July 2, 2014

Running CERCLA around FIRREA

By David Reiss

Law360 quoted me in High Court Environmental Ruling Could Clear Air For Banks (behind a paywall). The article reads in part,

A recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that a federal environmental law does not preempt state statutes of repose has inspired banks and other targets of Wall Street enforcers to test the decision’s power to finally fend off lingering financial crisis-era cases on timeliness grounds.

The high court on June 9 found that the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act could not extend the 10-year statute of repose in a North Carolina environmental cleanup suit in the in CTS Corp. v. Waldburger case. Although the decision pertained to a case outside of the financial realm, attorneys say it could limit the ability of federal financial regulators to bring claims on behalf of failed financial institutions under two of their favored tools: the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act and the Housing and Economic Recovery Act.

That’s because the defendants in those cases, including banks but others as well, will now be able to argue that regulators like the National Credit Union Administration, the Federal Housing Finance Agency and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. missed their chance to bring claims on behalf of institutions in receivership.

Given the Supreme Court’s interpretation, the regulators may be on shaky ground.

“The government is going to have a much more difficult time sustaining the arguments it’s been making after CTS,” said Jeffrey B. Wall, a partner with Sullivan & Cromwell LLP and a former assistant solicitor general.

In its CTS ruling, the Supreme Court found that CERCLA does not preempt state statutes of repose like the one in North Carolina, citing CERCLA’s exclusive use of the phrase “statute of limitations.”

Statutes of repose and statutes of limitations are distinct enough terms in their usage that it’s proper to conclude that Congress didn’t intend to preempt statutes of repose when it crafted CERCLA, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said in the majority opinion. The justice cited a 1982 congressional report on CERCLA that recommended repealing state statutes of limitations and statutes of repose but acknowledged that they were not equivalent.

According to a memo released June 10 by Sullivan & Cromwell, both FIRREA and HERA are susceptible to similar readings by courts.

Both statutes include extenders that allow government agencies suing on behalf of failed financial institutions to move beyond statutes of limitations on state law claims. However, much like CERCLA, both say nothing about extending statutes of repose, the memo said.

And that could make a major difference for a large number of defendants trying to fend off claims from the FDIC, NCUA and FHFA, Wall said.

*    *    *

The CTS ruling is likely to play out in cases brought by financial regulators in smaller cases over losses incurred by failed financial institutions using FIRREA and HERA. But FIRREA has also become a favored tool in the U.S. Department of Justice’s big game hunts against ratings agency Standard & Poor’s and Bank of America.

Because those cases are largely predicated on federal claims, the CTS case is unlikely to be a help for those institutions, according to Brooklyn Law School professor David Reiss.

“I don’t read it as having an extension on the higher-profile FIRREA cases,” he said.

But even if CTS is limited to state law claims brought by financial regulators, that could have a major impact given the sheer number of cases the FDIC, NCUA and FHFA bring.

July 2, 2014 | Permalink | No Comments

July 1, 2014

Reiss in CSM on Rental Policy

By David Reiss

The Christian Science Monitor quoted me in Census Outlines ‘Poverty Areas’: Which States Hit Hardest? It reads in part,

The number of US residents living in “poverty areas” has jumped significantly since 2000, according to a Census Bureau report released Monday.

According the 2000 Census, less than 1 in 5 people lived in poverty areas. But more recently, 1 in 4 residents have lived in these areas, according to census data collected from 2008 to 2012.

The Census Bureau defines a poverty area as any census tract with a poverty rate of 20 percent of more.

Sociologists and other analysts point to the Great Recession, in particular housing and job challenges, as well as slow and uneven growth since the recession.

“With the advent of the financial crisis and the bursting of the housing bubble, many people lost their homes and thus needed to rent or move in with relatives,” says Cheryl Carleton, an economics professor at Villanova University near Philadelphia. “[I]ndividuals need to move where they can afford to live … which is going to be in areas where public housing is available or housing prices and rental rates are low, which is more likely to be in a ‘poverty area.’ ” Professor Carleton made her comments via e-mail.

