We have been following very closely the lawsuit filed by the CFPB and the New York Attorney General against RD Legal Funding.  We earlier reported that on June 21 Judge Preska dismissed the CFPB’s claims based on the unconstitutionality of the CFPA. We subsequently reported that on September 12 Judge Preska dismissed the claims brought by the New York Attorney General under Section 1042 of Dodd -Frank (i. e., the provision authorizing state attorneys general to initiate lawsuits based on UDAAP violations) and also dismissed the Attorney General’s state law claims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction as a result of there being no remaining federal questions in the case.

The most recent development is that yesterday Judge Preska amended her September 12 order to provide that her dismissal of the New York Attorney General’s 1042 claims are “with prejudice”. That means that the New York Attorney General should not be able to re-file her 1042 claims in state court unless and until a higher court reverses Judge Preska’s order. The CFPB has already filed an appeal with the Second Circuit and it seems likely that the New York Attorney General will do the same.

The BCPB has historically taken the position that it can use investigations to conduct compliance “sweeps” of entire industries. Indeed, a version of the BCFP’s Enforcement Policies and Procedures Manual made available to the public through a FOIA request in 2016 stated that: “It is not necessary to have evidence that a law has in fact been violated before opening a formal investigation. That means, for example, that the Bureau could conduct a ‘compliance’ sweep to investigate whether industry participants are complying with a law or regulation.”

The BCFP has historically used CIDs and investigations to supervise industries over which it otherwise lacked supervisory authority—imposing huge costs on industry participants without justification.  On September 6, 2018, the Fifth Circuit took a dim view of that tactic. In its opinion in the The Source for Public Data, L.P. case, the Fifth Circuit struck down a CID apparently issued as part of such an industry sweep. “Simply put,” the court held, “the CFPB does not have the ‘unfettered authority to cast about for potential wrongdoing.’”

Dodd-Frank requires the BCFP to include a “Notification of Purpose” in every CID stating “the nature of the conduct constituting the alleged violation which is under investigation and the provision of law applicable to such violation.” The BCFP has historically read this requirement very loosely. Paraphrasing, most Notifications of Purpose said no more than: “The purpose of this investigation is to determine whether anybody did anything wrong.”  They generally gave CID recipients no information whatsoever as to the conduct under investigation. Sometimes it was possible to guess based on the document requests and interrogatories included in the CIDs, but the Notifications of Purpose were not generally specific enough to allow recipients to meaningfully negotiate the scope of the CID or to know whether they were targets of an investigation or only third-party witnesses. The BCFP has taken and endorsed this approach even under Mulvaney, who recently denied a request to modify or set aside a CID containing a broad Notification of Purpose.

The Fifth Circuit acknowledged this as a real problem. It found that such broad Notifications of Purpose did not allow courts to meaningfully evaluate whether the information requested by the BCFP was “reasonably relevant” to the matter under investigation—the standard courts apply to government requests for information. As a result, the Fifth Circuit found that it could not enforce the CID and, reversing the lower court, struck the CID down entirely. In doing so, the Fifth Circuit joined with the D.C. Circuit which, in 2017, rejected a similarly broad Notification of Purpose in the ACICS case. In striking the CID, the Fifth Circuit held that “[t]here are consequences to ‘the absurdity of giving a notification that notifies of no purpose whatsoever.”

As expected, following Judge Preska’s dismissal on September 12 of all of the New York Attorney General’s federal and state law claims, the CFPB filed an appeal with the Second Circuit from Judge Preska’s June 21 ruling in the RD Legal Funding case in which she held that the CFPB’s single-director-removable-only-for-cause structure is unconstitutional, struck the CFPA (Title X of Dodd-Frank) in its entirety, and dismissed the CFPB from the case.

In its Notice of Appeal filed on September 14, the CFPB gives notice that it “appeals to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit from this Court’s June 21, 2018 Order (ECF No. 80), as amended by its September 12, 2018 Order (ECF No. 105), dismissing the Bureau’s claims against Defendants, and this Court’s Judgment (ECF No. 106) entered on September 12, 2018.”

