According to numerous media sources, the White House announced on Friday, June 16, that President Trump plans to nominate Kathy Kraninger as CFPB Director later this week.

The nomination means that pursuant to the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, Mick Mulvaney can continue to serve as Acting Director while Ms. Kraninger’s nomination is pending confirmation by the Senate and, as we explain below, potentially until mid-2020 if she is not confirmed.  In the absence of a nomination by President Trump, the FVRA would not have allowed Mr. Mulvaney to continue to serve as Acting Director beyond June 22 and created the potential for his post-June 22 actions to be challenged as invalid.  (The otherwise applicable FVRA time limit on service–210 days after the date the vacancy occurs—began to run on November 25, 2017, the date former Director Cordray’s resignation became effective.)

Ms. Kraninger is currently the Program Associate Director for General Government at the Office of Management and Budget.  (In addition to serving as CFPB Acting Director, Mr. Mulvaney currently serves as OMB Director.)  At OMB, Ms. Kraninger oversees budget development for several agencies, including DOJ, HUD, and Treasury. She has been at OMB since March 2017.  She has also held positions with two Congressional committees, the House Committee on Homeland Security and the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and has worked in two agencies, Treasury and Homeland Security.  At Homeland Security, she served as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy Secretary Tom Ridge during the Bush Administration. Ms. Kraninger is a 2007 graduate of Georgetown University Law Center.

Ms. Kraninger’s nomination “resets the clock” on Mr. Mulvaney’s tenure as Acting Director under the FVRA.  He can continue to serve as Acting Director until Ms. Kraninger’s nomination is withdrawn, rejected, or returned by the Senate.  Senate rules provide that a nomination that has not been acted on by the end of the session in which it was submitted is returned to the President.  (The current target date for the Senate’s adjournment is December 14.)  Under the FVRA, the withdrawal, rejection, or return of Ms. Kraninger’s nomination would allow Mr. Mulvaney to continue to serve as Acting Director for an additional 210-day period.  If a second nomination is made (which we assume would not happen before 2019), Mr. Mulvaney could continue to serve as Acting Director until the second nomination is confirmed, withdrawn, or rejected or returned by the Senate.  If the second nomination is withdrawn or rejected or returned by the Senate at the end of the 2019 session, a further 210-day period would be triggered during which Mr. Mulvaney could continue to serve as Acting Director until approximately July 2020.  (It appears that Mr. Mulvaney’s tenure as Acting Director could not be further extended by subsequent nominations.)

If confirmed as CFPB Director, Ms. Kraninger is expected to follow Mr. Mulvaney’s philosophy of not using the CFPB’s enforcement authority to “push the envelope” or to engage in “rulemaking by enforcement.”  In addition, her nomination and potential confirmation is not expected to have any impact on the CFPB’s regulatory priorities outlined in its Spring 2018 rulemaking agenda of reopening rulemaking on the CFPB’s final payday/auto title/high-rate installment loan rule (Payday Rule) and proposing a debt collection rule dealing with third-party collectors.  Most significantly, by eliminating a possible challenge to the validity of actions taken by Mr. Mulvaney as Acting Director after June 22, Ms. Kraninger’s nomination allows Mr. Mulvaney to move forward (hopefully expeditiously) on staying the Payday Rule’s compliance date pursuant to the Administrative Procedure Act’s notice-and-comment procedures.  (Last week, a Texas federal court granted the stay of the lawsuit filed by two trade groups challenging the Payday Rule requested in a joint motion filed by the trade groups and the CFPB but denied the stay of the Payday Rule’s August 19, 2019 compliance date also requested in the joint motion.)

