Supreme Court to hear CFPB Constitutionality Challenge

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Seila Law, LLC v. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau likely to be heard by mid-2020

CFPB building

The United States Supreme Court has chosen a case to decide the constitutionality of the CFPB. The case is Seila Law LLC v. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (U.S. Supreme Court 19-7). The announcement was made on Friday, December 27. The allegation in question is that the structure of the agency grants too much power to its director, in violation of the Constitution’s separation of powers doctrine.

Under the current structure, the director of the CFPB cannot be fired by the president absent “inefficiency, neglect of duty, or malfeasance in office.” The heads of other federal agencies may be removed at the pleasure of the president.

The order posted by the Court requested that both sides address the following question: “If the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is found unconstitutional on the basis of separation of powers, can 12 U.S.C §5491(c)(3) be severed from the Dodd-Frank Act?”

The United States House of Representatives’ motion to file an amicus curiae brief because the Department of Justice has chosen not to defend the constitutionality of the agency.

Concern about the structure of the agency has been voiced since its inception based on the fact that such huge power has been placed in the hands of one individual director. The argument continues that the CFPB has more power than any agency ever created by Congress. While most federal agencies are controlled by commissions or by a director who serves at the pleasure of the President, the CFPB’s sole director is removable only for cause. Also, since all of the funding of the agency is not controlled by Congress, there is little legislative oversight.

In previous hearings, when the CFPB has been asked what the appropriate remedy should be if the structure of the agency is held to be unconstitutional, the CFPB has maintained that formative statute would have to be amended to allow the President to remove the director with or without cause.  Some have suggested that all of the actions of the CFPB might be suspect if its structure is held unconstitutional. Others have suggested that agency should be headed by a multi-person, bi-partisan commission rather than a single director for greater transparency and accountability.

If a decision in the case is announced in mid-2020, the presidential election could be affected since Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s role in creating the agency is a central pillar of her presidential bid.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh has made clear in a previous dissent that he believes the structure of the agency is unconstitutional.

What’s in Store for Dodd-Frank and Seller Financing?

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The Washington Post and The New York Times are both reporting on potential restructuring of the financial system when the new administration takes over in January.

We all heard President-Elect Donald Trump call the Dodd-Frank Act a “disaster” during his campaign. The Washington Post article reports his transition team has a stated goal, “to dismantle the Dodd-Frank Act and replace it with new policies to encourage economic growth and job creation.” What, exactly, does this mean?  At this point, we don’t know.

But The New York Times article states Representative Jeb Hensarling, a Texas Republican who chairs the House Financial Services Committee, has long been an opponent of Dodd-Frank and has introduced his idea for reform, the Financial Choice Act. “Choice”, according to the article, stands for Creating Hope and Opportunity for Investors, Consumers and Entrepreneurs.

financial-systemIt seems clear that the Republican controlled Congress will work hard to make sweeping changes to this legislation that has basically rocked our collective worlds with the implementation of new forms and rules for closings. We promise to keep everyone up to date as this drama unfolds. We can only hope that, from a closing standpoint, the changes won’t be as sweeping as those we have just tackled!

In other CFPB news, the Bureau is investigating seller financing situations involving National Asset Advisors LLC, National Asset Mortgage LLC and Harbour Portfolio LLC. Orders involved in these investigations can be read on CFPB’s website.

We should pay attention to these enforcement proceedings because seller financing for residential owner-occupied residences has become a concern in South Carolina as a result of the interplay of the federal and state SAFE Acts, HUD’s final rule, released in 2011, and Dodd Frank’s Consumer Financial Protection laws.

The interplay between these laws appears to require licensing and registration of mortgage loan originators for mortgages of owner-occupied residences other than the sale of the seller’s residence. Clients who fail to become licensed as loan originators or fall into an exemption may find they are unable to close, and may, along with the attorneys who closed the transactions, be subject to claims and litigation.

The CFPB has broad enforcement powers, including the power to impose civil monetary penalties ranging from $5,000 to $1 million per day. South Carolina’s legislature could improve this situation greatly by addressing certain inconsistencies between our version of the SAFE Act and the federal version. Again, we will attempt to keep everyone up to speed on this issue as it develops.

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!