Subscribe to our InfoBytes Blog weekly newsletter and other publications for news affecting the financial services industry.
On February 3, consolidated class members filed an unopposed motion for preliminary approval of a settlement agreement in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio to resolve allegations that a national bank breached its account agreement by assessing balance inquiry fees in certain circumstances. Class members, comprised of current and former account holders, claimed that the bank assessed fees if account holders used an ATM outside of the bank’s network (non-bank ATM) to check their balances. The class also alleged that the bank assessed multiple fees if a balance inquiry was undertaken “during the same ATM visit as a cash withdrawal or other funds transfer.” As a result of the action, the bank modified its account disclosures to “better inform its customers that they could be charged a fee for a balance inquiry” at a non-bank ATM. The preliminary settlement seeks to certify class members who were assessed the contested fees from January 1, 2010 through October 31, 2018 and will not require class members to file claims to receive the settlement’s benefits. Under the preliminary settlement terms, the bank will pay $5.2 million into a common fund, and has agreed to analyze its historical transaction data to identify settlement class members and automatically credit settlement proceeds into their accounts via direct deposit.
On January 21, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California granted final approval of a $13 million class action out-of-network (OON) ATM fee settlement. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the plaintiffs filed the action asserting that the bank charges its customers two OON fees when an account holder conducts a balance inquiry and then obtains a cash withdrawal at an OON ATM. The bank moved for summary judgment on the breach of contract claim, which the district court denied, concluding that there were ambiguities regarding the fee terms provided in the contract and on the on-screen ATM warnings. After participating in a private mediation, the plaintiffs filed an unopposed motion for preliminary approval of the settlement. The $13 million settlement covers a total of over 1.6 million class members—defined as all bank account holders in the U.S. who incurred at least one OON balance inquiry fee during varying time periods based on location— and provides for a $10,000 incentive award to each of the named plaintiffs and $3.9 million for plaintiffs’ counsel. In exchange for their share of the settlement funds, the class members will agree to release the bank from all claims relating to the action.
On September 28, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California allowed fraud claims under California’s Unfair Competition Law (UCL) and breach of contract claims to proceed against a national bank and several independent ATM operators (collectively, “defendants”) in a putative class action alleging that the defendants (i) charged unwarranted fees for using out-of-network (OON) ATMs for balance inquiries; (ii) made deceptive and misleading representations on screens and on signs regarding those fees; and (iii) assessed fees in violation of governing account documents. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the class action alleged 13 claims against the defendants for violations of, among other things, the UCL, and claims for conversion, negligence, and breach of contract. In March, the court dismissed all 13 claims but allowed the plaintiffs leave to amend a number of them. After the plaintiffs filed their amended complaint, the defendants subsequently submitted four new motions to dismiss.
The court denied dismissal of the UCL claims against all ATM operators, concluding that the plaintiffs sufficiently alleged claims under the fraud prong. Specifically, the court noted that the plaintiffs provided details with enough particularity, such as the date and location and examples of the specific screen prompts, which established that the ATM operators “employed a misleading series of screen prompts at the ATM machines to trick Plaintiffs, and other accountholders, into engaging in OON balance inquiries.” However, the court dismissed all the unjust enrichment claims and one plaintiff’s breach of contract claim against the national bank, concluding, among other things, that the dispute between the plaintiffs and national bank is covered by a “valid and enforceable written agreement,” which precludes the assertion of unjust enrichment. Moreover, the court allowed two plaintiffs’ breach of contract claims to proceed against the national bank, determining that “[b]oth parties have set forth reasonable, opposing interpretations of the [account agreement],” and the plaintiffs’ definition of “balance inquiry” under the agreement is at least plausible. Thus, the court denied dismissal as to those claims.
On May 15, the Colorado Banking and Financial Services commissioners provided additional guidance on the Safer at Home orders. The commissioners continue to encourage Colorado state-chartered financial institutions to work with affected borrowers and customers, and provide payment relief to consumers impacted by Covid-19. For example, financial institutions are encouraged to waive fees for services (e.g., overdraft fees, ATM fees) and provide accommodations such as eliminating minimum balance requirements on accounts and increasing daily withdrawal limits on ATMs.
Michigan regulator encourages financial institutions to avoid offsetting CARES Act stimulus payments
On May 14, the Michigan Department of Insurance and Financial Services issued a bulletin “strongly” urging Michigan financial institutions not to access CARES Act stimulus payments to satisfy overdrafts or to exercise any right of offset against the funds without the agreement of the customer or member. The regulator also “strongly” urged financial institutions not to use CARES Act stimulus payments for ATM, late payment, overdraft, or other fees.
Arizona Department of Financial Institutions issues guidance to financial institutions working with customers affected by Covid-19
On April 24, the Arizona Department of Financial Institution issued a statement to financial institutions working with customers affected by Covid-19. Financial institutions are encouraged to work with affected customers and communities including through, among other things, waiving certain fees, increasing ATM cash withdrawal limits, offering payment accommodations, and suspending actions to foreclose on homes and businesses. Prudent efforts to modify the terms on existing loans for affected customers will not be subject to department criticism. The statement also provides guidance on financial condition review, supervisory response and regulatory relief, regulatory reporting requirements, and alternative service options for customers.
