Last year JPMorgan Chase & Co took New York resident Shady Gergis to court over a few thousand dollars in allegedly unpaid credit card debt.
The facts of the suit were banal, but Chase's case landed in the courtroom of Noach Dear, a Brooklyn, New York civil court judge with a reputation for being tough on collections efforts. Taking no chances, Chase hired pricey white-shoe law firm Alston & Bird to face off against the self-represented Gergis.
In June, Judge Dear threw Chase's suit out. The judge described as "robo testimony" the statements of the bank's document custodian — a 17-year Chase veteran — and made it clear that he believed Chase had failed to present evidence to support the accuracy of its own records.
The case received little attention and ultimately could prove to be merely a populist fluke. Of course, that's what many observers first said when judges began dismissing home foreclosure suits over problems with affidavits and recordkeeping — a trend that eventually mushroomed into the nationwide robo-signing mortgage scandal.
Now, a growing number of judges, state attorneys general, federal agencies, consumer attorneys and academics are concluding that banks may be susceptible to similar claims in other areas of consumer lending, including the credit card market. If banks prove unsuccessful in defending themselves from claims that their records are shoddy, they run the risk of inviting a new regulatory crackdown and legal battles over the validity of claims involving tens of billions of dollars in unsecured debt.
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