Alston & Bird Consumer Finance Blog

Case law

Affirmative Action in Lending: The Implications of the Harvard Decision on Financial Institutions

Early this summer, the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellow of Harvard College effectively ended race-conscious admission programs at colleges and universities across the country. Specifically, the Supreme Court held that decisions made “on the basis of race” do nothing more than further “stereotypes that treat individuals as the product of their race, evaluating their thoughts and efforts—their very worth as citizens—according to a criterion barred to the Government by history and the Constitution.”

In particular, the Supreme Court reasoned that “when a university admits students ‘on the basis of race, it engages in the offensive and demeaning assumption that [students] of a particular race, because of their race, think alike.’” Such stereotyping purportedly only causes “continued hurt and injury,” contrary as it is to the “core purpose” of the Equal Protection Clause. Ultimately, the Supreme Court reminded us that “ameliorating societal discrimination does not constitute a compelling interest that justifies race-based state action.”

In the context of lending, federal regulatory agencies expect and encourage financial institutions to explicitly consider race in their lending activities. While the Community Reinvestment Act has required banks to affirmatively consider the needs of low-to-moderate-income neighborhoods, regulatory enforcement actions over the last few years have required both bank and nonbank mortgage lenders to explicitly consider an applicant’s protected characteristics such as race and ethnicity—conduct plainly prohibited by fair lending laws.

Could the impact of the Supreme Court holding extend beyond education to lending and housing? Will the Harvard decision serve to undercut federal regulators’ legal theories for demonstrating redlining and present a challenge for special purpose credit programs that explicitly consider race or other protected characteristics?

Fair Lending Laws Prohibit Consideration of Race

The Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) prohibits a creditor from discriminating against any applicant, in any aspect of a credit transaction, on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex or marital status, or age (provided the applicant has the capacity to contract). Similarly, the Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination against any person in making available a residential real-estate-related transaction, or in the terms or conditions of such a transaction, because of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin.

In March 2022, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) went as far as to update its Examination Manual to provide that unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts and practices (UDAAPs) “include discrimination” and signaled that the CFPB will examine whether companies are adequately “testing for” discrimination in their advertising, pricing, and other activities. When challenged by various trade organizations, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas ruled that the CFPB’s update exceeded the agency’s authority under the Dodd–Frank Act. This decision is limited, however, and enjoins the CFPB from pursuing its theory against those financial institutions that are members of the trade association plaintiffs. It is also unclear if the verdict will be appealed by the CFPB.

Despite federal prohibitions, regulators such as the CFPB and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) expect, and at times even require, lenders to affirmatively target their marketing and lending efforts to certain borrowers and communities based on race and/or ethnicity.

Race-Based Decisions Are Encouraged and Even Required by Regulators

CFPB examiners often ask lenders to describe their affirmative, specialized efforts to target their lending to minority communities. If there have been no such explicit efforts by the institution, the CFPB penalizes these lenders for not explicitly considering race in their marketing and lending decisions. For example, in the CFPB’s redlining complaint against Townstone Financial, the CFPB alleged that “Townstone made no effort to market directly to African-Americans during the relevant period,” and that “Townstone has not specifically targeted any marketing toward African-Americans.”

What’s more, if enforcement culminates in a consent order, the CFPB and DOJ effectively impose race- based action by requiring lenders to fund loan subsidies or discounts that will be offered exclusively to consumers based on the predominant race or ethnicity of their neighborhood. In the CFPB/DOJ settlement with nonbank Trident Mortgage, the lender was required to set aside over $18 million toward offering residents of majority-minority neighborhoods “home mortgage loans on a more affordable basis than otherwise available.”

And in the more recent DOJ settlement with Washington Trust, the consent order required the lender to subsidize only those mortgage loans made to “qualified applicants,” defined in the settlement as consumers who either reside, or apply for a mortgage for a residential property located, in a majority-Black and Hispanic census tract. Such subsidies are a common feature of recent redlining settlements, which have been occurring with increased frequency since the DOJ announced its Combating Redlining Initiative in October 2021.