*     *     *

Law professor David Reiss suggests that changes to homeownership policies could help.
“Federal and state housing programs could do more to support a market for well-maintained rental units for low-income households,” e-mails Professor Reiss, who teaches at Brooklyn Law School. “Many low-income households have difficulty maintaining homeownership because of irregular incomes and low wealth.”

July 1, 2014 | Permalink | No Comments

June 30, 2014

Mortgage Market Trending in the Right Direction, but . . .

By David Reiss

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) released its OCC Mortgage Metrics Report, First Quarter 2014. the report is a “Disclosure of National Bank and Federal Savings Association Mortgage Loan Data,” and it “presents data on first-lien residential mortgages serviced by seven national banks and a federal savings association with the largest mortgage-servicing portfolios. The data represent 48 percent of all first-lien residential mortgages outstanding in the country and focus on credit performance, loss mitigation efforts, and foreclosures.” (8, footnote omitted) As a result, this data set is not representative of all mortgages, but it does cover nearly half the market.

The report found that

93.1 percent of mortgages serviced by the reporting servicers were current and performing, compared with 91.8 percent at the end of the previous quarter and 90.2 percent a year earlier. The percentage of mortgages that were 30 to 59 days past due decreased 20.9 percent from the previous quarter to 2.1 percent of the portfolio, a 19.8 percent decrease from a year earlier and the lowest since the OCC began reporting mortgage performance data in the first quarter of 2008. The percentage of mortgages included in this report that were seriously delinquent—60 or more days past due or held by bankrupt borrowers whose payments were 30 or more days past due — decreased to 3.1 percent of the portfolio compared with 3.5 percent at the end of the previous quarter and 4.0 percent a year earlier. The percentage of mortgages that were seriously delinquent has decreased 22.4 percent from a year earlier and is at its lowest level since the end of June 2008.

At the end of the first quarter of 2014, the number of mortgages in the process of foreclosure fell to 432,832, a decrease of 52.3 percent from a year earlier. The percentage of mortgages that were in the process of foreclosure at the end of the first quarter of 2014 was 1.8 percent, the lowest level since September 2008. During the quarter, servicers initiated 90,852 new foreclosures — a decrease of 49.1 percent from a year earlier. Factors contributing to the decline include improved economic conditions, aggressive foreclosure prevention assistance, and the transfer of loans to servicers outside the reporting banks and thrift. The number of completed foreclosures decreased to 56,185, a decrease of 7.5 percent from the previous quarter and 33.9 percent from a year earlier. (4)

These trends are all very good of course, but it is worth remembering how far we have to go to get back to historical averages, particularly for prime mortgages.  Pre-Financial Crisis prime mortgages typically have done much better than these numbers, with delinquency rates in the very low single digits.

June 30, 2014 | Permalink | No Comments

June 27, 2014

Urban Reviewer: NYC’s Neighborhood Plans

By David Reiss

NYC land use geeks will want to check out the Urban Reviewer. From its website,

The City of New York has adopted over 150 master plans for our neighborhoods. You can see which areas have been affected and what those grand plans were here.

Neighborhood master plans – often called “urban renewal plans” – were adopted to get federal funding for acquiring land, relocating the people living there, demolishing the structures and making way for new public and private development. Plan adoptions started in 1949 and many plans remain active today. Development in the plan areas sometimes happened, like Lincoln Center, and sometimes didn’t, like many still-vacant lots in East New York and Bushwick. Areas were selected for renewal because they were considered blighted or obsolete. The “blight” designation always came from outside the communities that got that label – from inspectors working for the mayor’s Committee on Slum Clearance in the early period and Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) employees in the later period.

This is one of those resources that seem pretty obviously useful once someone has gone to the trouble (and great trouble I am sure it was) to construct it. One can imagine urban historians and planners making good use of it as well as community activists. It also provides a great model for other communities to follow.

