Justia Native American Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Consumer Law
CFPB V. CASHCALL, INC.
CashCall made unsecured, high-interest loans to consumers throughout the country, and sought to avoid state usury and licensing laws by using an entity operating on an Indian reservation. The entity issued loan agreements that contained a choice-of-law provision calling for the application of tribal law. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau brought an action alleging that the scheme was an “unfair, deceptive, or abusive act or abusive practice.” 12 U.S.C. Section 5536(a)(1)(B). The district court held that CashCall violated the Consumer Financial Protection Act (“CFPA”). The court first considered whether the Bureau lacked authority to bring this action because it was unconstitutionally structured. The court found despite the unconstitutional limitation on the President’s authority to remove the Bureau’s Director, the Director’s actions were valid when they were taken. Both the complaint and the notice of appeal were filed while the Bureau was headed by a lawfully appointed Director. The court declined to consider CashCall’s new theory that the Bureau’s structure violated the Appropriations Clause of the Constitution. Next, the court held that the Tribe had no substantial relationship to the transactions, and because there was no other reasonable basis for the parties’ choice of tribal law, the district court correctly declined to give effect to the choice-of-law provision in the loan agreements. The court concluded that from September 2013, the danger that CashCall’s conduct violated the CFPA was so obvious that CashCall must have been aware of it. The court vacated the civil penalty and remanded with instructions that the district court reassess it. View "CFPB V. CASHCALL, INC." on Justia Law
Hengle v. Treppa
The federally-recognized Native American Tribe (in California) started an online lending business, allegedly operated by non-tribal companies owned by non-tribal Defendants on non-tribal land. The Plaintiffs are Virginia consumers who received online loans from tribal lenders while living in Virginia. Although Virginia usury law generally prohibits interest rates over 12%, the interest rates on Plaintiffs’ loans ranged from 544% to 920%. The Plaintiffs each electronically signed a “loan agreement,” “governed by applicable tribal law,” and containing an “Arbitration Provision.” The borrowers defaulted and brought a putative class action against tribal officials and two non-members affiliated with the tribal lenders.The district court denied the defendants’ motion to compel arbitration and motions to dismiss on the ground of tribal sovereign immunity except for a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) claim. The Fourth Circuit affirmed. The choice-of-law clauses of this arbitration provision, which mandate exclusive application of tribal law during any arbitration, operate as prospective waivers that would require the arbitrator to determine whether the arbitration provision impermissibly waives federal substantive rights without recourse to federal substantive law. The arbitration provisions are unenforceable as violating public policy. Substantive state law applies to off-reservation conduct, and although the Tribe itself cannot be sued for its commercial activities, its members and officers can be. Citing Virginia’s interest in prohibiting usurious lending, the court refused to enforce the choice-of-law provision. RICO does not give private plaintiffs a right to injunctive relief. View "Hengle v. Treppa" on Justia Law
Great Plains Lending, LLC v. Department of Banking
The Supreme Court reversed in part the judgment of the trial court sustaining Plaintiffs' administrative appeal and remanding this case to the Commissioner of Banking for further proceedings as to Plaintiffs' entitlement to tribal sovereign immunity in administrative proceedings, holding that the trial court erred in part.At issue was whether a business entity shared sovereign immunity with Otoe-Missouria Tribe of Indians, a federally-recognized tribe. On appeal, Plaintiffs - Clear Creek Lending, Great Plains Lending, LLC, and John Shotton, chairman of the Tribe - claimed that the trial court improperly allocated the burden of proving entitlement to tribal sovereign immunity to Plaintiffs, improperly required proof of a functioning relationship between the entities and the tribe, and improperly failed to find Shotton immune in further administrative proceedings. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding (1) the entity claiming arm of the tribe status bears the burden of proving its entitlement to that status; (2) Great Plains was an arm of the tribe and Shotton was entitled to tribal sovereign immunity but not injunctive relief; and (3) there was insufficient evidence that Clear Creek was an arm of the tribe as a matter of law. View "Great Plains Lending, LLC v. Department of Banking" on Justia Law
