Posts filed under ‘Legal Watch’

Are CFPB’s Performance Reviews “Acceptable?”

Yesterday, the CFPB, which prides itself on being a statistics-driven, cutting edge agency of the 21st Century, announced a new rating system for its employees which deemphasizes statistics.  For several months now, the CFPB has been dogged by increasingly strident accusations that its managers engaged in discriminatory practices.  These accusations were bolstered by an internal report highlighted in yesterday’s CU Times showing statistical disparities based on race in the performance review process.  For example, 20.3 percent of white employees received the highest rating (a 5 on a 1-5 scale), while only 10.5% of African-American employees received this rating.  The CFPB is responding to this “proof” of racial disparity by implementing a pass-fail system of employee evaluations, doing away with those troublesome numbers.  Instead, employees will retroactively be classified as either solid performers or unacceptable ones. 

CFPB’s retreat speaks volumes about statistics and their limits.  Disparity impact analysis, where regulators and litigators argue that a facially neutral lending policy can be proven to discriminate against individuals based on statistical analysis, is predicated on the assumption that statistics don’t lie.  Advocates of this approach argue that at some point statistical disparities demonstrate that even facially neutral policies reflect discriminatory undertones and/or practices. 

On the other end of the spectrum, on which I would place myself, are those who take a jaundiced view of disparate impact analysis.  Statistics only tell a fraction of the story.  For instance, the CFPB’s statistical chart can’t tell you about how often an employee had to be pushed to get his work done.  Similarly, statistics alone can’t capture the full extent of negotiations that went on between a mortgage originator and a consumer who happened to be African-American.  Nevertheless, the explosion of data makes it more, not less, likely that statistics will be used to judge the effectiveness of anti-discrimination laws.  This is why I find the CFPB’s response so telling.  Rather than defend its evaluations, it implicitly assumes that its managers must be racially biased.  Remember, these are the same people who will ultimately be reviewing lending trends and using increased HMDA data to spot discrimination.   

The pre-eminence of disparate analysis is going to have real life consequences.  For instance, the reality is that as lenders heighten their underwriting standards to make sure that they can document why a borrower can repay a mortgage loan or decide to only make so-called qualified mortgages, these decisions will have a disproportionately negative impact on minority groups that, in the aggregate, have less income. 

What will be the response of legislators and regulators?  Will they look at these statistics and realize that they reflect deep-seated, complex problems that simply can’t be assumed to only reflect racial animus?  Or will they do what the CFPB has done and simply water down evaluation standards so that the difficult issues raised can be “solved” instead of addressed.   

August 28, 2014 at 8:43 am 1 comment

Don’t Forget About NY’s Homestead Exemption

NY’s Homestead Exemption has been around since1850 but wasn’t big enough to provide much of a concern to creditors until the last decade.  This exemption, like others across the country, shields equity in a principal dwelling up to a statutorily prescribed dollar amount from application of a judgment lien.  A recent decision by the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit that retroactively applied homestead exemption increases further puts creditors on notice that they may not have as much equity to go after as they thought.

Just how much has NY’s homestead exemption increased? It was increased from $10,000 in 1977 to $50,000 in 2005 and now stands at a baseline of $75,000 in 2010 with regional differentials that make it as high  as $150,000 in certain counties.

So, you all should take note of a decision by the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit which answered the following question: Does the 2005 Amendment’s increased homestead exemption apply to judgment liens perfected prior to the amendment’s effective date? The answer is yes.

When Tanya Calloway filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 2009, her house was valued at $110,000 with $85,000 remaining on her mortgage. If the pre-2005 homestead exemption applied then there was still money the creditors could go after but if the $50,000 exemption applied then the creditors were out of luck. 1256 Hertel Ave. Associates, LLC v. Calloway, 12-1603-BK, 2014 WL 3765864.

Deciding the issue for the first time, the Court concluded that “[a]lthough the Legislature made no specific pronouncement as to the 2005 Amendment’s effect on pre-enactment debts, the statute’s legislative history reflects a clear sense of urgency that the homestead exemption limit be immediately adjusted to bring it in line with modern home values.”