Since Judge Preska dismissed all of its claims, the NYAG can also appeal to the Second Circuit.  Alternatively, the NYAG can refile its CFPA and state law claims in New York state court (although a state court might stay the case pending a decision by the Second Circuit in the CFPB’s appeal, particularly if the NY AG decides to appeal the dismissal of its claim brought under Dodd-Frank Section 1042.  If the NYAG appeals the jurisdictional dismissal of its state law claims, then RD Legal should be able to file a cross-appeal of Judge Preska’s June 21 decision ruling on the merits of the state law claims and denying RD Legal’s motion to dismiss.

The CFPB’s appeal means that the Bureau’s constitutionality is now before two circuits, the Second and Fifth Circuits.  In April 2018, the Fifth Circuit agreed to hear All American Check Cashing’s interlocutory appeal from the district court’s ruling upholding the CFPB’s constitutionality.  Also, a petition for certiorari was recently filed in the U.S. Supreme Court by State National Bank of Big Spring which, together with two D.C. area non-profit organizations that also joined in the petition, had brought one of the first lawsuits challenging the CFPB’s constitutionality.

 

The CFPB filed its first new lawsuit under acting Director Mulvaney yesterday, alleging that a pension advance company and its president made predatory loans to consumers that were falsely marketed as asset purchases.  While it’s noteworthy as the Bureau’s first new case under current leadership, the action continues the CFPB’s focus on companies that offer settlement and pension advances, which began under Director Cordray and has continued under acting Director Mulvaney.

The defendants, under a pseudonym, unsuccessfully challenged the Bureau’s CID in federal court several months ago.  The investigation presumably continued, resulting in yesterday’s complaint filed in California federal court.  Similar to the Bureau’s earlier lawsuits against two pension advance companies and RD Legal, the complaint against Future Income Payments, its president Scott Kohn, and affiliated companies alleges that they made loans disguised as asset purchases that violated state usury and licensing laws.  More specifically, Future Income Payments and the other defendants allegedly committed deceptive acts in violation of the Consumer Financial Protection Act and failed to make disclosures required by the Truth in Lending Act by:

  • Falsely marketing that the alleged loans (1) are asset purchases rather than loans, (2) do not have interest rates, and (3) are comparable or cheaper than credit-card debt; and
  • Failing to provide the disclosures required by TILA explaining the cost of the credit.

The complaint, however, is missing a critical element.  It does not explain why the transactions are in fact extensions of credit.  Instead, the complaint concludes, without supporting allegations, that the funds provided to consumers are loans subject to the CFPA and TILA.  This failure to grapple with the elements of a loan under state law also exists in the CFPB’s pending action against RD Legal, which we highlighted in a blog.  In both cases, the Bureau fails to address the well-established, state-law factors for distinguishing asset purchases from loans, such as an absolute obligation by consumers to repay the funding company.

These lawsuits against pension and settlement advance companies are striking exceptions to acting Director Mulvaney’s public statements that the Bureau will neither push the envelope nor regulate by litigation/consent order.  We will, therefore, continue to monitor the Future Income Payments case as we have with the RD Legal lawsuit.

On September 12, Judge Preska entered an order and judgment dismissing all of the New York Attorney General’s federal and state law claims against RD Legal Funding.  The NYAG had filed the case jointly with the CFPB and in a June 21 ruling, Judge Preska held that the CFPB’s single-director-removable-only-for-cause structure is unconstitutional, struck the CFPA (Title X of Dodd-Frank) in its entirety, dismissed the CFPB from the case, and allowed the NYAG to proceed with its CFPA and state law claims.

Judge Preska had initially rejected RD Legal’s argument that her dismissal of the CFPB from the case and striking of Dodd-Frank Title X necessitated her dismissal of the NYAG’s CFPA claims against RD Legal.  In an August 23 order, Judge Preska ruled that she would enter a Rule 54(b) judgment against the CFPB so it could immediately appeal her constitutionality ruling to the Second Circuit.  She also denied RD Legal’s request that she certify the remainder of her June 21 ruling for interlocutory appeal but granted RD Legal’s request to stay the district court proceedings pending the outcome of the CFPB’s appeal.  The NYAG thereafter sought clarification of the effect of her August 23 ruling on its federal and state law claims and the CFPB filed a proposed Rule 54(b) judgment.

