Articles Posted in RESPA CLASS ACTION LAWSUITS

Marx Sterbcow, Managing Attorney at Sterbcow Law Group, and Charles Cain, Of Counsel to Sterbcow Law Group and Senior Vice President to WFG National Title Insurance Company, have been selected by the Louisiana Land Title Association (LLTA) to speak at the LLTA’s Annual Conference on the topic of real estate settlement procedures act (RESPA) compliance involving marketing service agreements. They will discuss the latest issues surrounding the use of Marketing Agreements and whether an enforcement action or guidance bulletin by the CFPB involving the use of these agreements may be forthcoming.

The presentation will discuss what a typical Marketing Agreement is; how the HUD interpretive rule on home warranties impacts Marketing Services Agreements, identifying red flags in MSAs, and the impact the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (FFIEC) third party social media compliance bulletin may have on your marketing agreement.

The LLTA Conference is being held at the Hotel Monteleone in New Orleans on Dec. 4-6, 2013.

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a district court decision in the Charvat v. Mutual First Federal Credit Union case. The case involved a violation of the Electronic Fund Transfer Act (“EFTA”) 15 U.S.C. §1693 where the Charvat’s made several ATM withdrawals from two Nebraska banks. The 8th Circuit stated “The EFTA requires ATM operators to provide two forms of notice, one “on or at” the ATM machine and another on-screen during the ATM transaction, if the bank operators charged a ATM transaction fee. The ATM machines in question failed to provide the required notice disclosure on the “on ATM machine” and this was the basis for the class action.

The 8th Circuit held that “[D]ecisions by this Court and the Supreme Court indicate that an informational injury alone is sufficient to confer standing, even without an additional economic or other injury.” The 8th Circuit further stated that Charvat identified a variety of instances where the denial of a statutory right to receive information was sufficient to establish standing and cited to the Fed. Election Comm’n v. Akins case and more importantly the Dryden v. Lou Budke’s Arrow Fin. Co. which was a Truth-In-Lending Act case.

The citing of the Dryden case is particularly important because the 8th Circuit said ” “f [borrower] proved that the disclosure provisions of [TILA] and Regulation Z were violated in connection with the January 26 transaction, [lender] is liable for statutory damages.”).” The 8th Circuit said the EFTA creates a right to a particular form of notice before an ATM transaction fee could be levied. If that notice was not provided and a fee was nonetheless charged, an injury occurred, and the statutory damages are directly related to the consumer’s injury.”

Attorney Marx Sterbcowof the Sterbcow Law Group will lead a panel presentation along with Attorney Jeff Arouh of McLaughlin & Stern at the October Research Corporation’s National Settlement Services Summit being held at the Marriott at Key Center in Cleveland, Ohio on June 11, 2013. The session titled “Strategic Alliances and the Future of Affiliated Businesses” will offer practical guidance on the issues surrounding affiliated businesses and their future under the Qualified Mortgage (QM) and Qualified Residential Mortgage proposals under the Dodd-Frank Act and we will examine who the winners and losers are in the affiilated business industry. The session also discusses why lending compliance under the new federal rules and regulations may be fueling growth in the creation of new affiliated businesses even with the 3% lender affiliated business arrangement annual percentage rate (APR) cap on points and fees restriction.

For more information and on-line registration, please go to: 2013 National Settlement Services Summit.

On April 13, 2012 the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) issued Bulletin 2012-03 titled “Service Providers”. The CFPB stated that it expects supervised banks and nonbanks to oversee their business relationships with their service providers in a manner that ensures compliance with Federal consumer financial law, which is designed to protect the interests of consumers and avoid consumer harm.

The term “Service Provider” is defined in Section 1002(26) of the Dodd-Frank Act as “Any person that provides a material service to a covered person in connection with the offering or provision by such covered person of a consumer financial product or service.” (12 U.S.C. Section 5481(26)). A “Service Provider” may or may not be affiliated with the person to which it provides services.”

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in its bulletin states that the CFPB “recognizes that the use of service providers is often an appropriate business decision for supervised banks and nonbanks. Supervised banks and nonbanks may outsource certain functions to service providers due to resource constraints, use service providers to develop and market additional products or services, or rely on expertise from service providers that would not otherwise be available without significant investment.”

The CFPB’s bulletin expresses concerns about the lack of liability by the lender to the consumer for third party behavior. “The mere fact that a supervised bank or nonbank enters into a business relationship with a service provider does not absolve the supervised bank or nonbank of responsibility of complying with Federal consumer financial law to avoid consumer harm. A “service provider” that is unfamiliar with the legal requirements applicable to the products or services being offered, or that does not make efforts to implement those requirements carefully and effectively, or that exhibits weak internal controls, can harm consumers and create potential liabilities for both the service provider and the entity with which it has a business relationship.” The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau states that “depending on the circumstances, legal responsibility may lie with the supervised bank or nonbank as well as with the supervised service provider.”

In short the CFPB now expects supervised banks and nonbanks to make sure the service providers comply with the law. The CFPB by issuance of this bulletin has effectively put the entire real estate industry on notice that if they want to do business in the future they had better make sure their internal controls are in place otherwise the supervised bank or nonbank will cease doing business with you.
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The Heather Q. Bolinger, et al v. First Multiple Listing Service, Inc., et al (Case 2:10-cv-00211-RWS) which is being litigated in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia Gainesville Division survived the Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss the case on January 18, 2012.

