Possibly hinting toward a revival of fair lending enforcement following a recent lull, the OCC’s Ombudsman recently declined a bank’s appeal of the OCC’s decision to refer the bank to both DOJ and HUD for potential Fair Housing Act violations.

The OCC’s Ombudsman oversees an infrequently used program for banks that desire to appeal agency decisions and actions.  In 2018, a bank appealed the determination of the OCC’s supervisory office that the bank may have engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination on the basis of race, national origin, or sex in violation of the Fair Housing Act.

The Ombudsman reviewed the bank’s appeal under Section 2-204 of Executive Order 12892 and DOJ guidance from 1996 describing the circumstances that qualify as a “pattern or practice” meriting a referral.  Under Executive Order 12892, when the OCC receives “information from a consumer compliance examination…suggesting a violation of the Fair Housing Act,” it must forward that information to HUD. If the information indicates a possible pattern or practice of discrimination in violation of the Act, the OCC must also forward it to DOJ. After examining the information, HUD may choose to pursue an administrative enforcement action and DOJ may choose to pursue legal action.

Significantly, in ruling on the bank’s appeal, the Ombudsman determined that the OCC is only required to have information suggesting a possible pattern or practice of Act violations in order to forward that information to HUD  or DOJ pursuant to Executive Order 12892.  In other words, the OCC is not required to meet evidentiary standards that would otherwise be applicable in court. According to the Ombudsman’s decision, DOJ conducts its own investigation of information forwarded by the OCC and directs bank regulatory agencies that they need not have “overwhelming proof” of an “extensive pattern or practice of discrimination” before making a referral.

Appeals to the Ombudsman rarely involve fair lending matters. The last bank appeal involving fair lending occurred in 2011, and involved a community bank that the OCC believed had engaged in racial redlining. The Ombudsman agreed with the supervisory office’s referral in that case as well. More recently, banks have used the Ombudsman’s office to challenge various matters requiring attention in examination reports, with many focusing on ratings assigned during Shared National Credit examinations.

It’s difficult to predict whether this recent Ombudsman ruling is  a harbinger of more vigorous fair lending supervision.  Banks should take note, however, that the OCC is conducting Fair Housing Act examinations and willing to refer matters to HUD and DOJ based solely on information “suggesting a possible pattern or practice” of violations.

 

Oversight of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (Bureau) by the U.S. House of Representatives is expected to become more aggressive when the 116th Congress convenes in January 2019. On December 11, 2018, members of the new Democratic House majority nominated Representative Maxine Waters to chair the House Financial Services Committee, which oversees the Bureau. During Rep. Waters’ time as ranking member on the Committee, she heavily criticized many of the changes Acting Director Mick Mulvaney made at the Bureau. Mayer Brown summarized those changes in a recent Legal Update.

As chair, Rep. Waters will set the Committee agenda, enabling her to turn her criticism into more direct pressure on the Bureau and its new Director Kathleen Kraninger. Proposed legislation sponsored by the incoming chair may hold some clues to the actions the Committee may take.

In September 2018, Rep. Waters introduced the Consumers First Act. The bill is largely designed to restore the Bureau to how it looked and functioned before Acting Director Mulvaney’s tenure. Some of its major topics include the following: Continue Reading House Oversight of CFPB Expected to Become More Aggressive Under Chair Waters

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau recently proposed amendments to its earlier policy for issuing no-action letters, and proposed a process for participating in a so-called regulatory “sandbox,” which would provide certainty in or exemptions from complying with certain federal consumer protection laws. Comments on the proposals are due by February 19, 2019.

Read more in Mayer Brown’s Legal Update.

As the Mortgage Bankers Association gathers for its Regulatory Compliance conference next week in Washington, DC, Mayer Brown’s Consumer Financial Services group will be addressing all the hot topics.

Melanie Brody will be talking about the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) on a panel called “Fair Lending and Equal Opportunity Laws” on Sunday, September 16.

On Monday, September 17th, Phillip Schulman will discuss trends in RESPA Section 8 compliance. He will also join in the round-table discussion of RESPA later that afternoon.

Ori Lev will speak on panel entitled “UDAAP Compliance.”

Krista Cooley will be discussing the latest developments in FHA servicing compliance. She will also field questions on the topic during the afternoon servicing round-table.

On Tuesday, September 18th, Keisha Whitehall Wolfe will discuss state compliance issues.

Also in attendance from Mayer Brown will be new partner Michael McElroy, partner David Tallman, and associates Christa Bieker, Joy Tsai, and James Williams.

We look forward to seeing you there!

 

The ABA Business Law Section is holding its 2018 Annual Meeting in Austin, Texas on September 13-15, 2018. The Meeting will offer over 80 CLE programs and many more committee meetings and events, and will feature several Mayer Brown panelists.

Financial Services Regulatory & Enforcement (FSRE) partner Laurence Platt will participate in a panel discussion on the future of housing finance.

FSRE partner Marc Cohen will participate in a panel discussion on what the Anti-Terrorism Act and Alien Tort Statute mean for banks.

FSRE associate Eric Mitzenmacher will participate in a panel on current developments in consumer financial services.

Stuart Litwin, co-head of Structured Finance and Capital Markets, will moderate a panel on the transition away from LIBOR and similar rates.

FSRE partner David Beam will moderate a panel on the differences between P2P and interbank payment systems.

FSRE associate Matthew Bisanz will moderate a panel discussion on current trends in banking enforcement actions against individuals.

The Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection (the “Bureau”) has struck out again in trying to enforce a Civil Investigative Demand (“CID”) that contains broad and generic language about the nature of the agency’s investigation. For the second time, a US Court of Appeals has ruled that a CID issued by the Bureau was invalid because the agency failed to meet the statutory requirement that the CID identify the conduct constituting the alleged violation under investigation and the provision of law applicable to such violation, as required by 12 U.S.C. § 5562(c)(2). As we previously discussed, last year the DC Circuit ruled that a CID that the Bureau issued to a college accrediting agency failed to meet the statutory threshold when it merely identified “unlawful acts and practices in connection with accrediting for profit colleges” as the conduct under investigation. CFPB v. ACICS, 854 F.3d 683 (D.C. Cir. 2017).

Now, a unanimous panel of the Fifth Circuit has followed suit and held that a CID issued to the Source for Public Data, “a company that provides public records to the public through an Internet-based search engine,” is invalid because it uses similarly broad language that does not comply with the statute. Continue Reading Another One Bites the Dust: BCFP Loses CID Appeal

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. Continue Reading Mulvaney’s Bureau Issues Second Enforcement Action: Debt Collectors Beware?

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