FOR THE CENTRAL DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
Case No. CV-96-6159
LONG BEACH MORTGAGE COMPANY,
______________________________COMPLAINT FOR COMPENSATORY AND PUNITIVE DAMAGES,
CIVIL MONEY PENALTIES AND INJUNCTIVE RELIEF
The United States alleges that Defendant Long Beach Mortgage Company has engaged in a pattern or practice of illegal discrimination by basing the price of loans, at least in part, on an applicant's race, national origin, sex and/or age.
Specifically, the United States alleges:
- JURISDICTION AND VENUE
- This action is brought by the United States to enforce the provisions of Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 ("Fair Housing Act"), as amended by the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, 42 U.S.C. §§ 3601-3619, and of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act ("ECOA"), 15 U.S.C. §§ 1691-1691f.
- This Court has jurisdiction of this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1345, 42 U.S.C. § 3614, and 15 U.S.C. § 1691(h) and venue is appropriate pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1391(c), 1392(a) and 1395. For purposes of venue, Defendant Long Beach Mortgage company resides in Los Angeles County within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. 1391(c), Local Rule 4.1 and General Order 349-A (January 30, 1995), because it operates eleven retail offices in Los Angeles County. Moreover, a majority of the aggrieved persons in this case reside in Los Angeles County.
- THE DEFENDANT
- Defendant Long Beach Mortgage Company is incorporated under the laws of the State of Delaware. In subsequent paragraphs of this complaint, Long Beach Mortgage Company will be referred to as "Long Beach," "the lender" or "the defendant."
- Between December 1990 and October 1994, Long Beach Mortgage Company operated under the name of Long Beach Bank, as a federally chartered thrift institution, and was subject to the regulatory authority of the Office of Thrift Supervision ("0TS"). Prior to December 1990, Long Beach Bank was a savings and loan association, chartered by the State of California. With respect to the allegations of this Complaint, the lender's operations were essentially the same before and after its status changes.
- Long Beach's business includes engaging in residential real estate-related transactions and regularly extending credit to persons. Long Beach, as an entity whose business includes engaging in residential real estate transactions -- including home equity lending as well as home purchase and refinancing lending -- is subject to the requirements of the Fair Housing Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 3601-3619. Long Beach is also a creditor as that term is defined by section 702(e) of the ECOA, 15 U.S.C. § 1692a(e), and is, therefore, subject to the requirements of the ECOA and its implementing Regulation B, as amended, 12 C.F.R. Part 202, in effect on or after March 23, 1977.
- According to data Long Beach has reported under the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act, for the years 1990 through 1993, almost all of its residential mortgages were made in California. In 1994, about 82% were made in California, reflecting the lender's recent expansion into other states.
- In the spring of 1993 the OTS conducted an examination of the lending practices of Long Beach to evaluate its compliance with, among other laws, the Fair Housing Act and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act. Based on information gathered in its examination, OTS determined that there was reason to believe that Long Beach may have engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination on the basis of race and national origin in the loan prices charged to borrowers for residential mortgage loans. On January 5, 1994, OTS referred this matter to the United States Department of Justice pursuant to the referral provisions of the ECOA, 15 U.S.C. § 169le(g).
- The United States' allegations of discrimination are based on its investigation of Long Beach Bank's practices from January 1991 through June 1994 ("the period in question").
- The "B/C" Mortgage Market
- Long Beach has targeted its mortgage lending activities toward a segment of the residential lending market known as the "B/C" or subprime market. This market is comprised of depository institutions, mortgage companies and finance companies that serve borrowers who, because of their higher credit risk or perceived higher credit risk, do not secure home mortgage loans from what is known as the "A" or prime market. Long Beach, like other "B/C" lenders, prices its loans according to the level of risk suggested by the qualifications of the borrowers so that the price of the loan increases as the qualifications of the borrowers weaken.
- As a condition of its willingness to approve home mortgage loan applications of borrowers who may not meet the "A" mortgage market underwriting guidelines, Long Beach charges its borrowers prices that are substantially higher than those that are prevalent in the "A" market. The higher prices take the form of higher interest rates, higher fees and/or a greater number of discount "points" (each point being one percent of the loan amount, paid at the time of loan closing).
- Loans made in the "B/C" market rarely last for the duration of the amortization period set forth in the loan contract. Between 1991 and 1994, loans in the "B/C" market in general, and loans funded by Long Beach in California in particular, were re-financed, or otherwise turned over, on an average of less than four years despite contractual amortization periods of fifteen or thirty years. Long Beach was aware of and predicted this relatively quick turnover of its loan portfolio, and relied upon its estimates of the turnover rate to package and market its loans to secondary market purchasers.
- Mortgage Lending operations
- Long Beach develops and implements its home lending business through employees and through mortgage brokers. The business developed by employees is known as "retail" lending and the business developed by brokers is known as "wholesale" lending. In all of its lending activities, including wholesale and retail, Long Beach reserves the right to determine whether applicants are qualified for financing and to set the terms and conditions of any financing to be granted. All loans are funded by, and in the name of, Long Beach.
- In addition to allowing employees and brokers to propose a risk level for each applicant, Long Beach has permitted employees and brokers to propose a loan price that exceeds the lender's base price for the stated risk level. The portion of the proposed price above the base price for the risk level is unrelated to the qualifications of the borrowers or the risk to the lender. Rather, this portion of the proposed price determines, or assists in determining, the compensation to be paid to the employee or broker.
- The fees and points paid to Long Beach and to the brokers were financed in most instances from the proceeds of the loan funded by Long Beach.
