Posts filed under ‘Legal Watch’

What the CDC’s Announcement Means for Your Credit Union

The CDC’s announcement that it was altering its guidance to encourage vaccinated individuals to wear masks indoors in areas with substantial and high transmission rates may very well result in your credit union having to refine its workplace policies and procedures. The Governor issued a statement indicating that the state is reviewing the announcement. In the past the state has used CDC guidance to establish the baseline expectations for businesses in New York. Here is what we know for sure.

The state lifted its mask mandate for fully vaccinated individuals because, as of June 15th, 70% of New Yorkers had received at least one dose of the vaccine. What’s changed? The Delta variant of the virus has proven to be particularly tenacious and evidence is emerging that even fully vaccinated individuals can transmit the disease. Plus there are still a substantial number of individuals reluctant to get vaccinated. As can be seen from this map issued by the CDC, New York State has substantial numbers of new COVID cases.

The surging virus has forced employers to reconsider legal options when it comes to keeping their workplace safe. For example, the Veterans Administration announced that it was mandating that some of its employees get vaccinated and New York City is taking similar steps. The shift to a more aggressive posture reflects the mounting number of administrative rulings and judicial decisions which have reinforced that employers can mandate employee vaccinations provided they are mindful of genuine and sincere religious objections as well as the need for ADA accommodations.

One bellwether case that the legal community is watching is Bridges v. Houston Methodist Hospital, 2021. The case involves a nurse who was fired by the hospital after refusing to get vaccinated. The case is one of the first in which a federal court has directly addressed an argument, popularized on the internet, which contends that since the vaccines were approved on an emergency basis by the Secretary of Health and Human services they can’t be mandated by employers. The plaintiff also contends that the status of the vaccines mandates that employers explain the potential benefits and risks of taking the vaccine.

The district court swiftly rejected this argument. According to the court, federal law permits the Secretary of Health and Human services to authorize the vaccines on an emergency basis. Crucially, according to the court, “it neither expands nor restricts the responsibilities of private employers; in fact, it does not apply at all to private employers like the hospital in this case.”  This case is currently up on appeal before the Fifth Circuit.  If this case doesn’t give employers confidence to mandate vaccinations, the Secretary of Health is expected to approve the vaccine on a non-emergency basis sometime in the fall.

In addition to this case, in May the EEOC issued guidance authorizing employers to mandate vaccinations consistent with Federal Civil Rights Law.

And then of course there is New York State’s Hero Act. At this point the law requires nothing more than for employers to have an infectious airborne disease plan in place by August 5th. The plan only needs to be activated in the event that the Commission of Health issues a declaration that an airborne infectious disease presents a serious risk of harm to the public health. No such announcement has been made but recent events underscore the need to make sure you are ready to comply with NY’s law.

July 28, 2021 at 9:40 am Leave a comment

NCUA to CUs: Don’t Forget About New CFPB Foreclosure Regs

Yours truly is back from a recent visit to God’s country (aka Long Island) and this morning I have credit cards, mortgage regulations and class action lawsuits on my mind.

The NCUA has sent out this letter to credit unions reminding them that new regulations have been issued by the CFPB requiring mortgage servicers to take additional steps to ensure that individuals impacted financially by COVID-19 are vetted for potential loan modifications. These new amendments take effect on August 31st. As I explained in a previous blog, among other things these new regulations apply to homeowners who suffer a financial hardship due, directly or indirectly to the national emergency for the COVID-19 pandemic declared on March 13th 2020.

This announcement got me thinking about one of my favorite topics: The interplay between compliance and litigation, particularly for you bigger guys out there.

NCUA’s announcement is more than just a reminder of what needs to be done on your compliance to-do-list; it is in fact a warning that when you go to foreclose on someone for years to come both borrower attorneys and class action lawyers will be scrutinizing your compliance with these regulations to argue that but for your credit union’s failure to properly comply with these regulations, your member would still own their house.

For example, this morning Law360 reported on how a federal judge in California has increased the number of persons eligible for settlement money from a lawsuit alleging that Wells Fargo failed to properly evaluate borrowers for eligibility in the HAMP program. You may recall that the federal government responded to the mortgage meltdown which started a little over a decade ago by creating the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) under which delinquent borrowers could seek modifications of their mortgage loans. Wells Fargo used a computer program that miscalculated eligibility requirements leading to hundreds of persons either losing their homes or spending more money than they otherwise would have had to. In other words, this is a classic example of how a compliance failure leads to a litigation mess.

