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ABA counters NCUA’s field of membership appeal with one of its own

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The American Bankers Association has responded to the National Credit Union Administration’s appeal of a judge’s decision striking down portions of its field-of-membership regulation by filing a cross-appeal that challenges sections of the ruling favorable to the agency.

In particular, ABA is aiming at Judge Dabney Friedrich’s conclusion that allowing credit unions to serve a portion of a core-based statistical area while excluding the actual urban core is permissible.

ABA’s attorney, Robert L. Long Jr., filed a terse, one-paragraph notice of appeal Tuesday, two weeks after the agency filed its own appeal notice.

Two months after NCUA’s board approved changes to the field-of-membership regulation in October 2016, ABA filed suit challenging the revised rule.

In March, Friedrich, who serves on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, issued a split ruling, upholding parts of the regulation but striking down two key provisions. One automatically qualified a statistical area with less than 2.5 million residents as a local community; the other increased the population threshold for rural communities to 1 million, even where the field of membership in question stretched across state lines.

Credit union advocates reacted negatively to news of the ABA’s cross-appeal.

Jim Nussle, president and CEO of the Credit Union National Association, said it “only continues a long line of tireless attacks against credit unions by banks who make every attempt to limit Americans’ access to credit unions.”

In a similar vein, Dan Berger, the president and CEO of the National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions President and CEO Dan Berger described the cross appeal as “another effort by bankers to distort the truth and stymie credit unions' ability to provide consumers with the choice of a financial institution that puts them first.”

Although NAFCU, CUNA and other credit union advocates were quick to support the agency's choice to appeal the ruling, some observers cautioned that there were some risks to that option — among them, was this very scenario of ABA looking to claw back even more of the rule in an appeal of its own.

Indeed, giving ABA's litigator another bite at the FOM apple is exactly what motivated the bank trade group's action.

“We appreciate that the judge’s original ruling invalidated two significant portions of NCUA’s field of membership rule," said Jeff Sigmund, the ABA's senior vice president of public relations. "Our most recent filing gives us an opportunity to build on that success by challenging another provision that allows credit unions to ignore serving people of modest means. We look forward to making our case in the D.C. Circuit.”

An NCUA spokesman declined to comment.

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