Fourth Circuit Holds State Auto Debt Cancellation Requirements Not Preempted For Certain Assigned Loans


On December 26, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held that federal law does not preempt Maryland’s debt cancellation requirements for an auto retail installment sales contract (RISC) when a national bank is the assignee, and not the originator, of the loan. Decohen v. Capital One, N.A., No. 11-2161, 2012 WL 6685767 (4th Cir. Dec. 26, 2012). In this case, a dealer sold and financed a used vehicle and subsequently assigned the loan to a national bank. The financing included a charge for a debt cancellation agreement in the RISC, which under the Maryland Credit Grantor Closed End Credit Provisions (CLEC) requires a lender to cancel any remaining loan balance when a car is totaled and insurance does not cover the full loss. After the buyer totaled his car and was left with a loan balance, he sought to enforce the debt cancellation agreement. In dismissing the case, the district court held, in relevant part, that the agreement at issue was a “debt cancellation contract” covered by the National Bank Act, and that because such contracts are governed by federal law and regulations, including regulations regarding debt cancellation agreements, state regulation of such contracts is preempted. The district court also found that the purchaser failed to state a claim for breach of contract because the bank did not agree to cancel the remaining debt. The appeals court disagreed and held that because the OCC regulations regarding debt cancellation agreements apply only to agreements entered into by national banks, “the CLEC provisions regarding debt cancellation agreements are not expressly preempted by federal law when the agreements are part of credit contracts originated by a local lender and assigned to a national bank.” The court also held that the purchaser stated a claim for breach of contract because the parties voluntarily elected to be governed by the CLEC in the RISC, which cannot be undone by assignment of the loan. The court vacated the district court’s judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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