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Stephen D. Richek, As Trustee of the Residuary Trust Under the v. Bank of America

August 4, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Robert M. Dow, Jr.


This matter is before the Court on a motion to dismiss [24] filed by Defendant Bank of America, N.A. (the "Bank" or "Defendant"), as successor to LaSalle Bank, N.A. Because Plaintiff's lawsuit is precluded by the Securities Litigation Uniform Standards Act of 1998 ("SLUSA"), 15 U.S.C. § 77p(b) and § 78bb(f)(1), Defendant's motion [24] is granted.

I. Background*fn1

Plaintiff Stephen Rickek ("Plaintiff"), a trustee of a residuary trust under the Seymour Richek Revocable Trust (the "Trust"), filed this action in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois on behalf of a class of other persons and entities who maintained custody accounts for which LaSalle Bank or Bank of America acted as agent and received fees on cash balances transferred from the custody accounts into money market or other investment vehicles from July 18, 1985 though the later of August 1, 2009, or the date on which these daily fees were eliminated. Defendant removed the case to this Court and then moved to dismiss, arguing that SLUSA permits the removal of, and precludes, Plaintiff's claim. Plaintiff disputes the applicability of SLUSA.*fn2

In July 1985, Plaintiff entered into a written agreement with LaSalle Bank on behalf of the Trust to open and maintain a custodian account for the investment of moneys, securities, and other Trust properties. Under the agreement, LaSalle was to buy, sell, and exchange securities, and hold dividends, interest, and other income for the Trust, all subject to Plaintiff's instructions. Plaintiff alleges that his account had a daily cash re-investment feature (known as a "sweep" feature). Because the account had a sweep feature, cash balances remaining in the account at the end of each day-from deposits, sales of securities, dividends, interest, and other income earned-were automatically transferred or "swept" into certain investment vehicles, including shares of certain money market mutual funds, which had been selected by the Plaintiff from a list of eligible vehicles. The "approved list" of mutual funds allegedly included the Bank of America Money Market Savings Account, various Dreyfus cash management mutual funds, and other institutional cash management funds. These investment vehicles then invested the cash balances swept from the custodian account.

Plaintiff alleges that LaSalle transferred cash balances from Plaintiff's account to shares of money market mutual funds and other mutual fund investment vehicles that had undisclosed fee arrangements with LaSalle. The money market funds and other mutual fund investment vehicles in turn directly paid LaSalle daily cash re-investment fees (or "sweep fees"). Plaintiff believes that these sweep fees were as much as 35 or 45 "basis points" (0.35 or 0.45 percent) of the average daily cash balance swept from the custodian account into the particular fund. Also, Plaintiff maintains that LaSalle did not disclose these sweep fees to Plaintiff, and that Plaintiff never agreed to the sweep fees. According to the amended complaint, Plaintiff asked Bank of America for a schedule or document reflecting sweep fee charges relating to the Trust's account and eventually was told that there was no recorded fee schedule for sweep fees, that they were "automatically deducted per each vehicle's unique fee basis," and that the Bank could not "accurately portray how sweep fees were assessed inception to current." Am. Compl. at ¶¶ 17-18.

Plaintiff alleges that he first learned of the sweep fees on June 30, 2009, when Bank of America wrote to inform him that it was eliminating the sweep fees. In August 2009, the LaSalle account was converted to a Bank of America account and the sweep fee was eliminated.

II. Legal Standard for Rule 12(b)(6) Motions to Dismiss

A motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency of the complaint, not the merits of the case. See Gibson v. City of Chicago, 910 F.2d 1510, 1520 (7th Cir. 1990). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the complaint first must comply with Rule 8(a) by providing "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief" (Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2)), such that the defendant is given "fair notice of what the * * * claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)).

Second, the factual allegations in the complaint must be sufficient to raise the possibility of relief above the "speculative level," assuming that all of the allegations in the complaint are true. E.E.O.C. v. Concentra Health Servs., Inc., 496 F.3d 773, 776 (7th Cir. 2007) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 569 n.14). "[O]nce a claim has been stated adequately, it may be supported by showing any set of facts consistent with the allegations in the complaint."

Twombly, 550 U.S. at 562. The Court accepts as true all of the well-pleaded facts alleged by the plaintiff and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom. See Barnes v. Briley, 420 F.3d 673, 677 (7th Cir. 2005).

III. Analysis

Congress enacted SLUSA to remediate an "unintended consequence" of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (the "PSLRA"): a spike in previously rare state-court litigation of class actions involving nationally traded securities. Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Inc. v. Dabit, 547 U.S. 71, 82 (2006). The goal of the PSLRA was to curb nuisance suits and other perceived abuses of securities class actions. Id. at 81-82. But rather than stem the tide of such suits, the PSLRA prompted some plaintiffs (or rather their lawyers) to avoid the PSLRA's stringent pleading requirements and other provisions designed to ward off meritless suits by simply reformulating their claims as state law causes of action and bringing them in state courts. Id. To prevent private plaintiffs from frustrating the objectives of the PSLRA in this way, Congress enacted SLUSA, which provides:

No covered class action based upon the statutory or common law of any State or subdivision thereof may be maintained in any State or Federal ...

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