In her September 12 order and judgment, Judge Preska “amends” her June 21 order to provide as follows with respect to the NYAG’s claims:

  • Having determined that invalidating Title X in its entirety is the proper remedy for the constitutional violation resulting from the CFPB’s for-cause removal provision, there is no longer a statutory basis for the NYAG to bring its CFPA claims and therefore such claims are dismissed without prejudice for lack of federal jurisdiction
  • There was no substantial federal question embedded in the NYAG’s state law claims that provided federal question jurisdiction over the state law claims. (The NYAG had argued that its state law claims raised issues involving the federal Anti-Assignment Act.)
  • The court will decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the state law claims.
  • The NYAG’s state law claims are dismissed without prejudice.

Judge Preska also closed the case in her September 12 order and judgment.  Since Judge Preska has now dismissed the district court case in its entirety, a Rule 54(b) judgment is no longer necessary for the CFPB to appeal her constitutionality ruling to the Second Circuit and both the CFPB and NYAG can appeal as of right.  Alternatively, the NYAG can refile its CFPA and state law claims in New York state court (although a state court might stay the case pending the outcome of an appeal by the CFPB of the constitutionality issue.)

Judge Preska states in her September 12 order that the conclusions of law in the order “supersede and replace any legal conclusions to the contrary in the June 11, 2018 order.”  In her June 11 order, Judge Preska also concluded that under New York law, the transactions at issue were disguised loans.  As discussed in a prior blog post, we believe the court’s logic was erroneous on the loan recharacterization question.  It would seem that Judge Preska’s ruling that the court did not have jurisdiction to hear the NYAG’s state law claims means that she could not properly rule on the merits of such claims and her recharacterization of the transactions as loans is effectively nullified.

RD Legal has sent a letter to Judge Preska “to clarify a potential clerical error” in her September 12 order.  It notes that she dismissed both the NYAG’s federal and state law claims “without prejudice.”  RD Legal suggests that the court intended to dismiss the NYAG’s federal claims “with prejudice.”

The CFPB’s constitutionality is also at issue in two other pending cases.  A petition for certiorari was filed in the U.S. Supreme Court late last week by State National Bank of Big Spring which, together with two D.C. area non-profit organizations that also joined in the petition, had brought one of the first lawsuits challenging the CFPB’s constitutionality.  In April 2018, the Fifth Circuit agreed to hear All American Check Cashing’s interlocutory appeal from the district court’s ruling upholding the CFPB’s constitutionality.

 

 

 

The CFPB has filed a proposed Rule 54(b) judgment in the RD Legal Funding case.  The proposed judgment provides that “for the reasons stated in the Court’s June 21, 2018 Order, (ECF No. 80), final judgment is hereby entered pursuant to Rule 54(b) against the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and in favor of Defendants [RD Legal Funding et al.]”

In her June 21 order, Judge Preska ruled that the CFPB’s structure is unconstitutional and struck all of Title X of Dodd-Frank.  Since Judge Preska, on August 23, entered an order granting the CFPB’s request for entry of a Rule 54(b) judgment so that it could appeal her June 21 ruling, she can be expected to sign the proposed order.  In a letter accompanying the proposed order, the CFPB states that “the parties have conferred” and the NYAG and all of the defendants “do not object to the proposed judgment.”

 

The New York Attorney General has sent a letter to Judge Preska asking her to clarify her August 23 order granting the CFPB’s request for entry of a Rule 54(b) judgment so that it can appeal her June 21 constitutionality ruling.  In the August 23 order, Judge Preska also denied RD Legal’s request that she certify the remainder of her ruling for interlocutory appeal but granted RD Legal’s request to stay the district court proceedings pending the outcome of the CFPB’s appeal.

