In the first court decision to opine on the “service provider” and “substantial assistance” provisions of the Dodd-Frank Act, a federal district court in Georgia denied a motion to dismiss brought by payments processors who had been sued by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”) for their role in an alleged phantom debt collection scheme. The decision addresses two novel areas of the CFPB’s jurisdiction – its ability to enforce the prohibition against unfair, deceptive, and abusive acts and practices (“UDAAPs”) against “service providers,” and its ability to go after those individuals and entities that “knowingly or recklessly provide substantial assistance” to the commission of a UDAAP. While grounded in the specific facts pled in the CFPB’s detailed complaint, the opinion nevertheless provides insight into how the federal courts may interpret these provisions, and serves as a warning sign to companies about the importance of implementing robust compliance programs.
By: Amy L. Groff
The misclassification of employees as independent contractors continues to be a hot issue and to receive attention at the state and federal levels. Recently, the U.S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division (“DOL”) published new guidance addressing misclassification, emphasizing the broad scope of employment under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), and summarily concluding that most workers are employees covered by the FLSA. DOL plans to continue challenging these misclassifications through “robust” enforcement efforts across industries. Employers should expect scrutiny of their independent contractor classifications and should review their classifications to make sure they are appropriate.
If there is anything that galls servicers of government-insured loans, it is the forfeiture or curtailment of all accrued interest from mortgage insurance claims resulting from the failure to foreclose fast enough within artificially created state time lines. At first glance, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD” or the “Department”) listened to the complaints of servicers who argued that they should not be penalized for pursuing foreclosure avoidance options or experiencing delays in the legal system beyond their control. HUD’s proposed regulation regarding changes to the Federal Housing Administration’s (“FHA”) single-family mortgage insurance claim filing process includes proposals that pro rate the curtailment of interest based on actual delays caused by the servicer, proposing to eliminate the complete forfeiture of accrued interest for only one day of delay. So far, so good, but HUD did not stop there. HUD also proposed the complete extinguishment of an FHA insurance policy if the servicer does not complete foreclosure within a new set of artificial time lines. Read together, HUD’s reform is to provide servicers with more accrued interest if they do not foreclose fast enough, unless, of course, HUD invalidates the whole insurance policy—the loss of both principal and interest—by virtue of HUD’s subjective definition of unreasonable delays. Few servicers think that is progress.
This proposal raises significant questions and concerns for FHA mortgagees that hold and service FHA-insured loans, many of which could have a chilling effect on FHA lending and servicing activities if HUD were to implement the proposed claim filing deadline as proposed and without significant changes to HUD’s claim filing guidelines and procedures.
Last week, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) announced a settlement with Springstone Financial, LLC, for deceptive practices related to enrolling consumers in deferred-interest credit products. Springstone administered a health-financing program through which consumers could finance various medical treatments, including dental treatments. Consumers could apply for credit either through Springstone’s website or at their medical provider’s office. In the case of the latter, the health care providers’ staff — who were trained and monitored by Springstone — would provide consumers with application materials and assist them in filling out the application before submitting it to Springstone on consumers’ behalf. The CFPB’s claim centered on these providers. “In some cases,” according to the CFPB, dental staff allegedly told consumers that the deferred-interest product was a no-interest loan and failed to mention that a 22.98 percent interest rate would apply from the date of the loan if the loan balance was not paid in full by the end of the promotional period. The CFPB found these practices deceptive and determined that more than 3,200 consumers “may have been” affected by them. As a result, Springstone was ordered to provide $700,000 in restitution to the 3,200 consumers who ended up paying deferred interest on a loan they applied for with a health-care provider’s assistance. The CFPB did not assess a civil money penalty.