Kudos to 596 Acres, Partner & Partners and SmartSign for building this resource.

June 27, 2014 | Permalink | No Comments

Tennessee Court Dismisses Plaintiff’s TCPA Claim

By Ebube Okoli

The court in deciding Amour v. Bank of Am., N.A., 2013 U.S. Dist. (E.D. Tenn., 2013) granted in part and denied in part the defendant’s motion to dismiss

The plaintiffs brought three separate causes of action each of which the defendant moved to dismiss. The plaintiffs’ complaint alleged violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1692, et seq., the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act, Tenn. Code Ann. 47-18-101, et seq., and wrongful foreclosure.

The court ultimately decided to allow all but the one of the plaintiffs’ claims. The one cause of action dismissed was the TCPA claim.

June 27, 2014 | Permalink | No Comments

Court Decides that Lower Court Was Correct in Granting Summary Judgment in Favor of Bank of America and ReconTrust on FDCPA Claims

By Ebube Okoli

The court in deciding Brown v. Bank of Am., N.A. (In re Brown), 2013 Bankr. (B.A.P. 9th Cir., 2013) affirmed the lower court’s holding.

The plaintiff in this case alleged alleged that BAC and ReconTrust violated the CPA by promulgating, recording, and relying on documents they should have known were false, in particular: the MERS’ assignment, the successor trustee appointment, and the notice of default. Plaintiffs also alleged that ReconTrust’s issuance and use of the notice of default violated the FDCPA and that ReconTrust’s attempts to dispossess the debtor of her property constituted malicious prosecution.

As to the claim for wrongful foreclosure, the plaintiffs alleged that the defendants violated the Washington Deed of Trust Act when they designated MERS as a beneficiary in the trust deed and MERS subsequently executed the MERS Assignment.

The plaintiffs contended that BAC’s authority to execute the successor trustee appointment and ReconTrust’s authority to execute the Notice of Default derived solely from the invalid MERS Assignment, invalidating both documents. They alleged that these transactions constituted a deception and, therefore, invalid transactions under the Trust Deed Act.

ReconTrust, Bank of America, N.A., as successor by merger to BAC, and MERS jointly brought a motion to dismiss the SAC pursuant to Civil Rule 12(b)(6). The defendants argued that the plaintiffs failed to adequately plead the identified claims and, in addition, that the plaintiffs should be collaterally estopped from contending that BofA could not initiate foreclosure proceedings, based on the order entered by the bankruptcy court on the uncontested relief from stay motion.

June 27, 2014 | Permalink | No Comments

Texas Court Rejects Claims Brought on the Grounds of “Show-me-the-Note” and “Split-the-Note” Theories

By Ebube Okoli

The court in deciding Hunt v. Worldwide Mortg. Co., 2013 U.S. Dist. (N.D. Tex., 2013) dismissed the plaintiff’s action in its entirety and specifically granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss.

Plaintiffs asserted claims for fraud (only against MidFirst and its mortgage servicer), wrongful foreclosure, and violations of the Texas Business and Commerce Code and Finance Code. The plaintiffs also sought to quiet title and declaratory relief.

Specifically, the plaintiffs argued variations of the roundly discounted “show me the note” and “split the note” theories, alleging that the defendants did not have the authority to foreclose on the Property because MERS was not holder of the note and thus was not entitled to enforce the deed of trust.

The plaintiffs also contended MidFirst perpetrated a fraud by misrepresenting that it was the holder or beneficiary of the deed of trust entitled to receive mortgage payments on the note, thus collecting on a debt that it had “no legal, equitable or pecuniary interest in.”

Plaintiffs also alleged violations of the Texas Business and Commerce Code, arguing that the defendant had failed to produce the note and that it is very likely that the defendant was not the holder of the note.

Defendants’ moved to dismiss the plaintiffs’ complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim, this was granted by the court.

June 27, 2014 | Permalink | No Comments