“Appropriations Clause” Does Not Sink The CFPB

“Appropriations Clause” Does Not Sink The CFPB

The Great Recession, the economic downtown that spanned 2008 to 2012, was the worst economic crisis in the United States since the depression of 1929 to 1939. Federal Reserve History, The Great Recession and its Aftermath.

One of the outgrowths of the Great Recession was the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which sought to protect consumers from unfair, predatory, or illegal conduct by financial institutions:

Title 12, Chapter 53, Subchapter V of the U.S. Code contains the legislation that created and regulates the Bureau. Legal Information Institute, Cornell University School of Law.

In or about 2020, the Community Financial Services Association of America, Limited, and others brought suit in the 5th Circuit (located in the South, and known to be quite conservative), to have the funding source of the CFPB declared unconstitutional, and thus force Congress back to the drawing board with regard to funding the organization. The underlying goal was seemingly to deny funding to the CFPB and thereby defang it as a regulatory body. The 5th Circuit held that the CFPB’s funding was unconstitutional.

However, the federal government appealed the 5th Circuit ruling, and the US Supreme Court issued his ruling in May 2024, upholding the funding of the CFPB, and thus granting a lifeline to the agency itself.

The key argument in the Supreme Court was “source and purpose” form of funding of the CFPB, by which Congress grants an appropriation of up to $600 million for enforcement of the agency’s regulations, was unconstitutionally vague, and a breach of the Appropriations Clause, Art. I, §9, cl. 7. The Community Financial Services Association of America, Limited, argued that such funding would place no restrictions on CFPB’s funding authority, and represented an abdication of funding authority by Congress, in favor of the executive branch.

At oral argument and in its written opinion, the Supreme Court pushed back, pointing out that the Customs Service, from its beginning, and the US Postal Service, had funding that either was not subject to a fixed annual limit, or had the discretion to spend within specific bounds to effect their statutory mission.

Associate Justice Thomas, writing for the majority, said that:

“In short, the origins of the Appropriations Clause confirm that appropriations needed to designate particular revenues for identified purposes. Beyond that, however, early legislative bodies exercised a wide range of discretion. Some appropriations required expenditure of a particular amount, while others allowed the recipient of the appropriated money to spend up to a cap. Some appropriations were time limited, others were not. And, the specificity with which appropriations designated the objects of the expenditures varied greatly.”

. . .

“[The CFPB’s] funding statute contains the requisite features of a congressional appropriation. The statute authorizes the Bureau to draw public funds from a particular source—“the combined earnings of the Federal Reserve System,” in an amount not exceeding an inflation-adjusted cap. 12 U. S. C. §§5497(a)(1), (2)(A)–(B). And, it specifies the objects for which the Bureau can use those funds–to “pay the expenses of the Bureau in carrying out its duties and responsibilities.” §5497(c)(1).

“[Para.] Further, the Bureau’s funding mechanism fits comfortably with the First Congress’ appropriations practice . . .

“[Para.] For these reasons, we conclude that the statute that authorizes the Bureau to draw funds from the combined earnings of the Federal Reserve System is an “Appropriatio[n] made by Law.” We therefore hold that the requirements of the Appropriations Clause are satisfied.”

[Bold and italics added]

Applying this reasoning to the CFPB, the SCOTUS held at the term “appropriation,” as understood at the time of the adoption of the Constitution, did not require Congress to a fixed figure every year. And appropriation may validly be based upon a combination of both fees generated and Congressional grant, and moreover, need not be fixed as a required expenditure every fiscal year.

In the end, the legal questions were 1) does the Appropriations Clause of the Constitution bar Congress from giving an agency an upper limit budget appropriation, stating that the agency may spend no more than $XX in the fiscal year, rather than a fixed a dollar amount, and 2) does such funding violate separation of powers, by abdicating to the executive branch the decision or the extent of funding granted to the regulatory agency.

The Supreme Court answered “no” to both questions.

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau v. Community Financial Services Association of America, Limited, Docket No. 22-448, Decided May 16, 2024

The CFPB will live to fight another day.

THIS POST DOES NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE; PLEASE CONSULT AN ATTORNEY

What Could Go Wrong?

What Could Go Wrong?

“STAYING” AWAY FROM CONTEMPT SANCTIONS

 

Suppose you find yourself in this situation. You’ve been involved in litigation for months against a party you believe defrauded you out of thousands of dollars. After protracted legal proceedings, your judge finally sets a trial date. You are finally going to have your day in court against this person.

But shortly before you go to trial, you receive a tip that your defendant has filed for bankruptcy. And not only that, but you also find out that this person filed for bankruptcy a couple of years ago, in the middle of your case, and did not tell you or your judge. And not only that, but you also find out that the person received a discharge (cancellation of all pre-bankruptcy unsecured debt), and that the trustee determined that the person had no assets. The bankruptcy case is CLOSED.

