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March

28

2011

Joseph & Cohen Join Amicus Committee of Bank Counsel in Support of Bryan Cave LLP

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – March 28, 2011. Joseph & Cohen, Professional Corporation, announced today that its co-founders, Jonathan D. Joseph and Jonathan M. Cohen, joined the Ad Hoc Committee of Bank Counsel (“Amici” or “Committee”) in support of the law firm, Bryan Cave LLP (“Bryan Cave”), in a case brought against them by the FDIC (FDIC v. Bryan Cave LLP, 10-cv-03666).  The FDIC  sued Bryan Cave in November 2010  in the U.S. District Court in Atlanta, charging Bryan Cave with failing to hand over bank records related to the October 2010 collapse of Kansas-based Hillcrest Bank.

The Committee, comprised of some of the top banking lawyers in the country, was formed last week to file an Amicus Brief supporting Bryan Cave’s motion for a summary judgment.  The controversy relates to Bryan Cave’s representation of the directors of Hillcrest Bank in the brief period before and after that Bank failed.  The issue in the case is of vital importance to bank directors and executive officers as the FDIC has asserted that bank directors and officers have no right to retain bank documents after the FDIC is appointed receiver of a failed bank.

The Committee’s “friend of the court” brief points out that the FDIC’s complaint, if sustained, would be an unprecedented deprivation of long accepted rights of bank officers and directors to mount and conduct an adequate and timely defense against claims by the FDIC and others. The Committee’s Amicus Brief was filed before Judge Timothy Batten, Sr. in the Northern District of Georgia on March 24, 2011.  As Amici, their court filing fulfills the classic role of amicus curiae by assisting in a case of general public interest and supplements the efforts of counsel to a party in  the case.

The Committee is a group of twenty-eight experienced and recognized bank attorneys and one major national law firm all of whom are currently active in the representation of FDIC insured financial institutions, as well as their officers and directors.  Members of the Committee are frequently called upon to provide advice and counsel to officers and directors regarding their rights and obligations when they are subject to or threatened with a claim by the FDIC, by shareholders or other third parties, for claims incident to a failure or risk of failure of the bank for which they serve.

Jonathan Joseph, CEO of Joseph & Cohen, stated “We joined the Amicus Committee to advocate for a fair and just resolution of the matters in dispute consistent with the statutory and constitutional rights of bank directors and officers of failed and failing banks to defend, with the aid of counsel, against suits and claims, as well as the interest of the FDIC in maintaining the confidentiality of protected records.”

The central question in the case is whether directors and officers of federally insured banks may access and obtain copies of bank documents in anticipation of the bank’s failure, so that they may later use the copies, with the assistance of counsel to explain and defend their conduct.  Bryan Cave has filed a motion asking the Court to dismiss the case arguing that as a matter of law the FDIC has no valid claims.

Bryan Cave’s motion points out that no federal statute or regulation prohibits a bank director or officer from accessing bank documents to assist in explaining or defending his or her conduct.  Consequently, they assert that under Kansas law, as in Delaware, New York and many other states, bank directors have a well-recognized right to review and copy corporate documents, and to share those copies with their own counsel, for the entirely legitimate purpose of explaining and defending their own conduct.

Joseph & Cohen, Professional Corporation, is an AV® rated law firm based in San Francisco, California that emphasizes the representation of community and regional banks and bank holding companies and their officers and directors.  The firm also handles complex corporate, securities, regulatory, employment and merger transactions as well as   commercial and executive employment litigation.  Joseph & Cohen is known for sophisticated expertise, extraordinary commitment to clients, relationship-based services, and a range of specialized capabilities typically found only in the largest American law firms.

For additional information, please visit the firm’s website at www.josephandcohen.com or Facebook at www.facebook.com/josephandcohen.

California Supreme Court Zip Code Case Slaps Retailer

In a victory for consumer privacy rights, the California Supreme Court recently ruled that Jessica Pineda’s rights under the Song-Beverly Credit Card Act were violated when a clerk at specialty retailer Williams-Sonoma asked for and recorded her ZIP code in connection with an in-store purchase with her credit card. The unanimous opinion, written by Justice Moreno, concluded that an individual’s ZIP code is protected “personal identification information” that businesses in California cannot request for in-store purchases with a credit card, and then record that information for purposes unrelated to approving the credit transaction.  In the longer term, it is likely that information collected by retailers for authentication purposes will need to be separate and distinct from personal information collected for marketing purposes.

The Court’s well-reasoned opinion slapped two California lower courts which had ruled squarely for Williams-Sonoma. Citing Webster’s New International Dictionary, among other sources, the Supreme Court held that a consumer’s ZIP code is certainly personal identification information (“PII”) protected by the Credit Card Act.   The rationale of the lower courts, including an analysis based on the obscure doctrine of ejusdem generis, was roundly rejected. The Appeals Court had argued a ZIP code is not protected PII because it pertains to a group of individuals compared to a home address and phone number, both of which are protected.  Justice Moreno wasn’t impressed, pointing out that a group of individuals may well live in the same household and a home phone number may be used by multiple persons.

The Court’s analysis was premised on a sounder grasp of how technological and search engine advances in recent years allow business enterprises to invade the privacy of consumers.  The Court noted that the purpose of the Song-Beverly Act was to prevent retailers’ misuse of a consumer’s personal information for their own business purposes such as in-house marketing efforts, or to sell to direct mail or telemarketers. The Court’s ruling blocks retailers from “end-running” the law since readily accessible technology allows a cardholder’s ZIP code to be combined with the cardholder’s name to locate his or her full address. This accumulated information is then used by the retailer for its own purposes without the consumer’s consent, as alleged in the Williams-Sonoma case.

Retail and other businesses have a legitimate right to safeguard against fraud in connection with purchases by consumers.  They still have the right to require positive identification as a condition to accepting a credit card such as a driver’s license or a state issued identification card.  The store may match the name on the ID to the name on the credit card and visually compare the photo image on the ID to the presenting cardholder, provided that none of the information may be written or recorded, including the ZIP code.

The decision, entitled Pineda v. Williams-Sonoma Stores, Inc., is limited to card present transactions where the cardholder physically presents his or her card to the retailer.  Some businesses may still legitimately request a ZIP code if the information is needed to complete the transaction. For instance, gas stations that require the customer to enter a zip code at the pump should still be able to do so assuming the oil company does not record the information and credit card processor requires the information to authorize the charge.  ZIP code or other address information may still be collected if it is needed to complete the delivery of merchandise purchased at a store or via online transactions.

The decision was delivered on February 10, 2011. Since then, more than 100 class action suits have been filed against other major retailers including Big 5 Sporting Goods, Bed Bath & Beyond, JC Penney, Kohl’s, Office Depot and WalMart. The circumstances related to some of these businesses may be different than the Williams-Sonoma decision.  Consequently, we expect that the outcomes in some of the new cases will vary.  Many of the suits were filed in San Francisco County Superior Court in early March including cases against Pier 1 Imports, Sephora, T.J. Maxx, Marshalls, Urban Outfitters, Coach, Pottery Barn, Sur La Table and West Elm.

Questions regarding the business implications of Pineda v. Williams-Sonoma should be directed to Jonathan D. Joseph at Joseph & Cohen, Professional Corporation.

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