Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Student Idea Leads to Action from SF City Attorney

After a student in the San Francisco Affirmative Litigation Project (SFALP) pitched him the idea, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera penned a letter urging acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) Mick Mulvaney to continue robust enforcement against predatory and unlawful business practices.

“To retreat from the vigorous enforcement that has been the hallmark of this agency would be to undermine the will of Congress, ignore the abuses that fueled the Bureau’s creation, and would serve to abandon the country’s most vulnerable consumers,” Herrera wrote.

San Francisco’s letter responds to the CFPB’s request for comments and information on the agency’s practices enforcing federal consumer protection laws. Before President Trump appointed Mulvaney in November 2017, CFPB enforcement actions secured roughly $11.5 billion in relief for millions of consumers. But since taking the helm, Mulvaney has yet to bring a single new enforcement action against bad actors.

“If this reduction in enforcement signals a shift in the Bureau’s priorities,” the letter reads, “it ignores the serious and recent history that propelled the Bureau’s creation. It was just 10 years ago that our country was rocked by a seismic financial crisis. By 2008, millions of everyday Americans had fallen through a federal consumer financial regulatory structure rife with cracks. They lost their homes, their livelihoods, and their chances to secure a brighter future for their children.”

The idea to submit this comment grew out of SFALP’s “new ideas” working group, which charges students to think creatively about how the City Attorney’s Office can use the legal tools at its disposal to protect San Francisco’s most vulnerable residents.

“The CFPB’s abandonment of its enforcement duties has imperiled some of our country’s most vulnerable consumers,” said Juan Ruiz ’19, who devised the idea and proposed it to City Attorney Herrera. “For us, the letter was just one of the tools at our disposal to resist this concerning shift. We felt that this was an especially important time for the City Attorney’s Office to speak out about why the agency’s work has been so important for state and local governments.”

Ruiz explained that state and local governments have come to rely on the CFPB’s enforcement of consumer financial protection laws. As a result, consumers everywhere have enjoyed healthier, safer markets. “The agency’s current leadership should heed the importance of this work,” Ruiz urged. “And it should seriously consider the harms they’re imposing on some of our most vulnerable communities by refusing to enforce the laws on the books.”

San Francisco’s attorneys, who have called SFALP students their “secret weapons,” recognized the clinic’s impact on their practice. “SFALP’s vital role in articulating this important message to Acting Director Mulvaney underscores its contribution to the City Attorney’s mission to protect consumers, and to pursue the safety and welfare of all San Franciscans,” noted Deputy City Attorney Neha Gupta. “As SFALP student Juan Ruiz recognized, active participation in policy processes like the CFPB’s call for comment is key to fulfilling that mission.”

SFALP is a partnership between Yale Law School and the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office. SFALP students work with San Francisco Deputy City Attorneys to conceive, develop, and litigate some of the most innovative public-interest lawsuits in the country—lawsuits that tackle problems with local dimensions but national effects. The clinic is led by Yale Law School Dean Heather Gerken.