Where New Yorkers Stands With Credit Card Debt

Here’s an interesting factoid for you: New Yorkers have among the most sustainable credit card debt in the country with median credit card balances of $1,854 and a median income of $54,588 with which to pay off that debt. These are among the findings of this report issued by WalletHub Today.

See you tomorrow, enjoy your day.

July 27, 2021 at 9:32 am Leave a comment

How Portable Is “Your” Data?

That is the question yours truly is pondering after reading through Colorado senate bill 21-190. When the bill takes effect Colorado will become the third state in the nation, following California and Virginia, to pass legislation mandating that consumers be given greater control over their electronically stored personal data.

Like Virginia’s, Colorado’s law exempts financial institutions from its requirements, but its passage underscores why your vendor management in general and your contract language in particular is more crucial than ever in the absence of federal guidelines. Here is one reason why:

Colorado has followed the lead of other states and Europe in mandating that businesses that process and control personal consumer data have the ability, among other things, to ensure that consumers have: the right to opt out of their personal data being used by third parties for targeted advertising; the right to know who has their information; the right to correct inaccurate information; the right to delete personal information; and the right to “data portability.”

I’ve been told by IT people that conforming to these requirements is not easy to put it mildly. But the tasks are made even more challenging in the absence of universal agreement as to who owns what data and what personal data is. As a result, even though financial institutions have been exempted from many of these laws, you should draft your contracts, particularly those dealing with your core processing functions, mindful of the need to easily access data on behalf of your credit union and members.

For instance, in reviewing contracts with your attorney, you should seek language stipulating that data will be stored in a universally available format. You also want to clearly delineate what data belongs to your credit union and what data belongs to your vendor. Your contract should also stipulate that vendors will only have access to data for the purpose of carrying out their obligations under the agreement.

Why is this or similar language so important? Because it will ensure that you have the ability to track who has access to the personal information of your members. Irrespective of what the law requires, members are going to increasingly expect to have greater control over their personal information. In addition, as I talked about in a recent blog, transferring from one core processor to another can be as acrimonious as a bad divorce. The clearer your contract specifies what information is to be transferred, the easier this process will be.

On that note, enjoy your weekend. For those of you who find soccer only slightly more exciting than watching paint dry, take a look at Sunday’s European Championship game between Italy and the UK. England is the Chicago Cubs of European Soccer minus a World Series win.

July 9, 2021 at 9:46 am Leave a comment

HUD Proposes Reinstating Disparate Impact Rule

On Friday the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced that it was proposing regulations to reinstate an Obama era regulation scuttled by the Trump Administration which was designed to outline what had to be proven by individuals claiming a violation of the Fair Housing Act which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, and other protected classifications. Given the level of political discourse in this country, I suspect there will be a great deal of emotional debate. Here is a primer on the actual issues involved:

The core issue is how expansive HUD’s authority is to interpret the FHA and the regulation being debated is 24 CFR 100.500 which outlines how disparate impact in the provision of housing can be proven. Behind this ostensibly esoteric announcement lurks one of the most emotional and important debates that the nation will be having in the coming years; one that I suspect will only grow more intense: how much proof should be required to prove housing discrimination and should intent matter where policies have the effect of discriminating against someone on the basis of race?

In 2013, HUD issued regulations designed to “implement the Fair Housing Act’s discriminatory effect standards” (78 FED. REG. 11460. 2013). Even the title was loaded. At the time some lawyers argued that disparate impact analysis was not even authorized under the FHA.  In 2015, this issue was addressed by the Supreme Court in Texas Dept. of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project. The Supreme Court ruled that it was within HUD’s authority to promulgate a disparate impact standard but the issue was still not settled. Ultimately, the Trump administration repealed these regulations and replaced them with a new standard that made it more difficult for plaintiffs to win (see 85 FR60288-01, 2020).

It was back to the courts again. A district court ruled that these regulations clearly made it more difficult for plaintiffs to prove discriminatory impact.  For example, these regulations required plaintiffs to “sufficiently plead facts” to support.  “[T]hat the challenged policy or practice is arbitrary, artificial, and unnecessary to achieve a valid interest or legitimate objective such as a practical business, profit, policy consideration, or requirement of law.” Massachusetts Fair Housing Center v. United States Department of Housing and Urban Development. In this decision, the federal district court in Massachusetts issued an injunction against the Trump era regulations.  Today you can still read these regulations, but they exist in a regulatory twilight zone with no one quite sure of what the legal standard is. 

There is undoubtedly more to come as the issues being debated ping pong between regulators and the courts. This is yet another issue that our system needs congress to resolve and its inability or unwillingness to do so creates a vacuum which leaves financial institutions unsure of what they can and cannot do.  

