Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Guest Post: CFPB Issues Request for Information Regarding Small Business Lending

By Vanessa Garrido

The CFPB has issued a Request for Information (RFI) to collect data that will shed light on how small businesses engage with financial institutions, with a particular focus on women-owned and minority-owned small businesses. Of the estimated 27.6 million small businesses in the United States, over 7 million of these businesses are minority-owned and over 8.4 million are women-owned. In order to learn more about how to encourage and promote small businesses, “it is vitally important to fill in the blanks on how small businesses are able to engage with the credit markets.”  Prepared Remarks of CFPB Director Richard Cordray at the Small Business Lending Field Hearing, CFPB (May 10, 2017),The RFI was issued pursuant to Section 1071’s business lending data collection rule under the Dodd-Frank Act which modifies the Equal Credit Opportunity Act to require financial institutions to report information concerning credit applications made by women-owned, minority-owned, and small businesses.

The purpose of the business lending data collection rule is to:
  • Fill existing gaps in the general understanding of the small business lending environment;
  • Identify potential fair lending concerns regarding small business, including women-owned and minority-owned small business;
  • Facilitate enforcement of fair lending laws; and
  • Identify the needs and opportunities for both business and community development.

In an effort to collect and report on small business lending data, the CFPB seeks comment on:
  • How the lending industry defines small business and how that affects their credit application processes;
  • The particular data points that financial institutions are compiling and maintaining in the ordinary course of business concerning their small business lending, the sources of information that financial institutions rely on in obtaining this data, and any challenges financial institutions foresee in collecting and reporting this data;
  • How financial institutions integrate data collection into their application process;
  • The ability to measure accurately the prevalence of lenders and the products they offer;
  • Roles that marketplace lenders, brokers, dealers and other third parties may play in the application process for loans;
  • Whether certain classes of financial institutions should be exempt from the requirement to collect and submit data on small business lending;
  • Any financial products that finance small business, in addition to term loans, lines of credit, and credit card products; and
  • Ways to protect the privacy of applicants and borrowers, as well as the confidentiality interest of financial institutions that are engaged in the lending process.

Comments are due on or before July 14, 2017.

 Vanessa Garrido is a rising third year law student at Wake Forest University and is clerking with Smith Debnam Narron Drake Saintsing & Myers, LLP.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Supreme Court Reverses Bankruptcy Proof of Claim Case

“The law has long treated unenforceability of a claim (due to the expiration of the limitations period) as an affirmative defense … And we see nothing misleading or deceptive in the filing of a proof of claim that, in effect, follows the Code’s similar system.”

Midland Funding, LLC v. Johnson, (May 15, 2017).

Yesterday, the Supreme Court reversed the Eleventh Circuit’s holding in Midland Funding v. Johnson in a 5-3 split. Their decision resolves a circuit split as to whether the filing of a time barred proof of claim violates the FDCPA. For those familiar with the oral arguments in this matter, it should come as no surprise that the dissent was written by Justice Sotomayor and joined by Justices Ginsburg and Kagan. The majority opinion was authored by Justice Breyer.

 Johnson in the Lower Courts

Aleida Johnson filed her Chapter 13 bankruptcy petition in 2014. Midland Funding, LLC, a debt buyer, filed a proof of claim which disclosed on its face that the claim was barred by the applicable statute of limitations, listing the date of last transaction as May 2003. Johnson sued Midland in federal court, alleging that Midland had violated sections 1692e and 1692f of the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act by filing a time barred proof of claim.  

Midland moved to dismiss asserting that Johnson’s FDCPA claims were precluded by the Bankruptcy Code. The district court concluded that that the Bankruptcy Code expressly provided for the filing of a claim irrespective of whether it is time barred so long as the creditor has a right to payment that has not been extinguished by state law while the FDCPA prohibited debt collectors from doing so. The district court further concluded that the Bankruptcy Code and FDCPA were in irreconcilable conflict and that the later statute, the Bankruptcy Code, impliedly repealed the earlier statute, the FDCPA. Johnson v. Midland Funding, LLC, 528 B.R. 462, 470 (S.D. Ala. 2015). 

On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit reversed, holding that the Bankruptcy Code and FDCPA were not in irreconcilable conflict. Instead, “[t]he FDCPA easily lies over the top of the Code’s regime, so as to provide an additional layer of protection against a particular kind of creditor.” Johnson, 823 F.3d at 1341. The court concluded that the two statutes could be reconciled because “they provide different protections and reach different actors.” Id. at 1340. While the Bankruptcy Code allows creditors to file proofs of claim even with respect to time barred debt, it does not require that they do so and they “are not free from all consequences of filing these claims.” Id. at. 1339. 

