When attempting to collect time-barred debts, law firms often send standard letters which merely omit an express threat to sue. Earlier this month, the Eleventh Circuit held a least sophisticated consumer might view such a letter as an implicit threat to sue and, therefore, the letter might violate the FDCPA. The Court reasoned it would be easy to include language to the effect, “Because of the age of your debt, . . . we will not sue you for it,” and noted that the debt collector had actually started using that exact language in its own letters. Balch’s Austin Alexander and Jason Tompkins provide an in-depth analysis of the Eleventh Circuit’s holding on the Past Due blog.
In Obduskey v. McCarthy & Holthus, LLP, the United States Supreme Court unanimously held the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act does not apply to a law firm conducting a nonjudicial foreclosure.
While the law firm prevailed in Obduskey, the Court’s opinion suggested several circumstances in which the law firm might have been subject to the FDCPA. Practically speaking, many firms instituting nonjudicial foreclosures will likely remain subject to the FDCPA.
According to Obduskey, a law firm conducting nonjudicial foreclosures might still be subject to the FDCPA if:
- The law firm has a regular debt collection practice above and beyond nonjudicial foreclosures, or if the firm otherwise engages in debt collection;
- The law firm sends an unnecessary letter (or engages in other communications) that is not required by state law;
- The foreclosure is a judicial foreclosure;
- The law firm engages in unfair practices related to the nonjudicial foreclosure.
In September 2018, the Alabama Supreme Court issued an opinion in GHB Constr. and Dev. Co., Inc. v. West Alabama Bank and Trust, No. 1170484, that caused considerable concern for Alabama lenders. The Court held that future-advance mortgages do not come into existence until funds are actually advanced regardless of when the mortgage was recorded. Last Friday, the Alabama Supreme Court reversed its September 2018 opinion and held that the priority of a future-advance mortgage is based on the date of recording, not when the lender advances funds. A link to the March 2019 decision can be located here. This decision should ease the uncertainty created by the Court’s September 2018 decision.
Last week, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama denied Southern Independent Bank’s (“Southern Independent’s”) motion for class certification following a data breach which allegedly affected over 2,000 financial institutions across the country. Southern Independent, a community bank located in south Alabama, brought a class action complaint against Fred’s in response to a data breach in which hackers, using malware installed on servers, harvested payment data from consumer debit cards used at Fred’s stores.
In In re Dukes, No. 16-16513 (11th Cir. Dec. 6, 2018), the Eleventh Circuit held that a debtor’s mortgage obligation was not discharged, despite a proof of claim not being filed, because the mortgage was not provided for by the debtor’s plan and because of the anti-modification provision of Section 1322(b)(2).
Last month, the Eleventh Circuit revisited the U.S. Supreme Court’s controversial decision in Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, and appears to have set a low bar for plaintiffs to clear in establishing standing.
The case, Muransky v. Godiva Chocolatier, Inc., Case No. 16-16486 (11th Cir. October 3, 2018) came before the Eleventh Circuit on appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida after the district court approved a settlement plan between the class of plaintiffs and Godiva. The named plaintiff in the underlying suit, Dr. David Muransky, filed a class action lawsuit against Godiva, which had given Muransky a receipt showing the first six and last four digits of his credit card number. The complaint alleged violations of the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (“FACTA”), which prohibits merchants from including “more than the last 5 digits of the card number . . . upon any receipt provided to the cardholder at the point of the sale or transaction.” 15 U.S.C. § 1681c(g)(1). The District Court approved a class action settlement in the underlying case, over objections from appellants James Price and Eric Isaacson.
Earlier this month, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit issued a decision that could make it easier for manufacturers to force consumers into arbitration via “shrinkwrap” agreements—packaged contracts which bind consumers by merely opening and keeping a product. In Dye v. Tamko Building Products, Inc., Case No. 17-14052 (11th Cir. Nov. 2, 2018), the Eleventh Circuit considered an appeal of a district court’s order compelling arbitration and dismissing a lawsuit by Florida homeowners against the manufacturer of allegedly defective roofing shingles. The packaging of the shingles displayed the manufacturer’s entire product-purchase agreement, including a mandatory arbitration provision. In taking up the case, the Eleventh Circuit considered not only whether this shrinkwrap agreement was enforceable under Florida law, but also whether the homeowners were bound to arbitration because their hired roofers ordered, opened, and installed the shingles.
Georgia regulates the small loan industry with usury laws like the Payday Lending Act and Industrial Loan Act. But, as the Georgia Supreme Court recently held, these Acts can reach only as far as their texts allow.
In Ruth v. Cherokee Funding, LLC, the Georgia Supreme Court held money advanced by a litigation finance company is not a “loan” under either the PLA or the ILA where the litigant’s obligation to repay depends on the success of her lawsuit. The opinion comes in a state class action suit against litigation finance companies that advanced money to the plaintiffs while their personal injury lawsuits were pending. Under the financing agreements their attorney executed, the plaintiffs were required to repay the funds (plus various fees and interest at an annualized rate of 59.88%) only if they recovered proceeds from their lawsuits. When the litigation finance companies sought to recover the amounts owed under the agreements, the plaintiffs sued alleging, among other things, the agreements violated the PLA and ILA.
The Alabama Civil Court of Appeals recently issued a decision, International Management Group, Inc. v. Bryant Bank, No. 2170744, which, among other things, limits the potential for summary judgment in fraudulent transfer cases, especially where actual fraud must be proven.
In this case, Bryant Bank sued International Management Group (“IMG”) following its alleged insolvency, seeking to void a series of insider transfers of mortgages securing promissory notes to Bryant Bank. IMG’s principal, Michael Carter had personally guaranteed the promissory notes prior to filing personal bankruptcy. Ultimately, IMG and Mr. Carter defaulted on the promissory notes, and Bryant Bank obtained a default judgment against both IMG and Mr. Carter. Prior to the default judgment, however, Mr. Carter, through a series of insider transactions, transferred the mortgages to his parents, who subsequently passed away. Mr. Carter, as executor of his mother’s estate, then transferred the mortgages to himself following his bankruptcy. Bryant Bank claimed that IMG’s first transfer to another Carter-controlled company in 2010 was without any consideration and rendered IMG insolvent, thus rendering the transfers constructively fraudulent and void under the Alabama Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act (“AUFTA”). If Bryant Bank could not void the transfers, its judgments against IMG and Mr. Carter were likely worthless, as neither party had sufficient assets to satisfy the judgments. Following discovery, the trial court granted Bryant Bank’s motion for summary judgment and voided the transactions, which had the effect of voiding the transfers without the need for trial and made IMG no longer judgment-proof.
On October 19, 2018, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals issued an opinion in Chandler v. Branch Banking & Trust Company (No. 2160999), holding that a joint owner of property at issue in an ejectment action is a necessary and indispensable party, even where the non-party property owner’s interests are closely aligned with a named party.
Practically, this ruling emphasizes the importance of joining all necessary parties to an ejectment action when it is filed. Mortgage servicers should examine all mortgage documents as well as the property’s deed to ensure that all potential parties with rights in the property subject to the mortgage are added to the action prior to filing. This case in particular shows that even though the named defendant was the only party reflected on the mortgage, the deed would have revealed that his wife was a joint owner with rights in the property.