This ruling just applied to the retroactively of the Legislature’s 2005 homestead exemptions; however, I would work on the assumption that if you have a judgment lien on someone’s principal dwelling, the court will apply the exemption in effect at the time you move to enforce the judgment. Given how high NY’s homestead exemption is now, your liens may not be worth the paper they are printed on.    

European News Impacts Your Search For Yield

News out of Europe this morning that Germany’s GDP shrank and that Europe’s nascent economic recovery ground to a halt will further complicate the search for yield. Here’s why.

First, the yield on the German 10-year bond has actually fallen below 1% for the first time in history. At first blush, this makes no sense.   Since interest rates and bond prices have an inverse relationship, why should the cost of buying a German bond increase? Because, like U.S. Treasuries in the dark days of 2008, when the economy is bleakest, investors ultimately want to put their money in the economy where it is safest. This is kind of interesting, Henry, you may be musing, but how does it affect me?

Because, as explained in this article, “low yields in Europe remind us that the current 2.4% yield on the 10-year [U.S.] Treasury Note is actually relatively high.” In other words, if there is no lack of demand for U.S. debt at current rates, then don’t expect that to change in the near future.

August 14, 2014 at 9:10 am Leave a comment

Who Rules The Bond Market?

There are some issues that represent such an important shift in the way the broader financial sector operates that they are important to know about even if they don’t impact credit unions directly. Besides, they are just interesting.

One of these developments comes in the form of news that Argentina is on the verge of defaulting on its government bonds. This is no run of the mill default as it could be precedent-setting by giving U.S. courts the upper hand in enforcing judgments against nations. Not only that, it underscores just how powerful those information subpoenas you receive are, provided they are valid.

There is a long history of foreign governments refusing to enforce judicial rulings by U.S. courts seeking to enforce money judgments. As far back as 1832 when Chief Justice John Marshall ruled that the federal government and not the states had authority to negotiate with tribes to purchase land owned by Indian tribes in Georgia  (Worcester v. Georgia (1832), President Jackson allegedly responded with his famous retort, Marshall made his ruling, now let him try to enforce it.

Similarly, when it comes to bonds issued by a foreign nation the conventional wisdom has been that there is only so much bondholders can do to redeem assets to pay off bond defaults. So when the Argentinian government defaulted on its bonds in the first years of this century, the vast majority of bondholders took the reduced payouts reasoning that it’s better to get half a loaf than no bread at all. However, a handful of bondholders held out for full payment.  With the aid of some of the best lawyering you are ever going to see, these holdouts have backed the Government of Argentina into a corner.

Typically, Argentina would pay the American bondholders who accepted the modified payouts independent of what it owes to the hold outs. However, Judge Gleason of the Federal Court for the Southern District of New York issued an order mandating that, as explained by the New York Law Journal,   “the next time the ‘exchange’ debt holders are paid by Argentina, and the country is expected to pay them $900 million, the country must pay one of the hold outs $1.3 billion, plus interest, or about $1.5 billion.”  Presumably, if Argentina chooses to ignore this order, the holdouts could attach any payouts to other bondholders.

In addition, the legal wrangling underscores just how powerful those third-party information subpoenas are. In a 2012 case before the Second Circuit, which has jurisdiction over New York credit unions, The holdouts argued that subpoenas against third-party banks holding assets in a foreign country are valid-even if the money sought is ultimately out of the creditors reach. Why does this matter? Because as the Court explained, “New York State’s post-judgment discovery procedures, made applicable to proceedings in aid of execution by Federal Rule 69(a)(1), have a similarly broad sweep. The New York Civil Practice Law and Rules provides that a “judgment creditor may compel disclosure of all matter relevant to the satisfaction of the judgment.” N.Y. C.P.L.R. § 5223; see David D. Siegel, New York Practice § 509 (5th ed. 2011) (describing § 5223 as “a broad criterion authorizing investigation through any person shown to have any light to shed on the subject of the judgment debtor’s [**6] assets or their whereabouts”).

But remember, an information subpoena under NY law is only valid if it is properly issued and that includes mandating that the creditor have a good faith reason for thinking that money may be stowed away in your accounts.

By the way, I would still bet that the issue will be resolved sometime today short of default, but no matter what happens the power of U.S. courts and creditor subpoenas have been given a big shot in the arm. Can you imagine if Europe had to negotiate with New York judges before restructuring Greek debt? This is the type of power we are talking about. As former Presidential Advisor James Carville once quipped, when he comes back to life he wants it to be as the bond market.

