The end of last month the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Bankers Association and other industry groups (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) filed suit in Texas federal court challenging the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (“CFPB”) update this year to the Unfair, Deceptive, or Abusive Acts or Practices section of its examination manual to include discrimination. Chamber of Commerce of the United States of America, et al v. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, et al., Case No. 6:22-cv-00381 (E.D. Tex.)
By way of background, the Consumer Financial Protection Act, which is Title X of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act (the “Act”), prohibits providers of consumer financial products or services or a service provider from engaging in any unfair, deceptive or abusive act or practice (“UDAAP”). The Act also provides the CFPB with rulemaking and enforcement authority to “prevent unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices in connection with any transaction with a consumer for a consumer financial product or service, or the offering of a consumer financial product or service.” See, e.g., https://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/documents/cfpb_unfair-deceptive-abusive-acts-practices-udaaps_procedures.pdf. In general, the Act provides that an act or practice is unfair when it causes or is likely to cause substantial injury to consumers, which is not reasonably avoidable by consumers, and the injury is not outweighed by countervailing benefits to consumers or to competition.
The CFPB earlier this spring published revised examination guidelines on unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts and practices, or UDAAPs. Importantly, this set forth a new position from the CFPB, that discrimination in the provision of consumer financial products and services can itself be a UDAAP. This was a development that was surprising to many providers of financial products and services. The CFPB also released an updated exam manual that outlined its position regarding how discriminatory conduct may qualify as a UDAAP in consumer finance. Additionally, the CFPB in May 2022 additionally published a Consumer Financial Protection Circular to remind the public of creditors’ adverse action notice requirements under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (“ECOA”). In the view of the CFPB, creditors cannot use technologies (include algorithmic decision making) if it means they are unable to provide required explanations under the ECOA.
In July 2022, the Chamber and others called on the CFPB to rescind the update to the manual. This included, among other arguments raised in a white paper supporting their position, that in conflating the concepts of “unfairness” and “discrimination,” the CFPB ignores the Act’s text, structure, and legislative history which discusses “unfairness” and “discrimination” as two separate concepts and defines “unfairness” without mentioning discrimination
The Complaint filed this fall raises three claims under the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”) in relation to the updated manual as well as others. The Complaint contends that ultimately it is consumers that will suffer as a result of the CFPB’s new position, as “[t]hese amendments to the manual harm Plaintiffs’ members by imposing heavy compliance costs that are ultimately passed down to consumers in the form of higher prices and reduced access to products.”
The litigation process started by Plaintiffs in this case will be time consuming (a response to the Complaint is not expected from Defendants until December). In the meantime, entities in the financial sector should be cognizant of the CFPB’s new approach and ensure that their compliance practices appropriately mitigate risk, including in relation to algorithmic decision making and AI. As always, we will keep you up to date with the latest news on this litigation.