Several individuals and organizations filed amicus briefs in support of the CFPB in the en banc rehearing in the PHH case. Among the amici is a brief filed by current and former members of Congress, including Chris Dodd and Barney Frank, the principal architects and namesakes of the Dodd-Frank Act, which created the CFPB. Senator Sherrod Brown and Representative Maxine Waters, both of whom previously sought to intervene, joined the brief as well.

The current and former members of Congress assert that the structure of the CFPB is constitutional and critical to the congressional design of Dodd-Frank. They stress the importance of the CFPB’s “independence” and the ability of a single director “to avoid the delay and gridlock to which multi-member agencies are susceptible.” These themes are repeated throughout the brief.

Of course, the flipside of independence is unaccountability. The CFPB’s structure heavily shields it from the consequences of an election. The ability of voters to voice their approval or disapproval with the CFPB’s enforcement and rulemaking is far lower than that of other important agencies such as the EPA. And although a single director may be able to move more swiftly than a multi-member commission, faster is not always better. Before a multi-member commission reaches a decision, it must debate the matter internally among a group of commissioners with diverse perspectives and experiences. That internal debate arguably has the ability to produce a better, more efficient outcome than any individual commissioner would be able to reach on their own. Indeed, input from multiple commissioners is particularly valuable to an agency like the CFPB that relies more heavily on enforcement actions than notice-and-comment rulemaking to effect industry-wide change.

A group of financial regulation scholars likewise submitted a brief in support of the CFPB’s position, focused entirely on the constitutionality of the CFPB’s structure. The scholars’ brief is, not surprisingly, more esoteric than many of the other briefs submitted in the case. Unlike the CFPB, the scholars concede that its structure is “novel,” but argue that the novel structure is evidence of a creative legislative approach to an issue, not evidence that it is unconstitutional. The brief then attempts to argue two seemingly inconsistent positions: 1) that the CFPB’s independence is necessary to prevent regulatory capture, but 2) the CFPB is subject to significant oversight.

The scholars’ regulatory capture argument is particularly weak. They claim that three features of the CFPB’s structure are key to preventing business interests from capturing the CFPB: “non-appropriated funding; a for-cause removal standard; and a single director.” The scholars correctly note that industry funding can create regulatory capture in the classical sense in that the regulated industry has direct control over the agency’s funding. That argument has no relevance to the actual issue in this case, however, since the real controversy is whether the CFPB should be subject to Congressional appropriations, not whether it should be industry funded.

The scholars then switch from capture theory to public-choice theory to argue that Congressional appropriation is unwise because concentrated industry groups have greater influence over Congress and the Executive Branch than individual consumers. In making this argument, the scholars focus not on industry capture of the CFPB but of the entire Legislative and Executive Branches. And the activities with which the scholars take issue – lobbying and campaign contributions – are key First Amendment activities. The scholars therefore argue that the CFPB’s structure is necessary because members of the public might exercise their First Amendment rights successfully to oppose the actions of the CFPB.

The scholars then undercut their legislative-and-executive-capture argument completely in the next session of their brief, in which they argue that the CFPB is, in fact, subject to extensive legislative oversight and control. This argument is wholly inconsistent with the prior argument that the CFPB is completely independent and thus immune from capture. Namely, if the CFPB is subject to extensive oversight and control, then it is also subject to Legislative-and-Executive capture.

A group of separation of powers scholars likewise filed an amicus brief heavy on theory. As their name suggests, the separation of powers scholars focus on whether the single director, removable-for-cause feature of the CFPB violates constitutional separation of powers principals. The brief firsts undertakes an originalist-style historical analysis of early federal-and-state executive agencies. Next, the scholars argue that the number of commissioners is irrelevant to the constitutional analysis. Then, they argue that the for-cause removability feature leaves enough Presidential discretion over the CFPB Director to preserve its constitutionality.

