Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Suntrust Bank v. Bickerstaff

Court of Appeals of Georgia, Third Division

March 6, 2019

SUNTRUST BANK
v.
BICKERSTAFF

          RICKMAN, GOBEIL and COOMER, JJ.

          GOBEIL, JUDGE.

         In 2010, Jeff Bickerstaff, Jr., [1] a customer of SunTrust Bank ("SunTrust"), filed a complaint against SunTrust on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated asserting that SunTrust's overdraft fees constitute unlawful interest charges and raising claims for violation of Georgia's civil and criminal usury laws (OCGA §§ 7-4-2 and 7-4-18, respectively), money had and received, and conversion. This is the third appearance of this case before this Court. In the instant appeal, SunTrust challenges the Superior Court of Fulton County's order holding SunTrust's class-action litigation waiver unconscionable and granting Bickerstaff's motion for class certification, pursuant to OCGA § 9-11-23. SunTrust argues that the trial court erred in (1) finding the class-action waiver unconscionable, and (2) granting class certification. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

         Background and Procedural History

         Like many banking institutions, SunTrust provides an automated overdraft program that allows an account holder's ATM or debit card transaction to be approved even if the approved amount exceeds the account holder's available balance. In other words, the customer has insufficient funds to cover the transaction and SunTrust advances the customer the necessary funds to cover the transaction, but, in return, charges the customer a flat fee per overdraft transaction. During the relevant time period, SunTrust charged a flat overdraft fee of $32 or $36 per overdraft transaction. In the complaint, Bickerstaff alleged that, on multiple occasions, SunTrust "advance[d] money to Plaintiff in amounts less than $3, 000 and collected Overdraft Fees from Plaintiff in connection with each such advance." He maintained that SunTrust's overdraft fees in fact constitute interest charged by SunTrust for the use of the money SunTrust advanced/loaned account holders to cover overdrafts on their accounts, and that the rate of interest grossly exceeded the rate allowed under Georgia's usury laws.

         The record reveals that, in 2009, when Bickerstaff opened his account with SunTrust, he, like all SunTrust customers, signed a document acknowledging receipt of SunTrust's Rules and Regulations for Deposit Accounts - an approximately 40-page, single-spaced, fine-print booklet ("the Rules and Regulations") - and agreeing to be bound by the Rules and Regulations. In relevant part, in an introductory section preceding the table of contents, the Rules and Regulations included a provision that "[a] determination that any part of this agreement is invalid or unenforceable will not affect the remainder of this agreement." On page 22 of the booklet, the Rules and Regulations included a mandatory arbitration provision, which provided as follows:

DISPUTE RESOLUTION
READ THIS PROVISION CAREFULLY AS IT WILL HAVE A SUBSTANTIAL IMPACT ON HOW LEGAL CLAIMS YOU AND WE HAVE AGAINST EACH OTHER ARE RESOLVED. For a Claim subject to arbitration, neither the Depositor nor the Bank will have the right to: (1) have a court or a jury decide the Claim; (2) engage in information-gathering (discovery) to the same extent as in court; (3) participate in a class action in court or in arbitration; or (4) join or consolidate a Claim with claims of any other person. The right to appeal is more limited in arbitration than in court and other rights in court may be unavailable or limited in arbitration.
ARBITRATION. Notwithstanding any other provision in these rules and regulations, if either Depositor or the Bank has any unresolvable dispute, controversy or claim . . . whether founded in contract, tort, statutory or common law, concerning, arising out of or relating to the Account or these rules and regulations . . . upon the demand of either party, it will be resolved by individual (not class or class-wide) binding arbitration[.]

         Additionally, on page 24, the Rules and Regulations contained a jury trial waiver provision, which provided as follows:

JURY TRIAL WAIVER. FOR ANY MATTERS NOT SUBMITTED TO ARBITRATION, DEPOSITOR AND BANK HEREBY KNOWINGLY, VOLUNTARILY, INTENTIONALLY AND IRREVOCABLY WAIVE THE RIGHT TO A TRIAL BY JURY IN RESPECT TO ANY LITIGATION BASED HEREON OR ARISING OUT OF THESE RULES AND REGULATIONS, RELATING TO THE ACCOUNT, OR ANY OTHER DISPUTE OR CONTROVERSY BETWEEN YOU AND US. FURTHER, DEPOSITOR AND BANK HEREBY AGREE THAT ANY LITIGATION WILL PROCEED ON AN INDIVIDUAL BASIS AND WILL NOT PROCEED AS PART OF A CLASS ACTION.

         (emphasis supplied). The final sentence of the above paragraph is at issue in this case and is hereinafter referred to as the "class-action waiver."

         After Bickerstaff filed the underlying complaint, SunTrust revised its Rules and Regulations and provided customers with the ability to opt out of arbitration. SunTrust moved to compel arbitration in the underlying case, which the trial court denied, finding that Bickerstaff effectively exercised his right to opt out of arbitration by filing the instant complaint.[2]

         Subsequently, SunTrust entered into an agreed upon stipulation related to class certification, stipulating to the following:

1. SunTrust maintains documents and/or data sufficient to identify the following information related to individual consumer deposit accounts in which an ATM card or debit card transaction caused an overdraft of the account ("Overdraft") during the putative class period of July 12, 2006, to July 2010 ("Class Period") and for which an overdraft fee and/or an extended overdraft fee was charged to the account (together, "Overdraft Fee"):
a. the individual customer's name, account number, and mailing address;
b. the date each Overdraft was incurred and the amount of the Overdraft;
c. the date and amount of any Overdraft Fee that was charged ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.