New York law prohibiting paper billing statement fees is an unconstitutional restriction of commercial speech
On March 16, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York dismissed a putative class action with prejudice over whether a national bank violated state law by charging a fee for paper billing statements in certain circumstances. The consumer’s suit alleged violations of N.Y. Gen. Bus. Law § 399-zzz as well as N.Y. Gen. Bus. Law § 349, which prohibits deceptive acts and practices. The bank argued, among other things, that (i) the consumer’s § 399-zzz claim was preempted by the National Bank Act (NBA); (ii) the consumer’s interpretation of § 399-zzz “would prevent [the bank] from exercising its federally authorized power to charge non-interest fees”; (iii) § 399-zzz is unconstitutional under the First Amendment because it limits the bank’s communication of fees and pricing to consumers; (iv) the statute does not apply to national banking institutions like the defendant; and (v) the statute does not prohibit the conduct at issue. The court disagreed, ruling that § 399-zzz is not preempted by the NBA because paper statement fees are not limited to only banking institutions. Moreover the court determined that the state statute is a rule of general application and “does not prevent or significantly interfere with [the bank’s] exercise of its powers.” However, the court ultimately dismissed the consumer’s action, agreeing that § 399-zzz constitutes an unconstitutional restriction on the bank’s First Amendment right of commercial speech under intermediate scrutiny. According to the court, § 399-zzz regulates “how businesses can communicate their fees” by “prohibit[ing] businesses from charging consumers for receiving a paper statement” but permits businesses “to offer consumers a credit for receiving an electronic statement instead of a paper statement.” The court also ruled that the consumer failed to state a claim for a deceptive act or practice because §399-zzz unconstitutionally infringes on the bank’s First Amendment rights.