Cannabis companies nationwide are facing yet another statutory obstacle that can have serious (and potential ruinous) consequences for the emerging industry if not appropriately addressed—the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”). There is a recent uptick in class-action lawsuits filed against cannabis companies across the country premised on alleged violations of the TCPA including lawsuits in Michigan and California. These complaints allege cannabis companies sent unsolicited marketing text messages or placed automated phone calls to individuals without their consent. Cannabis dispensaries and other cannabis-related businesses should add TCPA compliance protocols to their checklist of regulatory requirements to be satisfied in this quickly emerging industry.

The TCPA

Enacted in 1991, the TCPA heavily regulates the ability to send phone, text, or facsimile messages through automatic telephone dialing systems. Non-compliance with the statute can be costly, as companies found to have violated the TCPA can be liable for $500 per call or text sent in violation of the Act, and up to $1,500 for willful or knowing violations. Damages are also not capped under the TCPA, so even a small number of texts or calls sent to a large number of recipients can lead to hefty damage awards. The ability to recover significant damages results in most TCPA claims being brought as class-actions. As a result, it is imperative that cannabis businesses that communicate with customers via text or by phone understand the rules governing the TCPA to avoid or at least minimize their liability exposure. Continue Reading Why Cannabis Companies Need to Care About the TCPA

On June 22, 2020, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”) launched its advisory opinion pilot program and its proposed final advisory opinion program. The pilot program is effective immediately, and the CFPB is accepting comments on the final program until August 21, 2020. Dykema is submitting comments on the proposed permanent advisory opinion program on behalf of clients.

Under both the pilot and permanent advisory opinion programs, institutions may request an advisory opinion from the CFPB in order to clarify compliance with regulations and address areas of uncertainty. These advisory opinions will be published in the Federal Register and will be considered binding interpretive rules upon which institutions may rely, offering a safe harbor from regulatory scrutiny. Continue Reading Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Requests Comment on Imminent Advisory Opinion Program

In a closely monitored case, the U.S. Supreme Court today upheld the restriction on robocalls under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”) of 1991 but struck the Act’s government debt-collection exclusion. Many followed this case, anticipating it would result in a fatal blow to the TCPA. But today’s opinion extinguished these hopes.

In response to consumer complaints, Congress passed the TCPA to prohibit robocalls to cell phones, among other things. 47 U.S.C. 227(b)(1)(A)(iii). In 2015, Congress amended the robocall restriction, carving out a new government-debt exception that allows robocalls made solely to collect a debt owed to or guaranteed by the United States. 129 Stat. 588.

In 2016, the plaintiffs, political and nonprofit organizations, filed a declaratory judgment action in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, claiming that the TCPA (§227(b)(1)(A)(iii)) violated the First Amendment. Plaintiffs sought the ability to make political robocalls to cell phones. Invoking the First Amendment, plaintiffs argued that the 2015 government-debt exception unconstitutionally favored debt-collection speech over political and other speech, and asked the Court to invalidate the TCPA’s entire restriction on robocalls. The District Court held that the government-debt carve-out was content-based but withstood strict scrutiny. The Fourth Circuit disagreed, invalidating the 2015 exception and holding that the content-based restriction did not survive strict scrutiny. Continue Reading TCPA Protection Against Robocalls Upheld. Did the Supreme Court Sacrifice the Right of Free Speech For the Sake of Rescuing a Bad Statute?

From the inception of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”), opponents have argued that its single-director structure is unconstitutional. The arguments focused on the executive power that the Constitution vests in the President, positing that limiting the President’s power to remove the CFPB director only for cause infringes upon the President’s executive power and therefore violates the Constitution’s separation of powers.

As Dykema previously blogged, the constitutionality of the CFPB has been litigated in the lower courts, with lower courts siding with CFPB opponents. Notably, Justice Brett Kavanaugh, a D.C. Circuit Court judge at the time, delivered an opinion finding the CFPB unconstitutional, explaining “[t]he CFPB’s concentration of enormous executive power in a single, unaccountable, unchecked Director not only departs from settled historical practice, but also poses a far greater risk of arbitrary decision making and abuse of power, and a far greater threat to individual liberty, than does a multi-member independent agency.” Justice Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court on October 6, 2018 and has proved favorable for those opposing the CFPB. Continue Reading The Battle Over the Constitutionality of the CFPB Is Finally Settled… So What Now?

On May 15, 2020, the House passed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act, or “HEROES Act”, which is a 1,815-page bill that affords $3 trillion in relief to consumers and businesses impacted by COVID-19. The bill includes a number of provisions, including another round of $1,200 payments to most Americans, hazard pay for frontline workers, and funding for local and state governments. The bill also includes proposed amendments to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”). Unfortunately, these well-intentioned amendments to FCRA do not appear to have been thought through well and, practically speaking, would have dire consequences if implemented.

First, the bill prohibits both consumer reporting agencies (“CRAs”) or data furnishers from reporting of any adverse information that occurred during a “major disaster” declared by the President. With respect to CRAs, the bill states: Continue Reading HEROES Act Includes Potentially Disastrous FCRA Amendments

In a consumer class action, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit was called on to decide whether “consumer reporting agencies to determine the legal validity of disputed debts.” Denan v. Trans Union LLC, No. 19-1519, 2020 U.S. App. LEXIS 14930, at *1-2 (7th Cir. May 11, 2020). Joining the First, Ninth, and Tenth Circuits, the Seventh Circuit found that “a consumer’s defense to a debt is a question for a court to resolve in a suit against the [creditor,] not a job imposed upon consumer reporting agencies by the FCRA.”  Id. at *12 (internal quotations omitted).