July 7, 2021 at 10:40 am Leave a comment

SC to Consumers: When It Comes To Suing in Federal Court – No Harm, No Foul

A decision by the Supreme Court last week, TransUnion, LLC v. Ramirez, has some very practical implications for credit unions large enough to be on the radar of class action attorneys anxious to sue in federal court over alleged violations of federal law.  In a nutshell, the Supreme Court made it more difficult for plaintiffs to sue your credit union in federal court.

In order to understand just how important this case may be, it’s important to understand just how bad a job TransUnion did complying with the FCRA. A majority of the court held that notwithstanding all these mistakes, only individuals that could show they were harmed by these mistakes in a concrete way had the right to sue the company in federal court. 

In the aftermath of 9/11, TransUnion offered financial institutions a feature which allowed them to more easily spot individuals subject to OFAC sanctions. Specifically, the service informed creditors when a person’s first and last name was the same as an individual on an OFAC list.  Needless to say, this service generated a lot of false positives. One of its victims was Sergio Ramirez.  When he and his wife went to buy a Nissan Maxima, he thought the deal was done only to be informed by the car dealership that it would not sell the car to him because when they ran a TransUnion credit report it indicated that his name was a match for an individual who was on the OFAC sanctions list (incidentally, in the finest tradition of car salesmen everywhere, the dealership closed the deal with the alleged terrorist’s wife).

Things got even worse in the weeks ahead. Mr. Ramirez called TransUnion and requested a copy of his credit file. In response he received the statutory summary of his rights which he is entitled to under the FCRA, but the file he received did not include the OFAC notice.

Mr. Ramirez brought a class action lawsuit on behalf of individuals whose credit reports wrongly identified them as OFAC miscreants. The “class” contained 8,185 members but only 1,853 of these individuals had their credit reports disseminated to potential creditors during the relevant period. He successfully won at trial since there was more than enough evidence to prove that TransUnion violated several key provisions of the FCRA by failing to follow reasonable procedures to insure the accuracy of its credit reports and failed to provide consumers with accurate credit files upon request. In addition, the FCRA explicitly gives individuals the right to sue for violations of its provisions.

As I talked about in this blog before, an individual seeking to sue in federal court has to show not only that they were subject to a violation of the law but that they were subject to an actual concrete harm. In this case, the Supreme Court ruled that even when Congress writes a statute such as the FCRA and gives a person the right to receive damages for violations of that act, plaintiffs must still show that they suffered injury “in fact” in order to access the federal courts. In this case, a majority of the court agreed that the 1,800 individuals whose credit report was disseminated to potential creditors suffered an injury in fact by effectively being defamed. But what makes this decision so potentially significant is that the court did not believe that an inaccurate credit report by itself injured individuals enough to give them access to the federal courts. As judge Cavanaugh pithily explained “no concrete harm, no standing.”

Why does this matter so much? First, because its rationale could easily be applied not only to cases involving violations of the FCRA but to other violations of federal consumer laws such as the Truth In Lending Act which allowed consumers to sue lenders simply because a statute has been violated irrespective of whether or not anyone was harmed by this violation. To be clear, states such as NY and California are free to have their own standards for determining when someone can sue in state court. The long term impact of this decision may simply be to empower state courts to exercise greater influence over the way consumer laws are interpreted. But in the short term, expect more disputes over whether or not creditors can be sued in federal court.

June 29, 2021 at 8:49 am 1 comment

Bank Preemption Takes Center Stage

There is currently a case before New York’s Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit that could have a direct impact on your credit union’s bottom line even if you don’t have the great fortune of living in New York. The issue is whether or not federally chartered banks are subject to a New York law mandating that lenders provide interest payments to borrowers with mortgage escrow accounts. If the court upholds two lower court rulings, federally chartered credit unions should be prepared to also provide interest payments. NCUA preemption standards are less stringent than those typically exercised by the OCC.  The cases being appealed are Hymes et al. v. Bank of America NA, case number 21-403, and Cantero v. Bank of America NA, case number 21-400, in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

I have blogged about these cases before, and I just wanted you to know that I am not the only one paying attention.  Law360 reported that the OCC has weighed in with an amicus brief.   The issue is the applicability of New York General Obligation law 5-601 which requires banks and credit unions to pay interest on mortgage escrow account balances. The statute has been around for decades, dating to the early 80’s when high inflation rates chipped away at member’s savings. But since the law’s inception, courts have ruled that its provisions don’t apply to federally chartered institutions.  The OCC argued that in refusing to preempt New York’s law, the lower courts adopted a legal standard which violates long standing precedent.