Supreme Court

The significance and divisiveness of the issues led both the petitioner and respondent to agree that the issues merited review. The parties’ consensus fast tracked the courts’ consideration of the petition and the following issues were certified for appeal in October: (a) whether the filing of an accurate proof of claim for an unextinguished time barred debt in a bankruptcy proceeding violates the FDCPA; and (b) whether the Bankruptcy Code, which governs the filing of proofs of claim in bankruptcy, precludes the application of the FDCPA to the filing of an accurate proof of claim on an unextinguished time-barred debt. 

Like the majority of the circuits that had previously examined the issue, the court held that the filing of a proof of claim, which on its face indicates the limitations period has run, does not fall within the scope of the FDCPA. Specifically, the Court determined that the filing of the proof of claim did not fall within the “five relevant words” of the FDCPA: false, deceptive, misleading, unfair or unconscionable. 

False, Deceptive or Misleading

In concluding that Midland’s proof of claim was not false, deceptive or misleading, the Court explored the issue of whether the Bankruptcy Code’s definition of a claim requires the claim be enforceable, as well as the respective burdens imposed upon the parties by the statute of limitations. Regarding enforceability, the Court held that the Bankruptcy Code does not contain a requirement that a claim be enforceable. In fact, the Court observed that “[t]he word enforceable does not appear in the Code’s definition of ‘claim’”. Instead, Section 101(5) (A) states that a claim is a right to payment, “whether or not such right is … fixed, contingent, … [or] disputed.” Midland Funding, LLC v. Johnson, slip op. at 4.

The Court also addressed one of the issues which troubled several justices during oral argument: reconciliation of the statute of limitations as an affirmative defense rather than as a condition precedent to filing a claim. At oral argument, Justice Kennedy posed a number of questions to Johnson’s counsel and the Department of Justice (appearing as amicus curiae) raising concerns with Johnson’s assertion that a debt collector can violate the FDCPA by filing a time barred proof of claim. Justice Kennedy’s questions seemed to reflect a two fold concern. First, that by its inherent nature, the statute of limitations is an affirmative defense and secondly, that, in a majority of states, the running of the statute of limitations does not extinguish the debt. Both Justices Kennedy and Alito seemed to share a concern with reconciling those concepts with the position of Johnson which would place an affirmative duty on the claim filer not to file the time barred proof of claim in the first place rather than upon the trustee or other interested party to object. In addressing those concerns, the Court noted that under relevant state law (Alabama), the creditor has a right to payment even after the statute of limitations has expired, meeting the definition of a claim. Additionally, the Court determined that the Bankruptcy Code’s provisions make clear that the running of a limitations period is an affirmative defense, “a defense that the debtor is to assert after a creditor makes a “claim.”

The Court went on to conclude that “[t]he law has long treated unenforceability of a claim (due to the expiration of the limitations period) as an affirmative defense … And we see nothing misleading or deceptive in the filing of a proof of claim that, in effect, follows the Code’s similar system.” Id. at 5.  

Unfair or Unconscionable

Whether the filing of a proof of claim on “obviously” time barred debt is unfair or unconscionable presented a closer question. Like many of the lower courts which had examined the issue, the Court immediately noted the differences between the context of a civil suit and a Chapter 13 bankruptcy proceeding. In a Chapter 13 bankruptcy proceeding, the claims procedure makes it “considerably more likely that an effort to collect upon a stale claim … will be met with resistance, objection, and disallowance” and minimize the risk to the debtor. Id. at 7.  

In its examination under the lens of unfair or unconscionable, the Court returned to its concerns with the debtor’s proposition that the initial burden is on the creditor to insure it files proofs of claim only on debts which are not time barred. The Court noted the practical issues of carving out and defining the boundaries of an exception if it were to change the simple affirmative defense approach. “Does it apply only where … a claim’s staleness appears “on [the] face” of the proof of claim? Does it apply to other affirmative defenses or only to the running of a limitations period?” Id. at 8. The Court concluded that finding the FDCPA applicable to such proofs of claim would ultimately add to the complexity of the claims process and shift the burden from the debtor to the creditor to investigate the staleness of any claim. The Court ultimately concluded that the practice of filing proofs of claim on time barred debt is neither “unfair” or “unconscionable” within the terms of the FDCPA.

