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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.

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Will High Impact Perspectives Shape Litigation Risk? CFPB RESPA Enforcement Appeal

Litigators often talk to clients about the power of judges and juries. The first Decision of Director issued by CFPB’s Richard Cordray should give counselors and clients alike pause. Pause first because of the ultimate outcome ($109 million disgorgement) and interpretations of RESPA offered. And pause second (perhaps more importantly) because of the focused perspectives announced by the Director and their potential to activate others. With all due respect to the Director and the administrative appeal process, the Director clearly is taking advantage of this opportunity to make known his beliefs. Like a jury or a judge he is meting out justice the way he sees fit. What is fascinating, just like polling a jury after the verdict, is looking for the perspectives which drove the result. The Decision presents yet another glimpse of the Director who now shapes not just CFPB supervision and examination, but also may shape going forward the theories asserted by the plaintiffs’ class action bar.

Many are digesting the Decision and Order (2014-CFPB-0002, June 4, 2015). Here, I will not quote chapter and verse, nor will I analyze the overarching regulatory construct of the administrative appeals process which enabled the Decision. Those whose legal work touches financial services institutions should review the Decision themselves. It is the first. It is public. And it has impact. Each of us can draw our own conclusions. Some will see a righteous vision of justice and others may see, at best, the unintended consequences of concentrated partisan power.

Food for thought: We all may want to consider the impact the Decision could have on how financial institutions ought to assess their business operations and how such institutions may be able to justify those operations and defend themselves in court or before an administrative tribunal.

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