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.

Eleventh Circuit Clarifies Meaning of Consummation of Transaction in Dismissing Borrowers’ TILA Right of Rescission Claim

By: Anthony Yanez

In Woide v. Federal Nat’l Mortg. Ass’n, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit held that consummation of a contract for purposes of asserting a right of rescission under the Truth in Lending Act (“TILA”) occurs when a borrower signs the pertinent loan documents. Woide v. Federal Nat’l Mortg. Ass’n., 2017 WL 3411701 (11th Cir. Aug. 9, 2017).

Background

On December 7, 2011, Federal National Mortgage Association (“Fannie Mae”) filed a foreclosure lawsuit against Charles and Susannah Woide (“Plaintiffs”) in state court after they defaulted on their mortgage. On April 1, 2015, the Plaintiffs notified Fannie Mae by mail that they were rescinding the mortgage pursuant to Section 1601-1667f of TILA. Subsequently, Plaintiffs filed a lawsuit in the Middle District of Florida[1] against Fannie Mae and the law firms that handled their foreclosure action seeking a declaratory judgment that Plaintiffs rescinded their mortgage obligation under TILA and requesting that Fannie Mae disgorge all monies that it allegedly unlawfully retained under Plaintiff’s mortgage.

Congress enacted TILA in 1968, as part of the Consumer Credit Protection Act, Pub.L. No. 90-321, 82 Stat. 146 (1968) (codified as amended at 15 U.S.C. §§ 1601-1616), “to assure a meaningful disclosure of credit terms so that the consumer will be able to compare more readily the various credit terms available to him and avoid the uninformed use of credit.” 15 U.S.C. § 1601(a). Regulation Z implements requirements under TILA and provides that “[c]onsummation means the time that a consumer becomes contractually obligated on a credit transaction.” 12 C.F.R. § 226.1(a); 12 C.F.R. § 226.2(13).

“Under TILA, a debtor may rescind a mortgage ‘until midnight of the third business day following the consummation of the transaction or the delivery of the information and rescission forms . . . , whichever is later . . . .’” Smith v. Highland Bank, 108 F.3d 1325, 1326 (11th Cir. 1997) (per curiam) (quoting 15 U.S.C. § 1635(a)). In the event that the debtor never receives the information and disclosures required by TILA, the “right of rescission shall expire three years after the date of consummation of the transaction,” 15 U.S.C. § 1635(f), which TILA defines as “the time that a consumer becomes contractually obligated on a credit transaction.” 12 C.F.R. § 1026.2(a)(13).

All Defendants moved to dismiss Plaintiff’s complaint, and the district court granted the motion to dismiss, holding that the Plaintiffs’ right of rescission expired three years after they consummated the note and mortgage, which was on December 28, 2010. The district court determined the consummation date to be December 28, 2007, which was the date that Plaintiffs had signed the note and mortgage, and then added three years to that date as the bright-line rescission deadline under TILA. Thus, the district court held that the Plaintiffs’ right of rescission letter, dated April 1, 2015, was ineffective as a matter of law. Further, since the district court determined that all of Plaintiffs’ claims derived from their legally ineffective rescission of the mortgage obligation under TILA, the district court dismissed the complaint with prejudice because any amendment would be futile. See Woide v. Federal Nat’l Mortg. Ass’n, 2016 WL 4567132 (M.D. Fla. Sept. 1, 2016). Plaintiffs appealed.

 Eleventh Circuit’s Decision

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal, finding that the district court correctly determined that the Plaintiffs’ right to rescind under TILA expired in 2010 and that the Plaintiffs’ alleged notice of rescission could not have legally rescinded their mortgage obligation in 2015. Relying on Bragg v. Bill Heard Chevrolet, Inc., 374 F. 3d 1060, 1065 (11th Cir. 2004) and the plain language of Regulation Z, the Eleventh Circuit explained that “consummation occurs when the consumer signs the offered contract, not when the contract becomes binding under state law.” See Bragg, 374 F.3d at 1066-1068. The Plaintiffs contended that their note and mortgage never became binding under Florida law and that their mortgage obligation was never consummated within the meaning of TILA. The Eleventh Circuit rejected this argument because the issue of whether a contract was formed under state law is irrelevant to whether consummation occurred under TILA. Specifically, the Eleventh Circuit found that the question of consummation is governed by federal law, and federal law explains that the right to rescind accrues from the date that the borrower signs the operative loan documents, which, in this case, occurred in 2007.

