Trump Wins Round Two At CFPB

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Bloomberg Law quoted me in Court Says Mulvaney Can Lead CFPB, but Legal Fight Continues. It opens,

The court battle over the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s top leadership has shifted in the Trump administration’s favor, but continued litigation could test its ability to revamp the agency.

Judge Timothy J. Kelly yesterday denied deputy director Laura English’s bid for an order that would have barred Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney from serving as acting CFPB director, setting up what many expect to be an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Although plenty of questions lie ahead, perhaps the biggest is whether and to what extent ongoing uncertainty raised by the case impacts the administration’s effort to revamp consumer protection regulation at the CFPB.

“This is clearly a win for the administration, but there’s still so much uncertainty,” David Reiss, professor of law at Brooklyn Law School in Brooklyn, N.Y, told Bloomberg Law in a phone interview. “What we’ll see for the next few months is whether that uncertainty makes it harder for Mulvaney to turn the ship.”

Kelly’s 46-page decision, which several attorneys privately described as careful and thorough, is the second such setback for English, who previously lost a bid for a temporary restraining order. Even so, hazards lie ahead for the administration.

University of Michigan Law School Professor Nina Mendelson said an eventual ruling on the merits against Mulvaney could call into question any actions based on authority he now claims, such as final regulations, settlements, or other matters.

“A court could invalidate all of those actions,” Mendelson said on a call hosted by consumer advocates. Mendelson, an expert on administrative law, said she’s taken an independent stance on the case.

New York Challenge

Kelly’s Jan. 10 ruling isn’t the last word, according to Brianne Gorod, an attorney with the Constitutional Accountability Center who also joined the call. “The legal fight here is far from over,” she said.

The decision also may boost the stakes for a separate challenge to Mulvaney in federal court in New York. There, the Lower East Side People’s Federal Credit Union also seeks a court order declaring that English, not Mulvaney, is the CFPB’s rightful acting director. The credit union says the appointment of Mulvaney has thrown the credit union into “regulatory chaos,” because it can’t identify the lawful director of the CFPB.

BTW, I am a signatory on an amicus brief filed in the Lower East Side People’s Federal Credit Union case.

People’s Credit Union v. Trump

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Twenty-one consumer finance regulation scholars (including yours truly) filed an amicus brief in Lower East Side People’s Federal Credit Union v. Trump, No. 1:17-cv-09536 (SDNY Dec. 14, 2017). The Summary of the Argument reads as follows:

The orderly succession of the leadership of regulatory agencies is a hallmark of American democracy. Regulated entities, such as Plaintiff Lower East Side People’s Federal Credit Union (LESPFCU) rely on there being absolute clarity regarding who is duly authorized to exercise regulatory authority over them. Without such clarity, regulated entities cannot be certain if agency actions, including the promulgation or repeal of rules and informal regulatory guidance, are actual agency policy or mere ultra vires actions.

This case involves a controversy over who lawfully serves as the Acting Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB or the Bureau) following the resignation of the Bureau’s first Senate-confirmed Director. The statute that created the CFPB, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 (Dodd-Frank Act), is clear: the Deputy Director of the CFPB “shall . . . serve as acting Director in the absence or unavailability of the Director.” 12 U.S.C. § 5491(b)(5)(B). Thus, upon the resignation of the Director, the CFPB’s Deputy Director, Leandra English, became Acting Director and may serve in that role until a new Director has either been confirmed by the Senate or been recess appointed.

Despite the Dodd-Frank Act’s clear statutory directive, Defendant Donald J. Trump declined to follow either of the routes constitutionally permitted to him for appointing a Director for the Bureau. Instead, Defendant Trump opted to illegally seize power at the CFPB by naming the current Director of Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Defendant John Michael Mulvaney, as Acting CFPB Director. Defendants claim this appointment is authorized by the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998 (FVRA), 5 U.S.C. § 3345(a).

As scholars of financial regulation, we believe that Deputy Director English’s is the rightful Acting Director of the CPFB for a simple reason: the only applicable statute to the succession question is the Dodd-Frank Act. In the Dodd-Frank Act, Congress expressly provided for a mandatory line of succession for the position of CFPB Director, stating that the Deputy Director “shall” serve as the Acting Director in the event of a vacancy. Congress selected this provision after considering and rejecting the FVRA during the drafting of the Dodd-Frank Act, and Congress’s selection of this succession provision is an integral part of its design of the CFPB as an agency with unique independence and protection from policy control by the White House. The appointment of any White House official, but especially of the OMB Director as Acting CFPB Director is repugnant to the statutory design of the CFPB as an independent agency.

The FVRA has no application to the position of CFPB Director. By its own terms, the FVRA is inapplicable as it yields to subsequently enacted statutes with express mandatory provisions for filling vacancies at federal agencies. This is apparent from the text of the FVRA, from the FVRA’s legislative history, and from the need to comport with the basic constitutional principle that a law passed by an earlier Congress cannot bind a subsequent Congress. Moreover, the FVRA does not apply to “any member who is appointed by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate to any” independent agencies with a multi-member board. 5 U.S.C. § 3349c(1). The CFPB Director is such a “member,” because the CFPB Director also serves as a member of a separate multi-member independent agency: the Board of Directors of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC).

