Articles Posted in RESPA/TILA Class Actions

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Class Action Alleging Violations of Federal Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) and California’s Unfair Competition Law (UCL) Properly Dismissed by District Court because Class Action Claims were Preempted by National Bank Act Ninth Circuit Holds

Plaintiffs filed a putative class action against Wells Fargo alleging violations of the federal Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) and California’s Unfair Competition Law (UCL); specifically, the class action complaint alleged that Wells Fargo violated RESPA’s prohibition against “unearned fees” by “overcharging” its customers, and that “Wells Fargo’s conduct was ‘unfair,’ ‘fraudulent’ and ‘illegal,’ all in violation of the UCL.” Martinez v. Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, Inc., ___ F.3d ___ (9th Cir. March 9, 2010) [Slip Opn., at 3763, 3767]. According to the allegations underlying the class action complaint, Wells Fargo charged plaintiffs an $800 underwriting fee in connection with refinancing their home loan. Id., at 3767. The class action alleges that the fee violated was excessive “because it was not reasonably related to Wells Fargo’s actual costs of performing the underwriting,” id., at 3767-68. Plaintiffs earlier sought to intervene in a New York lawsuit that contained identical claims; but the federal court denied intervention and dismissed the class action, and “the Second Circuit affirmed in part and remanded, holding that RESPA Section 8(b) clearly and unambiguously does not apply to excessive fees charged by a lender.” Id., at 3768. The essence of the present class action complaint was that “Wells Fargo marked up certain charges and overcharged for services in connection with mortgage loans, in violation of federal and state law.” Id. Defense attorneys moved to dismiss the class action, and the district court granted the motion on the grounds that RESPA does not apply to “overcharge” claims and that the class action’s UCL claims were preempted by the National Bank Act and “failed to identify an underlying illegal predicate act.” Id., at 3768-69. Plaintiffs appealed, and the Ninth Circuit affirmed.

The Ninth Circuit first held that the district court properly dismissed the class action’s RESPA claim because the statute does not apply to overcharge claims: “The language of Section 8(b) prohibits only the practice of giving or accepting money where no service whatsoever is performed in exchange for that money: ‘No person shall give and no person shall accept . . . any charge made or received . . . other than for services actually performed.’ 12 U.S.C. § 2607(b) (emphasis added). By negative implication, Section 8(b) cannot be read to prohibit charging fees, excessive or otherwise, when those fees are for services that were actually performed.” Martinez, at 3770 (footnote omitted). This was a matter of first impression in the Ninth Circuit, but the Court followed the holdings of the Second, Third and Eleventh Circuits in reaching this conclusion. Id., at 3771-72 (citing Kruse v. Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, Inc., 383 F.3d 49 (2d Cir. 2004); Santiago v. GMAC Mortgage Group, Inc., 417 F.3d 384 (3d Cir. 2005); Friedman v. Mkt. St. Mortgage, 520 F.3d 1289 (11th Cir. 2008)).

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Class Action Complaint Alleging TILA Violations for Failing to Disclose “Key Terms” Associated with Negative Amortization/Option ARM Loan Satisfied Rule 23 Requirements for Class Action Certification California Federal Court Holds

