Eleventh Circuit Rules that Consumers Have the Right to Partially Revoke Consent to Automated Calls under the TCPA

By: Michael Esposito

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently issued its opinion in Emily Schweitzer v. Comenity Bank, holding that the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 47 U.S.C. sec. 227 et seq. (“TCPA”), allows consumers to partially revoke their consent to be called by an automated telephone dialing system. No. 16-10498 (Eleventh Cir. August 10, 2017).

In Schweitzer, Plaintiff was issued a credit card by Comenity Bank (“Comenity” or the “Bank”) in 2012 and, during the application process, provided a cellular phone number to the Bank. In 2013, Plaintiff failed to tender the required monthly credit card payments and, as a result, Comenity used an automated telephone dialing system to make hundreds of calls to Plaintiff on her cellular phone regarding the delinquency. During a call with a Comenity representative on October 13, 2014, Plaintiff informed the representative that Comenity could not call her in the morning and during the work day, because she was working and could not discuss the delinquency while at work. Subsequently, Plaintiff twice told a representative of Comenity to please stop calling her. Thereafter, Comenity did not call Plaintiff’s cellular phone using an automated telephone dialing system.

Ultimately, Plaintiff commenced a suit against Comenity for alleged violations of the TCPA. Specifically, Plaintiff claimed that during the October 13th conversation, she revoked her consent for Comenity to call her cellular phone using an automated telephone dialing system and asserted that Comenity violated the TCPA by placing over 200 calls using an automated system from October 2014 through March 2015. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Comenity and reasoned that the bank “did not know and should not have had reason to know that [Plaintiff] wanted no further calls.” In addition, the district court stated that Plaintiff did not “define or specify the parameters of the times she did not want to be called” and, therefore, a reasonable jury could not find that Plaintiff revoked her consent to call her cellular phone. Plaintiff appealed.

On appeal, Comenity argued that the district court correctly granted summary judgment in its favor because the TCPA does not allow partial revocations of consent and, even if possible, a reasonable jury could not find that Plaintiff had expressly done so during the October 13th conversation. The Eleventh Circuit Court rejected Comenity’s arguments, finding that “[a]lthough the TCPA is silent on the issues of revocation, [its] decision in Osorio holds that a consumer may orally revoke her consent to receive automated phone calls.” See Osorio v. State Farm Bank, F.S.B., 746 F. 3d 1242, 1255 (11th Cir. 2014).

Further, the Eleventh Circuit explained that since the TCPA is silent as to partial revocations of consent, the analysis of the matter is governed by common law principles, which support its holding that the TCPA “allows a consumer to provide limited, i.e., restricted, consent for the receipt of automated calls.” Moreover, “[i]t follows that unlimited consent, once given, can also be partially revoked as to future automated calls under the TCPA.” In support of its conclusion, the Eleventh Circuit reasoned that it is “logical that a consumer’s power under the TCPA to completely withdraw consent and thereby stop all future automated calls . . . encompasses the power to partially withdraw consent and stop calls during certain times.” Although the Eleventh Circuit noted the district court’s concern that partial revocations may create challenges for both callers and parties attempting to present evidence in support of TCPA claims, it held that any such complications do not warrant limiting a consumer’s rights under the TCPA.

Second, with regard to Comenity’s argument that a reasonable jury could not find that Plaintiff’s statements made during the October 13th conversation constituted a partial revocation of consent under the TCPA, the Eleventh Circuit ruled that the “issue is close” and concluded that the matter of partial revocation was for the jury to evaluate. In reaching its conclusion, the Eleventh Circuit found that summary judgment was not warranted since reasonable minds might differ on the inferences arising from Plaintiff’s request not to be called “in the morning and during the work day.”

This decision is significant because the Eleventh Circuit has expanded the consumer’s right to revoke consent under the TCPA to include partial revocations. Based on this decision, debt collectors conducting business within the Eleventh Circuit will need to update their automated dialing systems to incorporate such partial revocations.

