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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

Split 9th Circuit reverses dismissal of class action alleging bank-assisted fraud

Courts Appellate Ninth Circuit Fraud State Issues

Courts

On June 24, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit reversed the dismissal of a non-customer class action against a California bank alleging the bank knowingly assisted a fraudulent scheme, in violation of California law. The class action asserts eight claims against the bank under California law, including aiding and abetting fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud, for allegedly “knowingly assist[ing] a $125 million fraudulent scheme” initiated by one of the bank’s clients. The district court dismissed the action, holding the consumers “had not pleaded sufficient facts giving rise to a plausible inference that [the bank] knew [its client] was misappropriating funds.”

On appeal, the 9th Circuit disagreed, concluding the consumers plausibly alleged specific allegations concerning the bank’s actual knowledge of the client’s misappropriation and fraud. The appellate court noted that while generally banks owe no duty to non-customers under California law, an exception exists when a bank “‘knowingly makes itself a party to a fraud, [it] must make good the loss that results from the misappropriation.’” The appellate court concluded that several allegations made by the consumers were plausible based on the bank using “atypical banking procedures,” which included “repeatedly making advances at [the client]’s request without obtaining supporting documentation or verifying that [the client] used the advanced proceeds appropriately (despite indications to the contrary) and extending maturity dates on short-term loans year after year (even when [the client] was in default).”

In dissent, a panel judge argued that the consumers made no specific allegations of the bank’s actual knowledge of the fraud, noting that the complaint is “vague and lengthy” and just “a series of common banking practices dressed up in ominous language.” Additionally, the judge noted that California courts traditionally only find actual knowledge in “‘extreme circumstances,’” and have previously “refused to hold banks liable in far more egregious cases than this.”

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