Walbridge v. Northeast Credit Union
///ORDER granting in part and denying in part 8 Motion to Dismiss. Motion to dismiss is granted as to Claim 4 (unjust enrichment and restitution), Claim 5 (money had and received), and Claim 6 (violation of EFTA). The motion is otherwise denied. So Ordered by Judge Joseph A. DiClerico, Jr.(gla)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW HAMPSHIRE
Joseph Walbridge, Individually
and on Behalf of All Others
Civil No. 17-cv-434-JD
Opinion No. 2018 DNH 044
Northeast Credit Union
and Does 1 through 100
O R D E R
Joseph Walbridge brings a putative class action to
challenge the practices of Northeast Credit Union to charge
overdraft fees when customers’ accounts held funds to cover the
He alleges claims for breach of contract, breach
of the implied duty of good faith and fair dealing, unjust
enrichment, money had and received, and violation of Regulation
E, 12 C.F.R. § 1005.17, of the Electronic Fund Transfers Act
(“EFTA”), 15 U.S.C. § 1693, et seq.
Northeast moves to dismiss
Standard of Review
In considering a motion to dismiss, the court accepts all
well-pleaded facts as true, disregarding legal conclusions, and
resolves reasonable inferences in the plaintiff’s favor.
v. U.S. Bank, N.A., 852 F.3d 146, 155 (1st Cir. 2017).
dismissal, the complaint must state sufficient facts to support
a plausible claim for relief.
(1st Cir. 2017).
In re Curran, 855 F.3d 19, 25
The plausibility standard is satisfied if the
factual allegations in the complaint, along with reasonable
inferences, show more than a mere possibility of liability.
Germanowski v. Harris, 854 F.3d 68, 71 (1st Cir. 2017).
Walbridge had a checking account and a debit card with
Northeast Credit Union that was originated by the Share Account
Agreement (“Account Agreement”).
Walbridge also completed the
Opt In Form for overdraft transactions (“Opt In Agreement”).
His claims in this case arise from overdraft fees charged by
Northeast based on the “available balance” in his account rather
than the balance shown on the account, called the “ledger
balance” or “actual balance.”
The difference between the available balance and the actual
balance results from the way Northeast credits deposits made to
an account and reduces the balance by debits that are pending
but not yet paid.
As a result, the available balance can be
less, and even considerably less, than the actual balance,
depending on the delay in crediting deposits and the
anticipatory deductions of pending debits.
assesses an overdraft fee when the available balance is
insufficient to cover a transaction, even though the actual
balance shows enough money to cover the transaction.1
Walbridge alleges that on March 15, 2016, he had an actual
balance in his Northeast checking account of $111.09.
He made a
debit card payment of $32.43, which left a balance of $78.66.
Northeast, however, determined that he had insufficient funds
and charged an overdraft fee of $32.00.
Northeast then assessed
additional overdraft fees of $32.00 on March 29 and March 30,
Walbridge believes that subsequent improper overdraft
fees were charged but provides no allegations in support.
Walbridge alleges that Northeast breached the Account and
Opt In Agreements and the implied duty of good faith and fair
dealing by charging him overdraft fees when the actual balance
showed there was money in his account to cover the transactions.
He also brings equitable claims for unjust enrichment and money
had and received.
In addition, Walbridge alleges that Northeast
violated Regulation E of EFTA by failing to disclose its
See Smith v. Bank of Hawaii, 2017 WL 3597522, at *1 (D.
Haw. Apr. 13, 2017) (explaining the overdraft practice); see
also In re TD Bank Debit Card Overdraft Fee Litig., --- F. Supp.
3d ---, 2018 WL 1003548, at *2-*3 (D.S.C. Feb. 22, 2018)
(explaining the purpose of the policy of anticipatory deduction
of pending transactions in order to increase incidents of
Northeast moves to dismiss Walbridge’s breach of contract
claims and EFTA claim on the grounds that it did not promise to
use the actual balance for its overdraft service and instead
properly explained its overdraft policy based on the available
Northeast moves to dismiss the EFTA claim on the
merits and asserts that the claim is barred by the statute of
limitations and the “safe harbor” provision.
