A federal appeals court in Washington struck down as unconstitutional a key, flexibile feature of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: Its single executive, accountable to no one.

The decision reversed $109 million in fines the board ordered against mortgage lender PHH Corp., the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled that CFPB Director Richard Cordray must be subject to firing by President Obama. That's unlikely to happen, since Obama and his fellow Democrats are the ones who pushed for the agency with wide powers over financial products from credit cards to home mortgages, and for Cordray to run it.

While the decision doesn't eliminate an agency many in the financial industry want to see abolished, it does force the White House to exercise direct control over the CFPB, said Alan Kaplinsky, a partner with Ballard Spahr who defends companies in CFPB actions. The fact the court also criticized the CFPB for its aggressive interpretation of federal real estate law could lead other companies to challenge the agency, Kaplinsky said.

"There are many instances where bureau has taken extreme positions and largely gotten away with it," he said. "Courts may look at CFPB actions more closely, and companies may be more likely to challenge what they're doing."

The CFPB said it is "considering options" including an appeal of the decision, and in the meantime "will continue its important work" in ensuring "the markets for consumer financial products and services are fair, transparent, and competitive."