In Denan, the plaintiffs obtained loans from tribal payday lenders. Those loans charged interest rates in excess of 300% and, according to the loan agreements, were governed by tribal law, not state law. The plaintiffs claimed that because the loans violated state usury laws, they were “legally invalid.”  Id. at *4. But instead of bringing suit against the tribal lenders, who may have been protected by sovereign immunity, the plaintiffs brought a putative class action against consumer reporting agency (or CRA) Trans Union, alleging it violated 15 U.S.C. § 1681e(b) for failing to assure the “maximum possible accuracy” of reported information. Continue Reading Credit Reporting Agencies Are Not Required to Determine What Is a “Legally” Valid Debt

In our latest installment of our series “Bankruptcy On Ice”, we tackle temporary suspension of bankruptcy proceedings in response to the closure of “non-essential businesses” and other critical protective measures being imposed to fight the spread of COVID-19. Last week, key decisions in the Pier 1 and Modell’s Sporting Goods bankruptcy cases extended temporary freezes and limited suspensions of proceedings as most states slowly begin to reopen.

Before we get to that, it is important to note that despite the entry of suspension orders freezing certain proceedings in a number of retail and restaurant bankruptcy cases, bankruptcy courts remain open for business across the country. They have not shut down, deadlines have not been extended ad infinitum, and interested parties must stay alert that all critical deadlines are met. And even in these bankruptcy cases now on ice, the courts have emphasized that their doors remain open to parties seeking relief due to exigent circumstances. Continue Reading Bankruptcy On Ice III – The Freeze Extends Temporary Suspensions of Chapter 11 Cases

The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) is one of two business loan programs created under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act to assist companies by extending potentially forgivable credit to small business employers. The PPP is designed to help cover employee-related expenses and help employers avoid layoffs. The prospect of forgivable debt, coupled with relatively favorable terms, have put PPP loans in high demand and many businesses, including some which had already sought chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, have sought PPP loans.

The CARES Act contains no bar to the granting of PPP loans to bankrupt companies. That said, section 7(a)(6) of the Small Business Act requires qualifying small business loans to be “of such sound value or so secured as reasonably to ensure repayment.” As a result, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) took the initial position that a PPP loan must meet the same requirements, and a loan cannot meet this standard if the borrower is a debtor in a bankruptcy case.  Continue Reading Are Debtors Eligible to Receive PPP Loans? Bankrupt Companies and the SBA Wage War Over Critical CARES Act Program Eligibility

This article was originally published on Law360

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused, and continues to cause, massive humanitarian and economic upheaval with no clear end in sight. Borrowers are already scrambling to increase liquidity from their banks. Some will continue to operate openly, honestly, and in the best interests of the company and its stakeholders. Others will not.

Notwithstanding that lenders and governments are attempting to mitigate the crisis’s effects,[1] loan defaults are anticipated to be increasing, and accordingly, so will loan enforcement lawsuits.

In lawsuits stemming from the COVID-19 crisis, where the default was caused by more than just a lack of money—fraud, mismanagement, neglect, waste, misconduct—litigants, and the courts, may increasingly turn to equity receivers to help protect collateral and manage struggling businesses. Continue Reading Illinois Courts May Increasingly Embrace Equity Receiverships

As all lenders know by now, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act’s (“CARES Act”) guaranteed Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”) loans are the key piece of economic relief for small businesses during the COVID-19 crisis. Yet, in the rush to get those loans flowing into the economy, the Small Business Administration (“SBA”) issued an interim regulation that raises substantial unanswered questions about participating lenders’ compliance policies. Business Loan Program Temporary Changes; Paycheck Protection Program (proposed Apr. 2, 2010) (to be codified at 13 C.F.R. pt. 120). Those questions are starkly different yet similarly important for banks and other traditional lending institutions accustomed to operating under the Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”) and those nonbank lenders who have never been under the BSA’s purview.

Banks and other traditional lending institutions already have AML (Anti-Money Laundering) and KYC (Know Your Customer) policies in place. For them, the SBA’s interim regulation seems, at first glance, like nothing earthshattering; it simply requires these lenders “to follow their existing BSA protocols.” In this crisis, though, nothing is as it always was. The urgency of getting these loans approved plus the importance of social distancing makes verifying the applicant’s information no easy task. Although the SBA’s regulation says that “PPP loans for existing customers will not require re-verification under applicable BSA requirements, unless otherwise indicated by the institution’s risk-based approach to BSA compliance,” the question arises whether a PPP loan application for an existing customer is considered a new account for FinCEN Customer Due Diligence (“CDD”) Rule purposes. Fortunately, the SBA and the Treasury Department issued revised FAQs addressing that question and explaining that, for PPP loans to existing customers, lenders do not have to re-verify information that had been previously provided and verified and do not even have to collect and verify missing information in the first instance “unless otherwise indicated by the lender’s risk-based approach to BSA compliance.” Paycheck Protection Program Loans Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) (Apr. 8, 2010). We expect the final SBA regulation to be updated to reflect this important clarification. Continue Reading Compliance for PPP Loans: Different Questions for Different Lenders