BCLP Banking Blog

Bank Bryan Cave

FDCPA

Main Content

SCOTUS Protects Lawyers Seeking Non-Judicial Foreclosures

Editor’s Note: BCLP’s consumer financial services team is a group of specialized lawyers from around the U.S., adept in state court rumbles, courthouse steps foreclosures, and bankruptcy court interludes. They are also deep thinkers in consumer law, and were waiting for this ruling today. If you have a portfolio of consumer loans and want some efficient, value-maximizing handling, give us a call. Here’s the take from Zina Gabsi, from our Miami CFS practice.

Earlier today, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its long-awaited opinion on whether law firms pursing non-judicial foreclosures are “debt collectors” as defined by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”), 15 U.S.C. §1692 et seq. Obduskey v. McCarthy & Holthus LLP, Case No. 17-1307 (March 20, 2019). In its ruling, the Court held that a business engaged in no more than a non-judicial foreclosure is not a debt collector under the FDCPA. (Business lawyers around the US breathed a collective sigh of relief.) Instead, the Court held that those pursuing non-judicial foreclosures are subject to the more limited FDCPA restrictions contained in section 1692f(6).

The FDCPA defines a debt collector as “any person … in any business the principal purpose of which is the collection of any debts, or who regularly collects or attempts to collect, directly or indirectly, debts owed or asserted to be owed or due another.” 15 U.S.C. §1692a(6). But the statute also includes the “limited-purpose definition” which states that “[f]or the purpose of section 1692f(6) [the] term [debt collector] also includes any person … in any business the principal purpose of which is the enforcement of security interests.” Thus, the statute creates a set (debt collectors) and a subset (people that only seek to enforce security interests). The subset certainly includes “repo men,” but according to the Supreme Court, the subset also includes lawyers pursuing non-judicial foreclosures. The subset is subject to far less restrictions and mandates under the FDCPA.

The Court considered three factors in coming to its conclusion: (i) the text of the FDCPA itself; (ii) Congress’s intent; and (iii) the FDCPA’s legislative history. The Court explained that but for the limited-purpose definition (the subset), those pursuing non-judicial foreclosure would in fact be debt collectors under the additional provisions of the FDCPA. However, the Court notes that a plain reading of the limited-purpose definition, “particularly the word ‘also,’ strongly suggests that one who does no more than enforce security interests does not fall within the scope of the general definition. Otherwise why add this sentence at all?” Obduskey, at page 8. To interpret the definition of a debt collector under the FDCPA otherwise would render the addition of the “limited-purpose definition” superfluous. Id., at page 9. Furthermore, the Court posited that Congress “may well have chosen to treat security-interest enforcement differently from ordinary debt collection in order to avoid conflicts with state nonjudicial foreclosure schemes.” Id.

Of note, the Court rejected Obduskey’s argument that “McCarthy engaged in more than security-interest enforcement by sending notices that many ordinary homeowner would understand as an attempt to collect a debt backed up by the threat of foreclosure.” Id., at page 13. The Court explained that such notices were likely required under state law in order to pursue the non-judicial foreclosure and therefore the FDCPA’s “(partial) exclusion of ‘the enforcement of security interests’ must also exclude the legal means required to do so.” Id.

Justice Sotomayor wrote a concurring opinion to make two observations: “First, this is a close case, and today’s opinion does not prevent Congress from clarifying this statute if we have gotten it wrong. Second, as the Court makes clear, ‘enforcing a security interest does not grant an actor blanket immunity from the’ mandates of the FDCPA.” She interestingly noted that Congress may not have contemplated the Court’s interpretation because even though States do regulate nonjudicial foreclosures, the FDCPA was enacted “to promote consistent State action to protect consumers against debt collection abuses.”

The holding sheds light (for the moment) on the scope of the limited-purpose exception to the FDCPA’s definition of a debt collector as it relates to nonjudicial foreclosures. “[W]hether those who judicially enforce mortgages fall within the scope of the primary definition is a question we can leave for another day.” Id., at page 12. We will cover that another day too!

Read More

Fair Debt Collection – In Writing, and We Mean It

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals continues to contribute to the case law defining which violations of procedural statutes constitute an injury-in-fact under Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, ––– U.S. ––––, 136 S.Ct. 1540, 1547, 194 L.Ed.2d 635 (2016).

