102: Overwrought

Stella Case No. 102, Originally Published: 25 January 2006

Barnard Lorence managed to overdraw his bank account. The balance was less than $5 below zero, but mean old First National Bank and Trust in Stuart, Fla., still charged him the standard overdraft fee that it had listed in its fee schedule: $32.

Established in 1912, the bank has had several names over the years. It’s now known as SeacoastBank (Photo: their web site)

But… but… BUT! The bank says it cares about its customers! So Lorence asked the manager to reverse the fee. The manager not only said no, but was “rude” about it, Lorence claims.

He thus filed suit over his “stress and pain” and loss of sleep over the fee, which only $2 million would help him get over. (A few hundred thousand bucks, he says, will only amount to a slap on the wrist, whereas $2 million is more like being “paddled”.)

Lorence filed his suit himself, without an attorney, using the basis of “false advertising” (that the bank cares) for his claim. Of course, this is the guy who managed to overdraw his own account all by himself, so let’s hope the bank will be able to beat the rap.

Sources

  • “Man Upset about Overdraft Fee Sues First National Bank”, Palm Beach Post, 10 November 2005.

Case Status

I didn’t find any status, but the case is so far-fetched it would have been news had it succeeded, so I conclude it was either withdrawn or dismissed.

My 2022 Thoughts on the Case

If you don’t agree with the fees, don’t open the account. Try a credit union.

As noted in the previous case, several short cases were published “late,” so this really is a 2005 case.

Letters

A letter published with Case No. 99 discussed Case 98, about the prisoner badly injured in an escape attempt. The prisoner sued the prison (and more). I allowed an attorney, Paul, to propose some reforms regarding frivolous lawsuits by prison inmates. He admitted “they all have big problems.” It brought quite a few replies.

Abe, a jailer in Texas: “Paul missed an obvious (to me) solution to prisoner lawsuits: Make them pay the filing fee. As long as an inmate has nothing to lose they will sue; if they have to pay the same fee I would have to most of them won’t file — that would mean less money for their candy and things they can buy in the commissary. Very, very few inmates have no money on the books and if the inmate had a chance to win they would come up with the filing fee.”

Thomas in Colorado: “Prisons should have a mediation/litigation system, run by prisoners. If prisons had their own court systems, prisoners’ lawsuits could be tried there before (if ruled legitimate) going on to an outside court. Giving prisoners experience as mediators might make them wiser, too.”

Allan in NSW, Australia: “There is one more solution: to have SPECIFIC courts only for prisoner cases on specific days (say, once every 6 months). These don’t have to change any burden of proof but the very act of seeing a whole bunch of identical cases on a given day could save both money and frivolous litigation while not denying any inalienable rights. As a judge and jury see a range they can evaluate similar issues in a timely way, and since the are no lawyers then the people talking to the judge can stick to established (and explained) protocols and timeframes without feeling the need to challenge them.”

And Scott, a lawyer in Florida: “A fairly comprehensive federal statute, the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (PLRA), was enacted to cut down on frivolous suits by prisoners. Among its provisions are a requirement that prisoners exhaust whatever internal prison remedies are available (such as a greivance board or other claims process) before bringing a suit in federal court. It also provides that a federal district court shall dismiss any action ‘brought with respect to prison conditions … if the court is satisfied that the action is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief.’

“The in forma pauperis statute, which allows persons unable to pay court costs to proceed with litigation, was amended by the PLRA to require prisoners seeking to proceed without prepayment of costs to file a copy of their inmate trust account statement showing they do not have funds, and requires the court to assess costs on an incremental basis (non-prisoner litigants, once determined to qualify for in forma pauperis status, do not). Some circuits even require district courts to conduct this screening before the Complaint is ever served on the defendant, which means a defendant may never even know he was sued. While there are some problems with the PLRA discussed by law reviews, most practioners agree that it has limited prisoners’ ability to file frivolous or abusive lawsuits.”

Perhaps, but the law only applies to federal lawsuits. TSA has had examples of those, but more were in state courts.

Still, a tribunal among prisoners is an interesting idea, though the flaw I see is if such a tribunal tossed a case, it’s much more likely the members would be shanked for their trouble by the disgruntled plaintiff.

- - -

Email Subscriptions

No new cases are being published, so please don’t try to submit cases.

While there are no new cases coming, all of the previously published cases are returning to this site over time. You can subscribe to notifications as those classic cases are posted, scheduled for Mondays and Thursdays. Click here for a Stella Awards subscribe form.