Not only do the CFPB and DOJ encourage, and in certain cases, even require, race-based lending in potential contravention of fair lending laws, but federal regulators also expect some degree of race-based hiring by lenders. This expectation is based on the stereotypical assumption that lenders need racial and ethnic minorities in their consumer-facing workforce to attract racial and ethnic minority loan applicants. In the Townstone complaint, for example, the CFPB chastised the lender for failing to “employ an African-American loan officer during the relevant period, even though it was aware that hiring a loan officer from a particular racial or ethnic group could increase the number of applications from members of that racial or ethnic group.”

Ultimately, all the recent redlining consent orders announced by the CFPB and DOJ impose at least some race-based requirement, which would seem to run afoul of fair lending laws and Supreme Court precedent.

Racial Quota-Based Metrics Used by Regulators

Further, when assessing whether a lender may have engaged in redlining against a particular racial or ethnic group, the CFPB and DOJ, as a matter of course, employ quota-based metrics to evaluate the “rates” or “percentages” of a lender’s activity in majority-minority geographic areas, specifically majority-minority census tracts (MMCTs). Then the regulators compare such rates or percentages of the lender’s loan applications or originations in MMCTs to those of other lenders. For example, in its complaint against Lakeland Bank, the DOJ focused on the alleged “disparity between the rate of applications generated by Lakeland and the rate generated by its peer lenders from majority-Black and Hispanic areas.” The agency criticized the bank’s “shortfalls in applications from individuals identifying as Black or Hispanic compared to the local demographics and aggregate HMDA averages.”

Undoubtedly, this approach utilizes nothing more than a quota-based metric, which the Supreme Court in Harvard squarely rejected. Indeed, the Supreme Court reasoned that race-based programs amount to little more than determining how “the breakdown of the [incoming] class compares to the prior year in terms of racial identities,” or comparing the racial makeup of the incoming class to the general population, to see whether some proportional goal or benchmark has been reached.

While the goal of meaningful representation and diversity is commendable, the Supreme Court emphasized that “outright racial balancing and quota systems remain patently unconstitutional.” And such a focus on racial quotas means that lenders could attempt to minimize or even eliminate their fair lending risk simply by decreasing their lending in majority-non-Hispanic-White neighborhoods—without ever increasing their loan applications or originations in majority-minority neighborhoods. Of course, this frustrates the essential purpose of ECOA and other fair lending laws.

Potential Constitutional Scrutiny of Race-Based Lending Efforts

If race-based state action, including the use of racial quotas, violates the Equal Protection Clause, it is possible that the race-based lending measures recently encouraged and even required by federal regulators may be constitutionally problematic. In addition to racially targeted loan subsidies and racially motivated loan officer hiring, regulators continue to encourage lenders to implement special purpose credit programs (SPCPs) to meet the credit needs of specific racial or ethnic groups. As the CFPB noted in its advisory opinion, “[b]y permitting the consideration of a prohibited basis such as race, national origin, or sex in connection with a special purpose credit program, Congress protected a broad array of programs ‘specifically designed to prefer members of economically disadvantaged classes’ and ‘to increase access to the credit market by persons previously foreclosed from it.’”

While SPCPs are explicitly permitted by the language of ECOA and its implementing regulation, Regulation B, as an exception to the statute’s mandate against considering a credit applicant’s protected characteristics, it is uncertain whether these provisions, if challenged, would survive constitutional scrutiny by the current Supreme Court.

Takeaways for Lenders

For the time being, lenders that offer SPCPs based on a protected characteristic should ensure that their written plans continue to meet the requirements of Section 1002.8(a)(3). As always, the justifications for lending decisions that could disproportionately affect consumers based on their race, ethnicity, or other protected characteristic should be well documented and justified by legitimate business needs. And if faced with a fair lending investigation or potential enforcement action, lenders should consider presenting to regulators any alternate data findings or conclusions that demonstrate the institution’s record of lending in MMCTs rather than focusing on the rates or percentages of other lenders in the geographic area.

Being a Government Agency is not an Exception to the Federal Discovery Rules

A&B Abstract:

When litigating in federal court, government agencies are not exempt from the rules of discovery.  The Eleventh Circuit reminded the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”) of this in its recent decision CFPB v. Brown, et al., No. 21-14468 (11th Cir. 2023).  There, the Court affirmed a district court’s sanctions order dismissing the CFPB’s claims against five defendants because the CFPB had “engag[ed] in dramatic abuse of the discovery process.”

