Articles Posted in RESPA LITIGATION

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.

Prospect Mortgage reached a settlement today with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) over Prospect’s use of the Series Limited Liability Company “aka Series LLC” joint venture business model. The terms of the settlement are not yet available but we will update the Respa Lawyer Blog as soon as HUD releases that information.

This is the second major settlement enforcement action in the last two days by HUD’s RESPA division which moves over to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on July 21, 2011. It is highly possible that other settlement actions may be announced by HUD prior to the July 21, 2011 due to stronger monetary penalties under the CFPB.

The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development “HUD” announced a settlement with Fidelity National Financial (NYSE: FNF) in the amount of $4.5 million dollars for HUD’s contention that Fidelity violated the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act “RESPA” when it paid real estate brokers and other settlement service providers illegal kickbacks and improper referral fees for referring business through an “Application Service Provider Agreement.” The Application Service Provider Agreement provided real estate brokers and other settlement service providers with access to Fidelity’s TransactionPoint closing software. TransactionPoint allowed real estate brokers and others to select real estate settlement service providers for a particular real estate transaction. The real estate brokerages would then enter into Sub-License Agreements with subsidiaries of Fidelity to enable Fidelity’s subsidiaries to be listed in TransactionPoint as a provider of settlement services.

The settlement said Fidelity’s subsidiaries would then in turn compensate the real estate brokerages a fee for each referral of real estate. was the first to break this story and has extensive coverage on the topic for those who wish to learn more. It is important to note that HUD’s Settlement Agreement only applies to Fidelity and not to the real estate brokerages who recieved the kickbacks and illegal referrals fees so it is possible that more settlements will be announced as it pertains to those companies who recieved the kickbacks and improper referral fees.

The settlement can be viewed by clicking this link: FIDELITY SECTION 8 RESPA SETTLEMENT

The United States Supreme Court granted First American Financial Corporation’s Writ of Certiorari it filed in the Denise P. Edwards et al. v. First American Financial Corporation, et al. RESPA class action lawsuit today (June 20, 2011). The Supreme Court will now decide whether a plaintiff has standing to sue, on behalf of a nationwide class, when a plaintiff asserts that a real estate company violated the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act of 1974 (RESPA) without showing the RESPA violation affected the services rendered.

The Edwards lawsuit accuses First American and others of operating an illegal kickback scheme which violated Section 8 of RESPA. The Supreme Court decision will focus strictly on Question 2 presented in the Writ of Certiorari. The issue presented in Question 2 is whether the a privte purchaser of real estate has standing to sue under Article III, Sec. 2 of the United States Constitution.

The case is First American Financial v. Edwards, 10-708.
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On March 9, 2011, Saul Ewing, LLP; Herman, Herman, Katz & Cotlar, and Sterbcow Law Group LLC, filed a lawsuit on behalf of the National Association of Mortgage Brokers (NAMB) against the Board of Governors Of The Federal Reserve System; Honorable Ben S. Bernanke, Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System; and Sandra F. Braunstein, Director,Division of Consumer Affairs, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, seeking temporary and preliminary restraints to delay the April 1, 2011 implementation of the loan originator compensation rule under the Truth-in-Lending Act.

The lawsuit, (Case 1:11-cv-00506-RLW) filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, is based on the rule prohibiting mortgage brokers from paying their loan officers commissions from fees paid by the consumer, which will cause irreparable harm to small businesses. NAMB is seeking the Federal Reserve Board to avoid the effects of its rule by withdrawing this section of the rule and allowing the Consumer Financial Protection Board to perform its mandated responsibilities in this area.
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The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, Ohio approved a motion by the United States Attorney General allowing it to intervene on behalf of the plaintiffs in a RESPA class action lawsuit involving kickbacks. The Federal 6th Circuit Court of Appeal will hear the case in early Spring.

The United States Department of Treasury has hired Richard Cordray to lead the Enforcement Division of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) which was created under the Dodd-Frank Bill. Richard Cordray was elected as the Ohio Attorney General in 2008. Cordray has filed numerous lawsuits during his tenure as the Ohio Attorney General, most notably against AIG, Marsh & McLennan, Bank of America, and Merrill Lynch which resulted in more than 2.5 billion dollars in settlements.

Given Cordray’s history it appears that he will be focusing on federal preemption of nationally chartered banks and the problems state regulators have had with their inability to enforce laws. The doctrine of preemption was used by the Office of Comptroller of the Currency as a way to stop states from enforcing rules and regulations against nationally chartered banks. He has pledged to jointly work with state attorney generals while at the CFPB in his investigations which could significantly hamper nationally chartered banks argument of federal preemption against state laws. Cordray and The American Bankers Association have opposing stances on the bank preemption issue. The underlying premise is that nationally chartered banks who engage in abusive and fraudulent tactics better be prepared for an onslaught of litigation and penalties when the enforcement team starts working with the states.