Meanwhile, my flagship email publication This is True does continue to come out with new stories every week. It’s “Thought-Provoking Entertainment” like Stella, but uses weird-but-true news items as its vehicle for social commentary. It is the oldest entertainment newsletter online — weekly since 1994. Click here for a This is True subscribe form.

9 Comments on “102: Overwrought

  1. I used to bank at that institution. I stopped when I discovered they processed debits largest to smallest. Their explanation was that larger debits are more important so they wanted to ensure they went through. The reality was that they intentionally did so to maximize the possibility of multiple overdrafts thus multiple overdraft fees. At one distant time they actually did care.

    If the excuse is true, and they actually did care, there would only be one overdraft fee per day. That they don’t really puts the lie to their claims. -rc

    Reply
    • South African banks used to do the same thing. Fortunately the RSA government is not in the pockets of business interests to the same extent, so it was outlawed.

      Reply
  2. Based on a lifetime of banking, in three different countries, my heart bleeds for this customer. It is unconscionable that a massive part of banks’ income come from excessive punishment meted out to their customers.

    While in the other hand, they can collapse the world economy, and suffer no real consequences. Wells Fargo can fraudulently open 2 miIlion bank accounts, and the chief executive gets to ride off into the sunset with his millions….

    While I doubt John Stumpf (the CEO at the time) went hungry, before the Senate hearings he agreed to forgo $41 million in stock options that had not yet vested after being urged to do so by the company’s board. He took the fall; I wonder what happened to the Board. Probably not enough.

    But back to your main comment, regarding this particular case. Yes, I agree it is unconscionable — both such practices and the government bailing them out. That is not capitalism. There have to be consequences for bad business decisions. -rc

    Reply
  3. Good banks are obviously helpful, but bad banks are very annoying.

    During the period of my life where I lived much tighter financially, I had TWO overdrafts that were the results of banks charging me for things I did not agree to nor was notified of. The first, which was a small local bank (signed up with them due to an incentive that would appeal to any cash-strapped young person), charged an unadvertised “maintenance fee” which was mentioned nowhere in the documentation one signed in opening the account. They were sued into oblivion over it because they couldn’t understand that it was illegal and fought tooth and nail, even when they had no money left due to hemorrhaging customers.

    I currently use USBank and have no complaints. I was signed up for an insurance program without my knowledge or consent, and I didn’t find out until I had an overdraft, and like with the unadvertised fee before, wouldn’t have overdrafted were it not for the unapproved charge. They bent over backwards so hard to fix it I’m amazed they didn’t snap their spine — I even heard through the grapevine someone got fired for signing up random accounts to the program.

    I probably don’t need to say which one I consider the good bank, but point is: Pay attention to your bank accounts, no matter who you’re with, and don’t be an idiot with your money!

    Good advice. My view of USBank (aka U.S. Bancorp) is that they’re a fairly stodgy, old-fashioned bank …which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Considering how Wells Fargo got spanked for their account scandal, it’s no surprise USB would react so strongly to one of their employees doing the same thing, whether it was before or after the Wells fiasco. -rc

    Reply
  4. Many years ago, I once paid money into my wife’s bank account in another part of the country. Cash, not a cheque, not a transfer, I went into a branch and handed CASH over the counter. When my wife went to withdraw the money later that same day, she was told the transaction would take two to three days to clear??

    Reply
  5. Our primary bank decided at one point that on its standard everyday transaction accounts, they would introduce a feature laughably called “overdraft protection”, in which if you tried to overdraw your account, instead of simply declining the transaction as they had previously, they would oh so generously allow the transaction to go ahead (up to a certain amount over) for the merest of fees, a trifling $30 or so. And they thought this was such a wonderful feature that all their customers should be opted in to it by default.

    Well, we didn’t want that and so we opted out. But a few years later it mysteriously happened that they did allow us to unknowingly overdraw our account and charged us the fee; fortunately after making the point that we had intentionally opted out of that feature and they had silently re-enabled it without telling us, they agreed to reverse the fee that time.

    Since then they have been better about such things (I suspect our consumer protection authority may have received a few complaints; it has very sharp teeth). But they still will try on as much as they can, like the first year or so after they stopped sending us unsolicited credit offers and instead sent us letters along the lines of “We aren’t allowed to send you unsolicited credit offers any more, so here’s how you can contact us to say that you want to get them again.” I imagine there would have been some external pressure applied there too, because they did come to a stop rather suddenly!

    Reply

Leave a Comment