The continuing “wildcard” for Ms. Kraninger’s nomination and Mr. Mulvaney’s tenure as Acting Director is the possibility of a decision from the D.C. Circuit adverse to Mr. Mulvaney in Leandra English’s appeal challenging Mr. Mulvaney’s appointment as Acting Director.  One possible outcome is that the D.C. Circuit could find that Ms. English is entitled to serve as Acting Director pursuant to the Dodd-Frank Act (DFA) provision that provides the Deputy Director shall serve as Acting Director in the Director’s “absence or unavailability” and that the DFA provision supersedes the President’s FVRA authority.  It is unclear whether the DFA provision that only allows the President to remove the CFPB Director “for cause” would similarly limit the President’s removal of an Acting Director.  (Mr. Mulvaney has asserted on various occasions that President Trump can remove him without cause.)

A second possible outcome is that the D.C. Circuit could find that Ms. English is not entitled to serve as Acting Director pursuant to the DFA because “absence or unavailability” does not include a vacancy created by a resignation and, although the President can use his FVRA authority to appoint an Acting Director, his appointment of Mr. Mulvaney is invalid because Mr. Mulvaney cannot simultaneously serve as OMB Director and CFPB Acting Director.  The 210-day time limitation established by Section 3346(a)(1) of the FVRA on an acting officer’s tenure runs from “the date the vacancy occurs.”  While a permanent officer’s nomination can extend the tenure of an existing acting officer beyond 210 days, it appears that the President cannot use the FVRA to appoint another person as acting officer after the 210-day period expires.  Thus, assuming that after June 22 President Trump could not use the FVRA to appoint someone else to serve as Acting Director, the CFPB would remain without an Acting Director until a nominee is confirmed by the Senate.  (Ms. English, unless removed by President Trump, would continue to serve as Deputy Director but could not exercise the authority of the Director.  As noted above, while the DFA only allows the President to remove the CFPB Director “for cause,” it does not speak directly to the Deputy Director’s removal.)

It is important to also note that once a new Director appointed by President Trump is confirmed, he or she will be entitled to serve for a full five-year term regardless of how long Mr. Mulvaney has served as Acting Director.  As a result, if Mr. Mulvaney were to serve as Acting Director for as long as possible (i.e. until mid-2020), even if a Democrat is elected President in 2020, a new Director appointed by President Trump and sworn-in in mid-2020 could potentially serve until mid-2025.

Such a possible scenario underscores the need for Congress to enact legislation to change the CFPB’s leadership structure to a five-member commission, something industry has previously urged lawmakers to do.  While we are pleased with the direction in which Mr. Mulvaney has moved the CFPB, regardless of whether the President is a Republican or a Democratic, in our opinion, it is better policy and will provide more stability for the Bureau to be led by a group of people with diverse viewpoints rather than a single individual tied to the President’s political agenda.

 

The California Department of Business Oversight (DBO) has published modifications to its proposed regulations under the State’s Student Loan Servicing Act.  As previously covered, the DBO published notice of its initial proposed rules on September 8, 2017.  A blackline of the changes is available here.

The initial regulations mandated extensive customer service obligations.  Among other things, the regulations required that a servicer post a plain language description of the repayment and loan forgiveness options available for federal student loans on its website, with links to specified Department of Education resources.  The initial regulations also required this same repayment and loan forgiveness information be sent to each borrower, with the servicer’s toll-free customer service telephone number, at least once per calendar year (i.e., an “annual notice”).  The initial regulations provided similar requirements for a servicer of private student loans, with the added requirement that a private student loan servicer establish policies and procedures to ensure the provision of accurate private student loan repayment arrangement information and consistent presentation of those arrangements to similarly situated borrowers.  The initial regulations also provided requirements for handling borrower inquiries (“Qualified Written Requests”).  All communications were required to be sent according to the borrower’s preferred method of communication.

