How SCOTUS Clarified the Spokeo Standard of “Concrete” Harm Necessary to Establish Article III Standing, and What It Means for the Future of Class Actions

Ana Tagvoryan, Deborah A. Skakel, Edward W. Chang, Scott E. Wortman, Jeffrey N. Rosenthal, Chenxi Jiao, and Harrison M. Brown

On June 25, 2021, the United States Supreme Court issued its decision in TransUnion LLC v. Ramirez, No. 20-297, 2021 WL 2599472 (U.S. June 25, 2021) (“TransUnion”), providing much needed clarity regarding the type of “concrete” harm necessary to establish a plaintiff’s standing under Article III of the United States Constitution.

In a 5-4 decision authored by Justice Kavanaugh, the Court expounded on its ruling in Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, 578 U.S. 330 (2016), using several examples to illustrate how to measure the harm plaintiffs allege from a statutory violation. As Justice Kavanaugh succinctly stated: “No concrete harm, no standing.”

In TransUnion, the lower court certified a class of 8,124 absent class members who purportedly suffered injury under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”) because TransUnion had placed an alert on their credit report indicating that the consumer’s name was a “potential match” to a name on the list maintained by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) of terrorists, drug traffickers, and other serious criminals.

To read the full client alert, please visit our website

New York’s COVID-19 Eviction and Foreclosure Prevention and Small Businesses Acts Extended to August 31, 2021—What You Need to Know

Wayne Streibich, Diana M. Eng, and Alina Levi

Lenders, mortgage servicers, and other financial institutions should take note that New York State passed legislation extending the protections set forth in the COVID-19 Emergency Eviction and Foreclosure Prevention Act of 2020 and the COVID-19 Emergency Protect Our Small Businesses Act of 2021 to August 31, 2021. Thus, the requirements and stays with respect to residential and commercial foreclosures and evictions imposed by the legislation remain effective through August 31, 2021.

On May 4, 2021, Governor Cuomo signed a bill extending both (i) the COVID-19 Emergency Eviction and Foreclosure Prevention Act of 2020 (the “EEFPA”); and (ii) the COVID-19 Emergency Protect Our Small Businesses Act of 2021 (“SBA”), to August 31, 2021 (S.6362-A/A.7175-A) (the “Extended Act”). The purpose of the Extended Act, which is effective immediately, is to maintain protections prohibiting residential and commercial evictions, foreclosure proceedings, credit discrimination, and negative credit reporting related to the COVID-19 pandemic until August 31, 2021, if the borrowers, mortgagors, and/or tenants submit the required Hardship Declaration with the foreclosing party, landlord/their agent, or the Court. In practice, however, some courts have extended the stay even without the required Hardship Declaration.  

Highlights of the Extended Act are summarized below, but please refer to the full text of the Extended Act for additional information.

LIMITS OF THE EXTENDED ACT

  • The Extended Act still does not apply to residential eviction and foreclosure actions involving vacant and abandoned properties, listed on the statewide vacant, and abandoned property electronic registry (as such terms are defined in Sections 1309(2) and 1310 of New York’s Real Property Actions and Proceedings Law) prior to March 7, 2020, and which remain on such registry.
  • The Extended Act also does not apply to, and does not affect, any residential or commercial mortgage loan made, insured, purchased, or securitized by a corporate governmental agency of the state constituted as a political subdivision and public benefit corporation or the rights and obligations of any lender, issuer servicer, or trustee of such obligations.
  • The portion of the Extended Act addressing the SBA still only applies to commercial tenants, who independently own and operate their business, have 50 or fewer employees, and experience financial hardship and are unable to pay the rent or other financial obligations under the lease in full or obtain an alternative suitable commercial property as a result of:
      1. significant loss of revenue during the COVID-19 pandemic; and/or

      2. significant increase in necessary expenses related to providing personal protective equipment to employees or purchasing and installing other protective equipment to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 within the business; and/or

      3. moving expenses and difficulty in securing an alternative commercial property make it a hardship for the business to relocate to another location.

  • The Extended Act still permits residential and commercial evictions of tenants, who persistently and unreasonably engage in behavior that substantially infringes on the use and enjoyment of other tenants or occupants or cause a substantial safety hazard to others.