Plaintiff LESPFCU is seeking a preliminary injunction against acts by Defendants Mulvaney and Trump to illegally seize control of the CFPB, and it should be granted. As will be shown, LESPFCU has a high likelihood of success on the merits given the strength of its statutory arguments that the Dodd-Frank Act controls the CFPB Directorship succession. Unless the Court grants LESPFCU’s request for a preliminary injunction, LESPFCU will suffer irreparable harm because it will be subjected to regulation by a CFPB that would be under the direct political control by the White House that Congress took pains to forbid. Moreover, without a preliminary injunction, Defendant Mulvaney will continue to take actions that may place LESPFCU at a competitive disadvantage by creating an uneven regulatory playing field that favors certain types of institutions. See, e.g., Jessica Silver-Greenberg & Stacy Cowley, Consumer Bureau’s New Leader Steers a Sudden Reversal, N.Y.TIMES, Dec. 5, 2017. Nor will the President’s rights be in any way limited by such a preliminary injunction: the President remains able to seek Senate confirmation of a nominee for CFPB Director. All the President is being asked to do is fish or cut bait and proceed through normal constitutional order. The granting of a preliminary injunction is also very much in the public interest as it enables the controversy over the rightful claim to the CFPB Directorship to be resolved through an impartial court and not through a naked grab of power by the President.

Reiss on State Enforcement of Dodd Frank

Auto Finance News quoted me in The Mess at Condor Capital Signals Stiffer State Oversight. It opens,

Legal action brought by New York State last month against Condor Capital Corp., a Long Island subprime lender accused of bilking customers out of millions of dollars, could signal an increase in state prosecution under Dodd-Frank federal laws.

Legal experts say the case, even though it involves wildly egregious practices by Condor, could be the first of many by states against auto lenders, even if the lender’s nefarious actions are more modest than Condor’s.

In April, New York’s Department of Financial Services ( obtained a temporary restraining order in federal court against Hauppauge, N.Y.-based subprime auto lender Condor Capital Corp. ( and owner Stephen Baron. The case is being handled in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

The state’s complaint paints a picture of a company run with disregard for compliance. However, a former senior Condor employee told Auto Finance News that Condor’s practices might have been even worse than what was described in the state’s complaint. The former manager of Condor’s collection department told Auto Finance News that management thumbed its nose at the very notion of compliance.

Plain and simple, the federal law provides state regulators with a new tool according to Law Professor David Reiss from Brooklyn Law School.

“States have historically identified new forms of unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts and practices before they get on the radar of national regulators, so states are likely to be quicker to take action than their federal counterparts,” Reiss said. “In all likelihood, the New York case, as well as a case from the attorney general in Illinois, are just the tip of a burgeoning enforcement iceberg.”

Arizona’s “Unholy” Foreclosure Mess

Professor Dale Whitman posted a commentary about Steinberger v. McVey ex rel. County of Maricopa, 2014 WL 333575 (Ariz. Court of Appeals, Jan. 30, 2014) on the Dirt listserv:

A defaulting borrower may defend against foreclosure on ground that the chain of assignments of the deed of trust is defective, and also on a variety of other theories.

The residential mortgage loan in this case was originally made in 2005 to Steinberger’s 87-year-old father, who died two years later, leaving her the property. By 2008, she was having difficulty making the payments, and asked IndyMac FSB to consider a loan modification. She was advised that she must first default, and she did so. There followed a period of more than two years during which she was “jerked around” by IndyMac, with successive promises to consider a loan modification, the setting of (and then vacating of) foreclosure dates, and assertions by IndyMac that she had not properly submitted all of the paperwork required for a modification.

In November 2010 she filed an action seeking a declaratory judgment that IndyMac had no authority to foreclose on the house, and upon filing a $7,000 bond, she obtained a TRO against foreclosure. The following summarizes the theories on which she obtained a favorable result.

1. Lack of a proper chain of title to the deed of trust. The Court of Appeals seems to have assumed that no foreclosure would be permissible without the foreclosing party having a chain of assignments from the originator of the loan. If one accepts this assumption, IndyMac was in trouble. The first assignment, made in 2009, was from MERS, acting as nominee of IndyMac Bank, to IndyMac Federal FSB, but it was made before IndyMac Federal FSB even existed!

A second assignment was made in 2010 by IndyMac Federal FSB to DBNTC, the trustee of a securitized trust. But Steinberger alleged that by this date, IndyMac Federal FSB no longer existed, so this assignment was void as well. She also made the familiar allegation that this assignment was too late to comply with the 90-day transfer period required by the trust’s Pooling and Servicing Agreement, but the court did not pursue this theory.