 

July 31, 2014 at 9:40 am Leave a comment

What Rights Does Your Pregnant Employee Have?

The way my father explained it to me, people have been getting pregnant for quite some time.  In addition, since 1978, federal law has banned discrimination in the workplace on the basis of pregnancy.  So you may find it odd that pregnancy is a hot topic in legal circles these days.  However, recent developments have brought the issue of pregnancy discrimination to the forefront of HR law.

First, the Supreme Court has decided to review a case next term, Young v. United Parcel Service, in which it will clarify what accommodations, if any, must be provided to a pregnant employee.  Not coincidentally, the EEOC recently released an updated guidance on this issue for the first time in more than two decades.

The issues involved are not as clear cut as you might think.  First, let’s start with the basics.  We all should know that you can’t discriminate against someone just because she is pregnant.  The Pregnancy Discrimination Act provides that pregnant women “shall be treated the same for all employment purposes. . .as other persons.”  It seems simple enough, but the case the Supreme Court is going to hear involved a driver whose job required her to lift up to 70 lbs.  The company’s policy excused drivers from this requirement if they were disabled or if they lost their license, but not if they were pregnant.  The company argued that it was required to treat her equally with all other employees and it would not be doing that if it excused her from the weight restrictions just because she was pregnant.

When I first read this decision I wondered why she couldn’t be treated as disabled under the ADA.  But the Fourth Circuit, which heard the case being decided by the Supreme Court, ruled that the ADA doesn’t apply to pregnant women.  As a result, the Fourth Circuit ruled that the company acted legally despite the fact that her request to lift lighter packages could have been easily accommodated.

Undoubtedly with an eye toward weighing in on the Supreme Court’s decision, the EEOC’s recently updated pregnancy guidance argues that there may be circumstances in which pregnant women are protected under the ADA.  As I like to say, this is one of those cases that are going to be worth keeping an eye on.  With my usual caveat that I am not an HR attorney but I like to play one occasionally writing this blog, this is one area where it seems a bit of common sense goes an awfully long way.  UPS has provided us a great case to consider, but had it not been so stubborn in adhering to its policy, an employee could easily have been accommodated and millions of dollars in legal fees could have been avoided.

July 22, 2014 at 8:31 am Leave a comment

UPDATED: Busy day in DC..sort of

July 16, 2014 at 8:55 am Leave a comment Edit

WARNING: The following blog is predicated on the assumption and\or delusion that Congress has both the ability and inclination to not just talk about the nation’s challenges but to do something about them

Good morning-Yesterday was a busy day in the public policy arena. Here is a quick review of some of the highlights

Credit Union Reg Relief TestimonyDouglas A Fecher, CEO of Wright-Patt Credit Union, delivered testimony on behalf of CUNA before a House Financial Services Sub Committee. The testimony highlighted an increasingly long list of needed reforms-ranging from putting the brakes on the Justice Department’s “Operation Choke Point” before it chokes off legitimate business activity, to forcing NCUA to scale back some of its proposed RBC asset weighting. CUNA estimates that, since 2008, credit unions have been subjected to 180 regulatory changes from 15 different agencies. The testimony is available here: http://financialservices.house.gov/uploadedfiles/hhrg-113-ba15-wstate-dfecher-20140715.pdf

Warren is must see T.V. Even though I disagree with about 90 percent of what she has to say, Elizabeth Warren, the Birth-Mother of the CFPB and the current Senator from Massachusetts is good for America if only because she is one of the few politicians willing to publicly say how little is being done to prevent Too-Big-To-Fail banks from failing again at taxpayer expense. In this increasingly exasperated exchange with Fed Chairman Yellen Warren points out that so called “living wills,” which are  intended to provide for blueprints for the  orderly liquidation of the Behemoth banks, aren’t worth the paper they are printed on if the Fed doesn’t force institutions to make the changes necessary to allow for orderly liquidation. Yellen suggests that the Fed role in the process is merely advisory.  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/15/too-big-to-fail_n_5588558.html