The Case

“The CFPB’s problematic conduct began during discovery.”  In response to Rule 30(b)(6) deposition notices from five defendants to depose a CFPB representative, the CFPB objected that: (i) it had already provided the information in its interrogatory responses, (ii) the notice inquired into topics covered by the law enforcement and deliberative process privilege, and (iii) the depositions were an improper attempt to question CFPB counsel about their mental impressions and analyses.  The district court, however, overruled these objections “reasoning that Rule 30(b)(6) applies with equal force to government agencies” and that “factual matters are subject to inquiry even if those matters have been disclosed in interrogatory responses.”

The CFPB then moved for a protective order to reduce the scope of the 30(b)(6) depositions.  The district court granted this in part, striking the balance that “facts—including ‘exculpatory facts’—were fair game while questioning that ‘would delve into [the CFPB’s] trial strategy’ was off limits.”  With this guidance in hand, the parties proceeded with their depositions.

In the first 30(b)(6) deposition, “the CFPB avoided answering questions through a number of impermissible tactics.”  It lodged work product objections even to fact-based questions that the district court had instructed it to answer.  It equipped its witness with “memory aids”—lawyer-prepared scripts that were hundreds of pages in length—from which the witness repeatedly engaged in “filibuster-style reading.”  And despite the district court’s instruction that it should answer questions concerning exculpatory facts, the CFPB took the position that it had not identified any exculpatory facts in the entire voluminous record.

Given the CFPB’s tactics during the first deposition, the defendants requested, and the district court conducted, a telephonic hearing.  During the hearing, the district court provided further instruction warning the CFPB off of these tactics.  The district court also reiterated that “defendants were entitled to question the CFPB about exculpatory facts.”  And that while “exculpatory information” is generally a term used in criminal cases, a defendant in a civil case is entitled to discovery of exculpatory evidence that would be in the possession of a government agency that would show the defendant had not committed the alleged violations.

During the next four 30(b)(6) depositions, “the CFPB continued its obstructionist conduct.”  Specifically, it continued to object on work product grounds, its witness continued to rely exclusively on memory aids for his testimony, and its witness refused even to answer yes or no questions as to whether certain facts existed.

Consequently, defendants moved for sanctions.  The district court granted sanctions, struck all claims against the five defendants, and dismissed them from the case.

In granting this sanction, the district court found that the CFPB had willfully disregarded the district court’s instructions by reading from memory aids to bury defendants in so much information that they could not possibly identify, with any reasonable particularity, what supported the CFPB’s claims.  The district court also found that the CFPB’s witness failed to appear because, even though he was physically present, he was effectively unavailable because he could not answer questions without memory aids and because of his “refusal to address exculpatory evidence.”  Finally, the district court explained that it was not optimistic that reopening the depositions would be fruitful given the CFPB’s pattern of conduct in the case.

On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit explained that the district court’s instructions and orders were clear, so the CFPB’s failure to comply with them warranted sanctions.  It also held that in light of the district court’s conclusion that reopening discovery would not be fruitful, the severe sanction of dismissal was warranted.

Takeaways from the Court’s Ruling

In affirming, the Eleventh Circuit provided an important reminder that government agencies are not exempt from the rules of discovery.  They “do[] not have the power to decide which discovery rules [they] will abide by and which [they] will ignore.”

Throughout its decision, the Eleventh Circuit also highlighted the proper and improper uses of memory aids during 30(b)(6) depositions.  Memory aids can be used (and can be useful) during these types of depositions so long as they do not replace the witness’s testimony.  It is when they stop being memory aids and become lawyer‑prepared scripts that their use becomes improper.  They cannot replace live testimony, and where the 30(b)(6) witness cannot testify without relying upon the memory aids, the witness is effectively unavailable.

Finally, in its decision, the Eleventh Circuit stressed that it was improper for the CFPB “to take the incredible position that exculpatory facts did not exist as to any defendant in the case.”  While the CFPB argued on appeal that it was improper for the district court to order it to specifically identify evidence that it considered exculpatory, the circuit court concluded that the district court had not asked the CFPB to go that far.  Rather, the district court had merely made clear that exculpatory evidence is fair game as part of the discovery process.

