On August 17, 2017, the Eleventh Circuit issued an opinion in Steven Bivens v. Select Portfolio Servicing, Inc. (No. 16-15119), holding that a borrower must send requests for information to a mortgage servicer’s designated addressed before a servicer’s duty to respond under the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act are triggered. Lenders should take note of this decision because it indicates that the Eleventh Circuit will require plaintiffs to strictly comply with the terms of that statute before holding banks or mortgage servicers liable under that statute.
Earlier this month, in Schweitzer v. Comenity Bank, the Eleventh Circuit held that a consumer can partially revoke consent to be called under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), This decision will only further complicate the already complex and treacherous net of liability cast by that statute.
A recent Supreme Court decision may allow defendants to avoid lawsuits in distant courts that have little or no connection to the lawsuit, especially in cases (such as mass actions) where the claims of out-of-state plaintiffs are joined with those of in-state plaintiffs. In Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court of California, San Francisco Cty., — U.S. —, 137 S. Ct. 1773, 1775 (2017), the Supreme Court held that a California state court did not have personal jurisdiction to adjudicate claims against a drug company, at least for the plaintiffs who were not California residents and who had not alleged a connection between the alleged injury and the state of California. While law school civil procedure professors spend weeks covering personal jurisdiction, the defense rarely appears in real-world practice because most plaintiffs’ attorneys are smart enough to avoid a fight over jurisdiction. Thus, defendants may give this defense only cursory consideration at the outset of a lawsuit. Following Bristol-Myers, defendants may want to more carefully consider the personal jurisdiction defense as a way to avoid litigation in a hostile forum.
Continue Reading Defendants should consider personal jurisdiction defense following Supreme Court decision, especially when the claims of out-of-state plaintiffs are joined with those of in-state plaintiffs.
The Dodd Frank Act expressly provided that any CFPB rule on arbitration would not apply to existing contracts. 12 U.S.C. § 5518(d). Therefore, the CFPB rule released last week will only bar class action waivers for contracts “entered into after” the applicable date for the regulation (60 days after publication of the rule in the Federal Register and then 180 days after that date).
However, the CFPB has taken an aggressive position on what is an existing contract. Therefore, for existing customers, lenders and other “covered persons” will need to examine every change in any product or services they offer that is subject to the arbitration rule. If any “new product or service” is given to an existing customer, the new regulation applies to that product or service even if it is covered by the terms of an existing contract (assuming that the new product or service is within the scope of the rule). In such a case, the lender would need to amend the previous agreement or provide a new agreement for the new product and could not rely on the arbitration clause to avoid a class action.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) recently finalized various updates to its mortgage disclosure rule, often referred to as “Know Before You Owe” or the TILA-RESPA Integrated Disclosures (TRID). The updates were proposed approximately one year ago. They include technical corrections, formal guidance, and a few substantive changes. Some of the changes include:
- Adding tolerance provisions for total payments that track existing TILA requirements regarding finance charges
- Expanding the scope of certain exemptions for housing assistance loans
- Applying TRID to all cooperative units, regardless of whether the cooperative units are classified as real property under state law
- Providing guidance on sharing information with third parties
The new rule takes effect 60 days after publication in the Federal Register, but compliance is not mandatory until October 1, 2018. A copy of the final rule is available here.
Notably absent from the final rule is guidance on the “black hole”—the period of time between issuing the Closing Disclosure and the actual closing date when, in certain instances, lenders may be prevented from resetting tolerances (and passing on closing cost increases to the borrower). The amendments as originally proposed included a potential fix for this problem. However, the CFPB decided not to adopt the fix based on conflicting comments that it received. Instead, the CFPB issued a new proposed rule (with a new comment period) to address the “black hole” issue. A copy of the proposed rule is available here.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) issued a rule on Monday prohibiting class action waivers in arbitration provisions of certain consumer contracts. The rule—to be codified at 12 C.F.R. § 1040—also requires covered businesses to submit records to the CFPB regarding any arbitration filed by or against their customers regarding covered products and services. The provided records will be made public and hosted by the CFPB on a searchable database. The likely impact of this rule (should it be allowed to go into effect) will be significant for financial institutions and dramatically alter their relationships with their customers.
The Eleventh Circuit recently clarified that sending periodic mortgage statements following a debtor’s bankruptcy discharge is not misleading to the “least sophisticated consumer.” In Helman v. Bank of America, 15-13672, 2017 WL 1350728 (11th Cir. April 12, 2017) Gayle Helman filed suit, alleging that Bank of America violated the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act (FDCPA), Florida Consumer Collection Practices Act (FCCPA), and other state laws when it sent Ms. Helman periodic mortgage statements after her mortgage loan was discharged in bankruptcy. She claimed that the statements unlawfully attempted to collect a discharged debt and that such communications would be misleading to the least sophisticated consumer because it suggested she remained liable for the debt.
In a victory for defendants, the Eleventh Circuit recently agreed that a mere procedural violation—the kind of injury that has become the favorite of the plaintiffs’ bar—is insufficient to confer Article III standing. More specifically, the Eleventh Circuit concluded that a certified return receipt will satisfy a lender’s obligation under Regulation X to provide written acknowledgment of a request for information within five days. Though this decision is unpublished, it is persuasive authority that may guide the district courts within the Eleventh Circuit.