The Feds Outlook Chairman Yellen’s written testimony before Congress didn’t break much new ground. She did indicate that it remains on track to stop the “twist” bond buying program. In addition, even though the economy is improving she still sees enough slack in it to keep from raising interest rates. The WSJ is reporting that she “hedged” on interest rates but every Chairman hedges on interest rates. http://www.federalreserve.gov/newsevents/testimony/yellen20140715a.htm

Senator George D. Maziarz Calls it quitsThe long serving Western New York Republican’s departure means that there are now  four open seats in the State Senate. Republicans have to protect these seats and gain three in order to keep Senate Democrats from taking control of the Senate now that the Independent Democratic Caucus is backing the democrats to lead the chamber. http://www.buffalonews.com/city-region/all-niagara-county/george-maziarz-on-federal-probe-i-have-nothing-to-hide-20140713

On Mortgage meltdowns and prayers NY is slated to receive $92,000,000.00 from the Justice Department’s 7 billion settlement with Citigroup over its shoddy underwriting practices for Mortgage Backed Securities but what really caught my eye was this quote from a Citi trader cited in the settlement papers : The trader stated that Citi should pray and explained that he“… would not be surprised if half of these loans went down. There are a lot of loans that have unreasonable incomes, values below the original appraisals (CLTV would be >100), etc. It’s amazing that some of these loans were closed at all.” http://www.justice.gov/iso/opa/resources/558201471413645397758.pdf

 

July 16, 2014 at 9:23 am Leave a comment

Busy day in DC..sort of

WARNING: The following blog is predicated on the assumption and\or delusion that Congress has both the ability and inclination to not just talk about the nation’s challenges but to do something about them

Good morning-Yesterday was a busy day in the public policy arena. Here is a quick review of some of the highlights

Credit Union Reg Relief TestimonyDouglas A Fecher, CEO of Wright-Patt Credit Union, delivered testimony on behalf of CUNA before a House Financial Services Sub Committee. The testimony highlighted an increasingly long list of needed reforms-ranging from putting the brakes on the Justice Department’s “Operation Choke Point” before it chokes off legitimate business activity, to forcing NCUA to scale back some of its proposed RBC asset weighting. CUNA estimates that, since 2008, credit unions have been subjected to 180 regulatory changes from 15 different agencies. The testimony is available here: http://financialservices.house.gov/uploadedfiles/hhrg-113-ba15-wstate-dfecher-20140715.pdf

Warren is must see T.V. Even though I disagree with about 90 percent of what she has to say, Elizabeth Warren, the Birth-Mother of the CFPB and the current Senator from Massachusetts is good for America if only because she is one of the few politicians willing to publicly say how little is being done to prevent Too-Big-To-Fail banks from failing again at taxpayer expense. In this increasingly exasperated exchange with Fed Chairman Yellen Warren points out that so called “living wills,” which are  intended to provide for blueprints for the  orderly liquidation of the Behemoth banks, aren’t worth the paper they are printed on if the Fed doesn’t force institutions to make the changes necessary to allow for orderly liquidation. Yellen suggests that the Fed role in the process is merely advisory.  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/15/too-big-to-fail_n_5588558.html

The Feds Outlook Chairman Yellen’s written testimony before Congress didn’t break much new ground. She did indicate that it remains on track to stop the “twist” bond buying program. In addition, even though the economy is improving she still sees enough slack in it to keep from raising interest rates. The WSJ is reporting that she “hedged” on interest rates but every Chairman hedges on interest rates. http://www.federalreserve.gov/newsevents/testimony/yellen20140715a.htm

Senator George D. Maziarz Calls it quitsThe long serving Western New York Republican’s departure means that there are now  four open seats in the State Senate. Republicans have to protect these seats and gain three in order to keep Senate Democrats from taking control of the Senate now that the Independent Democratic Caucus is backing the democrats to lead the chamber. http://www.buffalonews.com/city-region/all-niagara-county/george-maziarz-on-federal-probe-i-have-nothing-to-hide-20140713

On Mortgage meltdowns and prayers NY is slated to receive $92,000,000.00 from the Justice Department’s 7 billion settlement with Citi Bank over its shoddy underwriting practices for Mortgage Backed Securities but what really caught my eye was this quote from a Citi trader cited in the settlement papers : The trader stated that Citi should pray and explained that he“… would not be surprised if half of these loans went down. There are a lot of loans that have unreasonable incomes, values below the original appraisals (CLTV would be >100), etc. It’s amazing that some of these loans were closed at all.” http://www.justice.gov/iso/opa/resources/558201471413645397758.pdf

 

July 16, 2014 at 8:55 am 1 comment

Court clarifies timeframe for unauthorized withdrawals

How much time do members have to inform you that they have spotted an unauthorized withdrawal from their account after receiving their statements?