In short, parties being sued by a government agency are entitled to discovery, including through 30(b)(6) deposition testimony, about the factual bases for the government agency’s claims against them.  This entitlement extends to exculpatory evidence in possession of the government agency that would show the defendant had not committed the alleged violations.

New York Foreclosure Abuse Prevention Act Curtails Servicers’ Options

A&B ABstract:

Effective on approval by Governor Kathy Hochul on December 30, 2022, New York Assembly Bill 7737b – the Foreclosure Abuse Prevention Act (the “Act”) became law.  The Act is signifcant because it reverses judicial precedent that permitted a lender, after default, to undo the acceleration of a mortgage and stop the running of the statute of limitations in a foreclosure action through voluntary dismissal, discontinuance of foreclosure actions, or de-acceleration letters. Notably, the Act applies both prospectively and to any foreclosure action filed prior to its effective date that had not been resolved through a final judgment and order of sale. Further, unlike other provisions of New York law, the Act applies to all properties (and not only those that are owner-occupied). Public reaction has been mixed as to whether the measure will benefit consumers – but, regardless, it changes the rules of the game for lenders and servicers in New York State.


Existing New York law establishes a six-year statute of limitations for the commencement of a mortgage foreclosure action, triggered when the borrower defaults on the obligation and the lender accelerates the obligation to pay the secured debt. In 2021, the New York Court of Appeals considered whether a lender can de-accelerate a loan and reset the statute of limitations.

The court decided four cases (with the opinion rendered in Freedom Mtge. Corp. v Engel, 37 N.Y.3d 1 (2021)), “each turning on the timeliness of a mortgage foreclosure claim.” The court held that the lender’s voluntary dismissal of a foreclosure suit constituted a revocation of the lender’s election to accelerate. Such revocation returned the parties to their pre-acceleration rights, reinstated the borrower’s right to repay via installments, and established a new statute of limitations period for any future default payments. According to the court, “[w]here the maturity of the debt has been validly accelerated by commencement of a foreclosure action,” the court opined, “the noteholder’s voluntary withdrawal of that action revokes the election to accelerate, absent the noteholder’s contemporaneous statement to the contrary.”

In the course of deciding Engel, the court also considered what constituted an “overt unequivocal act” sufficient to trigger a valid acceleration of debt and the six-year statute of limitations. Here, the court held that neither the issuance of a default letter nor the filing of complaints in prior discontinued foreclosure actions that failed to reference the pertinent modified loan were sufficient methods to validly accelerate debt.

The Act

Since the Engel decision, mortgagees in New York State have relied on their ability to voluntarily discontinue a foreclosure action – and effectively reset the statute of limitations– in order to engage distressed borrowers in loss mitigation efforts. However, the Act appears to eliminate a mortgagee’s ability to unilaterally reset the limitations period by voluntarily discontinuing a foreclosure action and deaccelerating the loan.

With the express intent of overturning the Engel decision, the Act amends provisions of New York’s Real Property Actions and Proceedings Law (“RPAPL,” N.Y. Real Prop. Acts. Law §§ 1301 et seq.), General Obligations Law (“GOL,” N.Y. Gen. Oblig. Law §§ 1-101 et seq.), and Civil Practice Law and Rules (“Rules,” N.Y. C.P.L.R. §§ 101 et seq.) relating to the rights of parties involved in foreclosure actions.


Under previous law, Section 1301 of the RPAPL prohibited the commencement or maintenance of any action to recover any part of a mortgage debt while another action to recover part of the mortgage debt is already pending or after final judgment has been made for the plaintiff without leave of the court in which the first action was brought. Beyond clarifying that a foreclosure action falls within the scope of that prohibition, the Act provides that procurement of leave from the first court must be a condition precedent to commencing or maintaining the new action. Thus, failure to comply with the leave of court condition precedent may no longer be excused by finding that the prior action was “de facto discontin(ued)” or “effectively abandoned” (see U.S. Bank Trust, N.A. v. Humphrey, 173 AD3d 811, 812 (2d Dept 2019)); or that the defendant was not prejudiced thereby (see Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. v. Irizarry, 142 AD3d 610, 611 (2d Dept 2016)); nor by deeming the pre-action failure a mistake, omission, defect, or irregularity that could be overlooked or disregarded (see id.).