In her June 21 ruling, Judge Preska held that that the CFPB’s single-director-removable-only-for-cause structure is unconstitutional, struck the CFPA (Title X of Dodd-Frank) in its entirety, dismissed the CFPB from the case, and allowed the New York Attorney General to proceed with its CFPA and state law claims.  RD Legal had argued that Judge Preska’s dismissal of the CFPB from the case and striking of Dodd-Frank Title X necessitated her dismissal of the NYAG’s CFPA claims against RD Legal.  Accordingly, it had asked Judge Preska to dismiss the NYAG’s federal claims with prejudice and dismiss the NYAG’s state law claims for lack of federal subject matter jurisdiction without prejudice to their being refiled in state court.

Judge Preska’s August 23 order appears to implicitly accept RD Legal’s argument that her constitutionality ruling, if upheld by the Second Circuit, would require dismissal of the NYAG’s CFPA claims.  In its letter, the NYAG asks her to provide answers to three questions that it deems “essential to determining the NYAG’s further conduct in this case.”

The NYAG asks Judge Preska:

  • Whether the NYAG’s CFPA claims remain before the court because it has found that it has jurisdiction to hear those claims
  • Whether, if the court actually dismissed the NYAG’s CFPA claims in its June 21 ruling, the court retained jurisdiction over the NYAG’s state law claims because the claims contain an embedded federal law question (which the NYAG has previously identified to be whether the transactions that RD Legal Funding entered into with consumers entitled to benefits under the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund of 2001 were void under the federal Anti-Assignment Act and therefore loans subject to New York usury law)
  • Whether, even if the court dismissed the NYAG’s CFPA claims and found that it lacked jurisdiction to hear the NYAG’s state law claims based on the existence of an embedded federal law question, the court has nonetheless exercised its jurisdiction to retain supplemental jurisdiction over the state law claims

The NYAG observes that by staying the case as to the NYAG rather than dismissing all of its claims, “it appears that the Court has determined that it retains some jurisdiction over at least some claims.” (emphasis provided).  According to the NYAG, if the court has dismissed the NYAG’s CFPA claims in their entirety, “the NYAG may wish to seek leave to have the dismissal certified for interlocutory appeal in the hopes of having such an appeal consolidated with the CFPB’s so that all CFPA claims in this case might be reviewed at once.”  The NYAG also indicates that if the court has dismissed the NYAG’s CFPA claims entirely but retained jurisdiction over the state law claims, the NYAG may need to “seek vindication of its state law claims in state court” rather than wait for an appeal to be decided because of “the age and ill health of some of the New York residents who are victims in this case.”  Finally, the NYAG indicates that “giving the parties certainty about their positions will facilitate any settlement discussions that may take place during the stay.”

 

 

Weltman, Weinberg & Reis Co., L.P.A., the law firm that recently defeated the CFPB’s FDCPA lawsuit against it, has filed a motion seeking attorney’s fees of approximately $1.2 million from the CFPB.

After a four-day trial, the Ohio federal district court hearing the CFPB’s lawsuit, found that the CFPB had failed to prove its FDCPA and CFPA claims by a preponderance of the evidence.  The CFPB’s complaint alleged that the debt collection letters sent by Weltman, which were printed on the law firm’s letterhead, violated the FDCPA and CFPA because they falsely implied that attorneys were “meaningfully involved” in the collection of the debts.  Having found that the letters could be interpreted to imply meaningful involvement by an attorney, the court concluded that there was “meaningful[] and substantial[] involve[ment by Weltman attorneys] in the debt collection process both before and after the issuance of the demand letters.”

In its motion, Weltman asserts that “the Bureau’s blind pursuit of its groundless case cost Weltman dearly, both in terms of substantial expense Weltman incurred in its defense and the reputational harm that cost the firm valued clients and employees.”

Weltman’s motion seeks attorney’s fees pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act (“EAJA”), which permits a court to award “reasonable fees and expenses of attorneys” to the prevailing party in a civil action brought by any agency of the United States “to the same extent that any other party would be liable under the common law or under the terms of any statute which specifically provides for such an award.” 28 U.S.C. § 2412(b).  Weltman asserts that “the EAJA puts the United States on equal footing with private litigants under common law and statute,” and that courts applying this provision have held the government to the same good faith standard expected of all parties to litigation.  According to Weltman, Section 2412(b) of the EAJA “permits a court to sanction the United States and its agencies for attorney’s fees under th[e] common law ‘bad faith’ exception to the American Rule that each party bears its own attorney’s fees.”

