Judge rules to stop credit card ‘warning’ law

By Jessica Brice, The Associated Press
Saturday June 29, 2002

SACRAMENTO — A federal judge ruled on Friday to stop the implementation of a law that would have required the nation’s biggest bankers to include credit card “warnings” in monthly customer statements. 

The ruling, handed out by U.S. District Judge Frank C. Damrell in Sacramento, comes three days before the law was set to go into effect. 

A group of high-powered financial corporations, including Chase Manhattan Bank USA, CitiBank and MNBA America Bank, filed the suit a month ago to stop the law that would require the companies to warn customers about how long it takes to pay off balances by just paying the minimum monthly payment. 

The ruling comes as a shock to many consumer advocate groups who worked on the bill, signed by Gov. Gray Davis last year, who say the credit card companies never raised any of these concerns before, even though they actively participated in designing the legislation. 

“We’re disappointed,” said Hallye Jordan, spokeswoman for Attorney General Bill Lockyer, named as a co-defendant in the case with the state Department of Consumer Affairs. “A good consumer law is postponed as a result of the bankers waiting to file a 11th-hour lawsuit over a law they helped negotiate.” 

At least a dozen corporate lawyers appeared in court on Friday to argue the law would interfere with interstate banking, which is illegal under federal law. 

The new law would have required the companies to send the warnings only to customers who make just the minimum payment for six months in a row. Credit card companies that have monthly payments of 10 percent or more of the entire balance are exempt. 

Howard N. Cayne, an attorney for the Washington D.C.-based firm representing the banks, said that because adding the warnings would be costly, banks would have no other choice than to increase their minimum monthly payments. States are not allowed to pass laws that interfere with monthly payment schedules or interest. 

“National bank powers trump the state law,” Douglas Jordan, senior counsel for the U.S. Comptroller of the Currency, told the judge. 

Although Damrell scolded the plaintiffs for waiting until the last minute to file the lawsuit, he said he had “serious concerns” about the law. 

He ordered both sides to research the issue and told the bankers to perform a cost-benefit analysis to prove the warnings would be burdensome. Both parties will turn in their reports in October and the case will be reheard on Nov. 8.