To read the full client alert, please click here

The Hunstein Effect—Examining the Eleventh Circuit’s Ruling and What’s Next for Debt Collectors and Their Third-Party Service Providers

Wayne Streibich, Nicole R. Topper, Scott E. Wortman, and Anthony Richard Yanez

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit has delivered a novel and highly consequential interpretation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act that is potentially transformative for debt collectors and their third-party service providers.

On April 21, 2021, in Hunstein v. Preferred Collection and Management Services, Inc., — F.3d — (2021), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit issued a decision on a case of first impression, finding that a debt collector’s transmittal of a consumer’s personal information to its letter vendor constituted a prohibited third-party communication “in connection with the collection of any debt” within the meaning of section 1692c(b) of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”). As discussed below, this ruling has broad ranging ramifications for the accounts receivable management industry and will likely foster a new wave of litigation under the FDCPA.

By way of background, this lawsuit originated from unpaid bills for medical treatment at a hospital. The hospital assigned the unpaid bills to a debt collector that had contracted with a third-party vendor for printing and mailing its collection letters. The collector electronically transmitted to its vendor certain information about the plaintiff/debtor such as: (1) his status as a debtor, (2) the exact balance of his debt, (3) the entity to which he owed the debt, (4) that the debt concerned his son’s medical treatment, and (5) his son’s name. The vendor then used that information to generate and send a dunning letter to the debtor. The debtor received the dunning letter and then filed a lawsuit in the Middle District of Florida alleging violations of both the FDCPA and the Florida Consumer Collection Practices Act. The district court dismissed the lawsuit for failure to state a claim by concluding that the debtor had not sufficiently alleged that the collector’s transmittal of information to the letter vendor was a communication “in connection with the collection of a debt.” The debtor then appealed to the Eleventh Circuit.

To read the full client alert, please click here.

CFPB Issues Debt Collection Interim Final Rule Due to the Ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic

Wayne StreibichDiana M. Eng, and Chenxi Jiao

The CFPB’s interim final rule amends Regulation F to, among other things, (i) require debt collectors to provide written notice to certain consumers about the CDC’s temporary eviction protections; and (ii) prohibit debt collectors from misrepresenting that a consumer is ineligible for eviction protection under the CDC’s moratorium. Debt collectors should take the necessary steps to ensure compliance with the amendment.

On April 19, 2021, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”) issued an interim final rule to amend Regulation F at 12 C.F.R. § 1006 (the “IFR”) to require debt collectors to provide consumers with disclosures relating to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) order, titled “Temporary Halt in Residential Evictions to Prevent the Further Spread of COVID-19” (86 FR 16731 (Mar. 31, 2021)) (the “CDC Order”). The CDC Order “generally prohibits a landlord, owner of a residential property, or other person with a legal right to pursue eviction or possessory action from evicting for non-payment of rent any person protected by the CDC Order from any residential property in any jurisdiction in which the CDC Order applies.” This prohibition applies to any agent or attorney acting on behalf of a landlord or owner of a residential property. Notably, however, the CDC Order does not cover foreclosure on a home mortgage.

The CFPB issued the IFR due to its concerns that consumers are unaware of their protections under the CDC Order and that debt collectors may be engaging in eviction-related conduct that violates the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1692, et seq. (the “FDCPA”). The IFR applies to “debt collectors,” “consumers,” and “debt,” as defined in the FDCPA.

To read the full client alert, please click here.

CFPB Proposes COVID-19 Rule to Amend Its Mortgage Servicing Rule and Provide Additional Guidance Related to the Pandemic

Jonathan K. Moore, Scott D. Samlin, Chenxi Jiao, and Louise Bowes Marencik

On April 5, 2021, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”) issued a notice of proposed rulemaking that proposes amendments to its Mortgage Servicing Rule (the “Proposed Rule”) to provide additional assistance for borrowers impacted by the COVID-19 emergency. The pandemic has resulted in nearly three million borrowers with delinquent mortgages, which is more homeowners in default than any time since the peak of the Great Recession in 2010. Nearly 1.7 million borrowers will exit forbearance programs in September and the following months upon expiration of the maximum term of 18 months in forbearance for federally backed mortgage loans. The Proposed Rule is intended to ensure that these homeowners have the opportunity to be evaluated for loss mitigation options prior to their loans being referred to foreclosure.