The proposed modifications:

  • clarify that only a servicer of federal student loans must post information about federal repayment and forgiveness options on its website or in its annual notices
  • permit a servicer of private student loans to provide information about repayment options customized to the borrower by eliminating the requirement that servicers must prominently post information about “any alternative repayment plan” for the student loans it services on its website homepage (though private loan servicers must still provide an annual notice);
  • allow a servicer to provide information about repayment and loan forgiveness options through links on its homepage, instead of aggregating the information on the homepage.
  • create a new rule that private student loan servicer representatives available at the servicer’s toll-free number must be “fully trained about, inform and discuss with callers, any alternative repayment plan offered by the servicer or promissory note holder” for the private student loan(s);
  • provide that annual notices may be sent with any other annual communications;
  • require that borrowers who do not consent to electronic communications receive communications through the U.S. Postal Service and, only if undeliverable, through email; and
  • create a new rule (that is somewhat ambiguous) that a servicer is only required to send a borrower a total of three notices stating that there will be no response to a Qualified Written Request because the borrower has previously submitted the same request, received a response, and provided no new information in its subsequent, duplicative Qualified Written Request.

The initial regulations also established payment requirements, including that a servicer credit any electronic payment on the day “electronically paid by the borrower” if received before a posted cut-off time and that a servicer credit physical payments on the day received.  The initial regulations also mandated that account information reflect payments within three days and be available to the borrower via a secure log-in system with a consolidated report of the borrower’s transaction history.

The proposed modifications:

  • clarify that, for payments (primarily, if not exclusively, paper checks) received without payment instructions, a servicer has a reasonable period of time (not to exceed ten business days) to research and apply the payment and update a borrower’s account; and
  • revise the rule regarding co-signers to require that a servicer provide a process for co-signers to follow to check to be sure that co-signer payments are credited only to the loan(s) the co-signer has co-signed.

The initial regulations provided that a servicer must maintain a current student loan servicing report (a record of all loans being serviced) including, with respect to each student loan serviced: the borrower’s name; the number of student loans serviced for each borrower; the loan number for each loan; the loan type; the origination amount; the interest rate(s) and maturity date for each loan; the loan balance and status for each loan; the cumulative balance owing for each borrower; whether a borrower has an application pending for, or is repaying under, an alternative repayment plan, listing the plan chosen; and whether the borrower has an application pending for any loan forgiveness benefit.  For each individual loan, the servicer must also maintain borrower records, including the borrower’s application, agreement, qualified written requests, and other disclosures and statements provided to the borrower.  The initial regulations also provided specific technical requirements for electronic document storage.

The proposed modifications:

  • clarify that servicers may provide the required aggregated servicing information through reports segregated by loan type;
  • revise the recordkeeping rule to require that a servicer maintain records for three years after pay off, assignment, or transfer unless a contract requires a shorter period; and
  • eliminate the specific optical image reproduction and electronic record storage requirements of Section 2056(b).

The initial rules also provided a variety of miscellaneous rules regarding licensing (including provisions requiring a servicer to submit policies and procedures related to borrower protection requirements) and account management.

The proposed modifications:

  • remove the requirement that a servicer appoint the Commissioner as their agent for service of process;
  • provide that, between regulatory examinations, a servicer need not submit changes to their policies and procedures related to borrower protection requirements; and
  • delete the rule requiring monthly reconciliations of trust accounts.

The modifications are subject to comment until June 18, 2018 and will not be effective until approved by the Office of Administrative Law and filed with the Secretary of State.  The short comment period suggests that the DBO intends to have the rules finalized by the effective date of the Student Loan Servicing Act, July 1, 2018.

Comptroller of the Currency Joseph Otting appeared before the House Financial Services Committee yesterday and before the Senate Banking Committee today.

In his nearly identical written testimony submitted to both committees, Mr. Otting identified the following items as his priorities as Comptroller: modernization of Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) regulations; encouraging banks to meet consumers’ short-term, small-dollar credit needs; enhancing supervision of Bank Secrecy Act/anti-money laundering compliance and making it more efficient; simplifying regulatory capital requirements; and reducing burdens associated with the Volcker Rule.