Weltman argues that, as the prevailing party, it is entitled to its reasonable attorney’s fees “because the Bureau prosecuted this action in bad faith.”  It asserts that “the Bureau knew, or should have known, that its claims lacked merit long before it even filed the Complaint.”  It claims that based on the more than two-year investigation of Weltman that the Bureau conducted, “the Bureau knew no consumer had been harmed, misled, or confused by Weltman’s practice of truthfully identifying itself as a law firm.”

Ballard Spahr attorneys have successfully pursued attorney’s fees claims against federal government agencies under the EAJA as well as attorney’s fees claims against state government agencies under other federal statutes, such as Section 1988(b) of the Civil Rights Act.  This provision entitles a “prevailing party” in a Civil Rights Act lawsuit to recover its reasonable attorney’s fees and expenses from the losing party.  Several years ago, our client brought a Civil Rights Act lawsuit against a state’s banking regulator in which it successfully argued that the regulator’s attempt to apply its laws to our client’s loans was precluded by the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.  That state subsequently paid our client $440,000 to resolve its petition seeking attorney’s fees as a “prevailing party” in a Civil Rights Act lawsuit.

Judge Preska has entered an order granting the CFPB’s request for entry of a Rule 54(b) judgment to allow the CFPB to appeal her June 21 constitutionality ruling to the Second Circuit.  Although Judge Preska’s order denies RD Legal’s request that she certify the remainder of her ruling for interlocutory appeal, it grants RD Legal’s request to stay the district court proceedings pending the outcome of the CFPB’s appeal.

In her June 21 ruling, Judge Preska held that that the CFPB’s single-director-removable-only-for-cause structure is unconstitutional, struck the CFPA (Title X of Dodd-Frank) in its entirety, dismissed the CFPB from the case, and allowed the New York Attorney General to proceed with its CFPA and state law claims.  RD Legal had argued that Judge Preska’s dismissal of the CFPB from the case and striking of Dodd-Frank Title X necessitated her dismissal of the NYAG’s CFPA claims against RD Legal.  Accordingly, it had asked Judge Preska to dismiss the NYAG’s federal claims with prejudice and dismiss the NYAG’s state law claims for lack of federal subject matter jurisdiction without prejudice to their being refiled in state court.

While denying RD Legal’s request to certify her ruling on the NYAG’s claims for interlocutory appeal, Judge Preska’s order appears to implicitly accept RD Legal’s argument that her constitutionality ruling, if upheld by the Second Circuit, would require dismissal of the NYAG’s CFPA claims.  She stated that “[t]he controlling question of law as to the Court’s subject matter jurisdiction, and thus to the order dismissing the CFPB, relates to the constitutionality of the CFPB’s structure….Assuming that the CFPB proceeds with its stated intention of appealing this Court’s June 21, 2018 Order dismissing its claims against the RD Legal Parties, the final disposition of that appeal alone will ‘materially advance the ultimate termination of the litigation’ because it will bring certainty to the parties in their litigation of the federal issues presented.  The same cannot be said for the state law issues.  By and large, they are well-settled.”  (As discussed in a prior blog post, we think the logic used by the court in concluding that the transactions at issue were disguised loans was erroneous.)

The NYAG had opposed RD Legal’s request for a stay of the district court proceedings pending the outcome of the CFPB’s appeal.  In explaining her rationale for granting a stay, Judge Preska stated that “[a] stay will avoid the possibility of prejudice to the parties and will mitigate the expense and practical difficulties Defendants would face if tasked with defending two overlapping trials at once.”