Plaintiff filed a class action against U.S. Financial Funds, with whom she had refinanced her home loan, alleging violations of the federal Truth in Lending Act (TILA) and asserting various California statutory and common law claims; specifically, the class action complaint challenged disclosures made by defendant “in connection with the terms of a residential mortgage product that was sold to Plaintiff.” Lymburner v. U.S. Financial Funds, Inc., ___ F.3d ___ (N.D.Cal. January 22, 2010) [Slip Opn., at __]. According to the allegations underlying the class action complaint, plaintiff refinanced her home loan in 2006, obtaining an Option ARM loan. Id., at 1-2. The initial payments due on the loan reflected a “substantially discounted initial interest rate,” and while the interest rate could adjust monthly, the minimum monthly payment was fixed for five years. Id., at 2. U.S. Financial served as plaintiff’s mortgage broker and originated the loan, id. The loan documents disclosed the maximum interest rate that would be charged, as well as the maximum “unpaid principal that might result from negative amortization.” Id. The class action complaint alleged that just before her retirement in October 2006, defendant contacted her and advised that it could reduce her monthly mortgage payment to $700; plaintiff agreed to the loan without realizing that the principal amount owing on the loan could increase. Id. (The loan documents inflated plaintiff’s income; she initialed this page of the loan application and asserted that “the higher numbers did not strike her as being incorrect.” Id.) When plaintiff received her first bill and discovered the 9% interest rate and negative amortization, she tried to refinance the loan and made two mortgage payments before successfully refinancing her loan in April 2007. Id., at 2-3. The class action alleged that the failure to disclose “the key terms of the loan” violated TILA and constituted fraud under California’s Unfair Competition Law (UCL). Id., at 3. Plaintiff’s counsel moved to certify the litigation as a class action. Id., at 1, 3. The district court initially indicated that it planned to grant class action treatment, but ordered the parties to meet and confer concerning the proposed definition of the class because the court believed it to be inadequate. Id., at 1. Based on a joint letter proposing a new definition of the class, the federal court granted the motion for class action certification. Id.

The district court began by analyzing the adequacy of the proposed definition of the class, which focused on whether the loan documents disclosed that the interest rate “may” change (instead of “will” change), and that negative amortization “may” result (instead of “will” result). See Lymburner, at 4-5. The court held that the proposed class is ascertainable, particularly given that defendant used only one set of loan documents. Id., at 5. The federal court concluded at page 5 that “class membership can be ascertained by looking at the documents, particularly in light of the joint revised class definition.” The numerosity test in Rule 23(a)(1) for class action certification was met because the class contained at least 100 members, id., at 5. The district court also rejected defense challenges to the commonalty test in Rule 23(a)(2) because plaintiff’s class action was not premised on any representations made to her orally but, rather, on the disclosures contained in the written loan documents. Id., at 5-6. And the court rejected defendant’s claim that plaintiff’s claims were not “typical” as required by Rule 23(a)(3) because of differences in the remedies available to class members. Id., at 6-7. “Plaintiff’s claims are based on loans issued by Defendant allegedly without proper disclosures.” Id., at 7. Further, there was no evidence that defendant treated plaintiff differently or that her loan documents were materially different from those of other class members. Id. Accordingly, the typicality requirement was satisfied. Id. Finally, the court held that plaintiff satisfied the adequacy of representation test of Rule 23(a)(4). See id., at 7-8.

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Class Action Alleging Illegal Fee Splitting of Title Insurance Premiums in Violation of RESPA (Real Estate Settlement Procedure Act) did not Warrant Class Action Treatment because Individual Inquiries Predominate as to Whether Section 8(b) Violation Occurred Fifth Circuit Holds

Plaintiffs filed a putative class action against their title insurer, Stewart Title Guaranty, alleging inter alia violations of the federal Real Estate Settlement Procedure Act (RESPA); the class action complaint alleged that Stewart Title failed to provide certain discounts to class members and split with its agents “the illegal, unearned charges on the policies.” Mims v. Stewart Title Guaranty Co., 590 F.3d 298, 2009 WL 4642631, *1 (5th Cir. 2009). According to the allegations underlying the class action complaint, “consumers who refinanced their home mortgages…[were entitled ] to receive a mandatory discount on their premiums for new title insurance policies acquired from Stewart” provided that the new title insurance policy “is issued within seven years of the closing of the prior mortgage.” Id. The class action alleged that Stewart Title “consistently failed to provide the reissue insurance discount” but, instead, split the savings with its agents, and that this conduct constituted illegal splitting of unearned fees in violation of § 8(b) of RESPA. Id., at *1-*2. Plaintiffs filed a motion to certify the litigation as a class action, id., at *2; defense attorneys opposed class action treatment, but the district court granted the motion, see id., at *1. Stewart Title sought permission to appeal the class action certification order. Id., at *2. The Fifth Circuit reversed, holding that “individual factual issues predominate the RESPA claim.” Id.