Ultimately, because the Plaintiffs became obligated under the note and mortgage by signing the loan documents in 2007, all of their claims, which were based on their attempted rescission in 2015, were without merit. Accordingly, the Eleventh Circuit held that the district court did not err in dismissing the case with prejudice without granting leave to amend because a more carefully drafted complaint would not have stated a claim against the Defendants.

 Conclusion

This decision reaffirms the long established principle that a borrower’s right of rescission lasts no more than three years from a loan closing if that borrower never receives the information and disclosures required by TILA at the closing. Lenders and servicers should also be aware that federal law, and not state law, controls when the rescission right accrues.

[1] The Plaintiffs also asserted claims under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, (“FDCPA”), 15 U.S.C. §§ 1692–1692p, and the Florida Consumer Collection Practices Act (“FCCPA”), Fla. Stat. §§ 559.55–559.785 on the grounds that the Defendants attempted to collect on their mortgage debt despite Plaintiff’s claim of “rescission.”

ELEVENTH CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS CLARIFIES THE MEANING OF “DEBT COLLECTOR” UNDER THE FDCPA

By: Diana M. Eng and Joshua B. Alper

In Davidson v. Capital One Bank (USA), N.A., No. 14-14200 (11th Cir. Aug. 21, 2015), the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals held that, for purposes of the FDCPA, a person does not qualify as a “debt collector” if the person fails to satisfy the statutory definition even though the “debt on which [the person] seek[s] to collect was in default at the time they acquired it.” Id. slip op. at 12. In essence, plaintiffs cannot use other sections of the FDCPA in an attempt to enlarge the statutory definition.

Section 1692a(6) defines the term “debt collector” as “(1) any person who uses any instrumentality of interstate commerce or the mails in any business the principal purpose of which is the collection of any debts, or (2) who regularly collects or attempts to collect, directly or indirectly, debts owed or due or asserted to be owed or due another.” Id. at 7–8 (quoting § 1692a(6)). The first definition of “debt collector” has been denoted as the “principal purpose” definition while the latter is often termed the “regular collection” definition. Significantly, Section 1692a(6)(A)–(F) contains a list of persons that Congress intended to exclude from the application of the FDCPA. Id. at 8. Among those excluded categories are “any person collecting or attempting to collect any debt owed or due or asserted to be owed or due to another to the extent such activity . . . concerns a debt which was not in default at the time it was obtained by such person.” Id. (quoting § 1692a(6)(F)(iii)).

In Davidson, HSBC commenced a state court action against Davidson to collect on a past due credit card account that was used for “personal, family or household purposes.” Id. at 3. During the pendency of the state court proceeding, the parties executed a settlement agreement where Mr. Davidson agreed to pay HSBC $500.00. Id. However, after Mr. Davidson failed to pay the agreed amount, the court entered a judgment in favor of HSBC. Id. Subsequently, Capital One acquired a significant portfolio of HSBC’s United States-based credit card accounts, many of which were previously delinquent, including Davidson’s account. Id. In an attempt to collect the debt now owed to Capital One, it commenced its own lawsuit against Mr. Davidson to collect on the past due account that was previously the subject of litigation between HSBC and Davidson. Id. Upon being sued for a second time involving the same account, Davidson commenced a putative class action in the District Court for the Northern District of Georgia against Capital One, alleging that Capital One’s state court action violated the FDCPA. Id. at 4.

