On November 26, the newly appointed Deputy Director of the CFPB, Leandra English, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against President Trump and Mick Mulvaney, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), seeking declaratory judgments that English is the Acting Director of the CFPB – and Mulvaney is not – as well as emergency temporary restraining orders preventing the President from appointing anyone other than English as Acting Director and preventing Mulvaney from acting as the Acting Director.

The legal action results from the November 24 resignation of Richard Cordray as the Director of the CFPB and his naming of English as the Bureau’s Deputy Director (previously covered by a Buckley Sandler Special Alert) citing to section 1011(b)(5) of the Dodd-Frank Act (DFA), which provides that the CFPB’s Director may appoint the Deputy Director who “shall…serve as acting Director in the absence or unavailability of the Director.” Following Cordray’s official resignation, the White House issued an announcement appointing Mulvaney as Acting Director under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998 (FVRA).

On November 25, the Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of Legal Counsel released a memorandum in support of the President’s authority to designate Mulvaney as the Acting Director of the Bureau under the FVRA. According to the DOJ, while Congress recognized there would be cases in which FVRA was not the “exclusive means” for succession, Congress did not intend for the FVRA to be “unavailable” when another statute provides an alternative for succession. Accordingly, the DOJ asserts that, notwithstanding the succession provision in the DFA, FVRA gives the President the authority to, “rely upon it in designating an acting official in a manner that differs from the order of succession otherwise provided by an office-specific statute.” In her complaint, English argues that the succession provision in the DFA controls over the FVRA and that the appointment of a White House official is inconsistent with the CFPB’s independent structure.

Similarly, on November 25, the General Counsel for the CFPB, Mary Mcleod, issued a statement to the senior leaders of the Bureau concurring with the DOJ’s conclusion that “the President may use the [FVRA] to designate an acting official, even when there is a succession statute under which another official may serve as acting.” Mcleod concluded that Mulvaney is the Acting Director of the CFPB and encouraged all Bureau staff to act consistently with that conclusion.

Oral arguments on English’s emergency motion were held on November 27 by Judge Timothy Kelly, a Trump appointee. Judge Kelly did not rule on the motion and granted the government’s request to file papers responding to English’s arguments.