Grab a flotation device – the final decision recently issued by Director Richard Cordray of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”) in the administrative enforcement proceedings against PHH Corp. (“PHH”) has rocked the boat for the real estate settlement services industry as portions of the decision run directly counter to decades of legal precedent, and the prior writings and Policy Statements issued by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) – the federal agency previously tasked with interpreting the federal Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (“RESPA”) and enforcing its provisions. As K&L Gates summarized in its June 22, 2015 Alert, the decision addresses a number of topics, including Director Cordray’s interpretation of several provisions of the federal RESPA. And while many of the CFPB’s views and interpretations attempt to expand the scope of RESPA’s reach and are subject to criticism, one of the most significant developments is Director Cordray’s conclusion that Section 8(c)(2) of RESPA is not the type of safe harbor that has long been widely accepted.
In 2013, the CFPB filed a complaint against CashCall, Inc. and others, alleging that their conduct in collecting on payday loans that allegedly violated certain states’ usury and/or licensing requirements constituted unfair, deceptive and abusive acts and practices (UDAAPs) under federal law. Late last week, the CFPB struck again, filing suit against NDG Financial Corp. and others, making similar claims. The complaint against NDG, however, both expands the list of states where the CFPB alleges that collecting on a usurious and/or unlicensed payday loan is a UDAAP and changes the theory of abusiveness upon which the CFPB relies.
The original Payment Services Directive (2007/64/EC) (“PSD1”) was introduced to provide greater price transparency for users of payment services and to create a level, competitive playing field among providers of different types of payment service. Prior to implementation of PSD1, many types of payment service were not regulated, even if certain types of payment service provider, for example banks, were in some way regulated. However, since implementation of PSD1 in November 2009, the current regulatory regime has been unable to keep up with the pace of the fast moving payment services sector.
Two recent legislative developments, which have largely gone unnoticed, will dramatically raise the stakes for mortgage servicers and originators who file IRS Forms 1098. First, the Trade Preferences Extension Act of 2015, signed into law on June 29, 2015, more than doubled the financial penalties imposed for filing IRS Forms 1098 with incorrect information. Second, proposed legislation approved by the Senate Finance Committee on July 21, 2015 to extend certain expired tax provisions (a so-called “extenders bill”) would require servicers to include new information on IRS Form 1098. Although the extenders bill’s new required information may be relatively straightforward in basic situations, delinquent and modified loans present unique challenges. With the new increased penalties in place, the stakes to get it right have never been higher. Because there is scant IRS guidance upon which servicers may rely regarding various information reporting issues, it will be increasingly critical for the IRS to adhere to the legal standard that penalties do not apply when a servicer adopts and follows reasonable reporting methods in good faith.
While the Dodd-Frank Act turns five, today marks the fourth birthday of the CFPB. Despite a controversial start between recess appointments and enforcement attorneys at examinations, the CFPB has come a long way since its inception. The Bureau has brought more than 90 enforcement actions, filed numerous complaints, and obtained countless supervisory agreements in its four short years. It has expanded its regulatory reach through the newly implemented mortgage servicing rules and nonbank supervisory program. Just recently, the CFPB issued its first agency decision in a contested administrative proceeding, resulting in a disgorgement figure nearly 17 times the amount originally recommended in the proceeding. The CFPB has fundamentally changed the consumer finance landscape through its regulatory, enforcement, and supervisory activities. Here we highlight a few ways that the CFPB has made a difference in the areas of nonbank supervision; consumer complaints; unfair, deceptive, and abusive acts and practices; and individual liability.
On July 14, 2015, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia denied defendants’ motion to dismiss the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) claims in CFPB v. Frederick J. Hanna & Associates. The CFPB’s complaint in this case alleges that the defendants, a law firm and its principals, operate “less like a law firm than a factory” that files tens of thousands of collection cases each year. The complaint alleges that the defendants filed over 350,000 collection suits each year, but that attorneys spend less than a minute reviewing and approving each suit. The CFPB’s complaint alleges that the lack of attorney involvement constitutes a violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act’s (FDCPA) and the Consumer Financial Protection Act’s (CFPA) prohibitions on deceptive practices because the collections actions filed by the defendants represented to consumers that attorneys were meaningfully involved in filing those actions when in fact they were not. The CFPB’s complaint also alleges that the defendants’ use of affidavits in which affiants represented they had personal knowledge of the validity and ownership of the debts violated these same statutes.