June 12, 2015
Law360 quoted me in CFPB Ruling Adds New Front In Administrative Law Fight (behind a paywall). The story opens,
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray’s decision last week upholding an administrative ruling against PHH Mortgage Corp. and jacking up the firm’s penalty highlights concerns industry has about the bureau’s appeals process, and it adds to a growing battle over federal agencies’ administrative proceedings.
Cordray’s June 4 decision in the PHH case marked the first time the bureau’s administrative appeals process was put to the test. And the result highlighted both the power that Cordray has as sole adjudicator in such an appeal and his willingness to review a decision independently and go against his enforcement team, at least in part, experts say.
But because PHH has already vowed to appeal the decision, the structure of the CFPB’s appeals process could be put in play, and it could be forced to change — a battle that comes as the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is also facing challenges to its administrative proceedings.
The way the CFPB handles administrative appeals “might be one of the issues that the court of appeals might be asked to consider,” said Benjamin Diehl, special counsel at Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP.
In the case before Cordray, PHH had been seeking to overturn an administrative law judge’s November 2014 decision that found it had engaged in a mortgage insurance kickback scheme under the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act, or RESPA.
Cordray agreed with the underlying decision, but he found that Administrative Law Judge Cameron Elliot incorrectly applied the law’s provisions when assessing the penalty PHH should face.
And when Cordray applied those provisions in a way that he found to be correct, PHH’s penalty soared from around $6.4 million to $109 million, according to the ruling.
The reasoning behind Cordray’s decision irked lenders, which say the CFPB director dismissed precedent on mortgage reinsurance, including policies from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and judicial interpretations of the statute of limitations on RESPA claims.
“If the rules are going to change because an agency can wave a magic wand and change them, that’s disconcerting,” Foley & Lardner LLP partner Jay N. Varon said.
The rise in penalties highlighted both the risk that firms face in an appeal before the CFPB and Cordray’s desire to send a message to companies that he believes violate the law, said David Reiss, a professor at Brooklyn Law School.
“It is unsurprising that Cordray would take a position that is intended to have a significant deterrent effect on those who violate RESPA, and I expect that he wanted to signal as much in this, his first decision in an appeal of an administrative enforcement proceeding,” Reiss said.| Permalink