Northeast moves to
dismiss the equitable claims because valid contracts control the
Walbridge objects to the motion to dismiss.
Breach of Contract
Walbridge contends that Northeast breached the Opt In
Agreement by assessing overdraft fees when there was enough
money in his account to cover the transaction.
He contends that
Northeast breached the Account Agreement because it promised to
assess overdraft fees only when there were insufficient funds in
the account to cover a transaction but instead assessed
overdraft fees based on the available balance.
asserts that no breach occurred.
Under New Hampshire law, “[a] breach of contract occurs
when there is a failure without legal excuse to perform any
promise which forms the whole or part of a contract.”
v. Cummings, 165 N.H. 763, 767 (2013) (internal quotation marks
The meaning of a written contract is a question of
law for the court.
623, 628 (2017).
Holloway Auto. Gr. v. Giacalone, 169 N.H.
“When interpreting a written agreement, [the
court gives] the language used by the parties its reasonable
meaning, reading the document as a whole, and considering the
circumstances and the context in which the agreement was
“The language of a contract is ambiguous if the parties to
the contract could reasonably disagree as to the meaning of that
Found. for Seacoast Health v. Hosp. Corp. of Am.,
165 N.H. 168, 172 (2013) (internal quotation marks omitted).
determine whether an ambiguity exists, the “court should examine
the contract as a whole, the circumstances surrounding execution
and the object intended by the agreement, while keeping in mind
the goal of giving effect to the intentions of the parties.”
The process of applying that standard generally involves
factual issues although in some cases an ambiguity may be
resolved as a matter of law.
Sunapee Difference, LLC v. State,
164 N.H. 778, 790 (2013).
Opt In Agreement
The Opt In Agreement is a one-page form through which a
Northeast customer chooses to have certain overdrafts paid by
Northeast and to incur a fee for that service.2
“An overdraft occurs when you do not have enough money
in your account to cover a transaction, but we pay it anyway.”
The Agreement continues on to explain that there are two kinds
standard practices for protection as part of the
Northeast account and other overdraft protection plans that
would link with another account.
to the standard practices.
The Opt In Agreement pertains
The Agreement does not define or
explain what is meant by the phrase:
“when you do not have
enough money in your account to cover a transaction.”
Walbridge argues that the plain meaning of the promise in
the Opt In Agreement is that an overdraft would occur only when
there was not enough money in the account, as shown by the
actual balance, to cover the transaction.
Northeast argues that
the Opt In Agreement is part of the Account Agreement and must
be read in conjunction with that Agreement.
Based on reading
the Agreements together, Northeast contends that the plain
meaning of “enough money” is the available balance.
Standing alone, the Opt In Agreement does not sufficiently
define or explain the term “enough money” to put account holders
In 2010, Regulation E of the EFTA was amended to require
financial institutions to obtain consent from customers before
enrolling them in overdraft services that would incur fees. In
re TD Bank, 2018 WL 1003548, at *6.
on notice that “enough money” means the available balance.
Chambers v. NASA Fed. Credit Union, 222 F. Supp. 3d 1, 10
(D.D.C. 2016) (opt in agreement provided examples to show what
“not enough money in your account” meant).
The Opt In Agreement
also does not specifically reference the Account Agreement.
On the other hand, there would be no need for overdraft
protection, provided in the Opt In Agreement, in the absence of
an account at Northeast that is established through an Account
The Account Agreement refers to the Opt In Agreement
as the source for certain overdraft protections.3
Agreements are separate, they are arguably linked with respect
to an account holder’s overdraft protection.
3597522, at *5.
See Smith, 2017 WL
For purposes of the current motion to dismiss,
the court will consider the promise made in the Opt In Agreement
in the context of the Account Agreement.
The Account Agreement includes several sections pertaining
to available funds and overdrafts.