The Circuit Court first addressed Stewart Title’s claim that plaintiffs lacked standing to prosecute the class action’s RESPA claim, and explained that the challenge was more accurately denominated an attack on the merits of the claim rather than an issue of standing. See Mims, at *2. The Fifth Circuit stated at page *2, “There is no serious question that the plaintiffs have standing to bring this claim.” The defense argument went to the merits of the RESPA claim which – in light of the limited scope of review under Rule 23(f) – “may only be considered in this case if relevant to the class certification question.” Id., at *3. After summarizing Section 8(b) of RESPA, see id., at *4, the Circuit Court explained that the question is whether Stewart Title’s alleged failure to give consumers discounts represented the retention of a fee for services that were not performed, id. In sum, “plaintiffs’ argument thus rests on the theory that the title insurance premium can be split between the amount allowed under Rule R-8 after the appropriate discount is applied and the amount in excess of that amount; they argue that this excess amount represents a charge for which no services were actually performed.” Id. In the Fifth Circuit’s view, the class action alleged: “Stewart charged excessive premiums. Stewart gave, and title agents accepted, a portion of the excessive premiums. The portion accepted by the title agents was excessive and not ‘for services actually performed,’ but instead were in the nature of kickbacks or referral fees.” Id., at *5. The district court had denied Stewart Title’s previous motion to dismiss the RESPA claim because it would that the splitting of such fees “may” violate Section 8(b), depending on the circumstances. Id. The Circuit Court held that class action treatment of the RESPA claim was therefore inappropriate, “because the district court’s liability model for violations of RESPA § 8(b) requires an inquiry into the facts of each individual class member’s title insurance transaction.” Id. In other words, “The only way the overall practice may be proven to violate RESPA, consistently with the HUD liability standard, is to examine the reasonableness of payments for goods and services. This inquiry must be performed on a transaction-by-transaction basis, because a single finding of liability on an unreasonable relationship between goods and services does not necessitate the conclusion that such unreasonableness exists on a class-wide basis.” Id., at *6. Accordingly, the district court abused its discretion in granting class action treatment to the RESPA claim, id., at *8.

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Class Action Arising out of Home Loan Transaction and Alleging Violations of Various State and Federal Laws Dismissed, without Opposition from Plaintiffs, because Class Action Complaint Failed to Satisfy Pleading Requirements California Federal Court Holds

Plaintiffs filed a putative class action in California state court against Homecomings Financial and American Mortgage Network (which apparently was never served) arising out of a home loan they obtained that was secured by real property in Chula Vista, California. Tasaranta v. Homecomings Financial LLC, ___ F.Supp.2d___ (S.D. Cal. September 9, 2009) [Slip Opn., at 1-2.] Specifically, the class action complaint alleged that defendants violated the federal Truth in Lending Act (TILA) and Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA), Home Ownership and Equity Protection Act (HOEPA) and Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), as well various California-state laws. Id., at 2. The class action prayed for compensatory and punitive damages, and sought “rescission of the contract and loan.” Id. Defense attorneys for Homecomings Financial removed the class action to federal court on the basis of federal question jurisdiction, id., at 1., and then filed a motion to dismiss the class action which plaintiffs did not oppose, id., at 1-2. Id. The district court granted the motion and dismissed the class action complaint without prejudice.

Even though the motion to dismiss the class action was unopposed, the district court reviewed each claim for relief on the merits. With respect to the class action’s TILA claim, the federal court found that the statute of limitations had run on the claim, Tasaranta, at 4-5, and that, separately, the complaint failed to adequately plead a “plausibly suggestive” claim “entitling the plaintiff to relief,” Tasaranta, at 4 (citation omitted). With respect to RESPA, the district court ruled that the class action failed to adequately plead the alleged transfer of the servicing contract in order to support a claim against “Servicers” under RESPA, id., at 5, and that the “yield spread premium” (YSP) claim under RESPA failed because YSPs are not per se illegal under RESPA, id., at 5-6. With respect to HOEPA, the class action complaint failed to allege sufficient details about the loan to support a claim that the interest rate fell within the scope of the statute. See id., at 6-7. And with respect to the FDCPA claim, the federal court observed that the class action did not “include sufficient factual allegations to support the conclusion that Defendants violated the FDCPA, such as how, when and to whom Plaintiffs ‘requested validation,’ and how and when each Defendant responded.” Id., at 7. Accordingly, the district court dismissed the class action complaint against Homecomings Financial without prejudice. Id., at 9.

