayor, writing for a unanimous Supreme Court, explained that the Court had previously addressed the jurisdictional reach of sue-and-be-sued clauses in five other federal charters.  In those cases, the Court had stated that a clause gives rise to federal court jurisdiction if, but only if, it specifically mentions the federal courts.  Fannie Mae’s sue-and-be-sued clause specifically mentions federal courts, but also includes the phrase “any court of competent jurisdiction.”  The Court found that this qualification limited the jurisdictional reach of the clause to any court with an existing source of subject-matter jurisdiction.  Accordingly, the Court held that Fannie Mae’s sue-and-be-sued clause does not grant federal jurisdiction over any case involving Fannie Mae, but instead permits suit in any state or federal court that already has subject-matter jurisdiction.

Accordingly, under Lightfoot, Fannie Mae will no longer be able to remove a case to federal court citing only its charter’s sue-and-be-sued clause.  Instead, in order for a case involving Fannie Mae to be brought in federal court or removed to federal court, there must be an independent source of diversity or federal-question jurisdiction.

New regulations will impose increased inspection, reporting, and maintenance obligations on mortgagees and servicers of defaulted residential mortgage loans in New York.  You can learn more about the regulations of the New York Department of Financial Services for “zombie” properties in Mayer Brown’s latest Legal Update.  The regulations become effective today, December 20, 2016.

On November 3, in a case that was closely watched by industry participants, the Florida Supreme Court held that a mortgagor’s default that occurs after the dismissal of a prior foreclosure action in which the loan payments were accelerated resets the five-year statute of limitations for filing a subsequent foreclosure suit.  In Bartram v. U.S. Bank, N.A., the court explained that dismissal of the initial foreclosure action has the effect of returning the parties to their pre-foreclosure complaint status, where the mortgage remains an installment loan and the mortgagor has the right to continue to make installment payments without being obligated to pay the entire amount due under the note and mortgage. Continue Reading Florida Supreme Court Holds that Each Default Resets the Statute of Limitations for Filing a Foreclosure Complaint

On October 19, a divided Ninth Circuit ruled that a trustee of a deed of trust who takes action to initiate non-judicial foreclosure is not a “debt collector” under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). See Ho v. ReconTrust Co., NA, No., 10-56884 (9th Cir. Oct. 19, 2016).  The court reasoned that because the object of a non-judicial foreclosure is to retake and resell the property that secures a debt, as opposed to collecting money from the borrower, the trustee was not acting as a “debt collector” under the statute.  In further support of its conclusion, the court reasoned that holding otherwise would create a conflict between the trustee’s duties under state law and its obligations under the FDCPA.

In reaching this conclusion, the majority expressly rejected the position put forth by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), Continue Reading Ninth Circuit Rejects CFPB Amicus Position as Unpersuasive

Today, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued a ruling overturning a $109 million monetary penalty imposed by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB” or “Bureau”).  The decision in PHH Corporation v. CFPB, written by Circuit Judge Brett Kavanaugh, addressed the unconstitutionality of the Bureau’s structure and its retroactive application of a new RESPA interpretation, and imposed RESPA’s three-year statute of limitations on the Bureau.  Continue Reading Court Rejects CFPB’s RESPA Interpretation, Declares Single-Director Structure Unconstitutional

New regulations under the federal Military Lending Act (“MLA”) that become effective next week will prohibit consumer loans to covered US Service members if those loans have a “military annual percentage rate” (“MAPR”) greater than 36 percent. The Defense Department’s regulations will impose that MAPR limit on additional types of consumer credit transactions (beyond just payday, vehicle title, and tax refund anticipation loans) to active duty members of the armed forces and their spouses/dependents. The regulations will also change how a lender may determine whether applicants are “covered borrowers” and modify the disclosures required for those borrowers.

The MLA’s enforcement provisions include criminal and civil liability for noncompliance and provide for a private right of action.

Read more about the new regulations in Mayer Brown’s Legal Update.

Several of Mayer Brown’s Consumer Financial Services partners will be featured at this month’s Regulatory Compliance Conference in Washington, DC, sponsored by the Mortgage Bankers Association.

On Sunday, September 18th, Kris Kully will participate in the Compliance Essentials Workshop outlining how the Dodd Frank Act changed the regulatory framework for mortgages.  This panel will be useful for attendees looking for an introduction or refresher course in mortgage origination compliance, and those seeking MBA certification.

Also on Sunday the 18th, Krista Cooley will participate on the Servicing Essentials panel, which will include a discussion of the latest updates to the CFPB’s servicing rules, the TCPA, and the FDCPA.

Melanie Brody will participate on a Sunday panel addressing fair lending and HMDA.

Phil Schulman will participate on a panel on Monday, September 19th, discussing how the CFPB’s views affect marketing and advertising campaigns under RESPA. If the Circuit Court releases its opinion in the PHH case before the Conference, Phil will discuss how the court’s opinion will affect future RESPA compliance.

We look forward to seeing you there!

Until recently, Florida courts had not determined what happens to liens placed on a property between the time of final judgment of foreclosure and sale. On August 24, 2016, Florida’s Fourth Appellate District decided Ober v. Town of Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, which resolved the issue, holding that liens placed on the property after the final judgment of foreclosure but prior to judicial sale are not discharged by Florida’s lis pendens statute. Continue Reading Florida Appeals Court Holds That Post-Foreclosure Judgment Liens Are Not Discharged At Sale