Limitations on the Court’s Decision

The Court’s decision is a major win for the industry and is a continued reflection of the Court’s practical approach to claims under the FDCPA. Having said that, it is important to note that the Court’s decision is limited to claims which are otherwise accurate and on their face indicate the limitations period has run. It is important to note that the Court’s opinion does not expressly address the broader issue of whether the Bankruptcy Code precludes the application of the FDCPA. In fact, the opinion may suggest otherwise. By applying the FDCPA’s “five relevant words” to the claim at issue, the Court’s opinion suggests that the FDCPA may, under different circumstances, have some application to the claims process.

Monday, May 15, 2017

CFPB Seeks Comment on Effectiveness of the RESPA Mortgage Servicing Rule

As required by the Dodd-Frank Act, the CFPB is conducting an assessment of its RESPA Mortgage Servicing Final Rule, which took effect on January 10, 2014. The assessment will seek to compare servicer and consumer activities and outcomes to a baseline that would exist if the Rule has not been implemented.
  Specifically, the CFPB’s assessment plan will examine how well the Servicing Rule has met its purpose of:
  • Providing borrowers with timely and understandable information;
  • Protecting borrowers from unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts and practices;
  • Helping borrowers avoid unwarranted or unnecessary costs and fees; and
  • Facilitating review for foreclosure avoidance options.
The CFPB is requesting comments on the assessment plan and is inviting stakeholders to comment on:
  • The feasibility and effectiveness of the assessment plan and its proposed metrics and analytical methods for assessing the effectiveness;
  • Data and other factual information that may be useful for executing the plan;
  • Recommendations, data, factual information and sources of data to improve the plan;
  • Data and other factual information about the benefits and costs of the rule for stakeholders, and the effects of the rule on transparency, efficient access and innovation in the mortgage market; Data and other factual information about the rule’s effectiveness in meeting the purposes and objectives of Dodd Frank; and
  • Recommendations for modifying, expanding or eliminating the Mortgage Servicing Rule.
Comments are due on or before July 10, 2017. A report of the assessment will be issued by January 2019.

Friday, May 12, 2017

District Court Takes on the Intersection of Bankruptcy and the FDCPA

A New York District Court recently tackled the intersection between bankruptcy and pre-petition FDCPA claims and the application of judicial estoppel to undisclosed claims.  In December 2013, Jeziorowski filed a complaint alleging violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) and the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA). Jeziorowski v. Credit Prot. Assn., L.P., 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 66084 (W.D.N.Y. 2017). Shortly after filing suit, Jeziorowski filed bankruptcy pursuant to Chapter 7. At his 341 meeting, Jeziorowski orally informed the trustee about his pending FDCPA and TCPA claims.  The trustee instructed him to have his attorney report to the court if the pending claims had more value than $1,000. Shortly thereafter, Jeziorowski was granted his discharge. At the time of his discharge, the FDCPA/TCPA lawsuit remained pending and Jeziorowski had not amended his schedules to reflect the claims.

Two years later, Jeziorowski requested the bankruptcy be reopened to allow him to amend his schedules to include the FDCPA and TCPA claims. Shortly after, Jeziorowski filed a motion in the pending FDCPA/TCPA litigation to substitute the trustee as plaintiff. In response, the defendant opposed the motion, arguing that both Jeziorowski and the trustee should be judicially estopped from pursuing the FDCPA and TCPA claims and requesting the complaint be dismissed with prejudice.

The intersection of bankruptcy and pre-petition consumer protection claims is a tricky one.  The proper functioning of the bankruptcy system requires a full disclosure of all claims. The failure to do so may prevent the unwary consumer from pursuing them. In a Chapter 7, disclosed claims may be abandoned by the trustee post discharge and returned to the debtor to pursue.  However, undisclosed claims remain property of the estate and the debtor may be estopped from pursuing them. In short, the doctrine of judicial estoppel prevents consumers from gaming the system.   

In addressing the defendant’s judicial estoppel argument, the court first noted that for judicial estoppel to apply, “1) a party’s later position must be ‘clearly inconsistent’ with its earlier position; 2) the party’s former position has been adopted in some way by the court in the earlier proceeding; and 3) the party asserting the two positions would derive an unfair advantage against the party seeking estoppel.” Jeziorowski at *6.  The court noted, however, that the failure to disclose an asset does not necessarily preclude his claims when the non-disclosure is inadvertent. The court went on to state that even if the debtor is judicially estopped from pursuing an undisclosed claim, a trustee is not necessarily estopped from pursuing the same claim on behalf of the creditors.  