On April 17, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed a district court’s access-device fraud and aggravated identity theft convictions, finding that there was sufficient evidence to support the court’s factual findings on both charges. According to the opinion, the defendant applied for a debit card for his great-grandfather’s bank account without authorization and used the card to pay for his own expenses. The defendant was also seen multiple times on bank security cameras withdrawing money from an ATM using this card. The district court also heard testimony that the defendant opened accounts and applied for loans under his own name but used his great-grandfather’s social security number. The district convicted the defendant on one count of access-device fraud and two counts of aggravated identity theft. The defendant appealed, arguing that the district court failed to make adequate findings of fact and that the government failed to present sufficient evidence to support the charges for which he was convicted.
On appeal, the 6th Circuit reviewed the factual findings underlying the convictions, and first concluded that, with respect to the count of access-device fraud, the government proved each element: that the defendant (i) knowingly used an access device assigned to another individual; (ii) possessed an intent to defraud; (iii) obtained a thing or things with an aggregate value of $1,000 or more within a year using the access device; and (iv) affected interstate or foreign commerce in using the access device. The appellate court explained that there was ample circumstantial evidence to support lack of authorization from the proper owners of the accounts at issue, and that the card was issued in Kentucky and the bank issuing the card was headquartered in Minnesota. The appellate court next considered whether evidence supported the district court’s finding that the defendant committed aggravated identity theft under the bank-fraud statute by opening a checking account and applying for a loan using his great-grandfather’s social security number. The appellate court held that the defendant’s use of his great-grandfather’s social security number properly supported the district court’s finding that the defendant knowingly used, without lawful authority, another person’s means of identification and that the defendant committed a predicate felony under the bank-fraud statute.
On April 1, the Louisiana Office of Financial Institutions issued a bulletin urging financial institutions to review their disaster recovery/business continuity plans and update them as needed to ensure that all interdependent operations are considered. The guidance includes a list of considerations, including, among other things: supplying staff with protective equipment and training; updated contact information for third party services and consideration of third party services that might become impaired in an incident; contingency communication process; remote work possibilities; identification of critical operations, including as examples, core processing systems, ATM processing and replenishment, online banking systems, payment processing, and wire processing; cross-training for continuity; and liquidity and cash considerations.
On March 30, the Illinois Department of Financial Regulation, Division of Banking and Division of Financial Institutions, issued guidance to Illinois banks and credit unions regarding support for consumers and businesses impacted by Covid-19. Illinois banks and credit unions are encouraged to use their capital and liquidity buffers as they respond to financial challenges resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic, such as to lend and undertake other supportive actions in a safe and sound manner. Illinois banks and credit unions also are encouraged to: (i) provide affected borrowers with payment accommodations to work through short-term setbacks; (ii) respond to borrowers from industry sectors particularly vulnerable to the volatility of the current economic environment; and (iii) work with small businesses, hourly workers, and independent contractors that have less financial flexibility to weather the economic decline.
The guidance further encourages Illinois banks and credit unions to assist affected borrowers by, among other things, waiving certain fees (e.g., ATM fees, overdraft fees, late fees), increasing ATM daily cash withdrawal limits, increasing credit card limits for creditworthy borrowers, and providing new loans on favorable terms. Prudent efforts to help consumers and businesses will not be subject to examiner criticism.
On March 4, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California issued an order granting five separate motions for dismissal filed by a national bank and several independent ATM operators (defendants) regarding allegations that the defendants (i) charged unwarranted fees for using out-of-network (OON) ATMs for balance inquiries; (ii) made deceptive and misleading representations on screens and on signs regarding those fees; and (iii) assessed fees in violation of governing account documents. The plaintiffs’ putative class action alleged 13 claims against the defendants for violations of California’s Unfair Competition Law (CUCL), California’s False Advertising Law (FAL), and the California Consumer Legal Remedies Act (CLRA), as well as for conversion, negligence, and breach of contract. The defendants premised their motions to dismiss on several bases, including a lack of subject matter jurisdiction, lack of personal jurisdiction, and the plaintiffs’ failure to plead the necessary elements of the claims.
The court generally agreed with the arguments made by the defendants as to the court’s lack of subject matter and personal jurisdiction. In particular, the court held that the common law claims brought on behalf of the nationwide class should be dismissed for lack of Article III standing because the named plaintiffs failed to allege they were charged the relevant balance inquiry fees in states outside of California. In addition, the court agreed with an argument raised by one defendant that the plaintiffs lacked standing to file claims for injunctive relief for violations of the CUCL, FAL, and CLRA because they failed to allege a likelihood of actual or imminent future harm; specifically, they failed to allege they intended to use the ATMs in the future to make balance inquiries. The court thereafter assessed the plaintiffs’ remaining common law and statutory claims, and in each case, granted the defendants’ motions to dismiss the claims for various failures to establish the necessary elements of each of the alleged claims. Of the 13 dismissed claims, the court permitted plaintiffs leave to amend 10 of them. The court required any amended complaint address the standing issues related to claims brought on behalf of the California and nationwide classes.
- Daniel R. Alonso to discuss "How to become an AUSA" at the New York City Bar Association Minorities in the Courts Committee “How To” series
- Michelle L. Rogers and Kathryn L. Ryan to discuss “Fintech U.S. expansion” at the Tech Nation 3.0 cohort meeting
- Melissa Klimkiewicz to discuss "Flood insurance basics" at the NAFCU Virtual Regulatory Compliance School
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Compliance under Biden" at the WSJ Risk & Compliance Forum