Finally, in a preview of arguments likely designed to drive a wedge between Justice Kennedy and other members of the Supreme Court, Chief Justice Roberts in particular, the scholars argue that abstract concerns over the protection of “individual liberty” and separation of powers do not supply independent constitutional bases to invalidate the CFPB structure. Instead, they argue that the structure must violate a specific constitutional provision, not an abstract ideal. This particular line of argument will likely receive greater attention if the constitutional issues reach the Supreme Court, as there are different views regarding it among the conservative majority.

A host of “consumer and civil rights organizations who advocated for the CFPB’s creation,” many of which unsuccessfully sought to intervene, filed a brief that mainly covers public policy arguments in favor of the CFPB’s structure. They essentially argue that the CFPB has succeeded where other agencies failed in terms of protecting consumers.

The AARP also filed an amicus brief in support of the CFPB’s position. Unlike other amici, however, the AARP brief focused more on the RESPA issues in the case than the more esoteric constitutional issues. The AARP claimed that kickbacks and “junk fees” have a disproportionate impact on older individuals.  It argued that older individuals are often the target of “unscrupulous mortgage lending practices,” which increases the cost of homeownership to older individuals by several thousand dollars. After the policy-heavy introduction, the brief tackles the history and purpose of the RESPA provisions at issue, which we blogged about in detail.

Although the constitutional issues received the most attention in the press, the RESPA issues discussed in the AARP brief could very well be more important to the outcome of the appeal. The court could reverse the district court on the RESPA issues and invoke the doctrine of constitutional avoidance to decline to reach the overall constitutionality of the CFPB’s structure.

On March 31, the CFPB and supporting amici submitted their briefs in the en banc rehearing of the PHH case. We have blogged extensively about the PHH case in which the D.C. Circuit is grappling with four critical issues: (i) whether the CFPB’s structure is constitutional (the CFPB says, yes), (ii) whether administrative actions brought by the CFPB are subject to a statute of limitations (the CFPB says, no), (iii) whether the CFPB’s interpretation of RESPA is correct (the CFPB says, yes), and (iv) whether the CFPB’s interpretation of RESPA, which differs from HUD’s historical interpretation, can be applied retroactively (the CFPB says, yes). We’ll focus here on the CFPB’s constitutional arguments.

The CFPB’s main argument is that under Humphry’s Executory and its progeny, there is only one relevant question to determining whether its structure is constitutional: Is its structure “of such a nature that [it] impede[s] the President’s ability to perform his constitutional duty” to take care that the laws are faithfully executed? It insists that the  D.C. Circuit panel erred in undertaking “’an additional inquiry’ into whether an agency’s structure somehow threatens individual liberty.”

This is, of course, a strained argument. On the one hand the CFPB grants that its structure is a “departure from tradition” in that “most independent agencies[, like the FTC,] have been headed by multi-member commissions.” Yet, at the same time, the CFPB argues that the D.C. Circuit must slavishly apply precedents such as Humphry’s Executor which address (and, indeed, create) the “traditional” structure of independent agencies. It seems obvious that a different structure demands a different analysis.

In making this argument, the CFPB ignores the underlying separation of powers issue by insisting that the protections for individual liberty in the structure of other independent agencies are irrelevant to the constitutional analysis.  Counsel for PHH put it succinctly in recent testimony before a Senate sub-committee. Quoting James Madison, he pointed out that the consolidation of executive, judicial, and legislative power in one person is the “very definition of tyranny.”  By constituting other independent agencies as commissions, Congress prevented that consolidation and avoided the very problem the U.S. structure of government was designed to prevent. Yet, the CFPB argues that the commission and single-director structures are “indistinguishable” from a constitutional perspective.

The CFPB also ignores other features of agencies with a  commission structure that  make them more likely to operate as “independent” agencies, a precondition to the courts’ acceptance of their constitutionality. For example, no more than three of the FTC’s five commissioners can be of the same political party. As a result, the decision-making body at the FTC is required to receive input from those with differing views.  Not so with the CFPB director. He can set an agenda driven by the politics of his party without any check on his authority, even if that agenda is completely contrary to that of the President. This too is irrelevant from the CFPB’s perspective.