No problem. You think that, because you have a trial date, all you have to do is go before your state court judge and plead your case for fraud. Surely, your state court judge can grant you relief, and force this fraudulent, thieving defendant to pay you your damages.

What could possibly go wrong? Unfortunately, a lot.

Because the case has closed, there is no more “automatic stay” of 11 USC Sec. 362. There is, however, a “discharge injunction” 11 USC Sec. 524(a), which means that creditors are barred from attempting to collect discharged debts.

Furthermore, the Bankruptcy Court has exclusive jurisdiction over the question of whether these discharged debts are related to fraud. 11 USC Sec. 524 (a)(2), (4) & (6); Grogan v. Garner, 498 U.S. 279, 284 n. 10, 111 S.Ct. 654, 112 L.Ed.2d 755 (1991); Aldrich v. Imbrogno (In re Aldrich), 34 B.R. 776, 779 (9th Cir. B.A.P.1983), cited in Ackerman v. Eber (In re Eber) 687 F.3d 1123 (9th Cir. 2012).

Based on these authorities, you will likely seek to file a dischargeability complaint under 11 USC Sec. 524 (a)(2), (4) or (6), in the Bankruptcy Court; or an action to revoke the discharge under 11 USC Sec. 727 (d), for example, if there are multiple false statements or multiple examples of deception in the defendant/debtor’s bankruptcy papers, such that it appears that the discharge itself was obtained through fraud.

Additionally, the US Supreme Court has ruled that if the Plaintiff or Plaintiff’s attorney is well-versed in bankruptcy law, the failure to observe the discharge injunction (in this case, failure to seek a ruling on fraud in the bankruptcy court) is considered much more knowing and culpable. Taggart v. Lorenzen, 139 S. Ct. 1795 (2019) [Slip Opinion, p. 7]. In other words, to paraphrase a line from Michael Mann’s film, The Insider, “The more you know, the worse (the contempt sanction) gets.”

The point is that you want your client to have the maximum ability to seek a ruling on the defendant’s alleged fraud in State Court. This, however, must await a ruling from the Bankruptcy Court in this regard, and any attempt to circumvent the Bankruptcy Court could easily backfire and be very costly.

FINANCIAL TECHNOLOGY: FTX’s Crypto Blizzard

FINANCIAL TECHNOLOGY: FTX’s Crypto Blizzard

Although it is not alone in its financial woes, the bankruptcy filing of cryptocurrency giant FTX Trading, Ltd., has probably gotten the most attention of the cryptocurrency firms that are in deep financial distress (“the Crypto Winter”).

This article discusses the basic structure of the Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing, as well as some interesting questions that will arise in the administration of this case. This article is not intended to be an exhaustive discussion of Chapter 11 bankruptcy, nor an exhaustive recitation of everything that is going to happen in this FTX proceeding. There are likely to be many twists and turns, in bankruptcy court as well as criminal court.

 FTX was founded in 2019 by Sam Bankman-Fried, who earlier founded a firm called Alameda Research. FTX was described in its Forbes magazine profile as follows:

 One of the largest crypto trading exchanges in the world, it handles some 11% of the $2.4 trillion in derivatives traded each month. (It) raised $1.5 billion in private funding last year (2022), jolting its valuation from $1.2 billion to $25 billion.

However, as its obligations grew, and the cryptocurrency market began to contract, contracted, Bankman-Fried continue to live a lavish lifestyle, and FTX continued to recruit celebrity evangelists. Unfortunately, it appeared to more and more observers that FTX was nothing more than a Ponzi scheme. Fortune, December 3, 2022; The Guardian, December 17, 2022.

On November 11, 2011, FTX filed for bankruptcy protection in Delaware. Meanwhile, Bahamian authorities sought to exercise jurisdiction on that island and in New York. The Bahamian and US authorities have now agreed to have the case heard in the Delaware District of the United States Bankruptcy Court. FTX Trading Ltd., Case No. 22-11068 (JTD)

Additionally, in December 2022, Mr. Bankman-Fried was arrested in Nassau by the Royal Bahamas Police Force, and charged with wire fraud, securities fraud, money laundering, and other crimes. He was released on a $250 MM bond, and extradited to the United States.

One commentator compared Bankman-Fried to Bernie Madoff. Financial Historian Diana Henriques, quoted in The Guardian, 12/17/2022.

In late February 2023, a superseding indictment in the US charged Bankman-Fried with bank fraud, operating an unlicensed money transmitter, modified campaign-finance law violations, and conspiracy to make unlawful political contributions. Coindesk, February 23, 2023.

FTX and its founder face significant legal jeopardy.

Now back to bankruptcy. A chapter 11 bankruptcy differs from a chapter 7 business liquidation, in the sense that the Chapter 11 debtor is not going out of business. It is reorganizing its debts. For example, the Los Angeles Dodgers General Motors, and Delta Airlines, all went through Chapter 11, to reorganize their debts.