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District Court Erred in Dismissing RESPA Class Action because Kickback Prohibition does not Require that Consumers Suffer an Overcharge as a Prerequisite to Prosecuting Claim for RESPA Violation Third Circuit Holds

Plaintiffs filed a putative class action against Countrywide Financial Corporation, Countrywide Home Loans and Balboa Reinsurance Company alleging violations of the federal Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act of 1974 (RESPA); the class action complaint was “brought by homebuyers who sought to recover statutory treble damages pursuant to section 8(d)(2) of [RESPA], codified at 12 U.S.C. § 2607(d)(2).” Alston v. Countrywide Fin. Corp., 585 F.3d 753 (3d Cir. 2009) [Slip Opn., at 1, 3]. According to the allegations underlying the class action complaint, “[plaintiffs’] private mortgage insurance premiums were channeled into an unlawful ‘captive reinsurance arrangement’ – essentially, a kickback scheme – operated by their mortgage lender, Countrywide Home Loans… and its affiliated reinsurer, Balboa Reinsurance…in violation of RESPA section 8(a) and section 8(b),” id., at 3. The class action alleged that “in enacting and amending section 8, Congress bestowed upon the consumer the right to a real estate settlement free from unlawful kickbacks and unearned fees, and Countrywide’s invasion of that statutory right, even without a resultant overcharge, was an injury-in-fact for purposes of Article III standing.” Id. Defense attorneys moved to dismiss the class action complaint for lack of jurisdiction on the ground that “plaintiffs’ monthly PMI premiums were filed with the PID [Pennsylvania Insurance Department] and, therefore, per se reasonable under the filed rate doctrine.” Id., at 7. Defense attorneys also argued that because plaintiffs’ PMI rates had been approved by the state, they could not have suffered an overcharge and, absent an overcharge, they had not suffered the “injury-in-fact” required for Article III standing. Id. The district court granted the motion and dismissed the class action without prejudice. Id., at 3, 7-8. Plaintiffs appealed, and the Third Circuit reversed.

The class action was premised on the theory that Countrywide steered homebuyers who needed PMI insurance to companies that would “reinsure” the PMI policies with Balboa pursuant to a “captive reinsurance arrangement.” Alston, at 5. Further, the lawsuit claimed that because “Balboa did not assume risk commensurate with the amount of premiums it received” – having purportedly collected almost $900 million without paying any money in claims – the premiums paid to Balboa constituted “kickbacks to Countrywide by the primary insurer, in return for Countrywide’s referral of PMI business to the primary insurer, thereby violating RESPA’s anti-kickback provision,” id., at 6. In other words, Countrywide “offered only ‘sham’ reinsurance coverage,” id. Plaintiffs alleged that because of the kickback scheme they were entitled to statutory damages under RESPA even if the scheme did not result in overcharges to the consumer. Id., at 6-7. The Circuit Court defined the issue as follows: “What is before us for decision turns on a question of statutory interpretation—does or does not the plain language of RESPA section 8 indicate that Congress created a private right of action without requiring an overcharge allegation? We conclude that it does. Accordingly, we will reverse the Order of the District Court.” Id., at 3.