If finalized, the Proposed Rule would apply to all mortgages on a principal residence and amend Regulation X (12 CFR 1024).

To read the full client alert, please click here.

CFPB Proposes Delay of Effective Date for Debt Collection Rules

Jonathan K. Moore and Louise Bowes Marencik

On April 7, 2021, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”) issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking delaying the effective date of its recent debt collection final rules. The final rules, which were issued on October 30, 2020 and December 18, 2020, were scheduled to become effective on November 30, 2021. However, in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the CFPB has proposed delaying the effective date until January 29, 2022, in order to give the affected parties additional time to review and comply with the new rules.

To read the full client alert, please click here.

NY Department of Financial Services Enforces First-in-the-Nation Cybersecurity Rules and Fines Mortgage Lender $1.5 Million for Failure to Comply

Andrea M. Roberts and Diana M. Eng

In March 2017, New York State’s Department of Financial Services (“DFS”) implemented the nation’s first cybersecurity rules requiring all regulated entities, such as banks, insurers, financial businesses, and regulated virtual currency operators, to fortify their cybersecurity protocols by implementing and maintaining cybersecurity policies (the “Cybersecurity Regulation”). These protocols and policies include, among other things, establishing a detailed security plan, increasing the monitoring of third-party vendors, appointing chief information security officers, and reporting breaches to the Superintendent of the Department of Finance within 72 hours of identifying a Cybersecurity Event.[1] The Cybersecurity Regulation is codified at 23 NYCRR 500.

For the second time, DFS has fined a regulated entity for failure to comply with the Cybersecurity Regulation. In March 2020, DFS commenced an examination of Residential Mortgage Services, Inc. (“Residential”), a Mortgage Banker (as defined in the Banking Law) based in Maine and licensed in New York. The examination encompassed a general compliance, safety, and soundness review, as well as compliance with the Cybersecurity Regulation. During the review, Residential disclosed for the first time a Cybersecurity Event, which had occurred nearly 18 months earlier. Specifically, an employee, who handles sensitive personal data, received a phishing e-mail and clicked on a hyperlink to a malicious website. DFS determined that although Residential’s technical support staff was alerted to the suspicious activity, Residential’s internal investigation was inadequate since it did not conduct any further inquiry after concluding the unauthorized access was limited to the employee’s e-mail account. Further, DFS determined Residential failed to satisfy the notification requirements of the Cybersecurity Regulation, as Residential failed to (i) identify whether the employee’s mailbox contained private consumer data during the breach and which consumers were impacted; and (ii) notify the Department of Finance within 72 hours of identifying a Cybersecurity Event. Finally, DFS determined that Residential was missing a comprehensive cybersecurity risk assessment, which should have led to the periodic evaluation of controls designed to protect nonpublic information and information systems.

Continue reading

U.S. Supreme Court Holds “Autodialer” Definition under the TCPA Is Limited to Equipment Using a Random or Sequential Number Generator

Wayne StreibichDiana M. Eng, and Andrea M. Roberts

Financial institutions, debt collectors, and consumer-facing businesses should take note that the United States Supreme Court has ruled that the definition of an “autodialer” under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, as written, requires that the device must use a random or sequential number generator. This narrow interpretation should shield companies from liability in current or future actions, where the consumers’ telephone numbers are known and not random or sequentially generated.

In Facebook, Inc. v. Duguid, 592 U.S. ___ (2021), the United States Supreme Court (“SCOTUS”) narrowly interpreted the definition of “autodialer” under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”), holding the definition excludes equipment that does not use a random or sequential number generator. SCOTUS specifically held that an “automatic telephone dialing system” is limited to equipment that either stores a telephone number using a random or sequential number generator, or produces a telephone number using a random or sequential number generator.

