Law court gives Searsport man approval to sue TD Bank

Posted July 20, 2012, at 8:12 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — The state’s high court has given a Searsport man the OK to pursue a negligence claim against TD Bank.

The case has it origins in a complicated dispute between Robert L. Gray and his sister, Roselyn Bean, over funds in their late mother’s checking account.

According to the narrative of the case contained in the Maine Supreme Judicial Court’s June 26 ruling, Gray and his mother, Thelma Miller, opened a checking account at Peoples Heritage Bank sometime before September 1994. Beginning in late 1994, statements for the account were addressed to both Gray and Miller at the Searsport residence they shared.

Gray told the probate court that he and his mother completed a form that made Gray a joint owner of the account, with the balance to be controlled by him on her death. When Miller died in 2004, the bank allowed Gray to withdraw the balance, totalling nearly $111,000, according to the court document.

In 2005, Bean, Gray’s sister, who was seeking a share of the funds, brought an action against him in probate court. As part of the evidence for that action, the bank, which was now operated by TD Bank, was required to produce records for the 1994-1995 period. The bank was able to produce only a copy of one side of a signature card, which did not definitely show the ownership.

The probate court ruled that Miller was the sole owner of the account and that the withdrawn funds were part of the estate. The Supreme Judicial Court upheld that ruling on an earlier appeal.

After trying to get the bank to release more documents related to his claim, Gray sued the bank in March 2010, seeking damages for breach of contract for failing to keep the records. The bank sought and won a dismissal of the claims at Waldo County Superior Court.

Gray appealed that decision to the Supreme Judicial Court.

Though the court dismissed other parts of his latest appeal, it agreed that Gray should be able to pursue further action against TD Bank for failing to keep records that, in Gray’s view, should be kept for customers.

“It is implicit in Gray’s allegations that even if he were never a joint owner of the checking account, the bank’s recordkeeping and disbursement to him of the bank’s funds led him to believe that he was,” the court wrote. Because the bank treated him as a customer before the probate court ruling, “it owed him a general duty as a customer,” the court wrote.

“The bank may have breached its duty by erroneously treating Gray as a joint owner without a proper basis to do so, thereby … causing Gray to detrimentally rely on the bank’s representations of his ownership. Thus, Gray could potentially prove that the bank’s negligence” caused him financial damage, including having to pay interest on the funds and attorney fees, the court ruled.

“In short, Gray has alleged sufficient facts to show that the bank may have owed him a duty as its customer,” the court concluded.

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