- During the period in question, Long Beach placed ceilings on the amount by which the price proposed by employees or brokers could exceed the lender's base price, but these caps allowed for great variation in the pricing of loans. For example, brokers were permitted to charge as many as 12 points above the lender's base price. Thus, for a loan in the amount of $100,000, the lender permitted an additional charge of up to $12,000 to consumers. Long Beach generally attempts to underwrite applications to the level proposed by the submitting broker or loan officer.
- Long Beach has not properly instructed its employees or brokers regarding their obligation to treat prospective customers without regard to race, national origin, gender or age; and the lender has failed to supervise or monitor the performance of employees and brokers to ensure that loan proposals would lead to compliance with fair lending laws.
- In addition to a borrower's risk level, Long Beach's loan pricing system has been based on the race, national origin, gender or age of the applicant. Information as to each applicant's race, national origin, gender and age has been available and known to employees and brokers, as well as to officials of Long Beach who have made the decisions to grant or deny loans and to set or confirm the terms and conditions of any loan granted. The totality of loan originations by Long Beach reveals that African Americans, Latinos, women, and persons over the age of 55 were charged higher prices for their loans than the terms and conditions granted to persons without those characteristics who presented similar levels of risk to the lender.
- Long Beach has used a number of devices to obtain higher prices from African Americans, Latinos, women and persons over the age of 55. Long Beach has directed its marketing efforts toward persons and neighborhoods, particularly minority neighborhoods, that Long Beach officials believed might be susceptible to the higher prices that would be demanded by the lender without stating the cost of its loans or that the cost of its loans was substantially higher than "A" mortgage lenders. In dealing with consumers, loan officers and brokers have emphasized low monthly payment amounts when discussing the price of the loan, rather than interest rate, points, or Annual Percentage Rate. These methods have allowed Long Beach to present terms and conditions that appeared to be favorable to the consumer, but in fact would cost the consumer considerably more money than was necessary to obtain the loan, given the turnover rate of the loans at issue (described in paragraph 11 above).
- Loan originations also reveal that the combination of factors of race, national origin, gender, and age contributed to an increase in the price of the loans extended by Long Beach. For example, for loans brought in by Long Beach's loan officers, African American females over the age of 55 were 2.6 times more likely than white males under age 56 to be charged fees and points that amounted to 6% or more of the loan amount. For loans brought in by the lender's wholesale brokers, older African American females were almost four times as likely as younger white males to be charged fees in this range.
- After being made aware of possible unlawful pricing discrimination in its mortgage lending operations following the OTS examination in 1993, Long Beach officials imposed lower ceilings on the costs that could be charged to consumers. However, in 1994, after relinquishing its charter as a regulated thrift institution, Long Beach abandoned the limitations that had been adopted to address possible fair lending violations.
- CLAIMS OF DISCRIMINATION
- The disparities between the terms and conditions of financing extended to African Americans, Latinos, women and persons over the age of 55 and the terms and conditions extended to persons without such characteristics could not have occurred by chance and cannot be explained by factors unrelated to race, national origin, gender or age.
- The defendant's policies and practices, as described herein, constitute:
- A pattern or practice of resistance to the full enjoyment of rights secured by the Fair Housing Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 3601-3619, and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1691-1691f; and
- A denial of rights granted by the Fair Housing Act, as amended, to a group of persons that raises an issue of general public importance.
- Specifically, the pattern or practice, as alleged herein, constitutes:
- Discrimination on the basis of race, national origin, or sex in making available residential real estate-related transactions in violation of Section 805 of the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. § 3605(a); and
- Discrimination against applicants with respect to credit transactions, on the basis of race, national origin, age, or sex in violation of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1691(a)(1).
- Persons who have been victims of Long Beach's discriminatory policies and practices are aggrieved persons as defined in 42 U.S.C. § 3602(i) and the ECOA, and have suffered damages as a result of Long Beach's conduct as described herein.
- The discriminatory policies and practices of the defendant were intentional and willful, and were implemented with deliberate disregard for the rights of African Americans, Latinos, women, and persons over the age of 55.
- REQUEST FOR RELIEF
WHEREFORE, the United States prays that the Court enter an ORDER that:
- Declares that the policies and practices of the defendant constitute a violation of Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, as amended by the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, 42 U.S.C. SS 3601-3619, and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1691-1691f;
- Enjoins the defendant, its agents, employees, successors, and all other persons in active concert or participation with it, from discriminating on account of race, national origin, sex, or age in any aspect of its home equity or mortgage lending activities;
- Requires the defendant to develop and submit to the Court for its approval a detailed plan that: (a) remedies the vestiges of defendant's discriminatory policies and practices; and (b) recognizes appropriate business justification for pricing loans on the basis of the risk posed to the lender and also recognizes appropriate pricing differences between retail and wholesale loan originations, but ensures that the pricing of loans extended by the lender is not based, in any way, on the race, national origin, gender or age of the applicant;
- Awards such damages as would fully compensate the victims of the defendant's discriminatory policies and practices for the injuries caused by the defendant;
- Awards punitive damages to the victims of the defendant's discriminatory policies and practices; and
- Assesses a civil penalty against the defendant in order to vindicate the public interest.
- The United States further prays for such additional relief as the interests of justice may require.
DEVAL L. PATRICK
ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL
PAUL F. HANCOCK
Chief, Housing and Civil Enforcement Section
ALEXANDER C. ROSS
JENNIFER C. CASS
GAVIN C. DOWELL
Attorneys, Housing and Civil Enforcement Section
Civil Rights Division
U.S. Department of Justice
P.O. Box 65998
Washington, D.C. 20035-5998
UNITED STATES ATTORNEY
FOR THE CENTRAL DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA
LEON W. WEIDMAN
Assistant United States Attorney
PAMELA L. JOHNSTON
Assistant United States Attorney
United States Attorney's Office
7516 Federal Building
300 N. Los Angeles Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012
ATTORNEYS FOR PLAINTIFF > >