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CALIFORNIA CORPORATE & SECURITIES LAW

Court Holds That Exempt Lender May Violate California Usury Statute

If you’re interested in California’s usury law, you have to look in several places: the Constitution, uncodified initiative measures, codes and case law.  When Woodrow Wilson was occupying the White House, the people of California approved a series of initiative measures with respect to interest rates.  Although technically uncodified, these provisions can be found in Section 1916-1 to -5 of the California Civil Code.  Later, the people of California added, and then amended, a constitutional provision to impose limitations on the rate of interest that may be charged by non-exempt lenders. Cal. Const. Art. XV.  Some licensed lenders are subject to statutory interest rate limitations.  See, e.g., Cal. Fin. Code § 22303 (imposing maximum interest rates on consumer loans made by Finance Lenders for loans with a bona fide principal balance of less than $2,500).

In most cases, professional lenders are exempt from California’s constitutional usury limitations.  For example, the California legislature has exempted incorporated, admitted insurers from the interest rate provisions of Article XV.  Cal. Ins. Code § 1100.1.  U.S. District Court Judge Edward M. Chen however recently ruled this exemption does not extend to the provisions of Section 1916-2 that require a lender to obtain the signed agreement of the borrower in order to assess compound interest.  Wishnev v. Northwestern Mutual Life Ins. Co., 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 16501 (Feb. 9, 2016).  Judge Chen’s ruling conflicts with Judge Susan Y. Illston’s ruling last fall in Washburn v. Prudential Ins. Co. of Am., 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 159633 (Nov. 24, 2015) and Judge Chen has certified the case for interlocutory appeal.  2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 41605 (March 28, 2016).

Are the good times really over for good?

Merle Haggard passed away this week.  An inductee to the California Museum’s Hall of Fame, he is the only California born artist to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.   Mr. Haggard’s lyrics have even entered the case law.  United States v. Arellano-Felix, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 77247 (S.D. Cal. June 15, 2015) (“The famous country singer, Merle Haggard, once lamented ‘And the joint [is] a bad place to be.’  Haggard, Merle. “Are the Good Times Really Over.” Big City. Epic, 1981. Album. Haggard was right . . .”) and Yamrus v. Township of Washington, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 43255 (E.D. Pa. May 20, 2009) (“Now that it’s all right to burn the stars and stripes . . . Today they ruled to burn Old Glory down”) (Me and Crippled Soldiers, on BLUE JUNGLE (Curb 1990)).

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