Section 3.7 explains that
Northeast can refuse to allow a withdrawal “if the amount
The copies of the documents provided here are not signed
or dated, which leaves a factual question as to when the
agreements were signed and in what sequence. Cf. Tims v. LGE
Community Credit Union, 2017 WL 5133230, at *3 (N.D. Ga. Nov. 6,
2017) (holding that the agreements should be read together
because they were signed at the same time as part of opening an
requested is not yet available for withdrawal.” Doc. 8-4 at 3.
Section 3.10, titled “Nonsufficient Funds,” states:
write a check for more money than you have in your account, you
will be deemed to be overdrawn and [Northeast] may refuse to
honor the check and return it as unpaid for reason of
nonsufficient funds (NSF).”
Id. at 4.
Neither section defines
“available for withdrawal” or “more money than you have in your
More specific to overdrafts, section 3.35, titled “Paying
of Overdrafts,” states that “at its sole discretion, [Northeast]
may honor items presented for payment or authorization against
your account even if there are insufficient funds in your
Id. at 6.
The provision explains what items may and
may not be honored and that a fee will be charged when payments
The remainder of the provision provides the process
of notification, consequences for failure to correct a “negative
balance,” and the procedures for collecting amounts owed.
term “insufficient funds” is not defined.
Appended to the Account Agreement is another document
titled “Northeast Credit Union Combined Disclosure Agreement.”
One of the six parts of the Disclosure Agreement is titled
“Truth-in-Savings Disclosure for Personal Savings & Transaction
Accounts,” which includes a provision titled “Funds Availability
Policy for Personal and Business Accounts.”
Doc. 8-4, at 10.
The Funds Availability Policy explains when deposits become
available for use and that not all deposited funds are available
for withdrawal or to pay checks as soon as they are deposited.
There does not appear to be any reference in that provision to
the overdraft payment section of the Account Agreement or to the
overdraft protection offered in the Opt In Agreement.
the Account Agreement nor the Opt In Agreement refers customers
to the Disclosure Agreement to find definitions or explanations
of what balance is used for purposes of overdraft protection.
Northeast contends that that the cited parts of the Account
Agreement and the Disclosure Agreement make it clear that the
terms “insufficient funds” and “enough money” mean available
funds and that the Funds Availability Policy in the Disclosure
Agreement explains that deposits are not always immediately
available for use.
Walbridge contends that the terms used
plainly mean the actual balance and that Northeast’s references
to other provisions in the Account Agreement and the Disclosure
Agreement do not show that a reasonable person would have
understood those terms meant available balance.
notes that nothing in the Account Agreement or the Disclosure
Agreement explains Northeast’s policy of reducing the actual
balance by pending debits, which can result in an even lower
available balance for purposes of determining when overdrafts
Other courts have considered similar breach of contract
claims arising from financial institutions’ practices of
charging overdraft fees based on available balances and have
come to differing conclusions.
Northeast relies on Tims v. LGE
Community Credit Union, 2017 WL 5133230 (N.D. Ga. Nov. 6, 2017),
and Chambers v. NASA Fed. Credit Union, 222 F. Supp. 3d 1
In Tims, the court found that references to the
availability of deposited funds in a section of the Account
Agreement titled “Payment Order of Your Transactions” and in the
Disclosure Agreement to conclude that “the parties intended
‘sufficient' and ‘enough' to mean the available balance method.”5
Tims, 2017 WL 5133230, at *4.
In Chambers, the parties disputed whether the language in
the Opt In Agreement promised to use the actual balance or the
available balance for assessing an overdraft.
222 F. Supp. 3d
There, the court found that the opening paragraph of the
Neither party explains what caused the difference between
the actual balance and the available balance in Walbridge’s
Northeast does not cite a provision in this Account
Agreement for “Payment Order of Your Transactions.”
Opt In Agreement provided examples to explain when an account
did not have “enough money” and used the term “available
balance” in the explanations.
The Account Agreement at
issue in that case also included a section that addressed
“Available Balances to Make Transactions” that the court found
“unambiguously link[ed] overdrafts to the available balance.”
Id. at 11.