Swiger v. Rosette
Swiger accepted a $1200 loan from online lender Plain Green, an entity owned by and organized under the laws of the Chippewa Cree Tribe of the Rocky Boy’s Reservation, Montana. She describes Rees as the “mastermind” behind a "rent-a-tribe" scheme, alleging that he and his company used Plain Green's tribal sovereign immunity as a front to shield them from state and federal law. When Swiger signed the loan contract, she affirmed that Plain Green enjoys “immun[ity] from suit in any court,” and that the loan “shall be governed by the laws of the tribe,” not the laws of any state. She agreed to binding arbitration under tribal law, subject to review only in tribal court. The provision covers “any issue concerning the validity, enforceability, or scope of this Agreement or this Agreement to Arbitrate.” Seven months after accepting the loan, Swiger alleged that she repaid $1170.54 but still owed $1922.37.Swiger sued, citing Michigan and federal law, including the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act and consumer protection laws. The district court concluded that the enforceability of the arbitration agreement “has already been litigated, and decided against Rees, in a similar case commenced in Vermont.” The Sixth Circuit reversed and remanded with instructions to stay the case pending arbitration. Swiger’s arbitration agreement includes an unchallenged provision delegating the question of arbitrability to an arbitrator. The district court exceeded its authority when it found the agreement unenforceable View "Swiger v. Rosette" on Justia Law
In re Internet Lending Cases
Rosas filed a representative action based on alleged participation in illegal internet payday loan practices. Defendant AMG is a wholly-owned tribal corporation of Miami Tribe, a federally recognized Indigenous American tribe. Rosas previously challenged a court order granting AMG's motion to quash service of summons for lack of jurisdiction based on tribal sovereign immunity. On remand, the court granted AMG’s motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction on the basis of tribal sovereign immunity. The court accepted AMG’s argument that the arm-of-the-tribe test should be applied to the current facts relating to its ownership and control rather than the facts that existed when the complaint was filed. The court credited AMG’s new, undisputed evidence concerning significant changes made to AMG’s structure and governance since the prior court ruling—changes that removed the nontribal actors from positions of authority and control and ended its involvement in the business of financial lending.The court of appeal affirmed. The court did not exceed the scope of the remand. When a court determines that a tribal entity is entitled to immunity from suit, the court lacks the authority, absent the tribe’s consent or federal authorization, to bring the tribal entity before the court for any purpose, including for the purpose of sanctioning misconduct. View "In re Internet Lending Cases" on Justia Law
Williams v. Medley Opportunity Fund II, LP
The plaintiffs obtained payday loans from AWL, an online entity owned by the Otoe-Missouria Tribe of Indians. The loan agreement stated that the loan was governed by tribal law and that the borrowers consented to the application of tribal law. The plaintiffs filed a purported class action, asserting that AWL charged unlawfully high interest rates, in violation of federal and Pennsylvania law, including the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, 18 U.S.C. 1961-1968. The defendants moved to compel arbitration. The district court denied their motion, holding that the loan agreements, which provided that only tribal law would apply in arbitration, stripped the plaintiffs of their right to assert statutory claims and were therefore unenforceable. The Third Circuit affirmed. Because AWL permits borrowers to raise disputes in arbitration only under tribal law, and such a limitation constitutes a prospective waiver of statutory rights, its arbitration agreement violates public policy and is therefore unenforceable. View "Williams v. Medley Opportunity Fund II, LP" on Justia Law
CFPB v. Great Plains Lending, LLC
The Tribal Lending Entities challenged the district court's decision compelling them to comply with the Bureau's civil investigative demands. The court rejected the Tribal Lending Entities' argument that because the Consumer Financial Protection Act of 2010, Title X, Pub. L. No. 111-203, 124 Stat 1376, defines the term "State" as including Native American tribes, the Tribal Lending Entities, as arms of sovereign tribes, are not required to comply with the investigative demands. The court concluded that, in the Act, which is a generally applicable law, Congress did not expressly exclude tribes from the Bureau’s enforcement authority. The court explained that, although the Act defines “State” to include Native American tribes, with States occupying limited co-regulatory roles, this wording falls far short of demonstrating that the Bureau plainly lacks jurisdiction to issue the investigative demands challenged in this case, or that Congress intended to exclude Native American tribes from the Act’s enforcement provisions. Neither have the Tribes offered any legislative history compelling a contrary conclusion regarding congressional intent. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "CFPB v. Great Plains Lending, LLC" on Justia Law