Summary of Facts and Background

Plaintiff Noah Duguid (“Plaintiff”) began receiving several login-notification text messages from defendant Facebook, Inc. (“Facebook”), alerting him that someone had attempted access to the Facebook account associated with his phone number from an unknown browser. Plaintiff never had a Facebook account and had not given Facebook his phone number. As such, Plaintiff commenced a putative class action in the District Court for the Northern District of California (“District Court”) against Facebook, alleging it violated the TCPA by maintaining a database that stored phone numbers and programmed its equipment to send automated text messages to the stored phone numbers each time the person’s account was accessed by an unrecognized device or browser.

Facebook moved to dismiss, arguing that it did not violate the TCPA because Facebook did not use an automatic dialer, as its text messages were not sent to phone numbers that were randomly or sequentially generated. Rather, Facebook sent targeted, individualized texts to phone numbers linked to specific accounts. The District Court agreed with Facebook and dismissed Plaintiff’s complaint with prejudice.

Plaintiff appealed, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (“Ninth Circuit”) reversed the District Court’s order. The Ninth Circuit held that an autodialer “need not be able to use a random or sequential generator to store numbers; it need only have the capacity to ‘store numbers to be called’ and ‘to dial such numbers automatically.’” SCOTUS granted certiorari to resolve a circuit split among the Courts of Appeals regarding whether the definition of an “automatic telephone dialing system” includes equipment that can “store” and dial phone numbers, even if such equipment does not “us[e] a random or sequential number generator.”

To read the full client alert, please click here.

New York’s Highest Court Makes Key Rulings in Favor of Lenders Clarifying What Accelerates and De-Accelerates a Mortgage Debt for Statute of Limitations Purposes

Wayne Streibich, Diana M. Eng, and Chenxi Jiao

On February 18, 2021, the New York Court of Appeals issued a decision reversing the Appellate Division, First Department (“First Department”) and Appellate Division, Second Department’s (“Second Department”) decisions in Freedom Mortgage Corp. v. EngelDitech Financial, LLC v. NaiduVargas v. Deutsche Bank National Trust Company, and Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. v. Ferrato. Specifically, the Court of Appeals held, inter alia, that:

  1. a default letter stating that the lender “will” accelerate the debt referred to a future event and therefore did not accelerate the debt;
  2. the voluntary discontinuance of a foreclosure action (whether by motion or stipulation) within six years of acceleration, alone, revokes acceleration as a matter of law, unless the noteholder expressly states otherwise;
  3. the reason for a noteholder’s revocation is irrelevant, thereby expressly rejecting the concept that a noteholder’s revocation of acceleration cannot be “pretextual” to merely avoid the expiration of the statute of limitations; and
  4. a verified foreclosure complaint that accelerates the mortgage debt must clearly and accurately refer to the loan documents and debt at issue.

The Court of Appeals’ decision resolves a split between the First and Second Departments regarding whether a default letter clearly and unequivocally affirmatively accelerates a mortgage debt and provides much needed clarity on what conduct sufficiently accelerates a mortgage debt and revokes acceleration.

To read the full client alert, please click here.

New Requirements and Stays Imposed by New York’s COVID-19 Emergency Eviction and Foreclosure Prevention Act of 2020

Diana M. Eng and Alina Levi

On December 28, 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the New York legislature met in a Special Session and passed the COVID-19 Emergency Eviction and Foreclosure Prevention Act of 2020 (the “Act”) (S.9114/A.11181), which became effective immediately. The Act is aimed at providing relief to tenants facing residential eviction (Part A) and mortgagors/borrowers facing pending or future residential foreclosure proceedings (Part B, Subpart A). In addition, the Act (i) prohibits local governments from proceeding with tax lien sales or commencing tax foreclosures until May 1, 2021, on residential properties (Part B, Subpart B); (ii) prohibits credit discrimination and negative credit reporting (Part B, Subpart C); and (iii) requires local governments to carry-over the Senior Citizens’ Homeowners Exemption and the Disabled Homeowner Exemption to 2021 (Part B, Subpart D). Highlights of the Act are summarized below, but please refer to the full text of the Act for additional information.[i]

