Heather Isringhausen Gvillo Jan. 27, 2015, 7:00am

A bank accused of allowing a woman’s mother to nearly empty her bank account after receiving a settlement of more than $180,000 seeks to dismiss the case, claiming the guardian had access to the account according to a deposit agreement.

Plaintiff Alyssa Gardner claims she received a settlement of $181,152.17 in a suit filed in Madison County on July 27, 2010. At the time, she was a minor and could not access the funds, according to her Nov. 14 complaint.

The settlement was deposited into an account at defendant Regions Financial Corporation, doing business as Regions Bank.

Gardner alleges the bank knew that no funds could be withdrawn from the account without a court order, the suit states.

However, Geniese Smith, Gardner’s mother, allegedly withdrew money without a court order between Oct. 26, 2010, and Sept. 28, 2014, the suit says. Then when Gardner sought to remove money from the account after she turned 18, there was only approximately $2,000 left, the suit states.

“It was commercially unjustifiable for [Regions Bank] to disregard the facts readily available and in front of it,” the complaint states. “Regions Bank is therefore liable to Alyssa Gardner for its improper handling of her funds.”

Regions filed a motion to dismiss on Jan. 9, arguing that it did not breach its deposit agreement.

It explains that according to the agreement, anyone with authority to act on the account may make withdrawals. Therefore, Smith was authorized to make transactions on the account as Gardner’s guardian.

“One would search the agreement in vain for any provision even remotely indicating that Regions occupied a position in relation to plaintiff (or her mother) greater than that of the traditional creditor-debtor relationship,” Regions argues.

It also argues that the agreement did not require Regions to undertake any additional responsibility for monitoring the account transactions.

“The agreement sets forth Regions’ only obligations with respect to account transactions, and the withdrawals at issue here were appropriate under the agreement, even if Ms. Smith’s actions were contrary to any semblance of maternal instinct,” Regions argues.

Additionally, the defendant argues that the Fiduciary Obligations Act protects financial institutions from liability when third parties breach their fiduciary duties.

“Plaintiff has failed to allege sufficient facts to demonstrate that Regions had actual knowledge of Ms. Smith’s misappropriation of the funds or that Regions’ actions amounted to bad faith, such that Regions could be held liable under the FOA,” the motion states.

Gardner seeks a judgment of more than $171,152.17, plus interest and other relief the court deems just.

Circuit Judge Dennis Ruth scheduled a motion hearing for Feb. 13 at 9 a.m.

George R. Ripplinger of Ripplinger and Zimmer in Belleville represents the plaintiff.

Jeffrey S. Heuer and Theodore R. Bynum III of Husch Blackwell LLP in St. Louis represents Regions.

Madison County Circuit Court case number 14-L-1542

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