CRA modernization was a focus of many of the Democratic lawmakers on both committees.  In his written testimony, Mr. Otting stated that that the federal banking agencies (presumably the OCC, Fed and FDIC) are discussing an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to solicit comments on how best to modernize CRA regulations.  In his written and live testimony, Mr. Otting voiced his support for a new CRA framework that would (1) expand the types of activities that qualify for CRA consideration (e.g. to include small business lending and opportunities for consumers to access short-term, small dollar loans), (2) revisit the concept of assessment areas to broaden it beyond branches and deposit-taking ATMs, and (3) use a metrics-driven approach to evaluating CRA performance to increase public transparency and reduce subjectivity in examiner ratings.

In their questioning of Mr. Otting, Democratic lawmakers expressed skepticism about the CRA changes outlined by Mr. Otting, suggesting that they would allow banks to be less responsive to the needs of minority communities and questioning whether Mr. Otting has sufficient awareness of and concern about banks engaging in discrimination against minorities.

Another focus of Democratic lawmakers on both committees was the “horizontal reviews” of bank sales practices conducted by the OCC at more than 40 national banks in 2016-2017.  According to Mr. Otting, the OCC reviewed between 500 million and 600 million new accounts opened in a three-year span and found 20,000 accounts that lacked proof of authorization or had other issues resulting in 252 “matters requiring attention.”  He indicated that the OCC’s review had not revealed any “pervasive or systemic” issues concerning improper account openings but did show a need for banks to improve their policies, procedures, and controls.

Other issues discussed at the hearings included the following:

  • Special purpose national bank (SPNB) charter.  Lawmakers at the House hearing questioned Mr. Otting about the OCC’s proposal to issue SPNB charters to fintech companies.  Mr. Otting repeated his recent statement that the OCC would announce its decision on the proposal next month.  Lawmakers also noted the concerns that have been raised by comments reportedly made by Mr. Otting regarding “rent-a-charter” arrangements between banks and non-bank entities.  Mr. Otting indicated that, in light of the increasing number of banks partnering with fintech companies, the OCC was open to developing guidance to address such partnerships.
  • Short-term, small dollar loans.  Mr. Otting was questioned about the bulletin issued by the OCC last month to encourage its supervised institutions to make short-term, small dollar installment loans.  As we reported, the bulletin contained language about compliance with applicable state law that was confusing or likely to cause confusion.  We observed that federal law (12 U.S.C. Section 85) governs the interest national banks can charge and authorizes banks to charge the interest allowed by the law of the state where they are located, without regard to the law of any other state.  We also called upon the OCC to clarify that it did not mean to suggest otherwise.  In response to a question from Republican Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer about the meaning of the OCC’s language, Mr. Otting indicated that the OCC was not retreating from preemption and did not intend to suggest that national banks had to charge the interest permitted by the law of the borrower’s state rather than the interest permitted by the law of the bank’s home state. Mr. Otting expressed confidence that more banks would be entering into the market for short-term, small dollar installment loans.
  • Madden decision.  Mr. Otting was questioned about the Second Circuit’s Madden decision by Republican Senator Pat Toomey, who observed that the decision has resulted in a substantial reduction in credit access to consumers.  (In Madden, the Second Circuit ruled that a nonbank that purchases loans from a national bank could not charge the same rate of interest on the loan that Section 85 of the National Bank Act allows the national bank to charge.)  Mr. Otting agreed with Senator Toomey that the decision was wrong.  However, when asked by Senator Toomey what steps the OCC was taking to address the problems caused by Madden, Mr. Otting said only that the OCC had filed a brief disagreeing with the decision.  (Presumably, Mr. Otting was referring to the amicus brief filed by the Solicitor General and OCC with the U.S. Supreme Court expressing their view that the Court should deny the petition for certiorari filed by the Madden defendants  despite their view that Madden was wrongly decided.)