In this case, the Opt In Agreement does not include
the examples and explanations that were provided in Chambers nor
are there repeated references in the Account Agreement that link
overdrafts to available balances or clearly show the parties’
intent that the terms used meant available balance.
Walbridge relies on a series of cases in which courts have
found that the language used in similar Opt In Agreements and
Account Agreements is ambiguous as to what constitutes enough
money in the account or sufficient funds for purposes of
assessing overdraft fees.
In Smith, the court concluded that
the terms used in the Opt In Agreement and Account Agreement to
describe the balance used for the overdraft policy were
ambiguous and could have referred to either the actual balance
or the available balance.6
2017 WL 3597522, at 7.
The bank in Smith used the term “available” to describe
account balances, but the court found that it did not adequately
define “available.” Smith, 2017 WL 3597522, at *7. “At no
point, in either of the Agreements, does BOH define the meaning
of ‘available' when describing balances. BOH apparently assumes
Ramirez v. Baxter Credit Union, 2017 WL 1064991, at *5 (N.D.
Calif. Mar. 21, 2017), the court found that the Account
Agreement did not define “available balance” that the credit
union used for assessing overdrafts and found that the term was
See also Roberts v. Capital One, N.A., --- Fed.
Appx. ---, 2017 WL 5952720, at *2-*3 (2d Cir. Dec. 1, 2017)
(finding term overdraft ambiguous in the absence of a clear
explanation of when an overdraft occurs );
Wodja v. Wash. St.
Employees Credit Union, 2016 WL 3218832, at *3 (W.D. Wash. June
9, 2016) (denying motion to dismiss because terms used were not
clear); Pinkston-Poling v. Advia Credit Union, 227 F. Supp. 3d
848, 854-55 (W.D. Mich. 2016) (finding agreement language that
overdraft fee would be charged when the account does not contain
sufficient funds or enough money could reasonably mean the
actual balance); Gunter v. United Fed. Credit Union, 2016 WL
3457009, at *2-*3 (D. Nev. June 22, 2016) (finding reference to
available funds ambiguous in the absence of an explanation as to
how an overdraft is determined); In re:
TD Bank, N.A. Debit
that the customer will read the word ‘available' in six
scattered sections spanning the thirty-six page Account
Agreement and come to a conclusion—BOH will use the available
balance method when determining overdraft fees. But this
assumes too much. The word ‘available' simply cannot shoulder
the weight of all the assumptions BOH seeks to place on it, just
as the court cannot expect customers to bear the burden of
knowing banking terms of art when BOH never defined them.” Id.
Card Overdraft Fee Litig., 150 F. Supp. 3d 593, 623-24 (D.S.C.
2015) (finding plaintiffs stated a claim for breach of contract
by use of the available balance to assess overdraft fees despite
reference to available balance in Account Agreement).
In this case, Northeast did not use the term “available
balance” as the defendants did in Smith, Ramirez, and Wodja and
instead referred to “enough money,” “insufficient funds,” and
To the extent the availability of funds
is explained in the Disclosure Agreement, that section was not
linked to the Opt In Agreement or to the parts of the Account
Agreement that discussed overdrafts.
In addition, as the court
noted in Smith, the agreements here are long, twenty-four pages
in total, and Northeast relies on scattered references to
available funds while using other terms that it does not define.
The terms Northeast used, in the absence of clear definitions or
explanations, could reasonably be understood to mean the actual
balance, as other courts have found.7
Northeast contends that the term “enough money” is
sufficient and means available balance because Regulation E
defines an “overdraft service” to mean “‘a service under which a
financial institution assesses a fee or charge on a consumer‘s
account held by the institution for paying a transaction
(including a check or other item) when the consumer has
insufficient or unavailable funds in the account.'” Doc. no.
8-1 at 12 (quoting “Regulation E Final Rule, 74 F.R. 59033-01
(Nov. 17, 2009)). Northeast does not show that the Final Rule
definition of overdraft service is included in either Agreement,
or that the definition in the Rule clarifies Northeast’s promise
Northeast has not shown that the only reasonable meaning of
“enough money,” “insufficient funds,” and “nonsufficient funds”
is the available balance.