The CFPB has posted on its TILA-RESPA implementation webpage updated versions of its Small Entity Compliance Guide and Guide to Loan Estimate and Closing Disclosure Forms.  The updates focus on various guidance provided in recent TILA/RESPA Integrated Disclosure (TRID) rule webinars provided by the Bureau.  We have previously addressed the content of the March 1, 2016 and April 12, 2016 webinars.

Among the changes, the CFPB added the following language to the second Guide, apparently to address the issue in the industry regarding whether same payment range must be disclosed in multiple columns for an adjustable rate loan when a rate change can move the payment within the disclosed range, even though the payment range remains the same:

Adjustable Rate loans – the Projected Payments table will have a new column, up to a maximum of four columns, for each scheduled rate adjustment. Because the Principal & Interest amount may change each time the rate is scheduled to adjust, a new column is required, up to a maximum of four columns. There is a new column, up to a maximum of four columns, even if the range of payments will stay the same. For example, there is a new column, up to a maximum of four columns, even when the range will stay the same because the range is the minimum and maximum interest rate caps listed in the contract. (Comment 37(c)(1)(i)(A)-1).”

The D.C. Circuit issued its long-awaited decision in PHH Corporation v. CFPB. In reversing the decision of Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) Director Cordray to impose an enhanced penalty of $109 million on PHH for its use of a captive (wholly-owned) mortgage reinsurer, the court made several landmark rulings.

First, it held that the CFPB’s single-director-removable-only-for-cause structure is unconstitutional. The court held that it was a violation of Article II for the CFPB to lack the “critical check” of presidential control or the “substitute check” of a multi-member governance structure necessary to protect individual liberty against “arbitrary decisionmaking and abuse of power.” The court remedied this constitutional defect by severing the removal-only-for-cause provision from the Dodd-Frank Act. Under the ruling, Director Cordray now serves at the will of the President and is subject to supervision and management by the President. In a footnote, the court acknowledged that this may create some fallout in other cases, but left it for other courts to address.

It also rejected the CFPB’s argument that statutes of limitations do not apply to its administrative enforcement actions. The court’s holding was straightforward: If Congress had intended to alter the standard statute of limitations scheme, it would have said so. “[W]e would expect Congress to actually say that there is no statute of limitations for CFPB administrative actions . . . But the text of Dodd-Frank says no such thing.”

In addition, the court 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. This is consistent with HUD’s prior interpretation. 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 court rejected this on the ground that the statute unambiguously allows the kinds of payments that the CFPB’s 2015 interpretation prohibited. We have blogged about the CFPB’s erroneous interpretation of the RESPA provisions at issue in this case.

Finally, the court further admonished the CFPB by alternatively holding that—even assuming that the CFPB’s interpretation was permitted under any reading of RESPA—the CFPB’s attempt to retroactively apply its 2015 interpretation, which departed from HUD’s prior interpretation, violated due process. It held that “the CFPB violated due process by retroactively applying that new interpretation to PHH’s conduct that occurred before the date of the CFPB’s new interpretation.”

Notably, the court explicitly declined to address the CFPB’s claim that each mortgage insurance payment made in violation of RESPA triggers a new three-year statute of limitations for that payment. The CFPB’s view on this point was one basis that allowed it to dramatically increase the penalties it sought from PHH. The court’s decision not to address this point in its opinion makes it likely that this will not be the last circuit court opinion required to resolve the case.

The opinion of the court also did not address one aspect of the CFPB Director’s prior decision that disgorgement of the entire amount of the premiums was required, without an offset for the claims paid, which had also added considerably to the penalty amount. The court states in footnote 24 that if a mortgage insurer paid more than reasonable market value for reinsurance, the disgorgement remedy is the amount that was paid above reasonable market value. The court did not expressly address the Director’s approach of ignoring the claims paid. The concurring/dissenting opinion by Judge Henderson does address this point, however, indicating that disgorgement must be reduced by the claims paid.