We have advocated for the OCC’s adoption of a rule providing that (1) loans funded by a bank in its own name as creditor are fully subject to Section 85 and other provisions of the National Bank Act for their entire term; and (2) emphasizing that banks that make loans are expected to manage and supervise the lending process in accordance with OCC guidance and will be subject to regulatory consequences if and to the extent that loan programs are unsafe or unsound or fail to comply with applicable law.  In other words, it is the origination of the loan by a national bank (and the attendant legal consequences if the loans are improperly originated), and not whether the bank retains the predominant economic interest in the loan, that should govern the regulatory treatment of the loan under federal law.

The CFPB announced that it has entered into a consent order with Security Group Inc. and its subsidiaries (Security Group) to settle an administrative enforcement action that charged the companies with having engaged in unlawful debt collection and credit reporting practices.  The consent order requires Security Group to pay a civil money penalty of $5 million.

The consent order states that Security Group owned and operated approximately 900 locations in 20 states.  According to the consent order, certain Security Group entities were primarily in the business of making consumer loans and other entities were primarily in the business of purchasing retail installment contracts from auto dealers. The consent order concludes that Security Group engaged in debt collection practices that constituted unfair acts and practices in violation of the Consumer Financial Protection Act and credit reporting practices that violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act and Regulation V.

The consent order finds that:

  • The unlawful debt collection practices in which Security Group engaged included the following:
    • Visiting consumers’ homes and places of employment, as well as the homes of their neighbors, and visiting consumers in other public places, thereby disclosing or risking disclosure of consumers’ delinquencies to third parties, disrupting consumers’ workplaces and jeopardizing their employment, and humiliating and harassing consumers
    • Routinely calling consumers at work, sometimes calling consumers on shared phone lines and in the process speaking with co-workers or employers and thereby disclosing or risking disclosure of consumers’ delinquencies to third parties, and also calling after being told that consumers were not allowed to receive calls at work and that future calls could endanger their employment
    • Failing to heed and properly record consumers’ and third parties’ requests to cease contact or to give personnel access to cease-contact requests logged by employees in other stores, thereby resulting in repeated unlawful calls to consumers and third parties
  • The unlawful credit reporting practices in which Security Group engaged included the following:
    • Failing to establish and implement any reasonable policies and procedures regarding the accuracy and integrity of information furnished to consumer reporting agencies (CRAs)
    • Failing to address in policies and procedures how to properly code customer account information or responses to consumer disputes using the Metro 2 Guide and not ensuring that its monthly furnishing system was coordinated with its consumer dispute furnishing practices
    • Regularly furnishing information to CRAs that it had determined was inaccurate based on information maintained in its data base or other information, such as information provided by consumers as part of a credit reporting dispute or information provided to CRAs

The consent order appears to indicate that first-party collectors that engage in conduct that the FDCPA would prohibit as unfair conduct by third-party collectors continue to be at risk for violating the CFPA’s UDAAP prohibition.  It also appears to indicate that the CFPB continues to disfavor in-person debt collection activities and that companies that do so remain in great peril.  In December 2015, the CFPB issued a bulletin to provide guidance to creditors, debt buyers and third-party debt collectors about compliance with the CFPA UDAAP prohibition and the FDCPA when conducting in-person debt collection visits, such as visits to a consumer’s workplace or home.

In addition to imposing the $5 million civil money penalty, the consent order prohibits Security Group from engaging in the debt collection practices found to be unlawful, and requires it to:

  • implement and maintain reasonable written policies and procedures regarding the accuracy and integrity of the information furnished to CRAs
  • correct or update any inaccurate or incomplete information furnished to CRAs
  • provide a prescribed notice to customers affected by inaccurate information furnished to CRAs
  • update its policies and procedures to include a specific process for identifying when information furnished to CRAs is inaccurate or requires updating (which must include at a minimum the monthly examination of sample accounts and monitoring and evaluation of disputes received from CRAs and customers)
  • submit a compliance plan to the CFPB to ensure that Security Group’s credit reporting and collections comply with applicable federal consumer financial laws and the terms of the consent order (which includes a list of items that, at a minimum, must be part of the compliance plan

It is noteworthy that while the consent order imposes a $5 million civil penalty on Security Group, unlike a 2015 CFPB consent order that required the respondents to refund amounts collected through in-person visits found to be unlawful, the consent order does not require Security Group to make refunds to consumers.