Second Circuit Holds That TCPA Does Not Permit Consumer to Unilaterally Revoke Consent for Telephone Contact Provided in Binding Contract

By: Diana M. Eng and Andrea M. Roberts

In Reyes v. Lincoln Automotive Financial Services, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit recently held that the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”) does not permit a consumer to unilaterally revoke consent to be contacted by telephone when such consent is given as bargained-for consideration in a binding contract. Reyes v. Lincoln Automotive Fin. Servs., 2017 WL 3675363 (2d Cir. June 22, 2017).

Background

In 2012, Plaintiff-Appellant, Alberto Reyes, Jr. (“Plaintiff”), leased a car which was financed by Defendant-Appellee, Lincoln Automotive Financial Services (“Lincoln”). The lease contained a provision which expressly permitted Lincoln to contact Plaintiff. Plaintiff stopped making payments under the lease and, as a result, Lincoln called Plaintiff in an attempt to cure his default. Plaintiff disputed his balance on the lease and alleged that he requested that Lincoln cease contacting him. Despite Plaintiff’s alleged revocation of consent, Lincoln continued to call Plaintiff. As such, Plaintiff filed a complaint in the Eastern District of New York alleging violations of the TCPA.

The TCPA was enacted to protect consumers from “unrestricted telemarketing” which could be “an intrusive invasion of privacy.” See Mims v. Arrow Fin. Servs., LLC, 565 U.S. 368, 371 (2012) (internal citations omitted). Under the TCPA, any person within the United States is prohibited from “initiat[ing] any telephone call to any residential telephone line using an artificial or prerecorded voice to deliver a message without the prior express consent of the called party.” 47 U.S.C. 227(b)(1)(B).

Lincoln moved for summary judgment to dismiss the complaint, and the district court granted the motion, holding that (1) Plaintiff had failed to produce sufficient evidence to establish that he revoked his consent to be contacted and (2) the TCPA does not permit a party to a legally binding contract to unilaterally revoke bargained-for consent to be contacted by telephone. Plaintiff appealed both rulings.

The Second Circuit’s Decision

The Second Circuit affirmed the district court’s holding that under the TCPA, a consumer cannot unilaterally revoke its consent to be called when such consent was part of a bargained-for exchange.[1] In assessing whether a party can revoke prior consent under the TCPA, the Second Circuit agreed with the holdings of its sister courts that a party can revoke prior voluntary or free consent under the statute. See Gager v. Dell Financial Services, 727 F.3d 265 (3d Cir. 2013) (plaintiff permitted to revoke consent, where consent was provided in an application for a line of credit); Osorio v. State Farm Bank F.S.B., 746 F.3d 1242 (11th Cir. 2014) (plaintiff could revoke consent, where consent was provided in an application for auto insurance). The Second Court noted, however, that unlike in Gager and Osorio, Plaintiff’s consent was not provided gratuitously. Rather, Plaintiff’s consent was included as an express provision of a contract with Lincoln. Accordingly, the Second Circuit drew a distinction between the definition of consent under tort and contract law. Specifically, in tort law, the term “consent” is defined as a “voluntary yielding to what another purposes or desires.” Black’s Law Dictionary (10th ed. 2014). However, under contract law, “consent to another’s actions can ‘become irrevocable’ when it is provided in a legally binding agreement, in which case any ‘attempted termination is not effective.’” See Restatement (Second) of Torts 892A(5) (Am. Law Inst. 1979); see also 13-67 Corbin on Contracts 67.1 (2017).

The Second Circuit also determined that a contractual term need not be “essential” to be enforced as part of a binding agreement and that contracting parties are bound to perform on the agreed upon terms; a party who agreed to a valid term in a binding contract cannot later renege on that term or unilaterally declare that it no longer applies simply because the contract could have been performed without it. “[R]eading the TCPA’s definition of ‘consent’ to permit unilateral revocation at any time, as [Plaintiff] suggests, would permit him to do just that,” and the Second Circuit could not “conclude that Congress intended to alter the common law of contracts in this way.” (citation omitted).

Conclusion

This decision is significant, as it addressed the novel issue of whether consent that is given as part of a bilateral contract may be unilaterally revoked by a consumer under the TCPA. Based on Reyes, financial institutions that have consent provisions in binding contracts with consumers have a powerful defense against TCPA claims. In practice, if a contract with a consumer contains an express consent provision, the financial institution would need to agree to the consumer’s request to revoke. Financial institutions should also be cognizant that a consumer, who provides consent to be called in an application, may unilaterally revoke such consent.

