On February 24, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland denied a national bank’s motion to dismiss a putative class action alleging the bank violated Maryland law by not paying interest on escrow sums for residential mortgages. After the bank allegedly failed to pay the mortgage escrow interest, the consumer filed a lawsuit asserting various claims including for violation of Section 12-109 of the Maryland Consumer Protection Act (MCPA), which “requires lenders to pay interest on funds maintained in escrow on behalf of borrowers.” In response, the bank filed a motion to dismiss on the basis that the state law is preempted by the National Bank Act (NBA) and by 2004 OCC preemption regulations.
The court disagreed, determining that under the Dodd-Frank Act, national banks are required to pay interest on escrow accounts when mandated by applicable state or federal law. Citing previous decisions in similar escrow interest cases brought against the same bank in other states (covered by InfoBytes here and here), the court stated that Section 12-109 “does not prevent or significantly interfere with [the bank’s] exercise of its federal banking authority, because [Section] 12-109’s ‘interference’ is minimal, when compared with statutes that the Supreme Court has previously found were preempted.” The court noted that state law—which “still allows [the bank] to require escrow accounts for its borrowers”—provides that the bank must pay a small amount of interest to borrowers if it chooses to maintain escrow accounts. Moreover, the court concluded that the bank’s “suggestions about interference are belied by the fact that its direct competitors dutifully comply with [Section] 12-109.” As for the OCC’s 2004 preemption regulation, Section 34.4, the court determined that the regulation is entitled to minimal deference, and noted that it is not clear that the OCC, in promulgating the regulations, “ever considered whether the NBA preempts state laws that mandate payment of interest for escrow accounts.” According to the court, the regulations do not mention state escrow interest laws at all. As such, the court stated that it “will not defer to the OCC’s regulation, or to the agency’s current position that [Section] 12-109 is preempted.”