The Account Agreement and the Opt In
Agreement could be reasonably understood to promise that
overdraft fees would be charged only if a customer overdrew the
actual balance in the account.
Therefore, Walbridge states
claims for breach of the Opt In and the Account Agreements.
Breach of the Implied Duty of Good Faith and Fair Dealing
Northeast moves to dismiss the implied duty claim on the
ground that it is premised on erroneous interpretations of the
Opt In Agreement and the Account Agreement.
Based on its own
interpretations of the Agreements, Northeast asserts that its
overdraft fee policy did not breach the implied duty.
explained above, Northeast has not shown that the Agreements
promised to charge overdrafts based on the available balance.
For that reason, Northeast has also not shown that Walbridge
fails to state a claim for breach of the implied duty.
in the Opt In Agreement. To the extent Northeast also relies on
results of testing done by a consulting company for the Federal
Reserve Board to create a model opt in form, that process does
not show that the terms used in the Opt In Agreement and Account
Agreement were clear and unambiguous.
Unjust Enrichment and Money Had and Received
Northeast moves to dismiss the equitable claims for unjust
enrichment and money had and received on the ground that those
claims cannot succeed when a contract controls the issue raised
in the claims.
In response, Walbridge contends that he can
plead causes of action in the alternative.
He also argues that
his claim for money had and received is not affected by the
Agreements because he was not contractually required to pay the
“Unjust enrichment is an equitable remedy that is available
when an individual receives a benefit which would be
unconscionable for him to retain.”
Axenics, Inc. v. Turner
Constr. Co., 164 N.H. 659, 669 (2013) (internal quotation marks
and emphasis omitted).
That is, “a defendant is liable if
equity and good conscience requires” liability because “one
shall not be allowed to profit or enrich himself at the expense
of another contrary to equity.”
Am. Univ. v. Forbes, 88 N.H.
17, 183 A. 860, 862 (1936); see also Clapp v. Goffstown Sch.
Dist., 159 N.H. 206, 210 (2009).
“An action for money had and
received is an equitable action, and may, in general, be
maintained whenever the defendant has money belonging to the
plaintiff which in equity and good conscience he ought to refund
Winslow v. Anderson, 76 N.H. 478, 102 A. 310, 311
(1917) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Lakeport
Nat’l Bank v. McDonald, 80 N.H. 337, 116 A. 638, 640 (1922);
Rollins v. McDonald, 7 F.2d 422, 425 (1st Cir. 1925) (construing
New Hampshire law).
Generally, a claim for money had and
received is construed to have the same elements as a claim for
unjust enrichment, except that it is limited to enrichment by
Jelmoli Holding, Inc. v. Raymond James Fin. Servs.,
Inc., 470 F.3d 14, 17 n.2 (1st Cir. 2006).
While a plaintiff cannot recover under both breach of
contract and the equitable actions for unjust enrichment or
money had and received, the existence of a contractual
relationship does not necessarily require dismissal of an
equitable claim at the pleading stage.
N.A., 695 F.3d 129, 140 (1st Cir. 2012).
See Lass v. Bank of Am.,
On the other hand,
however, a claim for “unjust enrichment may not supplant the
terms of an agreement.”
Axenics, 164 N.H. at 669.
A claim for
unjust enrichment may be available to contracting parties but
only when “the benefit received is outside the scope of the
Id. at 670.
Walbridge does not dispute the validity of the Agreements
and brings claims for breach based on the same theory that he
asserts in support of his equitable claims.
As such, Walbridge
does not allege that the fees charged by Northeast are outside
the scope of the Agreements.
Although incompatible claims might
be allowed to proceed at the pleading stage in some cases, here
Walbridge could not recover on his equitable claims, which arise
out of the Agreements, and therefore, it is appropriate to
dismiss the claims.
EFTA, Regulation E
Walbridge alleges that Northeast violated Regulation E of
EFTA, 12 C.F.R. § 1005.17, by not accurately describing
Northeast’s overdraft service in the Opt In Agreement.
