U.S. Supreme Court Passes on Two Banking Cases

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This week the Supreme Court denied petitions for a writ of certiorari in two banking-related appeals. In Cummings v. Doughty, No. 12-351, the petitioners, a bank and its CEO, asked the Supreme Court to determine whether the safe harbor established by the Annunzio-Wylie Anti-Money Laundering Act provides absolute (versus qualified) immunity from claims that arise from the submission of a suspicious activity report (SAR). The petitioners were appealing a Louisiana state court holding, which the state appellate courts declined to review, that denied petitioners immunity under the Act after the CEO reported a bank president for possible suspicious activity. The bank president claimed that the petitioners lacked a good faith basis to report him and, therefore, could not receive absolute immunity. The petitioners argued that the First Circuit and the Second Circuit have held, based on the plain language of the Act, that financial institutions have absolute immunity from any cause of action relating to the submission of a SAR, while the Eleventh Circuit has held that the Act only grants qualified immunity. The Supreme Court declined to remedy the apparent circuit split.

In Parks v. MBNA America Bank, N.A., No 12-359, the Supreme Court denied review of a California Supreme Court decision that held that the National Bank Act preempts state requirements that certain disclosures accompany preprinted or “convenience checks” provided by a credit card issuer to its cardholders. The plaintiff filed suit on behalf of a putative class after he used such checks and was assessed finance charges that were greater than those that he would have been assessed had he used his credit card instead. He alleged that California law requires certain disclosures to be provided with the checks, including those related to convenience checks. In June, the California Supreme Court held the specific disclosure obligations imposed by the state law at issue, including precise language and placement of the disclosures, exceeded any federal law requirements and is preempted as an obstacle to the broad grant of power given to national banks by the NBA to conduct the business of banking.