Ninth Circuit Holds Repeated Erroneous Default Notices Can Be ECOA “Adverse Action"

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On July 3, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that a mortgage servicer’s alleged repeated delivery of notices of default and acceleration to borrowers who were current on their obligation could be “adverse action,” triggering the ECOA notification requirements. Schlegel v. Wells Fargo Bank, No. 11-6816, 2013 WL 3336727 (9th Cir. July 3, 2013). According to the borrowers, although they received a discharge in bankruptcy, they reaffirmed their mortgage loan, subject to a modification that apparently reduced their monthly payment obligation. The borrowers claimed that the servicer did not correct its records to reflect the loan modification and sent several notices of default and acceleration. The Ninth Circuit held that, while sending a mistaken default notice would not necessarily constitute an adverse action, the conduct alleged in the complaint, in which the creditor repeatedly stated that the obligation was immediately due and payable, fell within the definition of an “adverse action” as, among other things, a “revocation of credit.” Therefore, the court reversed the district court’s dismissal of the borrowers’ claim that the mortgage servicer had failed to provide a notification within 30 days after taking adverse action, as required under ECOA. The appellate court, however, upheld the district court’s dismissal of the borrowers’ claim under the FDCPA, holding that the complaint failed to adequately allege that the servicer was a “debt collector” under the FDCPA — i.e., either that its principal business was the collection of debts or that it was collecting the subject debt “for another.”