Northeast moves to dismiss the claim on the grounds that it did
not violate Regulation E, citing 12 C.F.R. 205.17, that
Northeast is protected by the safe harbor provided by 12 C.F.R.
§ 205.4, and that that the claim is untimely.8
Regulation E implements EFTA and requires financial
institutions to provide notice and obtain the consent of their
account holders before charging overdraft fees for certain
The notice must “be substantially
Northeast does not explain why it cites to Part 205 rather
than Part 1005 or point out any substantive difference between §
205.17 and § 1005.17, which are both referred to as Regulation E
and appear to be substantially the same or identical. See Tims
2017 WL 5133230, at *6, n.55. Both are titled “Requirements for
overdraft services.” Part 205 is in Chapter II of Title 12,
Subchapter A.- Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System,
while Part 1005 is in Chapter X-Bureau of Consumer Financial
Protection. Because Walbridge alleges that the claim is based
on § 1005.17, the court will use Part 1005.
similar to Model Form A-9 set forth in Appendix A of this part,
include all applicable items in this paragraph, and may not
contain any information not specified in or otherwise permitted
by this paragraph.”
Paragraph d requires “[a]
brief description of the financial institution's overdraft
service and the types of transactions for which a fee or charge
for paying an overdraft may be imposed, including ATM and onetime debit card transactions.”
Walbridge alleges that Northeast violated Regulation E by
failing to include an accurate description of its overdraft
service in the Opt In Agreement as required by § 1005.17(d)(1),
which resulted in a failure to provide notice before charging a
fee for an overdraft.
Northeast contends that it did not
violate Regulation E because the phrase “not enough money” used
in the Opt In Agreement to describe when an overdraft would
occur is an accurate description of its overdraft service.
Northeast also asserts that it did not violate Regulation E
because it used the model form without any alteration.
To the extent Northeast moves to dismiss the Regulation E
claim on the ground that it used Model Form A-9, that argument
merely frames the question of whether Northeast used the
overdraft method that is described in its Opt In Agreement.
other words, does “enough money” as used in Model Form A-9 and
the Opt In Agreement mean the available balance, as Northeast
argues, or the actual balance, as Walbridge argues.
discussed above in the context of the breach of contract claim,
the phrase could mean either and is therefore ambiguous.
Smith, 2017 WL 3597522, at *7.
If “enough money” means the
actual balance, as Walbridge claims, Northeast violated
Regulation E by failing to accurately describe its overdraft
service, which charged fees for an overdraft based on the
Northeast suggests that it could not describe its overdraft
policy differently because that is not allowed under Regulation
Other courts have concluded that financial institutions are
required by Regulation E to accurately describe their overdraft
services and that additional explanation is allowed, if
necessary, because an Opt In Agreement need only be
substantially similar to Form A-9.
Gunter, 2017 WL 4274196, at
*3; Pinkston-Poling v. Advia Credit Union, 2017 WL 5153218, at
*2 (W.D. Mich. Apr. 20, 2017); Smith, 2017 WL 3597522, at *8;
Ramirez, 2017 WL 118859, at *7-*8.
alleged a violation of Regulation E.
Walbridge has adequately
Northeast contends that it is protected from liability for
any violation of Regulation E by EFTA’s safe harbor provision
and by EFTA’s statute of limitations.
Walbridge contends that
Financial institutions are protected from liability under
EFTA, 15 U.S.C. § 1693m, for “any failure to make disclosure in
proper form if a financial institution utilized an appropriate
model clause issued by the Bureau or the Board.”
With only one cited exception, the safe harbor provision has
been interpreted to protect institutions from liability for
violations arising from the form of notice provided but not from
inaccurate or misleading content of the notice.
2017 WL 4274196, at *4; Pinkston-Poling, 2017 WL 5153218, at *2;
Smith, 2017 WL 3597522, at *8; Walters v. Target Corp., 2017 WL
3721433, at *5 (S.D. Calif. Feb. 14, 2017); Ramirez, 2017 WL
118859, at *7; Berenson v. Nat’l Fin. Servs., LLC, 403 F. Supp.