[1] The Second Circuit also held that the district court erred in finding that no reasonable jury could find that Plaintiff revoked his consent, as Plaintiff had introduced sworn testimony of revocation. However, this error does not impact the ruling that Plaintiff nevertheless cannot unilaterally revoke his consent under the TCPA when such consent is part of a binding contract.

Florida Second District Court of Appeal Ruling Highlights the Possible Pitfalls of Relying on Prior Servicer Records

By: Michael R. Esposito

Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal (“Second District Court”) recently held that a mortgagee failed to demonstrate it satisfied the condition precedent in a residential mortgage foreclosure. Allen v. Wilmington Trust, N.A., 2D15-2976, 2017 WL 1325896 (Fla. 2d DCA 2016). In Allen, the underlying mortgage contained the standard provision which requires a lender/servicer to notify the borrower of a default prior to the loan being accelerated and a foreclosure filed. In addition to the foregoing provision, the mortgage specified that any notice mailed in relation to the instrument “shall be deemed to have been given to [b]orrower when mailed by first class mail or when actually delivered to [b]orrower’s address if sent by other means.” Prior to the commencement of the action, a notice of default was mailed to the borrower by the prior loan servicer, EMC Mortgage Corporation (“EMC”), in accordance with the provision. Thereafter, Wilmington Trust, N.A. (“Wilmington”) filed a complaint on or about November 21, 2012, seeking foreclosure of the subject mortgage. In response to the lawsuit, the borrower denied Wilmington satisfied all conditions precedent to filing the lawsuit and raised an affirmative defense that asserted Wilmington failed to establish that a notice of default was provided as required by the mortgage.

During the bench trial, a corporate representative of the current servicer testified on behalf of Wilmington. The witness testified as to the boarding process used to verify the accuracy of the records of EMC and specified the related business records included a notice of default that was addressed to the borrower and dated March 12, 2010. Further, the witness testified that because the letter existed, it had been sent to the borrower and there were no records indicating the notice was returned as undeliverable. More importantly, the witness confirmed the business records associated with the loan did not specifically show the notice was actually mailed to the borrower and she was unable to testify as to EMC’s mailing procedures. In response, the borrower objected to the witness’ testimony that EMC mailed the notice and argued Wilmington failed to establish the appropriate foundation for the testimony since she was unfamiliar with the prior servicer’s procedures. Despite the trial court’s denial of the objection, the borrower argued at the close of the bench trial that Wilmington neglected to demonstrate it satisfied the condition precedent of mailing the notice of default. Ultimately, the trial court held the witness’ testimony as to the boarding process was sufficient to show Wilmington satisfied the condition precedent and entered a final judgment of foreclosure in favor thereof.

In reviewing the matter, the Second District Court held the trial court incorrectly relied on the boarding process to prove the notice of default was actually mailed. Although the witness’ testimony as to the boarding process was sufficient to support the admission of the notice of default, the Second District Court concluded that the testimony and evidence proffered failed to establish the notice of default was mailed to the borrower. In support of its conclusion, the Second District Court cited to Burt v. Hudson & Keyse, LLC, 138, So. 3d 1193 (Fla. 5th DCA 2014) and held that while the notice of default was dated, it did not contain any proof that the notice was mailed to the borrower. Without proffering further evidence of proof of regular business practice, an affidavit swearing that the notice of default was mailed, or a return receipt, Wilmington was only able to rely upon the testimony of its witness, who was unable to show personal knowledge of EMC’s general practice in mailing letters. As a result, the Second District Court reversed and remanded the action for dismissal since Wilmington was unable to demonstrate the notice of default was mailed pursuant to an established business procedure of EMC and, therefore, could not prove the required condition precedent was satisfied.

This case highlights the litigation risks associated with service transferred loans and the importance of current loan servicers obtaining all relevant business records and/or education on prior servicer policies and procedures.

U.S. Supreme Court Excludes Banks Collecting Purchased Delinquent Debt from Definition of “Debt Collector” under the FDCPA

By: Diana M. Eng and Louise Marencik

Banks and other consumer finance firms that purchase delinquent debt and then collect on their own behalf are not “debt collectors” under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. However, this limitation still does not apply to those institutions that collect on behalf of another.

