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.

 

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

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

Much has been written about Mick Mulvaney’s statements about how the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) will no longer “push the envelope” when it comes to enforcement and no longer engage in “regulation by enforcement.” But a little-noticed filing by the CFPB in the Ninth Circuit last month suggests that the CFPB is not necessarily scaling back its enforcement efforts with respect to novel claims under its authority to prevent unfair, deceptive, and abusive acts and practices (UDAAP). Continue Reading Meet the New Boss; Same as the Old Boss? The CFPB’s Take on UDAAP Might Surprise You

On February 7, 2018, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB” or “Bureau”) released the third installment of its call for comments on the Bureau’s functions. The latest request for information (“RFI”) on the CFPB’s enforcement processes should spark the interest of previously investigated and yet-to-be investigated entities alike. Comment letters should include specific suggestions on how the Bureau can change the enforcement process and identify specific aspects of the CFPB’s existing enforcement process that should be modified. In addition to considering the regulations governing CFPB investigations, 12 C.F.R. part 1080, commentators should consider reviewing the CFPB Office of Enforcement’s Policies and Procedures Manual, which governs the enforcement process. According to the RFI, commentators should include supporting data or information on impacts and costs, where available.

The RFI requests comments on the following topics:

Continue Reading Change is Coming: The CFPB Requests Comments on Its Enforcement Process

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit (the “court”) has issued its long-awaited en banc decision in PHH v. CFPB. In a January 31, 2018 opinion, the court rejected the three-judge panel’s conclusion that the structure of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”) is unconstitutional.  But the en banc court reinstated the panel’s decisions that the CFPB’s interpretation of the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (“RESPA”) is unlawful and may not stand and that the CFPB is subject to a three-year statute of limitations even when bringing RESPA claims administratively.

As is well known, on October 11, 2016, a three-judge panel of the court had overturned a $109 million disgorgement order that the CFPB had imposed on PHH Corporation (“PHH”) for its involvement in an allegedly unlawful mortgage reinsurance arrangement. Pursuant to that arrangement, PHH did business with mortgage insurance companies that purchased reinsurance from a wholly-owned subsidiary of PHH. The court held, by a 2-1 vote, that the CFPB’s single-director structure allowing the President to remove the Director during his/her five-year term only for cause violates the Constitution’s separation-of-powers principles.  The court severed the for-cause limitation, thereby effectively allowing the President to remove the Director at will at any time.

The three-judge panel also unanimously rejected the CFPB’s interpretation of Section 8 of RESPA, concluding that, contrary to the CFPB’s determination, Section 8(c)(2) of the statute provides an actual exemption to the anti-kickback provision in Section 8(a). On February 16, 2017, the court granted the CFPB’s petition for rehearing en banc, vacating the panel decision and setting up review by the full D.C. Circuit. Nearly a year later, the court ruled on these matters.

In a 7-3 majority ruling, the court held that the CFPB is not unconstitutionally structured and that the for-cause limitation on the President’s removal authority is a permissible exercise of congressional authority. This part of the decision, however, seems less momentous in the wake of former CFPB Director Richard Cordray’s resignation in November 2017 and President Trump’s appointment of Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney as the CFPB’s Acting Director.

Of more immediate significance to the settlement service industry is the court’s decision to reinstate the three-judge panel decision respecting RESPA. The panel had found that Section 8(c)(2) was indeed an exemption to the Act’s Section 8(a) anti-kickback provisions, provided that reasonable payments are made in return for services actually performed or goods actually furnished.  As a result of the court’s reinstatement, real estate brokers, lenders and title companies that were waiting on the sidelines for this decision may take another look at advertising agreements, desk rentals, and other services agreements.

The panel opinion also had rejected the CFPB’s contention that no statute of limitations applies to administrative enforcement of RESPA. That aspect of the reinstated opinion is likely to be helpful to respondents facing administrative claims under other federal consumer financial laws as well.

Finally, despite the 7-3 ruling on the constitutional issues and differences of opinion regarding the proper interpretation of RESPA, one thing all of the judges seem to agree on is that an agency cannot seek penalties for past conduct that violates a novel legal interpretation first advanced in an enforcement case.  That is, “regulation by enforcement” is permissible as a way to announce new legal principles, but, for due process reasons, it cannot be a basis to penalize past conduct.

It remains to be seen if PHH will seek Supreme Court review of the constitutional holding or will instead try its luck on remand in front of the Mulvaney-led CFPB.

On January 24, 2018, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB” or “Bureau”) announced that it is seeking public comment on all aspects of its civil investigative demand (“CID”) process. This Request for Information (“RFI”) is the first in a series of RFIs in which the Bureau plans to seek comment on its enforcement, supervision, rulemaking, market monitoring, and education activities.

The RFI comes on the heels of Acting Director Mick Mulvaney’s announcement that the CFPB will no longer “push the envelope” when it comes to enforcement.  Consistent with that sentiment, the RFI explains that the CFPB is “especially interested in better understanding how its processes related to CIDs may be updated, streamlined, or revised to better achieve the Bureau’s statutory and regulatory objectives, while minimizing burdens.” Because responding to the CFPB’s CIDs has often proved to be an arduous and costly endeavor, this RFI is likely to be a welcome opportunity for many regulated entities. Continue Reading CFPB Requests Comments on Civil Investigative Demand Process

In a decision expressly based on the novelty of the legal claims brought by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), a federal district court has rejected the CFPB’s broad demand for consumer restitution and civil money penalties in a case that has already produced several important rulings. The case represents the second time that a federal district judge has rejected the CFPB’s expansive view of remedies following a bench trial. The CFPB’s loss suggests that parties willing to litigate against the CFPB may achieve success even if they lose on the merits, as courts appear reluctant to award the robust remedies the CFPB typically demands, particularly in cases where the CFPB’s claims do not sound in fraud or are based on novel legal theories. Continue Reading District Court Rejects CFPB Restitution and Penalty Demand

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) recently posted its Enforcement Policy and Procedures Manual (Manual) on its FOIA reading room website.  This is a welcome step in transparency, which was driven by the agency’s receipt of multiple FOIA requests for the Manual.  Other documents available in the FOIA reading room relating to the agency’s enforcement process now include the instructions and template for the memo sent to the Action Review Committee (ARC), which determines whether issues identified in the course of a CFPB examination warrant public enforcement action, and a template of the memo that staff send to the Director seeking authority to settle or sue at the conclusion of an enforcement investigation.  Hopefully, the CFPB will not wait for multiple FOIA requests to post other helpful documents on its website, such as a staff directory, which is available via FOIA request but is not currently posted on the CFPB website.