Moreover, failure to obtain leave is a defense to the new action. If a party brings a new action without leave of the court, the section declares that the previous action is deemed discontinued unless prior to the entry of final judgment in the original action the defendant: (a) raises the failure to comply with the condition precedent, or (b) seeks dismissal of the action based upon one of the grounds set forth in Section 3211(a)(4) of the Rules.

Section 1301 of the RPAPL is further amended to provide that if the mortgage securing the bond or note representing the debt so secured by the mortgage is adjudicated as time barred by a court of competent jurisdiction, any other action to recover any part of the same mortgage debt is equally time barred. As a result, if the statute of limitations acts to bar a foreclosure action or any other action to recover on mortgage debt, an investor or servicer cannot bring any other action to recover the same part of the mortgage debt, including another foreclosure action or an action to recover a personal judgment against the borrower on the note.


Under Section 17-105 of the GOL, an agreement to waive the statute of limitations to foreclose on a mortgage is effective if expressly set forth in writing and signed by the party to be charged.

The Act amends Section 17-105 by: (1) clarifying that the GOL is the exclusive means by which parties are enabled to postpone, cancel, reset, toll, revive or otherwise effectuate an extension of the limitations period for the commencement of an action or proceeding upon a mortgage instrument; (2) clarifying that unless effectuated in strict accordance with Section 17-105, the discontinuance of an action upon a mortgage instrument, by any means, shall not, in form or effect, function as a waiver, postponement, cancellation, resetting, tolling, or extension of the statute of limitations; and (3) codifying certain judicial rulings holding as much.

While not included or otherwise referenced in the Act, it is also worth noting that Part 419 of the New York Department of Financial Services’ mortgage loan servicer business conduct rules prohibit a mortgage servicer from requiring a homeowner to waive legal claims and defenses as a condition of a loan modification, reinstatement, forbearance or repayment plan. It is unclear whether Part 419 would be interpreted to prohibit servicers from seeking a waiver of the limitations period pursuant to Section 17-105, especially with respect to loans where the limitations period has already run. To further complicate matters, the New York legislature is currently considering a bill that would (1) create an express private right of action for violations of Part 419; (2) make compliance with Part 419’s requirements a condition precedent to commencing a foreclosure action; and (3) render failure to materially comply with Part 419 to be a defense to a foreclosure action or an action on the note, even if servicing of the loan has been transferred to a different servicer when a foreclosure action or action on the note is commenced.


The Act amends and adds several provisions of the Rules relating to the application of the statute of limitations in actions relating to mortgage debt.

First, the Act adds Section 203(h) to the Rules, which terminates the ability of a lender or servicer to extend the statute of limitations on a foreclosure action by any form of unilateral action. No voluntary discontinuation of an action to enforce a mortgage may “in form or effect, waive, postpone, cancel, toll, extend, revive or reset the limitations period to commence an action and to interpose a claim, unless expressly prescribed by statute.” In other words, the amended section appears to prohibit a mortgagee from “de-accruing” a cause of action or otherwise effectuating a unilateral extension of the limitations period by suspending a foreclosure action – and providing loss mitigation opportunities to the borrower – once the six-year statute of limitations has begun to run after the loan is accelerated. The methods by which the statute of limitations in a mortgage foreclosure action can be waived or extended are exclusively set forth in Article 17 of the GOL (see GOL 17-105 (express written agreement to extend, waive or not plead as a defense the statute of limitations); 17-107 (unqualified payment on account of mortgage indebtedness effective to revive statute of limitations)). Accordingly, a bare stipulation of discontinuance or a lender’s unilateral decision to revoke its demand for full payment is no longer a permissible method for waiving, extending, or modifying the statute of limitations.

Second, the Act adds Section 205-a to the Rules, limiting reliance on the savings statute for time-barred claims. After termination of an action, the new section permits the original named plaintiff to commence a new action upon the same transaction or occurrence or series of transactions only if: (a) the plaintiff brings the new action within six months of the termination; and (b) the termination of the prior action occurred in any manner other than a voluntary discontinuance, a failure to obtain personal jurisdiction over the defendant, dismissal for any form of neglect, for violation of any court rules or individual part rules, failure to comply with any court scheduling orders, failure to appear for a conference or at a calendar call, failure to timely submit any order or judgment, or a final judgment upon the merits. Further, only one six-month extension will be available to the plaintiff.