In a unanimous decision in Henson et al. v. Santander Consumer USA Inc., the United States Supreme Court held that the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”) does not apply to banks and other consumer finance firms that purchase and then collect on defaulted debt that they own. No. 16-349, ____ U.S. ____ (2017).

Please click here for the full alert.

CFPB Issues Proposed Amendment to Home Mortgage Disclosure Act

By: Jessica McElroy

On April 13, 2017, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”) issued a Notice of Proposed Rule Making[1] targeted at amending Regulation C to make technical corrections to and clarify certain requirements adopted by the CFPB’s Home Mortgage Disclosure final rule (“2015 HMDA Final Rule”), which was published on October 28, 2015.[2]

Regulation C implements the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (“HMDA”).[3] HMDA has historically provided the public and public officials with information about mortgage lending activity by requiring financial institutions to collect, report and disclose certain data pertaining to mortgage activities. The Dodd-Frank Act amended HMDA and transferred rule-making authority to the CFPB.[4] The Dodd-Frank Act additionally expanded the scope of information that institutions must collect and disclose under HMDA.[5]

The 2015 HMDA Final Rule modified the types of institutions and transactions subject to Regulation C, the types of data that institutions are required to collect and the processes for reporting and disclosing the required data.[6] Most of the modifications take effect in January 2018.

The CFPB now proposes establishing transition rules for two data points: loan purpose and the unique identifier for the loan originator. According to the CFPB, the rules would allow financial institutions to report “not applicable” for these data points when reporting certain purchased loans that were originated before the regulatory requirements took effect. Additionally, the proposal would facilitate reporting the census tract of the property securing the covered loan required by Regulation C via a geocoding tool that the CFPB intends to make available on its web site. This tool would allow financial institutions to identify the census tract in which a property is located. The proposal also includes a safe harbor provision for institutions that obtain the incorrect census tract number from the CFPB’s geocoding tool, provided that an accurate property address is entered and the tool returned a census tract for the address entered.

Comments on the proposal are due 30 days after the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking is published in the Federal Register.

Click below for the proposal: https://s3.amazonaws.com/files.consumerfinance.gov/f/documents/201704_cfpb_NPRM_HMDA.pdf.


 

[1] See https://www.consumerfinance.gov/policy-compliance/rulemaking/rules-under-development/technical-corrections-and-clarifying-amendments-home-mortgage-disclosure-october-2015-final-rule/ (last accessed April 17, 2017).

[2] See https://s3.amazonaws.com/files.consumerfinance.gov/f/documents/201704_cfpb_NPRM_HMDA.pdf.

[3] 12 U.S.C. § 2801 et seq.

[4] Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, Public Law 111-203, 124 Stat. 1376, section 2097- 101 (2010).

[5] Id.

[6] October 2015 HMDA Final Rule, 80 FR 66128, 29.

Second Circuit Upholds Bankruptcy Court Order Denying Borrowers’ RESPA Claim on the Grounds the QWR Was Mailed to the Incorrect Address

By: Andrea M. Roberts

In Barry F. Mack v. ResCap Borrower Claims Trust, Case Number 16-304 (2d Cir. Jan. 31, 2017) the Second Circuit recently affirmed the Bankruptcy Court’s order sustaining Residential Capital, LLC’s (“ResCap”) objection to the borrowers, Barry and Cheryl Mack’s (“Borrowers”) Proof of Claim for damages based on, among other things, failure to respond to a Qualified Written Request (“QWR”) in violation of the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (“RESPA”). The Second Circuit held that Borrowers’ Proof of Claim was properly denied, because Borrowers did not mail the QWR to the designated address and therefore, ResCap’s lack of response did not violate RESPA.

In 2009 Borrowers sent a QWR to GMAC Mortgage LLC (“GMAC”) querying why an erroneous foreclosure action against them remained pending even though GMAC had notified them that they were not in default. Notably, Borrowers did not send the QWR to the address designated by GMAC for receipt of QWRs. Instead, Borrowers sent the QWR to the address designated for “General Inquiries.” GMAC never responded to Borrower’s QWR.