Limits of the Act

  • The Act does not apply to residential eviction and foreclosure actions involving vacant and abandoned properties, as defined in RPAPL 1309(2), listed on the statewide vacant and abandoned property electronic registry, as defined in RPAPL § 1310, prior to March 7, 2020, and that remain on such registry.[ii]
  • The Act also does not apply to, and does not affect, any mortgage loan made, insured, purchased, or securitized by a corporate governmental agency of the state constituted as a political subdivision and public benefit corporation or the rights and obligations of any lender, issuer servicer, or trustee of such obligations.[iii]

Eviction Highlights – Part A of the Act

  • Stays pending residential eviction proceedings for 60 days and bars new filings for 60 days through the end of February 2021, or to such later date that the chief administrative judge shall determine is necessary to ensure that the courts are prepared to conduct proceedings in compliance with the Act[iv];
  • Allows residential tenants to submit to their landlord and/or file with the court, a Hardship Declaration,[v] under penalty of perjury regarding their inability to pay their rent or secure alternative housing and suffering a financial hardship or suffering a health-related hardship that will extend the stay on eviction proceedings until May 1, 2021;
  • Certain proceedings can continue if the court receives an authorized new petition stating that the tenant is persistently and unreasonably engaging in behavior that substantially infringes on the use and enjoyment of other tenants or occupants or causes a substantial safety hazard to others;
  • Requires the landlord and the court to serve on tenants, the Hardship Declaration Form, along with all required notices of petition;
  • Requires the state Office of Court Administration to post such information and forms on its website in multiple languages;[vi]
  • Allows tenants to vacate default judgments upon oral or written request; and
  • Creates a presumption of financial hardship upon filing a Hardship Declaration that would support a defense based on financial hardship under the Tenant Safe Harbor Act.[vii]

Foreclosure Highlights – Part B of the Act

Stay of Residential Foreclosures

  • All pending residential foreclosure actions are stayed for at least 60 days through the end of February 2021, or to such later date that the chief administrative judge shall determine is necessary to ensure that the courts are prepared to conduct proceedings in compliance with the Act.[viii]
  • The 60-day stay applies where the owner or mortgagor of the property is a natural person, regardless of how title is held, and owns 10 or fewer dwelling units whether directly or indirectly.
  • Any owner, borrower, mortgagor, or natural person who owns 10 or fewer residential dwellings (as long as this includes the borrower’s primary residence) and experiences a financial hardship, can file a Hardship Declaration[ix] with the lender, its agent, or the court to stay a pending foreclosure proceeding until May 1, 2021, and prevent the commencement of a foreclosure action until May 1, 2021.
  • Where a judgment of foreclosure sale was issued before December 28, 2020, but has not yet been executed, execution of the judgment shall be stayed until the court holds a status conference with the parties. If borrower/mortgagor submits a Hardship Declaration prior to the execution of the judgment, the action shall be stayed until May 1, 2021.

Statute of Limitations

  • The statute of limitations to foreclose will be tolled during the initial 60-day stay. The Act also provides that “any specific time limit for the commencement of an action to foreclose a mortgage shall be tolled until May 1, 2021.”[x]

Requirements for New Residential Mortgage Foreclosure Actions

  • New York Courts will not accept new foreclosure complaints for filing, unless the foreclosing party files an Affidavit of Service stating that:

(a) the required notices under RPAPL § 1303 (Help for Homeowners in Foreclosure/Notice to Tenants or “1303 Notice”) and RPAPL § 1304 (the “90-Day Notice”) and the Hardship Declaration (in English and mortgagor’s primary language, if other than English[xi]) were served on borrower/mortgagor; and

(b) attesting that at the time of filing, neither the foreclosing party nor its agent has received a Hardship Declaration from the mortgagor.

  • Importantly, the foreclosing party should not rely on 1303 Notices served, or 90-Day Notices that were mailed, before the Act was effective. Rather, the foreclosing party should serve new 1303 Notices and mail new 90-Day Notices with the required Hardship Declaration.[xii]
  • After a foreclosure action is commenced, the court shall seek confirmation on the record or in writing that borrower/mortgagor has received a Hardship Declaration and has not returned the Hardship Declaration to the foreclosing party or its agent.
  • If the court determines that the borrower/mortgagor has not yet received a Hardship Declaration form, the court must stay further proceedings for no less than 10 business days to ensure borrower/mortgagor receives and fully considers whether to submit a Hardship Declaration.

Continue reading