The UCC gives consumers a year but that timeframe can be reduced by contract. Just how much that window can be closed has remained an open question in New York for decades until a narrow but an important ruling in New York’s Court of Appeals in May (Clemente Bros. Contracting Corp. v Hafner-Milazzo) held that business accounts opened by sophisticated large businesses could provide companies with as little as two weeks to report unauthorized withdrawals provided they receive adequate notice of account activity.

Clemente Brothers opened business accounts and a line of credit at NorthFork Bank which was subsequently gobbled up by CapitalOne; In order to open up the account it had to pass a corporate resolution specifying who could draw from the accounts and sign an account agreement that provided in pertinent part:

“That unless [Clemente Brothers] shall notify the Bank in writing within fourteen calendar days of the delivery or mailing of any statement of account and cancelled check, draft of any claimed errors in such statement, or that any such returned Instrument was forged…or that it was raised or otherwise altered … “ the account shall be considered correct for all purposes and said Bank shall not be liable for any payments made and charged to the account

All good unauthorized withdrawal cases seem to start with wayward employees and in this case a bookkeeper had been forging Clemente’s signature on certain CapitalOne Bank documents, including drawdown requests on the line of credit and checks paid from one of Clemente Brothers’ accounts. The company claimed she embezzled approximately $386,000 over the course of approximately two years, from January 2008 through December 2009. The withdrawals were discovered in 2010. They claimed that these were unauthorized withdrawals and that the Bank had to make them whole. You probably haven’t looked at the statute in a while. It provides that

1) When a bank sends to its customer a statement of account accompanied by items paid in good faith in support of the debit entries or holds the statement and items pursuant to a request or instructions of its customer or otherwise in a reasonable manner makes the statement and items available to the customer, the customer must exercise reasonable care and promptness to examine the statement and items to discover his unauthorized signature or any alteration on an item and must notify the bank promptly after discovery thereof.

(2) If the bank establishes that the customer failed with respect to an item to comply with the duties imposed on the customer by subsection (1) the customer is precluded from asserting against the bank.

 N.Y. U.C.C. Law § 4-406 (McKinney)

 

The court bifurcated its ruling into two parts. The court did not dismiss the case in relation to the unauthorized draws against the line of credit. Even though the company was put on notice that money was being drawn on the line it wasn’t given copies of the actual drawdown requests. Therefore a trial court had to decide if the bank provided adequate notice to the company; chances are it did.

The more interesting question was whether or not the 14-day notice period could be enforced. The Court ruled that:

“Clemente Brothers had numerous employees, regularly moved hundreds of thousands of dollars in and out of its operating accounts, and had the resources to make an informed decision about opening accounts at CapitalOne. Critically, Clemente was fully aware of the terms of the agreements with CapitalOne because Clemente Brothers passed a corporate resolution acknowledging its obligation to notify CapitalOne of any irregularities within 14 days of each statement of account.”

Does this mean that all your account agreements should have a 14-day window? No. The court stressed that its ruling applied to a sophisticated large corporation. It might reach a different result if it was deciding a case involving an elderly account holder or a less sophisticated small business.

So what should you do? Don’t have the same window for members that you do for businesses and make sure you don’t rely on the UCC’s one-year language. The more sophisticated your business account members are, the shorter their notification window can be. No matter what number you decide on, make sure your policy is reflected in the account agreement and that your frontline staff gets the necessary paperwork as part of opening accounts.

Here is a link to the decision and an earlier blog I did on the case:

http://law.justia.com/cases/new-york/court-of-appeals/2014/64-0.html

http://newyorksstateofmind.wordpress.com/2013/07/09/when-does-your-responsibility-for-forged-checks-end/

July 15, 2014 at 9:21 am 1 comment

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Authored By:

Henry Meier, Esq., Associate General Counsel, Credit Union Association of New York

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