People ex rel. Owen v. Miami Nation Enterprises
This case involved the practice of short-term deferred deposit lending, often referred to as “payday” or “cash advance” lending. After the Legislature enacted the California Deferred Deposit Transaction Law (the Law), which limits the size of each loan and the fees that lenders may charge, some deferred deposit lenders sought affiliation with federal recognized Indian tribes, which are generally immune from suit on the basis of tribal sovereign immunity. In this case, a pair of federally recognized tribes created affiliated business entities, which provide deferred deposit loans through the internet to borrowers in California under terms that allegedly violated the Law. At issue in this case was whether these tribally affiliated entities were immune from suit as “arms of the tribe.” The Supreme Court clarified the legal standard and burden of proof for establishing arm-of-the-tribe immunity and held that the entities in this case failed to show by a preponderance of the evidence that they were entitled to tribal immunity as an arm of its affiliated tribe. Remanded for the trial court to address the issue of whether the parties had the opportunity to fully litigate their claims under that standard. View "People ex rel. Owen v. Miami Nation Enterprises" on Justia Law
Meyers v. Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wis.
Meyers used his credit card to make purchases at the Green Bay are Oneida Travel Center and Oneida One Stop retail locations, owned and operated by the federally‐recognized Oneida Indian tribe. He received electronically printed receipts that included more than the last five digits of his credit card and the card’s expiration date. He alleged, in a putative class action, that the Tribe issued these receipts in violation of the Fair and Accurate Credit Transaction Act, which states: [n]o person that accepts credit cards or debit cards for the transaction of business shall print more than the last 5 digits of the card number or the expiration date upon any receipt provided to the cardholder at the point of the sale or transaction, 15 U.S.C. 1681c(g)(1). FACTA defines a person as “any individual, partnership, corporation, trust, estate, cooperative, association, government or governmental subdivision or agency, or other entity.” The district court concluded that the Tribe was immune from suit. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, noting that whether a tribe is subject to a statute and whether the tribe may be sued for violating the statute are two different questions. Any ambiguity must be resolved in favor of immunity; “government or governmental subdivision or agency” does not unambiguously refer to tribes. View "Meyers v. Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wis." on Justia Law
Goldenstein v. Repossessors Inc.
Goldenstein, obtained a $1,000 online loan from a company owned by Chippewa Indians, incorporated under Chippewa tribal law, and authorized to issue loans secured by vehicles at interest rates greater than permitted under Pennsylvania law. Goldenstein pledged his car and was charged 250 percent interest. The company, after deducting a $50 transfer fee and wiring $950 to Goldenstein, withdrew installments of $207.90 from Goldenstein’s bank account in June and July. Goldenstein removed funds from the account because he did not recognize the activity on his bank statements. When the company attempted to collect the August installment, it was rejected for insufficient funds. Repossessors took Goldenstein’s car. Goldenstein was told that his payment would not be accepted, nor his car returned unless he signed releases. Goldenstein paid $2,393 ($2,143 for the loan and $250 in repossession fees), signed the releases, then filed suit, claiming violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. 1692–1692p; Pennsylvania’s Fair Credit Extension Uniformity Act and Uniform Commercial Code; and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, 18 U.S.C. 1962(c). The Third Circuit vacated summary judgment in favor of the defendants on the RICO and state law claims, but affirmed as to the FDCPA claim. Forfeiture of collateral can amount to “collection of unlawful debt” under RICO, but defendants had a right to possession and did not violate the FDCPA by repossessing the car. View "Goldenstein v. Repossessors Inc." on Justia Law