Richard Cordray’s reputation is that of a staunch advocate for consumer rights against financial services companies who break the law. Cordray is responsible for selecting the enforcement team and preparing for the exercise of enforcement powers. RESPA enforcement under Cordray appears to be a priority based on his past history and Section 6 of RESPA is a prime target for future regulatory enforcement action by the CFPB.

On November 23, 2010, the Office of General Counsel’s Helen Kanovsky with the Department of Housing and Urban Development “HUD” responded to public comments HUD received on the “Home Warranty Companies’ Payments to Real Estate Brokers and Agents” Interpretive Rule it published on June 25, 2010. HUD’s response was very clear that the interpretive RESPA rule they issued in June did not need to be changed. However, HUD did provide some clarification to the public by providing additional guidance relating to matters covered in the interpretive rule and from the public’s comments. HUD’s answered seven questions as listed below:
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The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau which will oversee the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) now has a decision maker to help set up the CFPB. President Obama announced today the appointment of Harvard Professor Elizabeth Warren to implement policies and procedures to protect consumers from financial products. Ms. Warren who is widely known as the person who developed the idea for the CFPB will also be responsible for helping select a director to head up the CFPB.

Warren is considered a strong consumer advocate and her ideology has some in the financial services industry concerned. The concern reached a fevered pitch over the last two months with Republicans and the financial services industry pledged to hold up her confirmation in the Senate. Obama’s move of not appointed her to the CFBP but rather giving Warren supervisory authority of the CFPB without going through a senate confirmation process stunned her critics.

It remains to be seen how Warren will tackle the enforcement of RESPA in the near future but I suspect that we will see a huge increase in both funding and manpower in the RESPA enforcement arena.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued an interpretive rule on June 26, 2010 in the Federal Register on the issue of how home warranty companies can pay real estate agents and real estate brokers under the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) without violating Section 8(a) and 8(b).

The interpretive rule was released in response to a Feb. 21, 2008 unofficial staff interpretation letter that Paul Ceja of HUD’s Office of General Counsel issued that caused a great deal of confusion in the real estate industry. Since the letter was issued The National Association of Realtors (NAR), Real Estate Settlement Providers Council (RESPRO), National Home Service Contract Association (NHSC), and others pressed HUD to clarify the rule on the subject of home warranty compensation.

HUD’s new clarification breaks down the issue into three distinct categories:

1. Unlawful Compensation for Referrals: RESPA does not prohibit a real estate broker or real estate agent from referring business to a home warranty company. But RESPA does prohibit a real estate broker or agent from receiving a fee for merely referring or “marketing” a buyer or seller to purchase an insurance policy from the home warranty company. A referral by itself is not a compensable service for which compensation can be given and would be a violation of Section 8(a) illegal kickback and Section 8(b) unearned fees under RESPA.

2. Bona Fide Compensation for Service Provided: HUD’s RESPA guidance rule says that Section 8(c) allows payment of bona fide compensation for services actually performed. HUD said that depending on the facts of a particular case (based on a case-by-case determination), a home warranty company may compensate a real estate broker or agent for services when those services are actual, necessary, and distinct from the primary services provided by the real estate broker or agent and those additional services must not be nominal or duplicative. An example would be a real estate agent filling out all the information required to issue a home warranty policy and submitting the policy to the home warranty company.

3. Reasonableness of Compensation: Lastly, HUD said they want to assess whether the value of the payment by the home warranty company is reasonably related to the value of the services actually performed by the real estate agent or broker and not just compensation for the mere referral of business. The compensation from the Home Warranty Company to the real estate agent must be based on the fair market value of the services performed in the area where real estate agent operates. For example if the fair market value is $200 dollars in New York but in Missoula the fair market value is $60 to fill out the home warranty application, fill in the registration codes for various appliances, and do some other functions then the real estate agent in Missoula should recieve $60 dollars for that work not $200 if that is the going rate in New York. HUD appears to have taken the position that charging $200 in Des Moine when the fair market value is $60 is unreasonable compensation.

The RESPA interpretive rule raises a large legal question on the issue of whether this rule expands the definition of who a settlement service provider is. Lenders do not typically require a home warranty policy to be purchased by a buyer (or seller) as a condition in securing a federally related residential loan. The result has been that in many jurisdictions across the United States the home warranty policy is paid outside of closing and not listed on the HUD-1.

The question we need clarification on is whether RESPA believes that all home warranty policies issued on the purchase of a home where a federally related mortgage is involved be listed on the HUD-1. If that is not the case does this interpretive rule extend to companies that traditionally were not considered settlement service providers (pest inspection companies, home repair companies, privacy protection companies, etc.) under the original definition?
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