Because the opinion did not dismantle the CFPB, the court remanded the case to the CFPB for consideration of whether PHH violated RESPA as interpreted by HUD.

The CFPB has posted on its website an updated index to include the various questions regarding the TILA/RESPA Integrated Disclosure (TRID) rule that were addressed during the March 1, 2016 and April 12, 2016 webinars on the rule conducted by CFPB staff. The updated index identifies the questions addressed in all seven of the TRID rule webinars conducted by CFPB staff.

The index includes a link to the CFPB webpage that has links to the recordings of all the previous webinars.  Also, the reference date of the applicable webinar that addresses each question is linked to the Table of Contents for that webinar.

On June 23, PHH filed a letter in the D.C. Circuit supplementing its appeal briefing in PHH Corp v. CFPB, No. 15-1177. For those of you who may have missed our prior posts on this, PHH is appealing a decision made by CFPB Director Richard Cordray while sitting as the CFPB’s administrative appellate judge. In that capacity, Cordray held that PHH violated RESPA in connection with a captive mortgage reinsurance arrangement. In the appeal before the D.C. Circuit, the CFPB argues that Director Cordray’s interpretation of RESPA section 8(c)(2), which is central to the Director’s decision, is entitled to Chevron deference.

In its original appeal briefing, PHH vigorously opposed the application of Chevron deference to Director Cordray’s interpretation of RESPA section 8(c)(2). The Director determined the RESPA section 8(c)(2) is not an exemption from the broad referral fee prohibition of RESPA section 8(a).  PHH argued that deference only applies if the “normal tools of statutory construction” fail to produce a clear outcome. It further argued that, because RESPA is also a criminal statute, any ambiguities must be resolved in PHH’s favor under the Rule of Lenity.

In its June 23 supplement, PHH argued that the Supreme Court’s June 20 decision in Encino Motorcars,LLC v. Navarro, No. 15-415 is yet another reason not to apply Chevron deference to Director Cordray’s decision. In Encino, the Court addressed a Department of Labor (DOL) final rule under which automobile dealer service advisors are not covered by an exemption from the requirement to pay overtime pursuant to the Fair Labor Standards Act.  The Court held that the DOL interpretation in the final rule, which is opposite of the DOL position on the issue for more than 20 years preceding the rule, is not entitled to deference because of the reliance of the automobile industry on the prior position and because the DOL “gave almost no reasons” for the change.

Like the DOL position in the final rule that was at issue in Encino, Director Cordray’s decision went counter to previously-published guidance interpreting RESPA section 8(c)(2) as an exemption to the RESPA section 8(a) referral fee prohibition. Before the CFPB came into existence, HUD enforced RESPA. HUD interpreted RESPA section 8(c)(2) as an exemption to RESPA section 8(a), and had provided informal guidance on how lenders could establish mortgage reinsurance arrangements in compliance with RESPA. When PHH’s case was before the CFPB, PHH argued that it relied on these HUD interpretations. Director Cordray, however, summarily dismissed the reliance arguments as unpersuasive. PHH argues that, under Encino, Cordray’s unreasoned dismissal is fatal to the application of Chevron deference to his decision.

In emails sent to CFPB email subscription holders, the CFPB announced the publication of new annotated versions of the Loan Estimate and Closing Disclosure that include citations to sections in Chapter 2 of the Truth in Lending Act (TILA). The CFPB sent an original email on May 12, and then an updated email on May 13 that includes a direct link to the annotated forms. The emails provide that the citations are to TILA sections referenced in the Integrated Mortgage Disclosure final rule.

The use of the Loan Estimate and Closing Disclosure are required by the TILA/RESPA Integrated Disclosure (TRID) rule which became effective October 3, 2015. The rule incorporates both RESPA and TILA disclosure requirements, and the requirements are set forth in Regulation Z under TILA. Based on the varying nature of liability under RESPA and TILA, the CFPB addressed in the preamble to the TRID rule the sections of TILA, RESPA and/or the Dodd-Frank Act that it used as legal authority for the various TRID rule sections.