The purpose of the chapter 11 bankruptcy is to allow the management of the debtor company to continue to manage and operate the company, pursuant to strict supervision by the United States Trustee. Quarterly reports are generated to show revenue and expenses. The goal is to maximize assets available for the plan of reorganization. The company, now known as a “debtor in possession,” is not allowed to waste, or misuse assets.

 Eventually, the company will propose a plan of reorganization to its creditors, the largest of which organize themselves into a creditor’s committee. The creditors committee and the debtor in possession will haggle over the details of the plan, for example, to cut the debt by 20-, 30-, or 40%, or to stretch the debt out over an additional number of years, or some combination of both debt reduction and new repayment terms. Elizabeth Warren & Jay L. Westbrook, “The Success of Chapter 11: A Challenge to the Critics,” 107 Mich. Law Review 603 (2009).

 If the parties cannot agree on a plan of reorganization, then the court has to decide whether it will force the debtor in possession and creditors to come up with another plan, or whether it will cram the debtor plan down the throat of the creditors (known as a “cram down hearing”).

 Additionally, the Chapter 11 debtor-in-possession, with certain important exceptions, is entitled to the cancellation (“discharge”) of certain debts after the plan of reorganization is approved. 11 USC Sec. 1141(d)(1)

The Bankman-Fried criminal charges, however, throw in a different wrinkle: if for example FTX was operating as an alter ego of its founder, and not following all corporate formalities, some creditors may argue that FTX was a fraudulent enterprise, and is not entitled to bankruptcy relief. 11 USC Sec. 523(a)(2)(4) & (a)(4) [debts involving fraud not dischargeable]; 523(a)(6) [debts related to malicious conduct not dischargeable]; 11 USC Sec. 523 (c). Or, in the alternative, certain types of claims may be brought against the company, such as those dealing with fraud, which are not resolved as part of the plan of reorganization. The recent conviction of the Trump Organization on fraud charges in New York City provides an example of a prosecution that could result in a non-dischargeable debt, and could saddle FTX with significant fines and penalties.

In other words, the criminal charges against Bankman-Fried, and the eventual evidence showing the relationship between him and the company, may have a lot to do with what type of relief FTX eventually receives from the bankruptcy court, even assuming a very business friendly Delaware bankruptcy judge.

WARNING: THIS POST DOES NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE!! PLEASE CONSULT AN ATTORNEY!! 

 

STUDENT LOANS: The Shifting Grounds for Relief

STUDENT LOANS: The Shifting Grounds for Relief

In Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife (1992) 504 US 555, 575-578, a very conservative jurist, Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, wrote the following:

   “To permit Congress to convert the undifferentiated public interest in executive officers’ compliance with the law into an “individual right” vindicable in the courts is to permit Congress to transfer from the President to the courts the Chief Executive’s most important constitutional duty, to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed,” Art. II, § 3. It would enable the courts, with the permission of Congress, “to assume a position of authority over the governmental acts of another and co-equal department,” Massachusetts v. Mellon, 262 U. S., at 489, and to become” ‘virtually continuing monitors of the wisdom and soundness of Executive action.’ “

This was another way of saying that there are cases in which the court should not get involved, such as those involving the specific statutory actions of a co-equal branch of government (i.e., “non-justiciable” cases).

Consequently, even when Congress passes a law that has a public benefit, it does not automatically grant citizens a “private right of action” to block that law. Any citizen who disliked any law could ask the courts to prevent it from going into effect, which would lead to chaos.

The student loan forgiveness program announced by President Biden is on hold. And it may be an example of what Justice Scalia warned of in Lujan. The Supreme Court will be hearing arguments regarding the loan forgiveness program in a few weeks. (“Supreme Court Agrees to Decide on Biden’s Stalled Student Loan Forgiveness Plan, “Los Angeles Times, December 1, 2022). The arguments against the program, based on the 8th Circuit Court of Appeal decision, and another decision in Texas, raise the specter of placing the Supreme Court in the position of deciding on the appropriateness of day to day, or administrative actions by both Congress and the President.

In other words, the current student loan case invites the courts to get involved in non-justiciable cases. Albert, Lee A., “Justiciability and Theories of Judicial Review: A Remote Relationship,” 50 So. Cal. Law Review 1139, 1165-1166 (1977)

Pres. Biden and Education Sec’y Cardona base the program on the 2003 HEROES Act, which authorizes the Secretary to “waive or modify any statutory or regulatory provision applicable to the student financial assistance programs” if the Secretary “deems” such waivers or modifications “necessary to ensure” at least one of several enumerated purposes, including that borrowers are “not placed in a worse position financially” because of a national emergency. 20 U.S.C. § 1098bb(a)(1), (2)(A).”