In Macy v GC Services Limited Partnership, it holds that Plaintiffs alleged sufficient concrete harm to satisfy the injury-in-fact requirement for standing where the defendant debt collector’s letter omitted to inform the plaintiffs, credit card holders, that it was obligated to provide certain information only if Plaintiffs disputed their debts in writing. See 2018 WL 3614580 (6th Cir. July 30, 2018).

At issue was the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act’s requirements that a debt collector provide a consumer with a notice that contains:

(4) a statement that if the consumer notifies the debt collector in writing within [a] thirty-day period that the debt, or any portion thereof, is disputed, the debt collector will obtain verification of the debt or a copy of a judgment against the consumer and a copy of such verification or judgment will be mailed to the consumer by the debt collector; and (5) a statement that, upon the consumer’s written request within [a] thirty-day period, the debt collector will provide the consumer with the name and address of the original creditor, if different from the current creditor.” 15 U.S.C. § 1692g(a) (emphases added).

The Defendant’s letter omitted to mention the writing requirement, instead simply stating, “if you do dispute all or any portion of this debt within 30 days of receiving this letter, we will obtain verification of the debt from our client and send it to you. Or, if within 30 days of receiving this letter you request the name and address of the original creditor, we will provide it to you in the event it differs from our client, Synchrony Bank.”

Read More

Supreme Court to Address Whether Collection of Time-Barred Debts Violate FDCPA

Our colleagues at The Bankruptcy Cave, Bryan Cave’s Bankruptcy & Restructuring Blog, recently published a blog post on the Supreme Court agreeing to to hear the issue of whether a debt collector that buys old, charged off debt which is beyond the statute of limitations violations the Fair Debt Collection practices Act when it files a proof of claim on that debt in a Chapter 13 bankruptcy (which they all do, as no one has an incentive to object to the claim, and they often collect far more on the debt than what they paid).

[On October 11, 2016,] the Supreme Court granted certiorari on an issue that (a) is pretty important in the world of consumer debt collection, and (b) makes some folks pretty darn furious. The issue is this:  if you file a proof of claim in a bankruptcy case, and you know such claim is barred by the applicable statute of limitations, are you committing a “misleading” or “unfair” practice under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA)?

Read more on The Bankruptcy Cave for further insights on the competing interests at play, and how the Court may ultimately rule.  And if you haven’t seen John Oliver’s take on the practice of buying uncollectible medical debt, the post contains a link to the video.

Read More

11th Circuit Holds Reinstatement Letters Can’t Include Estimated Expenses

December 30, 2015

Categories

Consumer borrowed money from Lender. Consumer defaulted, and Lender began to foreclose, including all the usual steps: arranging for property inspection, hiring counsel, etc. After about a year,Consumer sought to reinstate the loan, and asked Lender how much it would cost. Lender responded in writing, with an itemized list of expenses to be paid, plus an estimate of additional costs (clearly marked as estimates) that Lender may incur over the next month if it continued to exercise remedies. (After all, this would not be the first time in recorded history that a borrower swore it would make good on the loan – and then didn’t.)

Consumer paid the entire amount required to reinstate the loan, including Lender’s estimated out-of-pocket expenses. A few months later, Lender refunded the estimated expenses which it didn’t incur after all. What’s the big deal? Why is this unusual? Why are you reading this, and why did we write about it? Well, in the 11th Circuit, including any estimated future charges or expenses in a reinstatement letter (or a loan payoff, as your authors can’t see any reason why this remarkable ruling wouldn’t also apply to payoff letters) violates the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act if your loan documents don’t clearly allow for that inclusion (and most don’t – we checked). This is the ruling in Prescott v. Seterus, Inc., 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 20934 (11th Cir. Dec. 3, 2015).

See Bryan Cave’s Bankruptcy & Restructuring Blog for more information about this opinion, and the steps that you can and should do to address.

Read More

FTC Targets Banks under FDCPA

FTC Targets Banks under FDCPA

September 28, 2015

Authored by: Douglas Thompson

Who Is An FDCPA Excluded “Creditor”?

The FTC Seeks to Overturn An 11th Circuit Ruling That A Bank Is.

Banking lawyers whose institutions acquire loans or card accounts may want to watch how this 11th Circuit putative class action case issue plays out. The FTC’s brief supports the plaintiffs’ class action bar, and the outcome of the appeal if reversed could further spur both regulatory enforcement activity and consumer class actions.

