The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, joined by six other trade groups, filed a lawsuit yesterday in a Texas federal district court against the CFPB challenging the CFPB’s recent update to the Unfair, Deceptive, or Abusive Acts or Practices (UDAAP) section of its examination manual to include discrimination. The other plaintiffs are American Bankers Association, Consumer Bankers Association, Independent Bankers Association of Texas, Longview Chamber of Commerce, Texas Association of Business, and Texas Bankers Association.
In July 2022, the Chamber, together with American Bankers Association, Consumer Bankers Association, and Independent Community Bankers of America, sent a letter to Director Chopra calling on the CFPB to rescind the update. The letter was accompanied by a white paper setting forth the legal basis for their position.
The plaintiffs claim that the manual update should be set aside because it violates the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) for the following reasons:
- The update exceeds the CFPB’s statutory authority in the Dodd-Frank Act. The CFPB cannot regulate discrimination under its UDAAP authority because Congress did not give the CFPB authority to enforce anti-discrimination principles except in specific circumstances. The CFPB’s statutory authorities consistently treat “unfairness” and “discrimination” as distinct concepts. (To demonstrate the compliance burdens resulting from the update, the plaintiffs allege that the CFPB has provided no guidance for regulated entities on what might constitute unfair discrimination or actionable disparate impacts for purposes of UDAAP. As examples of issues creating confusion, the plaintiffs allege that the CFPB has not identified what are protected classes or characteristics or what activities are not discrimination (such as those identified in the ECOA), and has not explained how regulated entities should conduct the sorts of assessments that the CFPB appears to be contemplating given existing prohibitions on the collection of customer demographic information.)
- The update is “arbitrary and capricious” because the CFPB’s interpretation of “unfairness” contradicts the historical use and understanding of the term. The plaintiffs allege that the FTC’s unfairness authority does not extend to discrimination and that Congress borrowed the FTC Act’s unfairness definition for purposes of defining the CFPB’s UDAAP authority. They also allege that the CFPB’s contemplated use of disparate impact liability when pursuing UDAAP claims flouts congressional intent and U.S. Supreme Court authority.
- The update violates the APA’s notice-and-comment requirement because it is a legislative rule that imposes new substantive obligations on regulated entities.
In addition to claiming that the manual update should be set aside due to the alleged APA violations, the plaintiffs allege that the update should be set aside because the CFPB’s funding structure violates the Appropriations Clause of the U.S. Constitution. (Pursuant to Dodd-Frank, the CFPB receives its funding through requests made by the CFPB Director to the Federal Reserve, subject to a cap equal to 12% of the Federal Reserve’s budget, rather than through the Congressional appropriations process.) As support for their unconstitutionality claim, the plaintiffs cite the concurring opinion of Judge Edith Jones in the Fifth Circuit’s en banc May 2022 decision in All American Check Cashing in which Judge Jones concluded that the CFPB’s funding mechanism is unconstitutional.
Although the en banc Fifth Circuit did not reach the funding argument, a Fifth Circuit panel is expected to consider that issue in the CFSA lawsuit which challenges the payment provisions in the CFPB’s 2017 final payday/auto title/high-rate installment loan rule. The trade groups have appealed from the district court’s final judgment granting the CFPB’s summary judgment motion and staying the compliance date for the payment provisions. On May 9, 2022, a Fifth Circuit panel heard oral argument in the CFSA lawsuit.
The trade groups’ primary argument on appeal continues to be that the 2017 Rule was void ab initio because the CFPA’s unconstitutional removal restriction means that the Bureau did not have the authority to promulgate the 2017 Rule. However, the trade groups submitted the concurring opinion in All American Check Cashing as supplemental authority to the Fifth Circuit panel hearing their appeal and have argued that the panel should adopt the reasoning of the concurring opinion and invalidate the 2017 Rule.
The unconstitutionality of the CFPB’s funding structure has also been raised by Populus Financial Group, Inc. in the lawsuit filed by the CFPB in July 2022 against Populus in a Texas federal district court. Populus has filed a motion to dismiss in which it argues that the CFPB’s enforcement action is invalid because the CFPB’s funding structure violates the separation-of-powers principle embodied in the Appropriations Clause of the U.S. Constitution.