The First Multiple Listing Service Inc. lawsuit contends the federal Real Estate Settlement Practices Act (“RESPA”) requires full disclosure of all fees and charges in real estate closings involving a federal mortgage loan. RESPA also prohibits unearned fees or kickbacks designed to encourage the referral of business by settlement service providers, such as First Multiple Listing Service (“FMLS”) and its member real estate brokers. One of the principal purposes of these RESPA provisions is to lower the cost of real estate closings to consumers by eliminating secret, disguised, and inflated charges.

The Bolinger et al. class action lawsuit alleges that:

1. Members of FMLS, which include virtually every residential real estate broker and agent in North Georgia, are required to list with FMLS all properties for sale and to pay undisclosed, unearned transaction fees to FMLS after closing and all services are rendered. Consumers either pay these fees directly or through inflated commissions.

2. Real Estate Brokers receive a kickback of all or substantially all of those fees from FMLS, and share in transaction fees paid on other closings. The suit further contends that these unearned hidden settlement fees and kickbacks are funded by real estate commissions paid by consumers. The hidden transaction settlement fee is $1.20 per thousand dollars of the selling price (i.e., .0012% of the sales price), and is doubled if the listing and selling agents work for different real estate brokers.

For example, the sale of a house for $200,000 with different listing and selling real estate agents would result in an undisclosed hidden transaction settlement fee of $480. In most transactions, the hidden settlement fee is not disclosed to the buyer or seller, either in the voluminous documents executed at closing or otherwise, and the kickbacks are never disclosed.

3. In addition to violating RESPA, these practices violate the Sherman Act, which is the core federal antitrust law. Notably, the “MLS Antitrust Compliance Policy” of the National Association of REALTORS® expressly prohibits basing MLS fees on a percentage of the sales price rather than the value of the services rendered [download NAR policy here]. Yet investigation for the lawsuit found not only that, as alleged, FMLS charges a per-transaction fee based on the sales price, and pays a kickback to brokers for utilizing its services, but that FMLS may be the only MLS in the country to do so. Further, the fees associated with FMLS are alleged to be higher than those charged by MLS’s elsewhere in Georgia and around the country.

Taylor English Duma LLP, a law firm with offices in Atlanta and Savannah, Pope, McGlamry, Kilpatrick, Morrison & Norwood, LLP, a Georgia law firm with offices in Atlanta and Columbus, and the New Orleans based Sterbcow Law Group LLC have filed a lawsuit on behalf of buyers and sellers of residential real estate in metro Atlanta and North Georgia against First Multiple Listing Service, Inc. (“FMLS”), its member real estate brokers, the agents who handled the transactions of the named plaintiffs, and three boards of REALTORS®, alleging a longstanding practice of FMLS and its members in charging buyers and sellers unearned hidden transaction fees in connection with residential real estate closings in violation of federal and state law. FMLS is a multiple listing service (“MLS”) that provides an electronic database for listing residential real estate for sale. It is the largest MLS in metro Atlanta and North Georgia.

For more information please visit the FMLS CLASS ACTION WEBSITE.
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The United States Supreme Court announced that it would finally resolve the issue of whether the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (“RESPA”) under Section 8(B) prohibits one settlement service provider from charging consumers a fee for settlement service work the provider did not perform or whether an unearned fee must be split by two or more providers in order for the service fee to be deemed illegal.

Section 8(B) of RESPA states:

No person shall give and no person shall accept any portion, split, or percentage of any charge made or received for the rendering of a real estate settlement service in connection with a transaction involving a federally related mortgage loan other than for services actually performed.” 12 U.S.C. 2607(b)

Daniel Fisher of Forbes Magazine wrote an article today titled ” “Sleeper” Case Asks Whether Plaintiffs Can Sue Without An Injury.” Mr. Fisher’s article highlights the Edwards v. First American case and discusses the positive impact a Supreme Court’s ruling would have for corporations facing civil and class action lawsuits from consumers who might have a hard time showing actual injury in fact damages.

The Edwards case stems from a real estate settlement procedures act (RESPA) class action where the Edwards’ were required to purchase a title insurance policy from First American. First American’s actions allegedly violated Section 8(c)(2) of RESPA where the federal rules state that affiliated businesses can’t require that borrowers use their affiliated businesses and the civil penalty for violating this rule is treble damages on all fees paid to First American plus attorney’s fees.

The US Supreme Court is looking at standing to sue under Article 3 of the US Constitution in the Edwards case. “First American argues Edward suffered no harm and therefore has no standing to sue under Article III of the Constitution. Under Article III federal courts are limited to hearing “cases” or “controversies” and the Supreme Court has since decided that means somebody who has suffered actual harm or is in imminent danger of it.

Reporter Avi Salzman with Barron’s is reporting that Bank of America may file for bankruptcy protection for it’s Countrywide subsidiary if litigation costs from Countrywide threaten Bank of America. Bank of America is the parent company of Countrywide but it is a separate legal entity. If Bank of America (NYSE: BAC) decides to declare bankruptcy it would only affect the Countrywide division not the entire company.

If Bank of America does file for bankruptcy protection for Countrywide it could have a material impact on on-going litigation involving RESPA, TILA, and other legal actions across the United States involving Countrywide. The purchase by Bank of America is widely viewed as one of the worst acquisition decisions in corporate American history.