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Class Action Alleging RESPA Violations by Home Builder for Offering Discount on Closing Costs for use of Affiliated Lender Properly Dismissed because Mere Offering of such an Option does not Violate RESPA or HUD Regulations Eleventh Circuit Holds

Plaintiffs filed a putative class action against home builder D.R. Horton and its affiliated mortgage lender, DHI Mortgage, alleging violations of the federal Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA). Yeatman v. D.R. Horton, Inc., 577 F.3d 1329, 1329 (11th Cir. 2009). According to the allegations underlying the class action complaint, plaintiffs agreed to purchase a home built by D.R. Horton and agreed to finance the home through its affiliate because the purchase agreement gave them “the option of receiving a discount on their closing costs on the house, provided they used DHIM as their mortgage lender.” Id., at 1329-30. The purchase agreement did not require plaintiffs to use DHIM as their lender, id., at 1330. Defense attorneys moved to dismiss the class action on the ground that the offer to discount closing costs if purchasers used an affiliate did not violate RESPA; the district court agreed, concluding that “the mere offering of an option of a discount on closing costs does not violate [RESPA],” and that it also did not violate the regulations promulgated by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) “prohibiting arrangements where consumers are required to use a specified service in order to buy another service or product.” Id. (citations omitted). Id., at 3-4. Accordingly, the district court granted defendants’ motion and dismissed the class action with prejudice. Id., at 1329. Plaintiffs appealed, and the Eleventh Circuit affirmed. The sum total of the Circuit Court’s analysis was, “We have considered the briefs and the well-reasoned opinion of the district court. We conclude that the district court properly dismissed [plaintiffs’] complaint with prejudice.” Id., at 1330. It therefore affirmed the dismissal of the class action, id.

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As Matter of First Impression, because Plaintiff Settled her Individual Claims Following Denial of Class Action Certification Motion of Class Action Alleging Violations of Truth in Lending Act (TILA), Plaintiff Lacked Standing to Appeal Propriety of District Court Order Denying Class Certification Seventh Circuit Holds

Plaintiff filed a putative class action against various Target entities alleging violations of the federal Truth in Lending Act (TILA); the class action complaint alleged that Target sent plaintiff an unsolicited Target Visa card in the mail in violation of TILA’s prohibition against sending credit cards in the absence of a request or application by the consumer. Muro v. Target Corp., ___ F.3d ___ (7th Cir. August 31, 2009) [Slip Opn., at 1-2]. According to the allegations underlying the class action complaint, Target sent unsolicited Visa Cards, which may be used anywhere that accepts Visa cards, to holders of Target Guest Card, which may be used only at Target stores. Id., at 2 and n.2. Guest Card holders were given the option of activating the Visa cards, and if they elected to do so, then the corresponding Guest Card would be deactivated and any balance on the Guest Card would be transferred to the Visa card. Id., at 2-3. Plaintiff had a Guest Card account that she closed in 1999; plaintiff “received no further correspondence from Target for nearly five years” at which time she received the unsolicited Visa card. Id., at 2. Plaintiff did not activate the Visa card and did not incur any charges or fees in connection with the solicitation. Id. Nonetheless, plaintiff filed her class action complaint alleging TILA violations, id. Plaintiff moved the district court to certify the litigation as a class action and defense attorneys moved for summary judgment; the district court “granted summary judgment as to Target and denied class certification.” Id. The Seventh Circuit affirmed.

The Seventh Circuit began its analysis by noting that while TILA states “[n]o credit card shall be issued expect in response to a request or application therefor,” this provision “does not apply to the issuance of a credit card in renewal of, or in substitution for, an accepted credit card.” Muro, at 3-4 (quoting 15 U.S.C. § 1642). According to the district court, any class members that had Guest Card accounts fell within the exception of credit cards issued in “renewal or substitution” thereof, id., at 4. The district court also had denied class action treatment because plaintiff’s claims were not typical of those of the class – “unlike most of the proposed class members, [plaintiff] had alleged that she had closed her Guest Card account.” Id., at 4-5. And while plaintiff could adequately represent a class defined as recipients of the unsolicited Visa cards that previously had closed their Guest Card accounts, the district court found that plaintiff had not demonstrated that such a class would be sufficiently numerous to warrant class action treatment. Id., at 5. Plaintiff then settled her individual claim but claimed to reserve the right to appeal the denial of her class action certification motion, id. The Circuit Court held that plaintiff had “no cognizable interest” in the class action certification issue because she accepted the offer of judgment, so the Court focused on the issue of whether she could nevertheless appeal the district court’s decision not to certify the proposed class. Id., at 5-6.

