Court Dismissed Customer's Libel Claim Based On Credit Report
In Meisel v. U.S. Bank, Meisel was a customer of U.S. Bank who found an original signed payroll check dated several years earlier from his former employer. No. 05-11-01336-CV, 2013 Tex. App. LEXIS 1740 (Tex. App.—Dallas February 21, 2013, no pet. history). Having no recollection or record of depositing the check, he contacted the bank on which it was drawn, and that bank confirmed it had no record of clearing the check. He then deposited the check into his checking account with U.S. Bank. Four days later the customer's former employer marked the check and designating it as counterfeit after a computer program revealed that it had been previously deposited and paid. The next day, the former employer recanted its counterfeit designation and informed its bank. The deposited check, however, was returned to U.S. Bank because it had been previously paid. U.S. Bank closed his account and savings account and reported to ChexSystems, a consumer reporting agency, that the customer's accounts were closed and also entered a code "p-other trans,” which the parties agreed meant "transaction involving items or checks belonging to another party.” The customer then filed a lawsuit against U.S. Bank for libel due to the statements it made to ChexSystems.
Libel is a written defamation that tends to: (1) injure a person's reputation, exposing the person to public hatred, contempt or reticule, or financial injury, or (2) impeach a person's honesty, integrity, virtue, or reputation. A true statement, however, is not actionable as libel.
There were two versions of the former employer's check. The first version, referred to as an IRD (Image Replacement Document), had a statement: "This is a legal copy of your check. You can use it the same way you would use the original check." It was a substitute check under federal banking regulations. The second version of the check was the original and was the one deposited with U.S. Bank. The customer agreed that the second check he deposited belonged to his former employer because the former employer had already paid it. The customer, however, argued that because he was in possession of the check, he was a holder. The court held that whether someone is an owner of the check or whether someone is a holder of a check, are two separate issues. The court held that the customer had no ownership interest in the check because he had already been paid that sum by his former employer. U.S. Bank was entitled to summary judgment on the customer's libel claim on the grounds that the statements made to ChexSystems were true. The court also rejected the customer's contention that U.S. Bank's statements to ChexSystems falsely accused the customer of theft or fraud. U.S. Bank's statements were that the customer's accounts were closed for "transactions involving items or checks belonging to another party." It did not accuse the customer of theft or fraud or as having the intent to steal or defraud. The court affirmed summary judgment for the bank.