If you think you got it bad…

If you’ve been obsessing about your credit union’s influx of cash, you are not alone.

Yesterday, the FDIC released this report detailing the impact that the unprecedented influx of cash has had on banks. The report was required as part of a restoration plan that had to be imposed on banks after they fell below their statutory deposit baseline.

What struck me about the report is just how much financial institutions have riding on the assumption that this glut of money is a short-term phenomenon.  Obviously, if people start spending money again now that the COVID restrictions have been lifted, the savings glut will be a short-term glitch that we can reminisce about over drinks when we look back at the pandemic. But what happens if inflation continues to rise and consumers are weary to spend too much money as the economic outlook remains uncertain? Hopefully we will not have to find out.

June 16, 2021 at 10:09 am Leave a comment

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly as Albany’s Session Comes To A Close

Early this morning, the NYS Legislature came to its unofficial end as the Assembly passed the last measures of an extremely active session. Here is a first look at some of the key legislation that will impact CUs if it is approved by the Governor.

In a major legislative accomplishment, credit unions successfully lobbied for legislation which will allow them to participate in the Excelsior Linked Deposit program. The program gives lenders access to state deposits in return for making qualifying small business loans of up to two million dollars. Just how long have credit unions been seeking to participate in the program? Well, one of our volunteer board members lobbied for passage of the bill by showing legislators a letter he wrote in support of credit union participation to the Governor… Governor Pataki.

Credit Unions came up short on legislation which would allow municipalities to place their funds in credit unions but for the first time in at least 15 years, legislation has been voted out of the Senate and Assembly Banks committees. This means that the finance committees will be hearing from plenty of credit unions over the next year.

Finally, credit unions successfully lobbied for passage of legislation which will help bring banking into the 21st century by authorizing the use of remote online notarization. This bill is a win for consumers in general and the elderly and disabled, in particular, who will now be able to more easily get their documents notarized without having to go to a branch. The legislation would also make it easier to sell mortgages on the secondary market.

Now for the bad news. The legislature passed a measure to cap the interest that can be charged on judgements related to consumer debts at 2%. As drafted, the new interest rate would apply to judgements which have been filed but not yet executed prior to the bill becoming effective. If you think that is a recipe for a confusing mess, you’re correct.

Earlier this year, New York’s Court of Appeals wrote a series of decisions restoring a level of common sense to New York’s foreclosure process. The legislature passed a series of measures which chip away at these rulings. For example, Assembly 2502A imposes additional pleading requirements on lenders seeking to foreclose that could otherwise be waived by a homeowner.

Another bill passed by the legislature would extend CRA requirements to licensed mortgage bankers. Crucially, this bill would not apply to credit unions. It would apply to mortgage CUSOs.

Looking ahead, the table has been set for a debate over legislation to impose a California-style data protection framework on NYS. Legislation has been introduced and the Association is seeking to exempt GLB compliant institutions. Get your talking points ready for the trip to Albany next winter.

June 11, 2021 at 9:50 am Leave a comment

Court: NY Jumps Gun on FinTech litigation

For the second time in less than four years, a federal court ruled yesterday that New York committed the legal equivalent of a false start when it filed a lawsuit against the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) after it announced that it would begin accepting charter applications from non-depository FinTechs interested in obtaining federal bank charters. If you think you’re suffering from deja vu, you’re not. In 2017, a district court dismissed an earlier lawsuit New York’s Department of Financial Services filed against the OCC on the same grounds.

One of the key legal issues in banking is whether or not the OCC has the authority to grant federal bank charters to FinTechs even if they do not accept deposits. In the early 2000s, the OCC promulgated regulations permitting companies to apply for bank charters provided they engage in activities such as executing payment transactions. If the OCC has this power, it will enable many FinTechs to provide services traditionally regulated by the states, such as payday lending and perhaps even mortgage banking.

In Lacewell v. Office of Comptroller of Currency NYS is arguing that the OCC is acting beyond its authority by considering granting charters to non-depositories. It claims to be harmed by the revenue it would lose from licensing non-depositories and that New York consumers will be harmed by banking products which aren’t subject to New York’s consumer protection laws, such as its cap on interest rates.

But in yesterday’s ruling the court held that in the absence of a charter actually being granted, New York could not demonstrate it had been harmed enough to give it access to the federal courts.

Enjoy your weekend, folks!