Under new Section 205-a, a successor-in-interest or an assignee of the original plaintiff can only commence a new action if such party pleads and proves that the assignee is acting on behalf of the original plaintiff. Further, if the defendant has served an answer and the action has been terminated, in a new action based on the same transaction or occurrence or series of transactions (whether brought by the original plaintiff or a successor-in-interest or assignee thereof) any cause of action or defense that the defendant asserts will be considered timely “if such cause of action or defense was timely asserted in the prior action.” Section 205-a also provides that, where applicable, the original plaintiff (or a successor-in-interest acting on behalf of the original plaintiff) may only receive one six-month extension and no court shall allow the original plaintiff to receive more than one six-month extension.

Third, the Act amends Section 213(4) of the Rules to clarify that in any action where the statute of limitations is raised as a defense – and if that defense is based on a claim that the indebtedness was accelerated prior to or through commencement of a prior action – a plaintiff will be estopped from asserting that a mortgage instrument was not validly accelerated prior to or by way of commencement of a prior action. An exception exists if the prior action “was dismissed based on an expressed judicial determination, made upon a timely interposed defense, that the instrument was not validly accelerated.”

Further, in any quiet title action seeking cancellation and discharge of record of a mortgage instrument, a defendant will be estopped from asserting that the applicable statute of limitations period for commencement of an action has not expired because instrument was not validly accelerated prior to or by way of commencement of a prior action, “unless the prior action was dismissed based on an expressed judicial determination, made upon a timely interposed defense, that the instrument was not validly accelerated.”

Finally, the Act amends Section 3217 of the Rules, by adding a new Subsection (e), which clarifies that if the statute of limitations is raised as a defense in an action, and if the defense rests on a claim that the instrument was accelerated prior to or by virtue of the commencement of a prior action, the plaintiff cannot stop the tolling of the statute of limitations by asserting that the instrument was not validly accelerated unless the prior action was dismissed based on an express judicial determination regarding invalid acceleration.


In light of the Act’s curtailment of a servicer’s or investor’s ability to unilaterally suspend a foreclosure action, we recommend that mortgagees carefully review their pending mortgage foreclosure actions in New York state. At a minimum, the Act removes the ability of a holder or servicer in New York state to voluntarily discontinue a foreclosure action after acceleration of the indebtedness triggers the running of the statute of limitations.

Whether this will interfere with servicers’ contractual rights and ability – and obligations under the CFPB rules and New York Part 419 – to offer meaningful loss mitigation opportunities to borrowers remains to be seen. At least one judge thinks so. In a recent Order to Show Cause, a New York Supreme Court judge concluded that the Act violates the Contracts Clause of the U.S. Constitution and included an invitation for the New York Attorney General to weigh in.

District Court Dismisses CFPB’s Redlining Case Against Townstone Financial

A&B ABstract:

On Friday, in the CFPB v. Townstone Financial fair lending case, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois dismissed with prejudice the complaint filed by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), holding that the plain language of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) does not prohibit discrimination against prospective applicants.


 The complaint, filed by the CFPB in July 2020, alleged that Townstone Financial, Inc., a nonbank retail-mortgage creditor and broker based in Chicago, engaged in discriminatory acts or practices in violation of ECOA, including: (1) making statements during its weekly radio shows and podcasts through which it marketed its services, that discouraged prospective African-American applicants from applying for mortgage loans; (2) discouraging prospective applicants living in African-American neighborhoods from applying for mortgage loans; and (3) discouraged prospective applicants living in other areas from applying for mortgage loans for properties located in African-American neighborhoods.

Court Opinion

The court, in its opinion, summarized the allegations as follows: “The CFPB alleges that Townstone’s acts and practices would discourage African-American prospective applicants, as well as prospective applicants in majority- and high-African-American neighborhoods in the Chicago MSA from seeking credit.” To determine whether the CFPB’s allegation of discrimination against “prospective applicants” was permissible under ECOA, the court applied the framework set forth in Chevron, U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837 (1984).

