ATLANTA -- A local identity theft victim cannot sue a bank for negligence, according to a ruling from the Georgia Supreme Court Monday.
The state's highest court made the ruling in a Gwinnett County State Court case, filed after a bank customer's identity was stolen by a teller's huband.
"Simply, the Court of Appeals has misread an aspirational statement of Congressional policy ... as establishing a legal duty, the alleged breach of which would give rise under the law of this State to a cause of action for negligence against financial institutions," Justice P. Harris Hines wrote in the court's unanimous opinion, which reversed a Georgia Court of Appeals decision.
Stephen Kale Jenkins sued Wells Fargo in April 2009, claiming the bank had failed to protect his information and invaded his privacy. Jenkins was never a Wells Fargo customer, but had previously held accounts with First Union and South Trust Bank, both of which were acquired by Wachovia, which is now Wells Fargo.
According to a press release, Wachovia maintained Jenkins' information in its database when the banks merged. Kandance Caniece Waters, a bank teller for Wachovia, admitted to looking in the customer database for customers with the same last name as her husband, Stephen Traymane Jenkins, and he used the information to acquire credit in the other man's name, charging about $600,000 worth of merchandise, the release said. Waters pleaded guilty to theft by deception.
The trial court for the civil case filed in the bank's favor, finding no basis for filing a negligence lawsuit, since the bank had simply maintained a database. Jenkins appealed to the Court of Appeals, which said the facts would support a claim of negligence, but the Supreme Court disagreed.
"Certainly, (federal statute) expresses the goal that financial institutions respect the privacy, security, and confidentiality of customers," the opinion says. "While this is a clear Congresssional policy statement, it is just that. It oes not provide for certain duties or the performance of or refraining from any specific acts on the part of financial institutions, nor does it articulate or imply a standard of conduct or care, ordinary or otherwise."