On March 22, 2016, the United States Supreme Court issued its first 4-4 split decision since the passing of Justice Antonin Scalia. In Hawkins v. Community Bank of Raymore, No. 14-520 (U.S. Mar. 22, 2016), the Court reviewed whether the Federal Reserve Board (“FRB”) exceeded its authority when it amended Regulation B, implementing the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (“ECOA”), to cover loan “guarantors” as loan “applicants.” In a per curiam opinion, the Court affirmed the determination of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit that (1) the plain language of ECOA excludes loan guarantors from the definition of loan applicants authorized to bring an antidiscrimination suit under the statute, and thus (2) the FRB’s conflicting amendment was not entitled to deference to be afforded to regulations that interpret silent or ambiguous statutory provisions. Yet, the Court’s even split means that Hawkins will be binding precedent only in the Eighth Circuit and not nationwide.
On March 9, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the U. S. Department of Labor (DOL) could issue a controversial “Administrator’s Interpretation,” which had concluded in 2010 that loan officers in the mortgage banking industry generally do not qualify as exempt from overtime under the administrative exemption of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The Supreme Court reversed a ruling of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit that had struck down the DOL administrative ruling. The Mortgage Bankers Association had challenged the 2010 Interpretation in court, arguing that because the DOL had previously issued an Opinion Letter in 2006 determining that loan officers could generally qualify as exempt from overtime under the administrative exemption, the DOL could not change its prior position without first issuing a written notice and allowing a comment period pursuant to the Administrative Procedure Act. However, the Supreme Court in a 9-0 decision ruled that because the 2006 DOL Opinion Letter was itself merely an interpretation of an existing rule and not a new rule with the force and effect of law, DOL could reverse its prior position and issue a new interpretation without a prior notice and comment rulemaking.
The United States Supreme Court has granted certiorari to decide whether the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (“ECOA”) excludes loan guarantors from the definition of “applicants” entitled to bring suit under the Act. See Hawkins v. Community Bank of Raymore, No. 14-520 (U.S. Mar. 2, 2015). Specifically, the Court will decide whether the Federal Reserve Board exceeded its authority in its 2003 amendment to Regulation B, the regulation implementing ECOA, to purportedly bring guarantors within the ambit of ECOA’s protection. The Court’s decision may have far-reaching implications for lenders extending credit guaranteed by a non-borrower.
On January 21, 2015, the United States Supreme Court heard oral argument in Texas Department of Housing & Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. (the “Texas DHCA case”). The case presents the question whether the Fair Housing Act recognizes a disparate-impact theory of liability. See Tex. Dep’t of Hous. & Cmty. Affairs v. The Inclusive Cmtys. Project, Inc., — S. Ct. —, 2014 WL 4916193 (Oct. 2, 2014) (No. 13-1371) (granting petition for writ of certiorari). Under that theory, a plaintiff may challenge a defendant’s policies or practices that are neutral on their face (that is, do not reflect any intent to discriminate) but that purportedly have a disproportionate effect on groups sharing certain statutorily-defined characteristics such as race or national origin. The Supreme Court has expressed strong interest in the issue, granting certiorari three times in the last four terms to decide the question, only to have the parties settle just before oral argument in the previous two matters. See Magner v. Gallagher, S. Ct. No. 10-1032, and Township of Mount Holly v. Mt. Holly Gardens Citizens in Action, Inc., S. Ct. No. 11-1507. At argument in the Texas DHCA case, the public was finally able to hear the nature of the Court’s interest in the issue.
On December 15, 2014, the United States Supreme Court held in Dart Cherokee Basin Operating Co., LLC v. Owens that a class action defendant need only allege the requisite amount of controversy “plausibly” in the notice of removal and need not provide evidence supporting the amount in controversy unless challenged by the plaintiff or questioned by the court.The Court’s holding is consistent with the requirement that a notice of removal contain only a “short and plain” statement setting forth the bases for removal. The decision resolves a significant circuit split regarding the pleading requirements imposed on removing defendants under the Class Action Fairness Act (“CAFA”).
Prior to Dart Cherokee, the majority of the circuits had either expressly held that a defendant need not present evidence of the amount in controversy with its notice of removal or that evidence of the amount in controversy submitted in opposition to a motion to remand would be considered even if it had been not presented in the notice of removal. The Tenth Circuit, however, declined Dart Cherokee’s petition for review of the district court’s decision, which had refused to consider evidence Dart Cherokee offered in response to a motion to remand based upon its holding that a defendant is required to submit evidence in support of removal at the time a notice of removal is filed.
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On November 24, 2014, K&L Gates filed a brief with the United States Supreme Court on behalf of the American Financial Services Association, the Consumer Mortgage Coalition, the Independent Community Bankers of America, and the Mortgage Bankers Association as amici curiae in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project, Inc., No. 13-1371. The case presents the question left unresolved by settlements in Magner v. Gallagher, No. 10-1032, and Township of Mount Holly v. Mt. Holly Gardens Citizens in Action, Inc., No. 11-1507, namely whether the Fair Housing Act recognizes a disparate-impact theory of liability. The brief supports the petitioners’ argument that the Act is properly read as being limited to cases of intentional discrimination and explains the negative impact of the disparate-impact theory on the residential mortgage lending industry. A copy of the brief is available here. The Court will hear oral argument in the case on January 21, 2015.
In an increasingly complex battle among the branches of the federal government, the Solicitor General recently urged the Supreme Court to deny certiorari in the appeal titled Township of Mount Holly, New Jersey v. Mt. Holly Gardens Citizens in Action, Inc., et al., No. 11-1507. The Mt. Holly matter seeks review of whether the Fair Housing Act recognizes a disparate impact theory of discrimination and if so, how courts are to analyze such claims. A disparate impact theory imposes liability on defendants for actions that are undertaken without discriminatory intent but that nonetheless have a disproportionately harmful effect on particular groups of individuals. The Supreme Court had previously granted certiorari to review these same questions in the appeal titled Magner v. Gallagher, No. 10-1032, which appeal the defendants subsequently withdrew under circumstances garnering review by Congress.