Based on certain events that occurred in the District Court action, Davidson filed an Amended Complaint. Id. The Amended Complaint alleged that Capital One “regularly acquires delinquent and defaulted consumer debts that were originally owed to others and has attempted to collect such delinquent or defaulted debt in the regular course of its business, using the mails and telephone system.” Id. at 15. Capital One moved to dismiss the Amended Complaint and argued that the Plaintiff failed to “plausibly allege that Capital One was a ‘debt collector’ for purposes of the FDCPA, and [as such, the Amended Complaint should be dismissed because] only debt collectors are subject to liability under the” FDCPA. Id. at 4. Specifically, Capital One argued that the debt at issue was owed to it and not to another, which is a requirement under the “regular collection” definition. Id. In response, Davidson asserted that [c]ompanies that regularly purchase and collect defaulted consumer debts . . . are regulated by the” FDCPA. Id. at 5. The District Court agreed with Capital One and granted its motion to dismiss, stating that Davidson failed to satisfy either the “principal purpose” or “regular collection” definitions. Id.

In affirming the District Court, the Eleventh Circuit held that a bank (or any person or entity) does not qualify as a “debt collector,” unless a plaintiff plausibly alleges the defendant’s purported collection activities satisfy the “principal purpose” or “regular collection” definitions, “even where the consumer’s debt was in default at the time the bank acquired it.” Id. at 2 (emphasis added). Davidson argued that whether Capital One qualified as a “debt collector” depended on the default status of the debt on the date of acquisition, which, in turn, would lead to the conclusion that a person was either a “creditor” or a “debt collector”. Id. at 8. In support of this argument, Davidson relied on the exclusionary language contained in section 1692a(6)(F)(iii). Davidson reasoned that if the debtor was in default on the date the debt was acquired, the exclusionary language exempted the person or entity from the statutory definition of “debt collector,” and, by default, the person or entity would be a “creditor.” Id. at 9. By contrast, Davidson asserted that where the debt was already in default on the acquisition date, the exception did not apply, and the party was a “debt collector” governed by the FDCPA. Id.

In rejecting Davidson’s arguments, the Eleventh Circuit relied on the plain and unambiguous meaning of “debt collector” set forth in section 1692a(6) and the standards contained therein. Id. at 11. Otherwise, Davidson’s interpretation would result in a strained reading of the statutory framework. Id. As a result, the Eleventh Circuit rejected Davidson’s attempt “to bring entities that do not otherwise meet the definition of ‘debt collector’ within the ambit of the FDCPA” solely due to the default status of the debt on the date it was acquired. Id. at 11–12. Critically, the Eleventh Circuit cautioned that the language contained in section 1692a(6)(F)(iii) “is an exclusion; it is not a trap door.” Id. at 12.

Since the Amended Complaint did not plausibly allege the “principal purpose” or the “regular collection” definitions, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the District Court’s decision. Specifically, the Amended Complaint only alleged that some part of Capital One’s business was devoted to debt collection. Id. at 16. Based on the “principal purpose” definition, such allegations are insufficient to state a claim. Id. Likewise, the “regular collection” definition requires that the person or entity collect a debt “owed or due another at the time of collection” and not “debts originally owed or due another” and now owed to a subsequent entity by virtue of an acquisition. Id. at 16–17 (emphasis in original). Since Capital One’s conduct only concerned collection efforts related to a debt Davidson owed to Capital One, and not to another party, the Amended Complaint failed to plausibly state facts that would entitle Davidson to relief under the regular collection definition. Id. Consequently, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the District Court’s dismissal of the Amended Complaint. Id. at 18.

In light of this decision, entities that engage in debt collection activities can be reassured that there are limits on the application of the FDCPA. Not all collection activity is governed by the statutory framework. This decision deals a significant blow to plaintiffs who have been attempting to expand the reach of the FDCPA. Davidson also confirms that the plain meaning doctrine is strictly enforced and courts should not allow litigants to enlarge a statute’s intended application or purpose. Entities that engage in debt collection activities should be mindful of this decision if faced with FDCPA claims.