Rejecting the defendant’s judicial estoppel argument, the court reasoned that neither the debtor nor the trustee were judicially estopped from pursuing the FDCPA and TCPA claims. In doing so, the court relied heavily on the fact that Jeziorowski had orally disclosed the pending litigation to the trustee at his 341 meeting.  The court concluded, therefore, that “there is no basis for concluding that Jeziorowski deliberately asserted inconsistent positions to gain an advantage; on the contrary, there is every reason to conclude that his nondisclosure was inadvertent and that he acted in good faith.” Id. at *10. Moreover, the court concluded that there was no reason to judicially estop the trustee from pursuing the claims. “Estopping the trustee … would work the sort of unfair windfall – this time, to the defendant – that equity is designed to prevent.” Id. at *9.

The opinion serves as a reminder that, at the outset of every litigation, defense counsel should determine whether the plaintiff has filed bankruptcy and closely examine any bankruptcy petition for a disclosure of the claims. Generally, a court will invoke the judicial estoppel doctrine if the plaintiff was deliberately asserting inconsistent positions in order to play “fast and loose with the courts.” Ryan Operations G.P. v. Santiam-Midwest Lumber Co., 81 F.3d 355, 358 (3d Cir. 1996).



Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Successors by Merger May Not be Debt Collectors

A recent decision from a Louisiana district court should provide some comfort to banks and other financial institutions who acquire other entities by merger – at least in the Fifth Circuit, they are not debt collectors.  As most know, Bank of America (BoA) acquired Countrywide Bank FSB and its mortgage portfolio in 2008.  In Jackson v. Bank of America, N.A., the consumer brought an FDCPA claim against BoA based upon its actions in a foreclosure suit and an underlying mortgage which originated with Countrywide.  The consumer alleged BoA was a debt collector under the FDCPA because his “loan was in default prior to the transfer from his original lender Countrywide to Bank of America.”  Jackson v. Bank of America, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 46117 at *6 (M.D. La. Mar. 28, 2017).

In reviewing the issue of whether BoA was a debt collector subject to the FDCPA, the court took judicial notice that BoA acquired the mortgage loan by merger and not by transfer or assignment while in default.  The acquisition by merger was a key factor for the court which also relied upon prior Fifth Circuit precedent, Brown v. Morris, 243 Fed. Appx. 31 (5th Cir. 2007).  In Brown, the “Fifth Circuit considered that the term ‘obtained’ had not been defined under the FDCPA, and looked to the act’s legislative history noting how, ‘[t]he Senate Report accompanying the FDCPA explained that the purpose of the act was ‘to protect consumers from a host of unfair, harassing, and deceptive debt collection practices without imposing necessary restriction on ethical debt collectors.’” Jackson at *7.  As was the case in Brown, the court concluded that “obtained” was synonymous with “assigned” and ultimately, since the mortgage company had not been specifically assigned the mortgage for debt collection purposes but rather had acquired it through merger from its prior mortgage company, the mortgage company was not a debt collector.

In addition to those cases which rely upon the creditor’s primary purpose not being debt collection, this case should also prove useful to those representing successor creditors against debt collection claims-  particularly those where portions of the portfolios acquired are performing loans.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

CFPB's Monthly Report Focuses on Student Loan Products

The CFPB’s most recent monthly report on consumer complaints spotlights student loans. The report is a high level snapshot of trends in consumer complaints. The Report provides a summary of the volume of complaints by product category, by company and by state.


Complaint Volume by Product

  • The three most complained of consumer products remain debt collection, credit reporting and mortgage.
  • Student loans continue to reflect the highest increase in change from last year– a 325% increase when comparing January-March 2017 to the same period in 2016. The CFPB attributes this increase to the updating of its student loan intake form to include complaints after Federal student loan servicing in late February 2016, as well as an enforcement action initiated by the CFPB against Navient in January 2017.
  • Student loan complaints showed the greatest month to month decrease after spiking in January 2017 after what appears to be a response to the Bureau’s enforcement action against Navient.

Highlighted Product: Student Loans


The Report’s spotlighted consumer product, student loans, reflects that the majority of student loan complaints arise from non-federal student loans.  Interestingly, however, the majority of complaints described arise from federal student loans. 

  • With respect to federal loans, consumers complain about difficulty with receiving information regarding alternative payment plans and particularly, the failure of servicers to provide more beneficial payment repayment options like income-driven repayment plans. 
  • Consumers with nonfederal consumer loans complained most about the misapplication of payments and inaccurate accounting of payments.
  • Consumers in general also complained about credit reporting inaccuracies.