In its Spring 2018 rulemaking agenda, the CFPB stated that it “is preparing a proposed rule focused on FDCPA collectors that may address such issues as communication practices and consumer disclosures.”  It estimated the issuance of a NPRM in March 2019.

Republican Congressman Blaine Luetkemeyer, a member of the House Financial Services Committee, has sent letters to six agencies asking them to issue and publish statements concerning the effect and use of “agency statements-for example, guidance documents, supervisory letters or examination manuals—that have not gone through notice and comment rulemaking.”  One such letter was sent to the Federal Reserve Board and the other letter was sent to the FDIC, NCUA, SEC, OCC and CFPB.

In the letters, Rep. Luetkemeyer requests that, in such statements, the agencies affirm that agency statements that have not gone through notice and comment rulemaking “do not establish binding legal standards, and thus shall not be the basis of enforcement actions or supervisory directives, including but not limited to the issuance of ‘Matters Requiring Attention’ or ‘Matters Requiring Immediate Attention.'”

Rep. Luetkemeyer also requests that the agencies:

  • Clarify in their statements “that any failure to adhere to guidance shall not, directly or indirectly, form the basis of any other adverse supervisory determinations, such as ratings downgrades
  • Establish a standard practice by which any subsequently issued guidance includes a statement regarding the effect of the guidance consistent with the above limitations
  • Ensure that examiners are “appropriately educated about the use and role of guidance; and held accountable when guidance is applied inappropriately”

Rep. Luetkemeyer observes in the letters that greater clarity about the appropriate use and interpretation of guidance is needed because “[o]ver the years, a significant number of agency guidance, handbooks and circulars have been issued.  Almost none has been withdrawn or rescinded; similarly, almost none went through notice and comment rulemaking or was submitted to the Congress pursuant to the Congressional Review Act.”

In his letter to the five agencies, Rep. Luetkemeyer references the determination by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that the Fed’s leveraged lending guidance was a rule for CRA purposes but was not submitted to Congress before it took effect.  Following that determination, the GAO determined that the CFPB’s bulletin on discretionary pricing by auto dealers was also a rule for CRA purposes.  The bulletin subsequently became the first guidance document to be disapproved by Congress pursuant to a joint CRA resolution.

In a statement issued about the signing of the CRA resolution by President Trump, the CFPB stated that the resolution’s enactment “clarifies that a number of Bureau guidance documents may be considered rules for purposes of the CRA, and therefore the Bureau must submit them for review by Congress.”  The CFPB also indicated that it plans to “confer with Congressional staff and federal agency partners to identify appropriate documents for submission.”

 

 

 

The CFPB has issued a report focusing on end-of-year credit card borrowing and repayment of credit card balances in the following year.  The report is based on data from the Bureau’s Consumer Credit Panel, a nationally-representative sample of approximately five million de-identified credit records maintained by one of the three nationwide credit reporting companies.

The report explores how credit card borrowing evolves during and after the annual November/December peak in consumer spending, how quickly these balances are repaid in subsequent months, and how the year-end period of borrowing may correlate with financial distress.

The report’s key findings include:

