July 22, 2018

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Court dismisses NYDFS lawsuit challenging special purpose national bank charter for fintech companies

A New York federal district court has dismissed the lawsuit filed by the New York Department of Financial Services (DFS) challenging the OCC’s authority to grant special purpose national bank (SPNB) charters to nondepository fintech companies.

When the DFS lawsuit was filed, we commented that because the OCC had not yet finalized the licensing process for fintech companies seeking an SPNB charter, the DFS was likely to face a motion to dismiss for lack of ripeness and/or the absence of a case or controversy.  Consistent with our expectations, the OCC filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit in which its central arguments were that because it has not yet decided whether it will offer SPNB charters to companies that do not take deposits, the DFS complaint should be dismissed for failing to establish any injury in fact necessary for Article III standing and because the case was not ripe for judicial review.

In dismissing the DFS lawsuit, the district court agreed with both of the OCC’s arguments.  As an initial matter, the court observed that the DFS’s claims were based on the premise that the OCC had reached a decision on whether it would issue SPNB charters to fintech companies (Charter Decision).  The court concluded, however, that the DFS had failed to show that the OCC had reached a Charter Decision.  In reaching its conclusion, the court pointed to statements made by former Acting Comptroller Keith Noreika indicating that the OCC was continuing to consider its SPNB charter proposal but had not made a decision as to its ultimate position.  It also noted that Joseph Otting, the new Comptroller, has not yet taken a public position on the SPNB charter proposal.

With regard to Article III standing, the court concluded that the injuries that the DFS alleged would result from the Charter Decision “would only become sufficiently imminent to confer standing once the OCC makes a final determination that it will issue SPNB charters to fintech companies.”  Such alleged injuries included the potential for New York-licensed money transmitters to escape New York’s regulatory requirements and for their consumers to lose the protections of New York law as well as the DFS’s loss of the funding it receives through assessments levied on the New York-licensed financial institutions that would obtain SPNB charters.  According to the court, in the absence of a Charter Decision, “DFS’s purported injuries are too future-oriented and speculative to constitute an injury in fact.”

With regard to ripeness, the court concluded that DFS’s claims were neither constitutionally nor prudentially ripe.  According to the court, the claims were not constitutionally ripe for the same reason that Article III standing was lacking–namely, the claims were not “actual or imminent” but instead were “conjectural or hypothetical.”  The court also found that the claims were not prudentially ripe because they were contingent on future events that might never occur–namely, an OCC decision to issue SPNB charters to fintech companies.

The court noted that it had received a letter from DFS requesting the court, if it dismissed the case on the basis of ripeness, to require the OCC to provide “prompt and adequate notice to the Court and [the DFS] if and when a decision is made to accept applications from so-called fintech companies for [SPNB charters], and (2) allow [the DFS] to reinstate the case on notice with adequate opportunity for the issues to be briefed and argued prior to the granting of any application by the OCC.”  The court stated that because it did not have subject matter jurisdiction, it could not grant the requested relief.  Nevertheless, the court suggested “that it would be sensible for the OCC to provide DFS with notice as soon as it reaches a final decision given DFS’s stated intention to pursue these issues and in consideration of potential applicants whose interests would be served by timely resolution of any legal challenges.”

Another lawsuit challenging the OCC’s SPNB proposal was filed in April 2017 by the Conference of State Bank Supervisors (CSBS) in D.C. federal district court and in July 2017 the OCC filed a motion to dismiss in that case.   On December 5, the case was reassigned to Judge Dabney L. Friedrich.  Prior to the reassignment, the CSBS had filed a motion requesting oral argument and the court entered an order indicating that it would schedule oral argument if it “in its discretion, determines that oral argument would aid it in its resolution of Defendants’ motion.

Copyright © by Ballard Spahr LLP

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About this Author

Barbara S. Mishkin, Ballard Spahr, Philadelphia, Deceptive Practices Lawyer, Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, Gramm Leach Bliley
Of Counsel

Barbara Mishkin focuses on consumer compliance and banking law. The federal laws with which Ms. Mishkin has dealt extensively include the Truth in Lending Act, Equal Credit Opportunity Act, Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act, Fair Credit Reporting Act, Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, and Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act. She also has significant experience with state usury and lender licensing laws, as well as state laws prohibiting unfair and deceptive acts and practices.

American Bar Association, member, Consumer Financial Services Committee;...

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