The FTC recently filed an amicus brief in a consumer’s appeal pending in the US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, Davidson v. Capital One Bank, NA, Case No 14-14200. In the appeal, the 11th Circuit affirmed the Northern District of Georgia’s dismissal of Davidson’s claims (and those of a putative class) under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 USC § 1692.   The FTC now seeks en banc review to overturn the ruling. The FTC argues that the 11th Circuit misread the statute, decided contrary to several other circuits (the 3rd, 5th, 6th and 7th Circuits), and is placing consumers at risk. The FTC contends that the defendant bank clearly was a “debt collector” as defined by the statute.

The conundrum essentially turns on two issues: (a) the FDCPA’s exclusion of the “creditors” from the coverage of the statute and (b) whether the defendant bank was principally in the business of collecting debts owed to another. In the case, the defendant bank had acquired Davidson’s credit card account from another banking institution. The credit card debt was in default at the time of the acquisition. Some, including the FTC, would argue that this falls squarely within the definition of debt collector under the statute. However, the defendant Bank argued successfully that in the Davidson matter, the institution’s collection efforts only applied to debt it owned, not to another’s.

The statute uses the key phrase “to whom the debt is owed” in the exclusionary language regarding creditors. 15 USC § 1692a(6). Arguably in this case, once the bank acquired the credit card account, the debt is/was owed to that institution. This is precisely the basis on which both the Northern District of Georgia and 11th Circuit dismissed the claims. The rulings also note that the defendant bank is not principally in the business of collecting the debts of others.

Read More

Transfer of Servicing Letter under RESPA Triggers FDCPA Notice Requirements

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”) provides that within five days of any initial communication with a consumer “in connection with the collection of any debt,” a debt collector shall send the consumer a written notice.  The notice must contain, among other things, the amount of the debt, the name of the creditor to whom the debt is owed, and a statement that unless the consumer, within thirty days after receipt of the notice, disputes the validity of the debt, or any portion thereof, the debt will be assumed valid by the debt collector.

The Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act obligates a new servicer of certain types of mortgage loans timely to notify the borrower of the change in servicer and to provide certain other information regarding the transfer, including the effective date of the servicing transfer.

A recent case from the Second Circuit Court of Appeals (which covers New York and New England) holds that an attempt to comply with the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act constitutes an “the initial communication with a consumer in connection with the collection of any debt” that requires the consumer be given the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act notice.

The debt collector mailed the consumer a letter entitled “Transfer of Servicing Letter.” An attachment stated it was “an attempt to collect upon a debt” and purported to explain some of the provisions of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

Read More

Debt Collector has Burden to Prove FDCPA Exception

Under the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act, a debt collector is liable to a consumer for contacting third parties in pursuit of that consumer’s debt unless the communication falls under a statutory exception. One of those exceptions covers communication with a third party for acquiring location information about the consumer.  Even then, the Act prohibits more than one such contact unless the debt collector reasonably believes that the earlier response of the third party was erroneous or incomplete and that such person now has correct or complete location information.

The first federal court of appeals to address the issue has just ruled that if sued in a case alleging illegal third-party contact, the debt collector has the duty to plead and prove the exception. To take shelter in the exception, a debt collector must expressly state in its answer to the complaint (facts permitting) that it pursued repeat contacts with the third-party because it reasonably believed that her earlier response was erroneous or incomplete and that she now has correct or complete location information. To prevail on the defense, the debt collector will also have to produce evidence in discovery and provide testimony at trial that proves those facts. The debt collector will need someone to testify at trial to those facts that made it reasonable to believe that the third party’s earlier response was erroneous or incomplete and that the third party now has correct or complete location information.

This latter point may be very difficult to prove. How would the debt collector come into possession of facts that would lead it to believe that a third party now has correct or complete location information without a further call? It is probably a very rare occurrence.

Read More
The attorneys of Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner make this site available to you only for the educational purposes of imparting general information and a general understanding of the law. This site does not offer specific legal advice. Your use of this site does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and Bryan Cave LLP or any of its attorneys. Do not use this site as a substitute for specific legal advice from a licensed attorney. Much of the information on this site is based upon preliminary discussions in the absence of definitive advice or policy statements and therefore may change as soon as more definitive advice is available. Please review our full disclaimer.