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Class Action Alleging Improper Charges for Settlement Services Failed to State Claim under Real Estate Settlement Practices Act (RESPA) because Class Action Described an “Overcharge” Rather than a “Markup” or a “Fee Split” and Remaining Class Action State Law Claims Dismissed without Prejudice because Court Refused to Exercise Supplemental Jurisdiction over them New Jersey Federal Court Holds

Plaintiffs filed a putative class action against various North American Title entities alleging inter alia violations of the federal Real Estate Settlement Practices Act (RESPA) and the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act; specifically, the class action complaint alleged that defendants charged improper fees in connection with the refinancing of residential mortgages. Tubbs v. North Am. Title Agency, Inc., 622 F.Supp.2d 207, 207-08 (D.N.J. 2009). According to the allegations underlying the class action complaint, defendants acted as closing agent when plaintiffs refinanced home loans that they had with Wachovia Bank, id., at 208. Among the closing costs charged by defendants was “release recording fee” of $150, but defendants “did not actually record the release of the mortgages”; instead, “Wachovia prepared and recorded the necessary documents…, and passed through to the borrower the $40 per mortgage recording fee charged by the County.” Id. Defense attorneys moved to dismiss the class action, and plaintiffs filed an amended class action complaint that largely tracked the original. Id., at 208-09. Defense attorneys again moved to dismiss the class action, id., at 209. The district court granted the motion.

The federal court explained that the gravamen of the class action’s RESPA claim was that defendants “violated RESPA by charging a settlement fee for which no services were performed.” Tubbs, at 209. Relying on Santiago v. GMAC Mortgage Group, Inc., 417 F.3d 384 (3d Cir. 2005), plaintiffs argued that defendants’ charge for recording a release was a “markup” prohibited by Section 8(b) of RESPA. Tubbs, at 209. But the district court explained that Santiago drew a distinction between a “markup” and an “overcharge,” which “occurs when the settlement service provider charges the consumer a fee, of which only one portion is a fee for the reasonable value of ‘services rendered.” Id. (citing Santiago, at 387). The distinction is important because under Santiago “the plain language of Section 8(b) does not provide a cause of action for overcharges.” Id., at 210 (citation omitted). Defendants did not actually engage in “fee splitting” because the fee charged by Wachovia “was not for the same settlement service.” Id. The district court explained at page 210 that the $40 fee charged by Wachovia was “not a fee for any service Wachovia was providing” but represented “the actual cost of recording the discharge with the Camden County Clerk’s office” and Wachovia “was passing on the county recording fee for the mortgage satisfaction as permitted by New Jersey Statute.” Further, the $25 fee charged by Wachovia was “for its work in preparing the mortgage satisfaction and arranging for its recording.” Id.

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Lender’s Disclosures that APR may Increase based on Information in Credit Report not Clear and Conspicuous Within Meaning of TILA so District Court Erred in Dismissing Class Action Complaint Ninth Circuit Holds

Plaintiffs filed a class action against Chase Bank alleging violations of the federal Truth in Lending Act (TILA), and Regulation Z promulgated thereunder; the class action complaint alleged that plaintiffs “have been the victims of a practice they now call ‘adverse action repricing,’ which apparently means ‘raising . . . a preferred rate to an essentially non-preferred rate based upon information in a customer’s credit report.’” Barber v. Chase Bank USA, N.A., 566 F.3d 883 (9th Cir. 2009) [Slip Opn., at 5996 ]. Specifically, Chase increased plaintiffs’ annual percentage rate (APR) on their outstanding credit card balance from 8.99% to 24.24% based on information obtained from a consumer credit reporting agency; Chase stated that it increased the interest rate “‘outstanding credit loan(s) on revolving accounts . . . [were] too high’ and there were ‘too many recently opened installment/revolving accounts.’” Id., at 5995-96. The class action did not allege that Chase’s practice of increasing the APR based on information in a consumer’s credit report was illegal, but rather that Chase violated federal law by failing to fully disclose it to them. Id. Defense attorneys moved to dismiss the class action complaint for failure to state a claim; the district court agreed with Chase and dismissed the class action. Id., at 5997. Plaintiffs appealed, and the Ninth Circuit reversed.

