PHH Corp. v. CFPB, No. 15-1177 (D.C. Cir. 2016)Annotate this Case
In the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010, 12 U.S.C. 5491, Congress established a new independent agency, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), an independent agency headed not by a multi-member commission but rather by a single Director. PHH is a mortgage lender that was the subject of a CFPB enforcement action that resulted in a $109 million order against it. PHH seeks to vacate the order, arguing that the CFPB’s status as an independent agency headed by a single Director violates Article II of the Constitution. The court concluded that 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 decisionmaking and abuse of power, and a far greater threat to individual liberty, than does a multi-member independent agency. The court noted that this new agency lacks that critical check and structural constitutional protection, yet wields vast power over the U.S. economy. The court concluded that, in light of the consistent historical practice under which independent agencies have been headed by multiple commissioners or board members, and in light of the threat to individual liberty posed by a single-Director independent agency, Humphrey’s Executor v. United States cannot be stretched to cover this novel agency structure. Therefore, the court held that the CFPB is unconstitutionally structured. To remedy the constitutional flaw, the court followed the Supreme Court’s precedents and simply severed the statute’s unconstitutional for-cause provision from the remainder of the statute. With the for-cause provision severed, the court explained that the President now will have the power to remove the Director at will, and to supervise and direct the Director. Because the CFPB as remedied will continue operating, the court addressed the statutory issues raised by PHH and agreed with PHH that Section 8 of the Act allows captive reinsurance arrangements so long as the amount paid by the mortgage insurer for the reinsurance does not exceed the reasonable market value of the reinsurance; CFPB’s order against PHH violated bedrock principles of due process; and the CFPB on remand still will have an opportunity to demonstrate that the relevant mortgage insurers in fact paid more than reasonable market value to the PHH-affiliated reinsurer for reinsurance, thereby making disguised payments for referrals in contravention of Section 8. Accordingly, the court granted the petition for review, vacated the order, and remanded for further proceedings.