On March 2, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit held that a national bank must comply with a California law that requires mortgage lenders to pay interest on the funds held in a consumer’s escrow account because the law does not “prevent or significantly interfere” with the national bank’s exercise of its power. The case results from a 2014 lawsuit in which a consumer sued the national bank for refusing to pay interest on the funds in his mortgage escrow account as required by a California state law. The district court dismissed the action, holding that the California state law interfered with the bank’s ability to perform its business making mortgage loans and therefore, was preempted by the National Bank Act (NBA).

In reversing the district court’s decision, the 9th Circuit held that the Dodd-Frank Act of 2011 (Dodd-Frank) essentially codified the existing NBA preemption standard from the 1996 Supreme Court decision in Barnett Bank of Marion County v. Nelson. The panel cited to Section 1639d(g)(3) of Dodd-Frank (“if prescribed by applicable State or Federal law, each creditor shall pay interest to the consumer on the amount held in any . . . escrow account that is subject to this section in the manner as prescribed by that applicable State or Federal law”), which, according to the opinion, expresses Congress’ view that the type of law at issue does not “prevent or significantly interfere with a national bank’s operations.” Moreover, the panel disagreed with the national bank’s reliance on the OCC’s 2004 preemption regulation, which interpreted the standard more broadly, by concluding that the regulation had no effect on the preemption standard. This decision could have significant implications for the rise of preemption by federally chartered banks.