  • The year-end rise in consumer debt is most pronounced in general purpose credit card debt and retail store card debt.  General purpose credit card balances rise nearly 4 percent from their October baseline as compared with retail store card balances which rise 8 percent increase from their October baseline.  In contrast, auto loans and home equity credit lines do not exhibit similar seasonality.  The CFPB observes that to the extent the consumers who take on new credit card debt during the holiday season are the same consumers who repay that debt shortly thereafter in the following year, it is an indication that, on average, consumers may use year-end credit card borrowing as relatively short-term financing.
  • The seasonality in borrowing on general purpose credit cards is most pronounced for consumers with prime and superprime credit scores. In contrast, general purpose credit card balances for consumers with subprime credit scores exhibit relatively little seasonality.  The CFPB observes that this difference is at least partially attributable to higher card utilization rates of consumers with subprime credit scores.
  • Delinquency rates on credit cards rise during and after the holiday season, with the seasonality in delinquencies apparently driven by consumers with subprime credit scores.  These patterns may indicate financial distress among some credit card borrowers at the end of the year.  The CFPB observes that the decline in delinquencies that begins in February and accelerates in March may be attributable to consumers’ receipt of tax refunds and the use of such refunds to pay down debt.

A Texas federal court has granted the stay of the lawsuit filed by two trade groups challenging the CFPB’s final payday/auto title/high-rate installment loan rule (Payday Rule) requested in a joint motion filed by the trade groups and the CFPB but has denied the stay of the Payday Rule’s August 19, 2019 compliance date that was also requested in the joint motion.

The court did not provide the basis for its decision in the order ruling on the joint motion.  However, the court also granted the motion filed by four consumer advocacy groups seeking leave to file an amicus memorandum opposing the joint motion.

The joint motion had sought the stay of the compliance date pursuant to Section 10(d) of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), 5 U.S.C. Section 705.  In their amicus brief, the advocacy groups argued that in addition to the parties’ failure to satisfy the four-part test used to assess requests for Section 705 stays, a stay of the compliance date while also staying the litigation was inconsistent with the purpose of Section 705 to stay agency action in order to maintain the status quo during judicial review.  According to the advocacy groups, the CFPB and trade groups were not seeking to maintain the status quo to protect against litigation uncertainties but rather to address uncertainties created by the CFPB’s decision to engage in rulemaking to reconsider the Payday Rule.  They described the joint motion as an attempt to “effect an end-run around the [APA’s notice-and-comment rulemaking procedures].”  (The trade groups filed a response in which they disputed the arguments made by the advocacy groups.)

In light of the court’s ruling on the joint motion, we hope that the CFPB will move quickly to stay the compliance date pursuant to the APA’s notice-and-comment procedures.

 

A group of 15 Democratic state attorneys general have submitted a letter responding to the CFPB’s request for information seeking comment on potential changes to the CFPB’s practices for the public reporting of consumer complaint information.  (Last month, a group of 35 Democratic U.S. Senators sent a letter to Mick Mulvaney and Leandra English urging the CFPB to continue to publicly disclose consumer complaint information.)

In their letter, the AGs indicate that since December 2012, state agencies have had access not only to the public-facing database but also to a secure portal that allows them to view information the general public cannot (such as complaint narratives which were not publicly disclosed until June 2015.)

The AGs state that the complaint database “has been an invaluable resource for identifying trends and patterns.”  They indicate that they “have used information gleaned from the CFPB’s database in connection with investigations into debt collection companies, student loan servicers, for-profit universities, and other companies whose misconduct was initially brought to our attention through a critical mass of complaints filed with the CFPB.”

The AGs also assert that in addition to being an invaluable resource in their investigations, the database “has proven useful to consumers at large.”  According to the AGs, the database:

  • Empowers consumers to educate themselves about financial decisions, options in the marketplace, and how to avoid bad actors
  • Because of its visibility, incentivizes companies to treat their customers fairly
  • Reveals patterns of widespread misconduct that “the CFPB and its state counterparts can use…to analyze the issue and determine what steps, if any, to take”
  • Represents “a commitment by the CFPB to honor not only the letter but the spirit of its statutory mandate to bring more transparency to consumer financial transactions by, inter alia, ensuring that corporate misconduct will not be shielded from view

The AGs close their lender by commenting that while they are submitting their letter with the expectation that the CFPB “will carefully weigh the comments it receives,” there have been press reports suggesting that the CFPB has already decided to end public disclosure of complaint data and that, if such reports are accurate, they suggest the RFI “is meant to paper over a decision already made.”  (The AGs specifically reference reports indicating that at an April 2018 American Bankers Association conference, CFPB Acting Director Mulvaney strongly criticized the CFPB’s policy of publicly disclosing consumer complaint information and suggested that the policy is likely to be discontinued.)