In Meeks v. Ocwen Loan Servicing, LLC, No. 16-15536, Charles Meeks sent a Request for Information to his mortgage servicer via certified mail. The servicer’s agent signed the return receipt the same day the request was received. The receipt was then returned to the Meeks’ counsel. Several months later, Meeks sued the servicer and attached the certified receipt to his complaint.
Meeks asserted two claims against the servicer: (1) the servicer violated Regulation X by not sending him written acknowledgment of the Request for Information within 5 days and (2) that the servicer had shown a reckless disregard for the requirements of Regulation X. After the case was removed, the district court dismissed the first count for failure to state a claim and the second count for lack of standing. On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed.
The Court pointed out that no other circuit court has considered whether a certified receipt satisfies the written response obligation under Regulation X. Rather than engage in a lengthy legal analysis, the Court focused on the undisputed facts. Because there was no serious dispute that Meeks had received the certified receipt, Meeks had failed to state a claim under Regulation X. Put another way, a failure to send a notice of acknowledgment is unnecessary when the undisputed evidence shows that the borrower knew the request had been received.
More important, the Court concluded that Meeks lacked standing to bring a pattern or practice claim. Pointing to the Supreme Court’s decision in Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, 136 S. Ct. 1540, 1548-49 (2016), the Court noted that an injury must be both concrete and particularized in order to confer Article III standing. Meeks had not suffered an injury because it was undisputed that he had received the return receipt. Even though Meeks argued that this receipt was deficient under Regulation X, the Eleventh Circuit held that this deficiency was nothing more than “a bare procedural violation” that was insufficient to create a “real, concrete injury.”
Meeks is important for two reasons. First, it holds that a procedural deficiency alone—here, the failure to send a written acknowledgment within five days—is insufficient to confer standing when the undisputed evidence shows that the deficiency caused no injury to the plaintiff. On this point, Meeks is in tension with another unpublished Eleventh Circuit decision, Church v. Accretive Health, Inc., 654 F. App’x 990 (11th Cir. 2016), which held that the FDCPA creates a statutory right to receive certain information and that a failure to include this information in the debtor’s letter to the plaintiff was a sufficient injury to confer standing. Because neither opinion is published, neither will be binding on a subsequent Eleventh Circuit panel. Moreover, it may be possible to reconcile the holdings in Meeks and Church. In Meeks, it was undisputed that the plaintiff had received the benefit established by the procedural right while in Church it was not clear that the plaintiff had actually received the information that the statute required. It is also worth pointing out that many post-Spokeo courts have declined to extend Spokeo to its logical conclusions. At the very least, this apparent contradiction signals that the law on this issue is evolving. The Eleventh Circuit is likely to address this issue in a published opinion in the future.
Second and for purposes of Regulation X specifically, Meeks holds that a certified return receipt can satisfy a lender’s obligations under Regulation X when there is no dispute that the borrower received the return receipt. This holding may be somewhat limited however because plaintiffs’ counsel may not attach the receipts to their complaints or will deny receiving them. Meeks also leaves open the question of what happens if the receipt is received by the borrower more than five days after the lender signs it. Still, lenders should look for ways to bring their case within Meeks as doing so will create a strong argument for dismissal in district courts within the Eleventh Circuit.
On March 16, 2017, the Florida Supreme Court solidified the position of its November 3, 2016 opinion in Bartram v. U.S. Bank, N.A., SC14-1266, 2016 WL 6538647 by denying the motions for rehearing filed in response to the Court’s holding that an involuntary dismissal unwinds acceleration, returning lender and borrower to their previous positions and allowing lender to pursue foreclosure on future defaults. The finality of the Bartram opinion brings relief and some clarity to many residential lenders, especially with standard form residential mortgages with reinstatement provisions, that a failed attempt at foreclosure will not bar subsequent attempts to foreclose for missed installment payments.
While Bartram provides relief for Florida lenders, the battleground over the statute of limitations on Florida mortgage debt continues to shift. Even before the Court denied rehearing, the foreclosure defense bar was already crafting new defenses based on the gaps in the law left unfilled by the Bartram opinion. For instance, in new foreclosures filed after an involuntary dismissal, some borrowers are challenging the use of default dates that predate the dismissal date for the earlier foreclosure suits. Lenders should expect borrowers with continuing defaults and prior foreclosure lawsuits to challenge subsequent foreclosures on the collectability of time barred installment payments, Collazo v. HSBC Bank USA, N.A., No. 3D14-2208 (Fla. 3d DCA Apr. 2016)(withdrawn on rehear’g) and time barred default dates. Bollettieri Resort Villas Condo. Ass’n, Inc. v. Bank of New York Mellon, 198 So. 3d 1140 (Fla. 2d DCA 2016), review granted, SC16-1680 (Fla. Nov. 2, 2016).
The Eleventh Circuit recently held in Nicklaw v. CitiMortgage, Inc.(No. 15-14216) that a plaintiff lacks standing to sue a creditor where the plaintiff merely alleges that the creditor failed to timely record a mortgage satisfaction, as it is statutorily required to do, but does not allege any additional concrete injury.