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Chalk up another victory for the credit card industry now that a federal judge has tossed out a proposed class action suit against Fleet Bank that alleged it falsely promised a low fixed rate, but raised it just one year later. In his five-page memorandum in Roberts v. Fleet Bank, senior federal Judge John P. Fullam of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania found that the plaintiffs have no claim since they got exactly what they were promised when they applied. “Plaintiff was promised a ‘fixed’ rate, and that is what she received. Plaintiff was promised that this was not an ‘introductory’ rate, and it was not,” Fullam wrote. “Defendants reserved the right to change the rate, upon giving advance notice of the change and, some 13 months later, availed themselves of that right. Nothing in the promotional materials can reasonably be regarded as having promised a ‘permanent’ rate arrangement: neither party was indissolubly bound to perpetuate their arrangement,” Fullam wrote. The ruling is a victory for Fleet’s lawyers — Burt M. Rublin, Alan S. Kaplinsky and John C. Grugan of Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll — who argued that the promise of a “fixed” rate was not false since the term “fixed” simply means that the interest rate is not “variable.” Fullam had previously dismissed a claim under the Truth in Lending Act. Now the judge has gone further, reaffirming his ruling on the TILA claim and tossing out the only remaining claim, for breach of contract. In the suit, lead plaintiff Denise Roberts claimed she was falsely promised a “fixed” rate of 7.99 percent, only to see the rate raised to 10.5 percent one year later. The disclosures in Fleet’s application made it perfectly clear that the terms of the credit card, including the interest rate, could be changed “at any time.” But a large team of plaintiffs’ lawyers insisted its case was a good one since TILA is a law that courts construe liberally in favor of consumers, and Fleet’s solicitation materials seemed to promise that the interest rate was “fixed” at 7.99 percent. Leading the plaintiffs’ team were attorneys Marc H. Edelson, Jerrold B. Hoffman and Alan V. Klein of Hoffman & Edelson in Doylestown, Pa., along with Ira Neil Richards and Gary M. Goldstein of Rodriguez & Richards in Philadelphia. They were joined on the briefs by attorneys Roberta D. Liebenberg of Fine Kaplan & Black and Jonathan Shub of Sheller Ludwig & Badey, both in Philadelphia; Andrew B. Spark of Sarasota, Fla.; and Kenneth A. Wexler of Chicago. Fullam found that Fleet was entitled to summary judgment on all claims because the “undisputed facts” — the documents Fleet sent to Roberts and the contract she signed — “clearly gave the defendants the legal right to do what they have done, and adequately disclosed that fact to plaintiff.” As a result, Fullam concluded that “there was no violation of the Truth in Lending Act, nor did the defendants breach their contract with plaintiff.” While Fleet’s marketing of its credit card “stressed its desirable features,” Fullam found that the bank “did not conceal or misrepresent the features plaintiff now regards as undesirable.” Plaintiffs’ lawyers urged Fullam not to dismiss the case because discovery was not yet complete. When more documents are disclosed by Fleet and depositions of its employees are taken, they said, the plaintiffs may have more evidence of the bank’s nefarious motivations and intentions. Fullam disagreed, saying “in my view, any such further disclosures would be irrelevant; discussions leading up to the issuance and execution of the written documents involved cannot change the undisputed contents of those documents, which … flatly disprove the claims now being asserted.”

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