June 4, 2021 at 10:03 am Leave a comment

It’s a Scary Time for CUs, Cyber Attacks, and Insurance

Warren Zevon once called on his dad to bring him “lawyers, guns, and money.” Given the sharp increase in cyber-attacks, your average credit union CEO should be asking for lawyers, money, and better cyber insurance policies.

Recently, an article in The American Banker proclaimed that these are scary times for small banks and credit unions, some of which have recently been the target of ransomware attacks. Yours truly is highlighting this trend not simply because I want to scare you into action but because I believe that for many financial institutions the question is not if, but when you will find your credit union’s data being held by hackers who want money in return for allowing you to access your client’s personally identifiable information.

One of the most basic steps you can take to help protect yourself against ransomware and data theft attacks is to buy insurance. This is an issue that yours truly is also becoming increasingly obsessed about because there is a lack of clear guidelines as to precisely what a policy provides your credit union and even if your regulators are going to penalize you for using insurance proceeds to recover from ransomware payments.

My paranoia has been fueled by this recent GAO report describing an insurance industry that is scrambling to adjust to the rapidly evolving and increasingly expensive niche of cyber-attacks. For your credit unions that means that it is absolutely crucial that you get competent counsel to provide new guidance as to what is and is not covered under your policy. It also means that you should not assume that general language in your existing policy already provides you insurance protection. There are more and more cases in which this precise issue is being litigated. For example, I recently came across this case, West Bend Mutual Insurance Company v. Krishna Schaumburg Tan, Inc., in which an insurance company tried to deny coverage to a business that was sued after providing biometric data of customers to third parties.

In the medium to long term these issues will resolve themselves. Courts will scrutinize and effectively standardize basic terms. The problem is that this is little comfort to those of you confronting these issues right now. Time to call the lawyers and bring the money.

May 26, 2021 at 9:16 am Leave a comment

Gov Approves HERO’s Act

Good morning folks, with a special shout out to those of you who work in the great state of New York.

The Governor has approved the HERO Act, legislation which mandates that all businesses in NYS implement policies addressing a wide range of issues related to airborne illnesses, such as COVID. For those of you with ten or more employees, you also must give your employees the option of creating committees to address work place health related issues on an ongoing basis.

The bill is phased-in over a six month period with the first requirements taking effect in 30 days. Adopting an approach similar to what we saw when the state passed sexual harassment legislation, the state will be providing sample policies that your credit union can adopt.

One other piece of good news is a reminder that this law applies to both federal- and state-chartered credit unions.

Stay tuned, the Association will be hosting a webinar next Wednesday to take a first look at this important new mandate.

Remote Notarization Hearing Today

At 10 o’clock today, the Assembly will be holding a virtual hearing to analyze issues related to authorizing remote notarization on a permanent basis in New York. Remote notarization refers to the ability of a notary to verify the authenticity of a signature without the signer being physically present. Lisa Morris from Hudson Valley Credit Union will be testifying for the Association.

He’s Back!

The former Benign Dictator of Consumer Finance is back. Ricard Cordray has been given a high profile job at the U.S. Department of Education from which he will oversee issues related to the federal student loan program.  Not coincidentally, his portfolio gives him a high-level platform to address one of the key issues the Biden administration is being pressured to address — whether to forgive or not to forgive all of those student loans — while not being so high as to require Senate confirmation.

California Chimes In

California joined  Illinois’s  financial regulator in prohibiting lending platform Chime from implying in its advertisements and websites that it was a bank as opposed to a lending platform that passes through loans. The state’s actions come as federal and state regulators continue to grapple with the issue of when FinTechs should be classified as banks with the accompanying regulatory requirements that this classification would impose.

Earlier this week the Federal Reserve board issued proposed guidance for the Federal Reserve banks to consider when deciding whether or not FinTechs should be given access to the Federal Reserve System. Don’t underestimate this power: remember it was a Federal Reserve Bank which blocked Colorado from starting a state-level bank to provide marijuana banking services.

Captain obvious here: this is an issue that Congress needs to address sooner rather than later.

On that note, enjoy your weekend. If all goes according to plan, yours truly will be gathering with a group of vaccinated middle age men to play his first round of in-person poker in more than a year.

May 7, 2021 at 9:35 am Leave a comment

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Authored By:

Henry Meier, Esq., Senior Vice President, General Counsel, New York Credit Union Association.

The views Henry expresses are Henry’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Association. In addition, although Henry strives to give his readers useful and accurate information on a broad range of subjects, many of which involve legal disputes, his views are not a substitute for legal advise from retained counsel.

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