2d 133, 151 (D. Mass. 2006); but see Tims, 2017 WL 5133230, at
*7 (recognizing that other courts did not apply the safe harbor
to claims challenging the accuracy of the Regulation E notice
but distinguishing the claim there as challenging “precision”
rather than “accuracy”).
As is explained in detail in the cited cases, the safe
harbor provided by § 1693m(d)(2) does not apply to Walbridge’s
claim that Northeast violated EFTA by inaccurately describing
its overdraft service.
The reasoning in Tims is strained at
best and, therefore, not persuasive.
The safe harbor does not
apply to Walbridge’s claim in this case.
Statute of Limitations
EFTA claims must be brought “within one year from the date
of the occurrence of the violation.”
does not allege facts to show when he signed the Opt In
Agreement, which he contends violates EFTA.
He does allege,
however, that he was charged overdraft fees, based on the Opt In
Agreement, on three occasions in March of 2016.
Walbridge filed his complaint on September 20, 2017, it appears
that his claim is time barred.
Walbridge argues, however, that
the limitations period begins anew with each overdraft charge
and that the discovery rule applies which raises a factual issue
that cannot be resolved in the context of a motion to dismiss.
Independently Actionable Violations
Walbridge contends that a new cause of action for a
violation of Regulation E occurred each time Northeast charged
him an overdraft fee.9
Although not alleged in the complaint,
Walbridge implies that he was charged overdraft fees within the
limitations period, although none are actually alleged, and that
his claim based on those charges is not time-barred.
argues that any additional overdraft fees do not affect the
application of the statute of limitations because the alleged
violation occurred, if at all, when it provided Walbridge an
allegedly inaccurate notice of the overdraft service through the
Opt In Agreement and then charged him a fee based on the
permission granted through the Agreement.
All but one of the courts that have considered the EFTA
statute of limitations have concluded that the limitation period
is triggered when a financial institution makes a first
unauthorized transfer or a fee assessment is paid.
To the extent Walbridge also relies on a theory of
continuing violation, that theory does not apply here. The
continuing violation doctrine applies in narrow circumstances,
usually in discrimination cases, to allow recovery for actions
taken outside the limitations period when repeated conduct is
necessary to cause an injury. Quality Cleaning Prods. R.C.,
Inc. v. SCA Tissue N. Am., LLC, 794 F.3d 200, 205 (1st Cir.
2015). In this case, the alleged violation is Northeast’s
failure to provide accurate notice of the overdraft service in
the Opt In Agreement. An injury occurs when an overdraft fee is
assessed based on allegedly misleading notice. Walbridge has
not shown that it was necessary for Northeast to charge a series
of overdraft fees to cause an injury. Therefore, the continuing
violation theory does not apply in this case. See Whittington
v. Mobiloil Fed. Credit Union, 2017 WL 6988193, at *13 (Sept.
v. Native Commerce Studios, LLC, 2018 WL 447716, at *1-*2 (W.D.
Mich. Jan. 17, 2018) (citing and discussing cases); Whittington,
2017 WL6988193, at *2-*4 (citing and discussing cases); Harvey
v. Google, 2015 WL 9268125, at *3-*4 (N.D. Calif. Dec. 21, 2015)
(citing and discussing cases).
As a result, recurrent or
subsequent transfers and fees do not constitute separate
occurrences that are independently actionable.
Wheeler, 2018 WL
447716, at *1 (citing cases); Abrantes v. Fitness 19 LLC, 2017
WL 4075576, at *5 (E.D. Calif. Sept. 14, 2017) (citing cases);
Whittington, 2017 WL 6988193, at *13 (citing cases).
Walbridge relies on Diviacchi v. Affinion Gr., Inc., 2015
WL 3631605, at *5-*10 (D. Mass. Mar. 11, 2015), (report and
recommendation adopted, 2015 WL 3633522 (D. Mass. June 4,
In Diviacchi, the court recognized that the claimed
violation occurred through an allegedly invalid authorization
but then concluded that each recurring transfer was an
independently actionable harm.