The court found, upon applying the first step of the Chevron analysis, that “Congress has directly and unambiguously spoken on the issue at hand and [that ECOA] only prohibits discrimination against applicants” (emphasis added). In granting Townstone’s motion to dismiss, the court reasoned that the plain text of the ECOA applies to “applicants,” which the ECOA “clearly and unambiguously defines as a person who applies to a creditor for credit” – and not to “prospective applicants.” Given this, the court was not required to move on to the second step of the Chevron analysis and consider the CFPB’s interpretation of the statute. Accordingly, the CFPB’s claim under ECOA was dismissed with prejudice, as “the CFPB cannot amend its pleading in a way that would change the language of the ECOA.”

Notably, the fact that the anti-discouragement provision of Regulation B refers to “prospective applicants” was not sufficient to convince the court. Further, because the court found that ECOA unambiguously applies only to “applicants,” the court did not analyze whether the ECOA’s prohibition on “discrimination” encompasses “discouragement.” The court likewise did not reach Townstone’s argument that the CFPB is attempting to create affirmative obligations with respect to marketing and the hiring of loan officers, nor its arguments under the First and Fifth Amendments.


Ultimately, the court’s dismissal of the CFPB’s case against Townstone casts significant doubt on the agency’s ECOA discouragement theory and its approach to fair lending enforcement, particularly the agency’s redlining investigations. We expect the CFPB to appeal the court’s order, though it is possible that existing investigations based on allegations of discouragement may experience a temporary slowdown in the interim.

CFPB Petitions High Court to Consider Decision Holding Funding Structure Unconstitutional

A&B Abstract:

On November 14, 2022, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”) filed a petition for a writ of certiorari in connection with the Fifth Circuit’s recent decision in Community Financial, which held that the CFPB’s funding structure violated the Constitution’s Appropriations Clause.  (For a full discussion of the Community Financial decision, click here.)

The CFPB is asking that the Supreme Court set the case for argument this term during its April 2023 sitting.

The CFPB’s Petition

According to the CFPB, the Fifth Circuit’s ruling constituted an “unprecedented and erroneous understanding of the Appropriations Clause.”  In the CFPB’s view, the Appropriations Clause requires only that “Congress enact[] a statute explicitly authorizing . . . [the] use [of] a specified amount of funds from a specified source for specified purposes,” which Congress did in establishing the CFPB’s funding.  For support, the CFPB relied on the constitutional text, historical practice, and the Supreme Court’s precedent.  And it argued that “[n]o other court has ever held that Congress violated the Appropriations Clause by passing a statute authorizing spending.”

The CFPB also asserts that the Fifth Circuit “compounded its error by adopting a sweeping remedial approach that calls into question virtually every action the CFPB has taken in the 12 years since it was created.”  This remedy, the CFPB argues, “raises grave concerns not just for the CFPB and consumers, but for the entire financial industry,” as the vacatur of past CFPB actions could have “destabilizing consequences.”

The CFPB asked the Supreme Court to review the Fifth Circuit’s decision for several reasons.  First, the Fifth Circuit held an Act of Congress violates the Constitution, and there is a strong presumption in favor of granting writs of certiorari to review decisions holding federal statutes unconstitutional.  Second, the Fifth Circuit’s decision conflicts with the D.C. Circuit’s decision on the same issue, creating a circuit split that the Supreme Court should resolve.  Third, the Fifth Circuit’s decision has “immense legal and practical significance” that should be addressed promptly because it “threatens the validity of all past CFPB actions,” which, if unwound, could result in harm to consumers and the “entire financial industry.”

For these reasons, the CFPB asked the Supreme Court to set the case for argument this term.   Given what is at stake, the CFPB explained that it filed its petition “less than one month after the [Fifth Circuit’s] decision,” and “plans to waive the 14-day waiting period after the brief in opposition is filed,” so that the Supreme Court may “consider the petition at its January 6, 2023 conference and hear the case during its April 2023 sitting.”


The CFPB has acknowledged the significant existential threat that the Fifth Circuit’s Community Financial decision poses to its future, and has petitioned the Supreme Court for relief.  Stay tuned for further updates on whether the Supreme Court grants the CFPB’s petition.