Unfortunately, the CFPB may have done more harm than good. For example, as we have previously addressed, in a December 29, 2015 letter to the MBA, Director Cordray addressed TRID rule liability concerns. The Director noted that “As a general matter, consistent with existing [TILA] principles, liability for statutory and class action damages would be assessed with reference to the final closing disclosure issued, not to the loan estimate, meaning that a corrected closing disclosure could, in many cases, forestall any such private liability.” The industry took this to mean that in many cases errors in the Loan Estimate could be cured through a correct Closing Disclosure. However, by issuing a Loan Estimate with citations to TILA sections the CFPB appears to have raised the issue of whether there is TILA liability for Loan Estimate errors.

Also, the annotated disclosures provide that both the Adjustable Payment (AP) Table and Adjustable Interest Rate (AIR) Table were adopted based on TILA section 128(b)(2)(C)(ii). However, the preamble to the TRID rule reflects that only the AP Table was adopted based on such section, and that the AIR Table was adopted based on general CFPB rulemaking authority.

As we reported, recently the CFPB also announced its intention to re-open the rulemaking corresponding with the TRID rule. Perhaps the CFPB can use the rulemaking initiative to better address industry concerns regarding TRID rule liability.

The CFPB recently published a fact sheet for small creditors operating in rural or underserved areas. As we have reported, the CFPB issued a final rule, which became effective on January 1, 2016, revising the definitions of “small creditor” and “rural areas” under Regulation Z of the Truth in Lending Act (TILA). Regulation Z allows small creditors operating in rural or underserved areas to make balloon-payment qualified mortgage loans (under the ability to repay rule) and balloon-payment high cost mortgages, and may avoid the escrow account requirement for certain higher priced mortgage loans. The fact sheet explains the changes made to these definitions. The fact sheet also refers to the application process for requesting a county or census block to be designed as rural, which we previously addressed.

The CFPB also published a small creditor qualified mortgage flowchart reflecting the rules in effect as of April 1, 2016. The chart addresses small creditor qualification, loan features, balloon payment features, underwriting, points and fees, portfolio, and compliance presumption factors. Our discussion of some of these factors can be found here.

The factsheet and chart can be found under “Quick references” on the CFPB Compliance & Guidance page, at this link.

In a letter dated April 28, 2016, addressed to Industry Trades and their Members and signed by Director Cordray, the CFPB announced its intention to reopen the rulemaking for the TILA/RESPA Integrated Disclosure (TRID) rule. The Bureau announced the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) would likely be issued in late July. In a change of tone from previous Bureau communications reiterating refusals to issue official guidance, the letter stated the Bureau’s intention to incorporate previous informal guidance, including “webinars and indices” into the NPRM in an effort to provide greater certainty and clarity.   The letter cited the declining time it takes to close a given loan as evidence of improving implementation, but also acknowledged operational challenges created by technical problems and uncertainty. Finally, the letter noted that the Bureau will “continue to be sensitive to the progress made by those entities that have squarely focused on making good-faith efforts to come into compliance with the [TRID] rule.”

The CFPB responded to a letter from Senator Corker (R. Tenn.) requesting the Bureau to release official guidance on what constitutes a technical error under the TILA/RESPA Integrated Disclosure (TRID) rule and possible remediation methods for such errors. Senator Corker commented in his letter that “there appears to be an overarching concern that the rule’s lack of specificity and clarity has created challenges for a number of market participants;” and observed that “the lack of clarity around what constitutes a technical error and the curability of those errors by the CFPB has led to confusion throughout the market.”

The Bureau’s response, issued by Director Cordray and dated April 7, 2016, responds item-by-item to the Senator’s concerns, summarizing Bureau resources addressing the areas of concern raised by Senator Corker. Included within these resources are recent webinars covering construction loan disclosures and frequent post-implementation questions. However, except for summarizing the various methods by which the Bureau has issued unofficial guidance and the TRID rule cure provisions, Director Cordray was unwilling to commit to providing any official guidance on these or any other areas of industry concern.