Bank of America defeats Cook County, Illinois appeal over predatory lending claims

The state’s most populous county accused BofA in 2014 of making credit too easily accessible to Northern Illinois banks, leading to vacant properties, lost taxes and fees

Bank of America (BofA) prevailed in a court case brought against it by Cook County, Illinois, which sued the bank alleging predatory mortgage loans to Black and Hispanic borrowers in the Chicago area. The news was first reported by Bloomberg Law.

Cook County initially sued BofA and other banks in 2014, alleging that the company had violated the Fair Housing Act in making credit too easily available to borrowers in the Chicagoland area with mortgages the county described as “unchecked or improper.”

When the borrowers could not repay these mortgages, the county alleged that it was hurt as a result of vacant properties and lost taxes and fees.

When the District Court of Northern Illinois sided with Bank of America in the 2014 case, Cook County appealed to the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. This week, that court affirmed the lower court’s decision and sided with BofA, finding that Cook County was “at best a tertiary loser” — with its injury deriving from the injuries to the borrowers and banks —and not the proper plaintiff.

The Fair Housing Act only provides relief for more immediate injuries, according to Judge Frank H. Easterbrook in his decision cited by Bloomberg Law. Cook County, the judge said, was too far removed from the alleged predatory lending scheme to be considered the proper plaintiff.

“The banks are secondary losers, for they did not collect the interest payments that the borrowers promised to make and often did not recover even the principal of the loans in foreclosure sales,” Easterbrook wrote in his published opinion.

Circuit Judge Kenneth F. Ripple wrote in a concurring opinion that the dismissal should be affirmed due to an exclusion of testimonies from two expert witnesses called by Cook County. Without them, two of the three county claims against BofA had less merit, but the lower court was appropriate in its exclusionary discretion because it found the statements of the witnesses unreliable Ripple wrote.

The presence of an alleged scheme was also not supported, he said.

“As the district court explained, the record does not support the County’s suggestion that the defendants engaged in a coordinate scheme to target minority borrowers for loans that they could not afford in order to provoke defaults and foreclosures,” Ripple wrote.

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