 

As expected, CFPB Acting Director Mick Mulvaney has signed an order directing that the Notice of Charges filed against PHH be dismissed and terminating the matter.  The order indicates, that in dismissing the matter, Mr. Mulvaney accepted the recommendation made jointly by the CFPB and PHH that the matter be dismissed.

The order recites that on January 31, 2018, the D.C. Circuit issued its en banc PHH decision reinstating the RESPA-related portions of the D.C. Circuit’s panel decision.  The panel had held that the plain language of RESPA permits captive mortgage re-insurance arrangements like the one at issue in the PHH case, if the mortgage re-insurers are paid no more than the reasonable value of the services they provide.  The order states that “it is now the law of this case that PHH did not violate RESPA if it charged no more than the reasonable market value for the reinsurance it required the mortgage insurers to purchase, even if the reinsurance was a quid pro quo for referrals.”

PHH issued a press release about the dismissal in which it commented that the CFPB’s order “is consistent with our long-held view that we complied with RESPA and other laws applicable to our former mortgage reinsurance activities in all respects.”

 

 

American Banker has reported that that CFPB is planning to dismiss its lawsuit against PHH.  According to the American Banker report, the CFPB and PHH have issued a joint statement in which the parties confirm that they have conferred and agreed to recommend the dismissal and request that Acting Director Mulvaney proceed to dismiss the CFPB’s administrative proceeding.

On January 31, 2018, the D.C. Circuit issued its en banc PHH decision reinstating the RESPA-related portions of the D.C. Circuit’s October 2016 panel decision.  The panel had held that the plain language of RESPA permits captive mortgage re-insurance arrangements like the one at issue in the PHH case, if the mortgage re-insurers are paid no more than the reasonable value of the services they provide.  However, disagreeing with the panel decision, the en banc court rejected PHH’s challenge to the CFPB’s constitutionality based on its single-director-removable-only-for-cause structure.  Neither PHH Corporation nor the CFPB filed a petition for certiorari asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review the en banc decision.

For the first time in 2015, in prosecuting the case against PHH, the CFPB announced a new interpretation of RESPA under which captive mortgage reinsurance arrangements were prohibited.  The panel rejected this interpretation on the ground that the statute unambiguously allows the kinds of payments that the CFPB’s 2015 interpretation prohibited.  The panel remanded the case to the CFPB to determine whether PHH complied with RESPA under the longstanding interpretation previously articulated by HUD.   The en banc court’s reinstatement of that aspect of the panel decision led it to order that the case be remanded to the CFPB for further proceedings.

Although the D.C. Circuit panel had agreed with PHH that the RESPA three-year statute of limitations applies to administrative proceedings, it left undecided another statute of limitations issue for the CFPB to consider on remand.  The panel stated:  “We do not here decide whether each alleged above-reasonable-market value payment from the mortgage insurer to the reinsurer triggers a new three-year statute of limitations for that payment.  We leave that question for the CFPB on remand and any future court proceedings.”

Since the en banc court reinstated the panel’s decision “insofar as it related to the interpretation of RESPA and its application to PHH,” the issue of when the RESPA three-year statute of limitations is triggered, which is of great significance to the mortgage industry, might have been addressed on remand.  The CFPB’s dismissal of the administrative proceeding means the CFPB will not have an opportunity to rule on that issue in this case.

A determination on remand as to whether PHH complied with RESPA under the longstanding interpretation previously articulated by HUD would have required the CFPB to consider whether the mortgage re-insurers were paid more than reasonable market value for the services they provided.  The dismissal of the administrative proceeding also means the CFPB will not have an opportunity to rule on how reasonable market value is determined in mortgage re-insurance arrangements.