A CFPB appeal of Judge Preska’s constitutionality ruling to the Second Circuit means that two circuits will be actively considering the CFPB’s constitutionality, thereby increasing the likelihood of this issue coming before the U.S. Supreme Court in the next year or so.  The issue of the CFPB’s constitutionality is currently before the Fifth Circuit in the interlocutory appeal of All American Check Cashing from the district court’s ruling upholding the CFPB’s constitutionality.  American Check Cashing has filed a petition asking the Fifth Circuit to hear its interlocutory appeal en banc as an initial matter.  A third circuit, the D.C. Circuit, held in its January 2018 en banc PHH decision that the CFPB’s structure is constitutional.

The CFPB, in a decision and order signed by Acting Director Mulvaney, has denied the petition filed by Firstsource Advantage, LLC (Firstsource) to modify or set aside a civil investigative demand (CID) (Petition) that was issued under the leadership of former Director Cordray.  The CFPB did, however, grant Firstsource’s request to redact portions of the Petition that contained confidential supervisory information.  Acting Director Mulvaney’s decision demonstrates that despite the protestations of consumer advocates and some politicians, the CFPB under Mr. Mulvaney’s leadership is continuing to pursue investigations launched under former Director Cordray.

According to the Petition, there was “full compliance” by Firstsource  with the first CID issued by the Bureau to Firstsource in April 2017. A second CID was issued in September 2017 and contained a Notification of Purpose which stated that the CID had been issued “to determine whether debt collectors, depository institutions, or other persons have engaged or are engaging in unlawful acts and practices in connection with the collection of debt in violation of [the CFPA, the FDCPA] or any other Federal consumer financial law.”

In its Petition, Firstsource argued that the second CID should be set aside for reasons that included: (1) the FDCPA violations asserted by the Bureau are not actionable under the bona fide error rule, (2) the issuance of the CID was outside the Bureau’s Dodd-Frank authority because it had not identified (and cannot identify) any legally cognizable reason to believe Firstsource violated the FDCPA, (3) the Notification of Purpose was written in a vague and formulaic fashion, and (3) Firstsource had already produced data and documents to the Bureau.

The Bureau refused to set aside the CID, stating that “an entity’s fact-based arguments about whether it has complied with substantive provisions of the CFPA or any other enumerated consumer law, such as the FDCPA, are not valid defenses to the enforcement of a CID.”  With regard to Firstsource’s argument that the CID’s issuance was outside the Bureau’s Dodd-Frank authority, the Bureau stated that, even if Firstsource’s assertion were true, the applicable standard only requires a CID “to state the nature of the conduct constituting the alleged violation under investigation and the provision of law applicable to such violation.”  It also found that the CID’s Notification of Purpose was adequate despite its use of broad terms because it identified the conduct at issue (debt collection) and made clear that this was the conduct being investigated.

In rejecting Firstsource’s argument that it had already produced data and documents to the Bureau, the Bureau stated that Firstsource had identified “no authority that precludes a law enforcement agency from making follow-up requests for information.”

Firstsource also argued that as an alternative to setting aside the CID in its entirety, the CID should be modified for reasons that included: (1) the CID was disproportionate because it was unlikely to serve an investigatory purpose and imposed an unnecessary burden on Firstsource because the Bureau could have requested a sampling approach to the recordings of calls it requested, and (2) the requested recordings were time-barred under the FDCPA.  The CFPB rejected both of Firstsource’s arguments for why the CID was disproportionate, stating that Firstsource’s belief that it had not violated the law did not make the Bureau’s investigation improper and that Firstsource’s request for a sampling approach was untimely because it had not been made during the meet-and-confer process.

With respect to Firstsource’s argument that the requested recordings were time-barred, the Bureau stated that even assuming potential FDCPA claims were time-barred, the Notification of Purpose made clear that the Bureau was also investigating whether there had been CFPA violations which are subject to a 3-year statute of limitations that runs from discovery of the violation. Thus, the CFPA statute of limitations would not have begun to run if a CFPA violation had not yet been discovered and the Bureau was seeking the recordings to determine whether there had been a violation.

On September 11, 2018, from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. ET, Ballard Spahr attorneys will hold a webinar, “The CFPB Under Mulvaney: What Has Really Changed?”  The webinar registration form is available here.