Monday, January 25, 2016

Cases and Regulations: 2016 Predictions

I have noticed that there has been a spate of articles in the last few months about the regulatory events of 2015. Indeed, the highest profile event was the implementation of the rules governing TILA-RESPA Integration Disclosure (“TRID”). Looking back at history is important; after all, “what’s past is prologue,”[i] as Shakespeare’s insight offers in The Tempest. Or is it? Can our vision be so blurred by the emoluments of the past that we lose sight of the recompense awaiting us in the future?

Enjoy'd no sooner but despised straight,
Past reason hunted, and no sooner had
Past reason hated, as a swallow'd bait
On purpose laid to make the taker mad;
Mad in pursuit and in possession so;
Had, having, and in quest to have, extreme.

Thus said Shakespeare in Sonnet 129, pouting how past sentiments can beguile future attractions in inscrutable ways, focused on consuming demands, whipped from one extreme to another, passionately meeting the madness of a gripping mission. Having gone through 2015’s glut of objections, tests, threats, claims, confrontations, defiances, demurs, provocations, remonstrances, ultimatums, impositions, exigencies, and importunities, perhaps now we should set our zealous pursuit of adaptation and expediency to the dispatch that is likely awaiting us in 2016.

I propose to discuss two categories that, though separate in purpose and determinate qualities, are each intrinsic to the way residential mortgage lenders and originators, as well as other financial service entities involved in extending credit through consumer loan products, will be responsive to the regulatory compliance environment in the year ahead: cases and regulations. Each often is rooted in the past, though usually springs to a trajectory into the future. Instead of traveling down Memory Lane, let’s take a modest excursion through the imminent happenings soon to come. In briefly discussing these cases and regulations, I hope to further stimulate public policy debates.

Cases

Both the U.S. Supreme Court and the Second Circuit will be prominent in deciding cases affecting the origination of mortgages in 2016. Also, the D.C. Circuit and the D.C. district court will adjudicate pertinent cases. The range of consequences is considerable, from cases that could make it more difficult to consummate secondary market transactions to cases further limiting class actions. I believe the following five cases should be on a watch list.

PHH Corp. et al. v. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau[ii]

I have been following this case since its inception. In its recent iteration, on November 5, 2015 the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“Bureau”) stated in a brief filed with the D.C. Circuit that its $109 million disgorgement order against PHH Corp. in a mortgage reinsurance kickback case met all statutory requirements and should be allowed to stand in order to keep other companies from engaging in similar schemes.

The Bureau contends that PHH incorrectly interpreted the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (“RESPA”) in its appeal of the $109 million disgorgement order. The Bureau and its Director, Richard Cordray, contend that they were correct in levying the foregoing penalty, which, they claim, serves as a necessary deterrent to other firms that might consider engaging in kickback schemes.

To quote the Bureau itself:

“Eliminating kickbacks is a primary goal of RESPA. If PHH is permitted to keep the fruits of its kickback scheme merely because it claims it believed its scheme was legal, this will encourage others to take advantage of areas of statutory uncertainty.”

Further, the Bureau contests PHH’s claims that the agency’s ‘single-director structure,’ as opposed to ‘multimember-commission leadership,’ and funding through the Federal Reserve rather than the congressional appropriations process, violate the U.S. Constitution.

To refresh the history of this matter, the Bureau had filed administrative claims against PHH in January 2014, alleging that when PHH originated mortgages, the financial institution referred consumers to mortgage insurers with which it had relationships. In exchange for this referral, the agency claimed, these insurers purchased reinsurance from PHH’s subsidiaries, and PHH took the reinsurance fees as kickbacks.

The Bureau contended that PHH also charged more money for loans to consumers who did not buy mortgage insurance from one of its supposed kickback partners and, in general, charged consumers additional percentage points on their loans.