The Federal Trade Commission has joined a lawsuit filed last year by a former soldier and his wife, alleging that the timeshare company they bought into did not follow specific federal regulations that govern lending to members of the military, according to a Tuesday release from the FTC.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has also signed onto the appeal brief, filed Monday, urging the court to overturn a judge’s decision to dismiss the case based on lack of “concrete injury” to the couple, Emmanuel and Tamarah Louis.
“The brief argues that Mr. and Mrs. Louis have a legal right to challenge the contract in court because they suffer harm from their ongoing obligations under the contract, which they have claimed was illegal under the Military Lending Act,” according to the FTC release.
The Louises bought into the Florida-based Bluegreen Vacations in late 2020, when Emmanuel Louis was still serving in the Army. They later learned their contract violated the Military Lending Act, a 2006 federal law that protects active duty service members from certain lending practices considered predatory.
The MLA requires lenders to disclose a loan agreement’s Military Annual Percentage Rate, which must include costs like fees and finance charges, and cannot exceed 36%. It also protects service members from contracts requiring arbitration to settle any disputes, preventing them from filing lawsuits.
The Louises allege that Bluegreen violated both of those provisions, making their timeshare contract null and void. But a judge who ruled on their September 2021 filing found that they couldn’t prove they had been injured by the contract, and that it wasn’t clear that the MLA violations would have made a difference in their decision to purchase the timeshare.
“The district court’s holding, if affirmed, would substantially curtail enforcement of the MLA. It would, in effect, bar service members from bringing suit unless they can show that the alleged violation of the MLA was material to their decision to take out the loan at issue,” according to the brief.
The Louises are seeking to have their contract voided and the payments they’ve made refunded.
“Emmanuel and Tamarah Louis allege that they were sold an illegal financial product — a product that Congress determined poses such an acute risk to American service members, to their financial wellbeing, to their morale, to the military’s operational readiness, and to the country’s national defense that it should be illegal to sell the product to members of the Armed Services,” according to the brief.
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.