In May 2012, ResCap and 51 of its subsidiaries, including GMAC, filed for bankruptcy.[1] Borrowers timely filed a Proof of Claim for money damages premised upon, among other things, a violation of RESPA for GMAC’s failure to respond to the QWR. After a trial, the Bankruptcy Court sustained ResCap’s objection to the Borrower’s RESPA claim on the grounds that the Borrowers failed to mail the QWR to the correct address. Borrowers appealed.

Under RESPA, a mortgage servicer can “establish a designated address for QWRs.” See Roth v. CitiMortgage Inc., 756 F.3d 178, 181 (2d Cir. 2014). If a servicer designates a specific address for receipt of QWRs, “then the borrower must deliver its request to that office in order for the inquiry to be a ‘qualified written request.’” Id. (quoting RESPA, § 6, Transfer of Servicing of Mortgage Loans (Regulation X), 59 Fed. Reg. 65,442, 65,446 (Dec. 19, 1994)). The failure to send the QWR to a servicer’s designated address “does not trigger the servicer’s duties under RESPA.” Id. (quoting Berneike v. CitiMortgage, Inc., 708 F.3d 1141, 1148-49 (10th Cir. 2013).

The Second Circuit found that although there is no dispute that the Borrowers sent a QWR to GMAC, and GMAC failed to respond to the QWR, because Borrowers did not send the QWR to GMAC’s designated address for receipt of QWRs, the duty to respond to the Borrower’s letter under RESPA was never triggered. Therefore, GMAC did not violate RESPA. Accordingly, the Second Circuit held that the Bankruptcy Court properly sustained ResCap’s objection to the Borrowers’ RESPA claim.

In practice, borrowers or their counsel have attempted to attach purported QWRs to pleadings and then allege RESPA violations for failure to respond. This decision confirms that financial institutions cannot be liable under RESPA if the QWR is not directed to the designated address.

[1] GMAC is a named debtor under the Borrower Claims Trust Agreement dated December 17, 2013 (the “Agreement”). Under the Agreement, in pursuing any borrower-related causes of action, such matters and/or execution of any documents relating thereto, are to be in the name of “ResCap Borrower Claims Trust.”

New York Appellate Court Holds That RPAPL 1304(4) Does Not Bar Actions Commenced More Than One Year After Mailing 90-Day Notice

By: Alexander J. Franchilli

On August 24, 2016, the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Second Department, held that the 90-day notice required under Real Property Actions and Proceedings Law (“RPAPL”) § 1304(1) does not expire one year after its initial mailing. See Deutsche Bank Nat. Trust Co. v. Webster, 2016 N.Y. Slip Op 05846 (2d Dep’t 2016).  Under RPAPL § 1304(1), “a lender, an assignee or a mortgage loan servicer” must mail a notice containing statutorily prescribed language at least 90 days before commencing an action against the borrower of a home loan.

In Webster, the plaintiff commenced an action to recover a money judgment on a promissory note pursuant to RPAPL § 1301 on January 24, 2014. The plaintiff moved for summary judgment, and submitted a copy of a letter, dated April 15, 2011, to demonstrate compliance with the 90-day notice requirements of RPAPL § 1304.

The defendant cross-moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing, among other things, that the 90-day notice expired before the action was commenced.  In opposition, the plaintiff contended that the requirements of RPAPL § 1304 were not applicable because the plaintiff was not seeking to foreclose a mortgage.

Although the court determined that RPAPL § 1304 “is applicable to all legal actions involving home loans commenced against the borrower,” the court rejected the defendant’s argument that the 90-day notice had expired.

The court examined the language of RPAPL § 1304(4), which states: “[t]he notice and the ninety day period required by subdivision one of this section need only be provided once in a twelve month period to the same borrower in connection with the same loan.” Id.  The Court found that “the language does not state that the action must be commenced within 12 months of the RPAPL 1304 notice.”  Instead, the Court interpreted the language of RPAPL § 1304(4) as standing for the proposition that “if there are multiple defaults in the 12-month period, only one RPAPL 1304 notice is required.” Id.

This decision is significant for creditors because the Second Department has clarified that RPAPL 1304 does not require more than one 90-day notice and that such notice does not expire one year after it is mailed to the borrower.