The “national emergency” cited by Pres. Biden and Sec’y Cardona was the COVID pandemic, which began in 2020, and is far from over. “Tripledemic Update: RSV, Covid And Flu,” Forbes, December 13, 2022.

In the 8th circuit case, the state of Missouri claimed that it would be harmed by receiving less repayment revenue, should be loan forgiveness program go into effect. State of Nebraska, et al. v. Joseph R. Biden, Jr., et al., Case No. Case No. 22-3179.

This reasoning is problematic because: 1) No loans have been forgiven, so no money has been lost; 2) research shows that when borrowers are released from paycheck to paycheck jobs as a result of debt relief, those borrowers find better paying jobs, which would cause them to pay more in taxes to the state (Harvard Business School/Working Knowledge, “Forgiving Student Loan Debt Leads to Better Jobs, Stronger Consumers,” May 22, 2019); 3) the government has several different laws upon which they can rely for student loan relief [e.g., Higher Education Act (“HEA”), beginning at 20 US Code Sec. 1082; the Federal Family Education Loan Program, beginning at 20 USC 1071; the Federal Claims Collection Act, found beginning at 31 USC Sec. 3701, the Direct Loan Program of Title IV of the HEA, and federal regulations, such as 31 CFR 30.70 and 31 CFR 902.1 (a); see Open Letter to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School, September 14, 2020]. For example, the HEA states that the Secretary of Education has the power “enforce, pay, compromise, waive, or release any right, title, claim, lien, or demand, however acquired, including any equity or any right of redemption.” 20 U.S.C. § 1082(a)(6) p. 3 (emphasis added);

And 4) striking down the program is exactly the type of mischief that Justice Scalia warned against in Lujan, as stated above.

Finally, if the quibble is with the HEROES Act as a basis for the program, shouldn’t the Supreme Court defer to the Executive, based on this undisputed alternative authority? Or, simply require the President to resubmit the program, citing to his alternative statutory authority rather than the HEROES Act, instead of gutting the program?

We may have an answer in June 2023.

 

THIS POST DOES NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE; PLEASE CONSULT AN ATTORNEY

 

IN TRUSTS WE TRUST: Comments Protect the Loan

IN TRUSTS WE TRUST: Comments Protect the Loan

When representing clients, attorneys rely on the words of the law (a “statute”) and ask the court to implement the plain, obvious meaning of its words.
When it comes to federal statutes, however, it is easy to overlook the “comments” by Congressional committees that draft the statutes, or the agencies which implement them. Such comments can be critical in court.
For example, a recent unanimous Court of Appeal used a statute’s agency staff comments to protect a consumer from a deceitful lender.
In Gilliam v. Levine, Case No. 18-56373 (9th Circuit, 2020), the court recounts that the borrower obtained a loan as trustee for a family trust. The purpose of the loan was to make home repairs. The home itself was the sole asset of the trust. Another family member, who occupied the home, was the trust beneficiary.
The borrower later discovered that the due date for the final loan payment was 1 year earlier than she had been led to believe. The borrower was alarmed, and sued to cancel (rescind) the loan under federal law, Truth in Lending Act (TILA), 15 U.S.C. § 1601, et seq., and the Real Estate Settlement Practices Act (RESPA), 12 U.S.C. § 2601. The borrower also asserted a claim under California’s Fair Lending Law [Rosenthal Act], 1788.1(b) of California’s Rosenthal Act, California Civil Code §§ 1788.1(b).  
The trial judge dismissed the lawsuit, because, according to that judge, the loan went to the trust, not to a person, and hence was not a consumer loan.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeal reversed the trial court, noting the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Official Staff Commentary to Regulation Z (mortgage loans), which states that “[c]redit extended for consumer purposes to certain trusts is considered to be credit extended to a natural person rather than credit extended to an organization.” 12 C.F.R. pt.1026, Supp. 1, § 1026.3 Comment 3(a)-10. (And under California law, the trustee, not the trust, holds title to trust property – – Author)
The “certain trusts,” which fall under the rubric of “natural persons,” included the trust in this case, which was formed for tax or estate planning purposes [which benefit people]. The trust in question was “primarily for personal, family, or household purposes.” 15 U.S.C. § 1602(i). The borrower was the aunt (as Trustee); the niece was the beneficiary; and the trust property was a private home. As a result, the loan was a “consumer credit transaction,” which was subject to the Fair Lending Laws.
And the Comment makes the point: Look to the substance of the transaction. Here it was to benefit a consumer, not a company. 12 C.F.R. pt. 1026, Supp. 1, and § 1026.3 Comment 3(a)-10.i. Because this was a consumer loan, the Trustee had the right to rescind this deceptive loan.
WARNING: THIS POST DOES NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE; PLEASE CONSULT AN ATTORNEY

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