Id. at 10.
That conclusion does
not comport with the language of § 1693m(g) or the circumstances
of the alleged violation, as is more thoroughly explained in the
cases cited above.
For that reason, Diviaccchi is not
See Harvey, 2015 WL 9268125, at *4, n.1
Therefore, the first assessment of an overdraft fee in
Walbridge’s account, which occurred in March of 2016, triggered
the one-year limitations period.
The complaint was not filed
until September of 2017, more than a year later.
As a result,
the claim was filed outside the limitations period.
Walbridge contends that his EFTA claim cannot be dismissed
as untimely without an opportunity for him to develop facts to
show that he did not discover the violation until less than a
year before he filed suit.10
In support, Walbridge argues only
that Northeast did not disclose that it was using the available
balance method to assess overdraft fees in the Agreements.
provides no basis to show that facts exist to apply the
For purposes of federal claims generally, the “discovery
rule allows a claim to accrue when the litigant first knows or
with due diligence should know facts that will form the basis
Although Walbridge also mentions equitable tolling in
passing, he provides no developed argument to support that
theory. “[E]quitable tolling is a rare remedy to be applied in
unusual circumstances, not a cure-all for an entirely common
state of affairs.” Neves v. Holder, 613 F.3d 30, 36 (1st Cir.
2010) (internal quotation marks omitted). To invoke the
protection of equitable tolling, the plaintiff bears the burden
of showing both that he diligently pursued his rights and “some
extraordinary circumstance stood in his way.” Id. Walbridge
provides neither showing, and his perfunctory reference to
equitable tolling is insufficient to invoke its protection. See
Dimott v. United States, --- F.3d ---, 2018 WL 671115, at *10
(1st Cir. Feb. 2, 2018); Higgins v. New Balance Ath. Shoe, Inc.,
194 F.3d 252, 260 (1st Cir. 1999).
for an action.”
Randall v. Laconia, N.H., 679 F.3d 1, 7 (1st
Cir. 2012) (internal quotation marks omitted).
rule is based on an objective standard, requiring that “the
factual basis for the cause of action must have been inherently
unknowable that is, not capable of detection through the
exercise of reasonable diligence at the time of injury.”
Sanchez v. United States, 740 F.3d 47, 52 (1st Cir. 2014)
(internal quotation marks omitted).
In the context of EFTA
claims, courts have found that the discovery rule does not apply
because a plaintiff could reasonably discover an injury by
reviewing his bank statement or online account which would show
that a fee or fees had been improperly assessed.
2017 WL 6988193, at *13 (citing cases)”BO.
“The district court may grant a motion to dismiss based on
a defendant's affirmative defense of a statute of limitations
when the pleader's allegations leave no doubt that an asserted
claim is time-barred.”
DeGrandis v. Children’s Hosp. Boston,
806 F.3d 13, 16 (1st Cir. 2015) (internal quotation marks
Based on Walbridge’s allegations in his complaint,
Northeast assessed overdraft fees of $32.00 on March 15, 29, and
30, 2016, when he had money in his account to cover the
Walbridge does not explain why he could not have
discovered that those fees were improperly charged until after
September 19, 2016.
Therefore, Walbridge’s allegations, even in
light of the discovery rule, leave no doubt that his Regulation
E claim is time barred.
For the foregoing reasons, the defendant’s motion to
dismiss (document no. 8) is granted as to Claim 4 (unjust
enrichment and restitution), Claim 5 (money had and received),
and Claim 6 (violation of EFTA).
The motion is otherwise
Joseph A. DiClerico, Jr.
United States District Judge
March 7, 2018
Christine M. Craig, Esq.
Andrew J. Demko, Esq.
Russell F. Hilliard, Esq.
Tara Kick, Esq.
Jae K. Kim, Esq.
Brook Louis Lovett Shilo, Esq.
Richard D. McCune, Esq.
Sean T. O’Connell, Esq.
Stuart M. Richter, Esq.
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