11th Circuit says one-year statutory notice period cannot be varied
On August 26, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit vacated and remanded a district court’s summary judgment in favor of a bank after determining that the plaintiff-appellants’ claim for statutory repayment is not time-barred. Plaintiffs (Venezuelan citizens residing in Venezuela) maintained personal and commercial bank accounts at a Florida branch of the bank. According to the plaintiffs, a bank employee changed the email account associated with the bank accounts to a new fraudulent email. Identity thieves were later able to bypass security measures on the account, gave correct answers to security questions, and sent documents with signatures that matched ones the bank had on file, resulting in roughly $850,000 being transferred out of one of the accounts. Plaintiffs contended they were locked out of their accounts and struggled to contact the bank for months without success. After eventually regaining access to their accounts, plaintiffs discovered the stolen money and sued for a variety of claims, including fraud, negligence, and breach of contract. They also claimed that the bank was required to refund them for the fraudulent wire transfers under Florida Statutes § 670.202. The bank argued, among other things, that the plaintiffs’ claims were time-barred because they failed to notify the bank about the alleged fraud within 30 days of receiving a bank statement. Plaintiffs responded that the Florida Statutes provide a one-year time period to notify a bank of an unauthorized wire transfer and stated that the time-period could not be modified by agreement. The district court entered summary judgment for the bank, concluding “that the one-year period was modifiable and that the parties had modified it.” The district court also determined that because the bank’s procedures were “commercially reasonable” and followed “in good faith” it was not liable to the plaintiffs to repay the wire transfers.
On appeal, the 11th Circuit held that the plaintiffs were still within their statutory one-year notification period when they notified the bank of the fraudulent wire transfers, and rejected the bank’s argument that it could shorten the notification period to 30 days. The 11th Circuit, in rejecting the bank’s argument determined that it cannot “shift the loss of an unauthorized order to the customer during the statutorily determined period,” adding that “if the one-year statutory notice period could be varied, then banks could insist that customers sign contracts that make the time to demand a refund of a fraudulent payment a day (or even less). That would impair the account holder’s right to a refund and defeat Florida’s intent that banks—not account holders— bear the risk of a fraudulent transfer for the first year following the transfer. And there’s no limiting principle in the text for how short banks could make the statutory refund period.” Pointing out that the bank was unable to identify a limiting principal at oral argument, the appellate court concluded that “if banks could modify the one-year period, there’s no principled way to draw the line as to how short of a refund period is too short.” On remand, the 11th Circuit also instructed the district court to review whether the bank’s security procedures are “commercially reasonable.”