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Wilson v. Harris N.A.

September 4, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer


Plaintiff Myrtle Wilson maintains a checking account with Defendant Harris N.A. ("Harris Bank"). In October 2005, Wilson complained to Harris Bank that fifteen allegedly unauthorized transactions had diminished the balance in her checking account. Harris Bank's subsequent investigation into Wilson's complaint (or lack thereof) is the basis for this action. Wilson claims that, in the aftermath of her complaint, Harris Bank violated provisions of the Electronic Funds Transfer Funds Act ("EFTA"), 15 U.S.C. § 1693 et seq.; the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Practices Act ("ICFA"), 815 ILCS 505/1 et seq.; and § 407(a) of the Social Security Act. Harris Bank has moved to dismiss all but one of Wilson's claims for failure to state a claim.For the reasons explained below, Harris Bank's motion to dismiss is granted in part and denied in part.


A. Harris Bank's Investigation of the Allegedly Unauthorized Transactions

On October 12, 2005, Myrtle Wilson visited two different ATM machines and attempted to withdraw money from her Harris Bank checking account using her Harris Bank debit card. (Compl. ¶ 5.) Both transactions were declined. (Id.) Later that day, when Wilson called Harris Bank to ask why her debit card had been declined, a bank employee explained that her checking account was overdrawn. (Id. ¶ 6.) On October 13, 2005, Wilson visited a Harris Bank branch and learned that her account had been diminished by fifteen unauthorized transactions. (Id. ¶ 7.) Thirteen of these were debit card transactions executed on October 7, 2005 and October 11 and 12, 2005; five of the debit card transactions occurred at "Food 4 Less," seven occurred at "Sam's Gas," and one at "Marathon." (Id.) Two of the transactions were "forced checks" dated October 14, 2005.*fn1 (Id.) Together, these transactions diminished Wilson's account by $1,111.67. (Id.) In response to this information, Wilson executed three affidavits stating that she had not authorized the merchant transactions. She also notified Harris Bank of the two "forced checks." (Id. ¶ 8.) In addition, Wilson filed a report with the Chicago Police Department. (Id. ¶ 9.) On that same day, October 13, Wilson faxed the affidavits and the police report to the Bank's ATM Adjustment Processing Unit so that it could begin investigating the transactions.*fn2 (Id. ¶ 10.)

In a letter dated October 28, 2005, Harris Bank advised Wilson that it was denying her claim. (Id. ¶ 11.) The unsigned letter, a copy of which is attached to Defendant's motion to dismiss, did not state the reason for the denial, did not describe the nature of the investigation, and did not indicate when the Bank's investigation was completed. (10/28/05 Letter, Ex. A to Harris N.A.'s Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) ("Def. Mot.").) Shortly thereafter, Wilson requested that the Bank send her the documents it relied upon in making this determination. (Compl. ¶ 12.) Harris Bank employee Anna Chavez called Wilson on December 1, 2005 and promised to send her the requested documents. (Id.) The Bank did not in fact do so until May 2006. On May 9, 2006, Stacy Bond of the Harris Bank sent Wilson's attorney a letter*fn3 explaining that Wilson's claim was denied because all of the transactions at issue required both Wilson's ATM card and PIN number; as Wilson had "repeatedly stated" that she was the only person who had access to her ATM card and PIN number during the relevant time period, the Bank concluded that Wilson must have authorized the transactions in question. (Id. ¶ 13; 5/9/06 Letter, Ex. B. to Def. Mot.) This letter also noted that there was no evidence to suggest that a "sophisticated scam of some sort caused the unauthorized disclosure of Ms. Wilson's PIN or debit card number." (5/9/06 Letter.)

B. Harris Bank's Compliance with U.S. Department of Treasury Advisory Letter

Wilson alleges that the Bank's investigation did not follow the directives contained in an advisory letter issued by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency ("OCC") in September of 2001. (Compl. ¶¶ 14-19.) This letter "promulgated actions a financial institution should take to ensure its investigations comply with the bank's EFTA obligations," and expressed concern that "some banks may be rejecting claims of unauthorized transactions solely because the customer's [ATM] card or debit card and [PIN] number were used in the transaction, and the customer supplied no information indicating that the card or PIN was misplaced." (Id. ¶¶ 14-15.) The letter informed banks that they "must take steps to investigate whether there are indications that unauthorized use occurred," (OCC Advisory Letter, Ex. D. to Def. Mot.), and set forth the following factors that a bank might consider in making a reasonable investigation:

* Documentation or written, signed statements provided by the customer.

* Historical information on the customer's pattern of use (e.g., time, frequency, location, and types and amounts of transactions).

* Location of the transaction in relation to the customer's residence, place of business, or normal shopping locations.

* Customer's location at the time of the unauthorized transaction.

* Problems reported by other customers regarding the access device or ATM.

* Signature information on point of sale transactions.

* Police reports, if available.

* Film from security cameras, if available. (Compl. ¶ 16; OCC Advisory Letter, at 2.)

Wilson asserts that the explanation provided by Harris Bank on May 9, 2006 shows that the Bank did not inquire into Wilson's pattern of use, did not view relevant security camera footage, and did not consider her whereabouts at the time of the transactions. (Id. ¶¶ 17-19.) Had the Bank conducted such an investigation, Wilson alleges, it would have discovered that Wilson is eighty years old and wheelchair-bound, and that she had only used her debit card in the past for ATM withdrawals, not for consumer purchases like the transactions at issue. (Id. ¶ 17.) Moreover, Wilson alleges, in an appropriate investigation the Bank would have discovered that she had never used her card at any of the relevant merchants; that two of the merchants are gas ...

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