The Ninth Circuit explained, “We must decide whether a credit card company violates the Truth in Lending Act when it fails to disclose potential risk factors that allow it to raise a cardholder’s Annual Percentage Rate.” Barber, at 5994. Given the purpose of TILA – viz., “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) – the Ninth Circuit reversed. The Circuit Court explained that TILA requires disclosure of “[t]he conditions under which a finance charge may be imposed,” “[t]he method of determining the amount of the finance charge,” and, “[w]here one or more periodic rates may be used to compute the finance charge, each such rate . . . and the corresponding nominal annual percentage rate.” Barber, at 5998 (quoting § 1637(a)(1), (a)(3) & (a)(4)). And under Reg. Z, “creditors must make the required disclosures ‘clearly and conspicuously in writing.’” Id., at 5999 (quoting 12 C.F.R. § 226.5(a)(1)). According to the class action, “Chase failed to disclose completely under the Act why it would change the APRs of its cardholders, in violation of subsection 226.6(a)(2) of Regulation Z.” Id., at 6000.

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Lender Motion for Summary Judgment as to Class Action Claims Alleging Lender Violated TILA and HOEPA Properly Granted because Disclosed Finance Charges Fell within TILA’s Tolerance for Accuracy and because HOEPA did not Apply as Transaction was not High-Cost Loan Alabama Federal Court Holds

Plaintiff filed a class action against Accredited Home Lenders, dba Home Funds Direct, alleging violations of the federal Truth in Lending Act (TILA) and Home Ownership and Equity Protection Act (HOEPA), which requires additional disclosures be made in connection with “high cost” loans; the class action complaint asserted that her lender “improperly understated the finance charge on credit it extended to her” and “failed t comply with the additional disclosure requirements” of HOEPA. Frazier v. Accredited Home Lenders, Inc., 607 F.Supp.2d 1254, 2009 WL 931167, *1 (M.D.Ala. 2009). According to the allegations underlying the class action, the lender improperly excluded several charges from its calculation of the finance charge – a claim the lender denied. Id., at *2. The class action sought rescission and damages, id., at *1. Defense attorneys moved summary judgment, id.; the lender argued that its disclosures were “accurate, complete, and in compliance with both TILA and HOEPA.” Id., at *2. The class action complaint alleged that the lender charged an “endorsement fee” for a service that was never provided, and that it charged an excessive fee for “a title search, a title examination, recording, and title insurance,” each of which allegedly should have been included in the finance charge. Id. Defense attorneys countered that the fees in question were “imposed by a third party” and that they were not excessive; further, the lender argued that the finance charge disclosed “falls within TILA’s tolerance for accuracy” (that is, one half of one percent of the loan amount). Id. Alternatively, defense attorneys argued that any errors fell within the safe harbor provision of TILA and fell outside the scope of HOEPA. Id. The district court granted the motion and entered judgment in favor of the lender on the class action complaint.

The federal court observed that the “dispositive question” was “how to calculate properly the finance charge” for the loan extended to plaintiff. Frazier, at *2. The court observed that this task was complicated by “the imprecise language of TILA itself and the maze of federal regulations interpreting the statute.” Id. Turning to the merits, the district court rejected the lender’s claim that it was not responsible for charges imposed by third parties, observing that the relevant inquiry is whether it required the services in question. Id., at *3. But the court agreed with defense attorneys that the lender did not “require” the “endorsement fee” charged by the third party, particularly as no service was ever provided in connection with that third party charge, id. Accordingly, the federal court held that “the endorsement fee must be excluded from the finance charge.” Id. The question then, was whether the remaining fees were “excessive” and whether the lender understated that amount of the finance charge, id.

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