E*Trade TILA Class Action Defense Cases-Silvas v. E*Trade: Ninth Circuit Affirms Dismissal Of UCL Class Action Premised On TILA Violations For Failure To Refund Loan Lock-In Fees Holding Federal Law Preempted Class Action Claims

Mar 19, 2008 | By: Michael J. Hassen

Class Action Alleging Unfair Competition Law (UCL) and False Advertising Preempted by Federal Law because Class Action Claims were Premised on Alleged Violations of Truth in Lending Act (TILA) for Conduct Governed by HOLA (Home Owners’ Loan Act) and Implementing OTS Regulations Ninth Circuit Holds

Plaintiffs filed a class action in California state court against E*Trade Mortgage alleging violations of the state’s Unfair Competition Law (UCL); the gravamen of the class action complaint was that E*Trade failed to refund loan rate lock-in fees following the exercise of a right of rescission under the federal Truth in Lending Act (TILA). Silvas v. E*Trade Mortgage Corp., 514 F.3d 1001, 1003 (9th Cir. 2008). Plaintiffs alleged that they paid a $400 fee to lock in an interest rate but subsequently exercised their 3-day right to rescind the loan transaction under TILA; E*Trade refused to reimburse the $400 fee, and the class action alleged that it was corporate policy not to refund lock-in fees following such rescissions. Id. Defense attorneys removed the class action to federal court, and then moved to dismiss the class action complaint on the ground that federal law preempted the UCL claims. Id. The agreed with the defense and dismissed the class action, id.; the Ninth Circuit affirmed.

Preliminarily, the Ninth Circuit held that the general presumption against federal preemption did not apply to this case because it involved a field long-regulated by the federal government. Silvas, at 1004. Congress enacted the Home Owners’ Loan Act (HOLA) for the purpose of restoring public confidence in federal savings and loan associations, and the Ninth Circuit previously has “described HOLA and its following agency regulations as a ‘radical and comprehensive response to the inadequacies of the existing state system,’ and ‘so pervasive as to leave no room for state regulatory control.’” Id., at 1004-05 (citation omitted). Congress provided the Office of Thrift Supervision (OTS) “broad authority to issue regulations governing thrifts,” and these, too, are afforded preemptive effect. Id., at 1005. Because E*Trade is subject to HOLA and the OTS regulations, see id., at 1006 n.2, and because the false advertising and other UCL claims are expressly preempted by federal law, see id., at 1006-07, the district court did not err in dismissing the class action.

The Ninth Circuit rejected plaintiffs’ claim that TILA’s “savings clause” – which provides that TILA only preempts state laws inconsistent with TILA – takes precedence over HOLA and the OTS regulations. Silvas, at 1007. The Circuit Court held at page 1007, “TILA’s savings clause is limited to TILA, and does not apply to HOLA and its OTS regulations.” Because the only claims in the class action complaint are preempted by federal law, the district court properly dismissed the class action. Id., at 1007-08.

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