Small Bank Wins CFPB Challenge at the Appellate Level

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Eleven states, including SC, lose in the same case.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled on July 24 in favor of a small Texas bank in its constitutionality challenge of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

In State Bank of Big Spring v. Lew, the Court of Appeals reversed the District Court’s holding that the bank’s claims failed for lack of standing and ripeness. Eleven states, including South Carolina, had joined the lawsuit, but the states’ claims were held to fail on the issues of standing and ripeness.

Big dog little dog aThe bank first challenged the constitutionality of the CFPB on the grounds that all independent agencies must be headed by multiple members, while the CFPB is headed by a single Director.

The Court held that the Bank had standing to raise this challenge because the Supreme Court holds that there is ordinarily little question that a regulated individual or entity has standing to challenge an allegedly illegal statute or rule under which it is regulated. Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555 (1992).

On the issue of when the bank may bring its claim, the ripeness issue, the Court of Appeals again cited a Supreme Court case, Abbott Laboratories v. Gardner, 387 U.S. 136 (1967) for the proposition that regulated parties generally need not violate a law in order to challenge the law.

The bank then questioned the legality of President Obama’s recess appointment of CFPB Director, Richard Cordray. Mr. Cordray was nominated on July 18, 2011. When the Senate had not acted on the nomination by January 4, 2012, President Obama used his recess power to appoint Mr. Cordray during a three-day intra-session Senate recess. On July 16, 2013, after Mr. Cordray had been serving for 18 months, the Senate confirmed his nomination.

The bank alleges that the recess appointment and all the actions Cordray took before he was confirmed were unlawful because the appointment occurred during an intra-session recess of insufficient length. The Court held that the bank had standing on this issue, and that the issue is ripe.

pawn takes queenThe bank then argued that the Financial Stability Oversight Council created by the Dodd-Frank Act is unconstitutional. This council has authority to designate financial institutions as “too big to fail” and subject to additional regulation. The bank has not been designated as “too big to fail”, but its competitor, GE Capital Corporation, has. The bank argued that GE Capital receives a reputational subsidy as a result of its designation which allows it to raise capital at lower costs that it otherwise could, impacting the bank’s ability to compete for the same funds. The Court held that the bank does not have standing to assert this claim because the link between the enhanced regulation and any harm to the bank is too attenuated and speculative to support standing.

Eleven states challenged Dodd-Frank’s “orderly liquidation authority” which gives the Government broad power to liquidate failing financial institutions that pose a significant risk to the stability of the U.S. financial system. The states’ theory for standing and ripeness deals with the fact that the states and their pensions funds have invested in financial companies and their current investments may be worth less because of this authority.

The Court held that it is premature for a court to consider the legality of how the government might wield the orderly liquidation authority in a potential future proceeding. The states’ theory was held not to satisfy standing or ripeness requirements.

The case was remanded to the District Court on the bank’s challenges to the constitutionality of the CFPB and Director Cordray’s recess appointment.

It’s getting interesting out there!

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