The court’s opinion is significant for its treatment of Hogan v. Wash. Mut. Sav. Bank, the 2012 case in which the Arizona Supreme Court held that “Arizona’s non-judicial foreclosure statutes do not require the beneficiary [of a deed of trust] to prove its authority.² The Court of Appeals, in Steinberger, read this statement to mean that the beneficiary need not prove its authority unless the borrower alleges a lack of authority in her complaint. There was no such allegation in Hogan, but there was in Steinberger. Hence, the Court of Appeals concluded that Steinberger could contest IndyMac’s right to foreclose. And it felt that Steinberger’s allegations about the defects in the chain of title to the deed of trust, if proven, could constitute a successful attack on IndyMac’s authority to foreclose.

It’s important to realize what the Court of Appeals did not do. It did not disagree with Hogan’s holding that the beneficiary need not show possession of the promissory note in order to foreclose. Several commentators (including me) have criticized Hogan for this holding, but the Steinberger opinion leaves it intact. Indeed, in Steinberger, the borrower raised no issue as to whether IndyMac had the note, and seems to have conceded that it did. The discussion focuses on the legitimacy of the chain of title to the deed of trust, not on possession of the note.

Is the court correct that a valid chain of title to the deed of trust is necessary to foreclose under Arizona law? As a general proposition, one would think not. Arizona not only has adopted the common law rule that the mortgage follows the note, but even has a statute saying so: Ariz. Rev. Stat.§ 33 817:  “The transfer of any contract or contracts secured by a trust deed shall operate as a transfer of the security for such contract or contracts.” So if the note is transferred, no separate assignment of the deed of trust would be needed at all. And a recent unreported Court of Appeals case, Varbel v. Bank of America Nat. Ass’n, 2013 WL 817290 (Ariz. App. 2013), quotes the Bankruptcy Court as reaching the same conclusion: In re Weisband, 427 B.R. 13, 22 (Bankr. D. Ariz. 2010) (“Arizona’s deed of trust statute does not require a beneficiary of a deed of trust to produce the underlying note (or its chain of assignment) in order to conduct a Trustee’s Sale.”).

By the way, that’s the rule with respect to mortgages in virtually every state. A chain of assignments, recorded or not, is completely unnecessary to proof of the right to foreclose. The power to foreclose comes from having the right to enforce the note, not from having a chain of assignments of the mortgage or deed of trust.

However, since Hogan has told us that no showing of holding the note is necessary in order to foreclose, what is necessary? It defies common sense to suppose that a party can foreclose a deed of trust in Arizona without at least alleging some connection to the original loan documents. If that allegation is not that one holds the note, perhaps it must be the allegation that one has a chain of assignments of the deed of trust. If this is true, then the opinion in Steinberger, written on the assumption that the assignments must be valid ones, makes sense.

The ultimate problem here is the weakness of the foreclosure statute itself. Ariz. Stat. 33-807 provides, “The beneficiary or trustee shall constitute the proper and complete party plaintiff in any action to foreclose a deed of trust.” Fine, but when the loan has been sold on the secondary market, who is the “beneficiary?” The statute simply doesn’t say. The normal answer would be the party to whom the right to enforce the note has been transferred, but Hogan seems to have deprived us of that answer. An alternative answer (though one that forces us to disregard the theory that the mortgage follows the note) is to say that the “beneficiary” is now the party to whom the deed of trust has been assigned. But the Arizona courts don’t seem to be willing to come out and say that forthrightly, either. Instead, as in the Steinberger opinion, it’s an unstated assumption.

As Wilson Freyermuth put it, after graciously reading an earlier version of this comment, “The Steinberger court couldn’t accept the fact that a lender could literally foreclose with no connection to the loan documents — so if Hogan says the note is irrelevant, well then it has to be the deed of trust (which would presumably then require proof of a chain of assignments).  It’s totally backwards — right through the looking glass.  And totally inconsistent with Ariz. Stat. 33-817.”

To say that this is an unsatisfactory situation is an understatement; it’s an unholy mess. The statute was written with no recognition that any such thing as the secondary mortgage market exists, and the Arizona courts have utterly failed to reinterpret the statute in a way that makes sense. It’s sad, indeed.

There are a number of other theories in the Steinberger opinion on which the borrower prevailed. Some of these are quite striking, and should give a good deal of comfort to foreclosure defense counsel. In quick summary form, they are:

2. The tort of negligent performance of an undertaking (the “Good Samaritan” tort). This applies, apparently, to IndyMac’s incompetent and vacillating administration of its loan modification program.

3. Negligence per se, in IndyMac’s recording of defective assignments of the deed of trust in violation of the Arizona statute criminalizing the recording of a false or forged legal instrument.

4. Breach of contract, in IndyMac’s failure to follow the procedures set out in the deed of trust in pursuing its foreclosure.

5. Procedural unconscionability, in IndyMac’s making the original loan to her elderly father without explaining its unusual and onerous terms, particularly in light of his failing mental health.

6. Substantive unconscionability, based on the terms of the loan itself. It was an ARM with an initial interest rate of 1%, but which could be (and apparently was) adjusted upward in each succeeding month. This resulted in an initial period of negative amortization, and once the amortization cap was reached, a large and rapid increase in monthly payments. At the same time, some of Steinberger’s other theories were rejected, including an argument that, because IndyMac had intentionally destroyed the note, it had cancelled the debt. The court concluded that, in the absence of proof of intent to cancel the debt, it remained collectible.