A surprising decision of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in the case of Midland Funding v. Madden threatens the functioning of the national markets in loans and loan-backed securities. The ruling, if it stands, would overturn the more than 150-year-old guiding principle of “valid when made.”

The effects of the decision could be wide-ranging, affecting loans beyond the type at issue in the case. It is in the banking industry’s interest for the Supreme Court, at the very least, to limit its applicability. And since the Madden case could deal a blow to preemption under the National Bank Act, it is time for the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency to voice an opinion.

Under the valid-when-made principle, if the interest rate on a loan is legal and valid when the loan is originated, it remains so for any party to which the loan is sold or assigned. In other words, the question of who subsequently owns the financial instrument does not change its legal standing. But the appeals court found that a debt buyer does not have the same legal authority as the originating bank to collect the stated interest.

In the words of the amicus brief filed before the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of several trade associations, “Since the first half of the nineteenth century, this Court has recognized the ‘cardinal rule’ that a loan that is not usurious in its inception cannot be rendered usurious subsequently. … U.S. credit markets have functioned on the understanding that a loan originated by a national bank under the National Banking Act is subject to the usury law applicable at its origination, regardless of whether and to whom it is subsequently sold or assigned.”

This, the argument continues, “is critically important to the functioning of the multitrillion-dollar U.S.

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