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N.J. Supreme Court rules for CU in stolen ID case
TRENTON, N.J. (5/12/09)--The New Jersey Supreme Court last week reinstated a trial judge's dismissal of a malicious prosecution suit against a credit union by a man who spent 13 days in jail after his identity was stolen by someone who defrauded the credit union. The state's highest court ruled May 5 that a bank--or in this case, Affinity FCU, a $1.855 billion asset credit union based in Basking Ridge, N.J.--has no duty before pressing charges against an apparent defrauder to investigate whether the target is a victim of identity theft (New Jersey Law Journal May 11). The Appellate Divisions had ruled that Affinity FCU owed Howard Brunson, even though he wasn't a member, a duty to conduct a "reasonable investigation" into the possibility that he might not be the person who defrauded the credit union. The Supreme Court justices, however, unanimously found no basis for inferring such a duty. The appellate ruling had relied on an Alabama case that said banks can be held liable for false arrest of someone whose identity is stolen to open an account and that banks have a duty to conduct a reasonable investigation before pursuing criminal charges. But New Jersey Justice Roberto Rivera-Sota said the Alabama ruling was "expansive" and had "been met with near universal disapproval." He said federal courts and courts in Delaware, Georgia, Texas and Washington state have declined to adopt it. The case began after someone opened at account at the credit union with Brunson's name, Social Security number, an identification card with his birthdate, and a Paterson, N.J., address. The fraudster then deposited $9,506 in phony payroll checks. The charges against Brunson were dropped when the identity theft was discovered two weeks after he was jailed. Brunson was not present during the lawsuit. He is serving a prison term for an unrelated crime.
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