Dissatisfied client loses suit against bank

court judgement - gavel

An interesting case, in which a dissatisfied client brought suit against the Unkomaas branch of First National Bank, had its conclusion in the Small Claims Court in Scottburgh on August 29.

Mr M. Muller, the plaintiff, contended that First National Bank had infringed his constitutional rights by “fining” him for allowing his account to go into overdraft, without affording him the opportunity of rectifying the matter before the “fine” was imposed.

In papers before the court, Mr Muller contended that in August 2016, he had attempted to purchase goods at a store in Scottburgh, but his transaction was declined, as there were insufficient funds in his account.

FNB then “fined”  Mr Muller, which Mr Muller contended, amounted to theft. Mr Muller stated that at the time of attempting to purchase the goods, he had not been aware that his account was in overdraft, because the bank had not informed him of the situation, nor had the bank informed him of its intention to “fine” him for being in overdraft.  In its defence, the Bank stated that it penalised its clients, it did not “fine” them, and that since Mr Muller had been in breach of the customer agreement he had signed at the time of opening his account at FNB, the bank was therefore entitled to impose a penalty.

Mr Muller contended that the terms and conditions of the customer agreement he had signed were written in such fine print that it was impossible for anyone with poor eyesight to be able to read them without assistance and that anyone, who was not well-educated enough to understand these terms and conditions, was also being discriminated against since no bank official had ever offered to explain the fine print to him.

Furthermore, he cited a number of sections in the South African Constitution which he said protected the individual against such discriminatory practices and also protected the individual against invasion of privacy, including financial privacy, and against the wrongful seizure of personal goods or assets.

He asked the court to refer his grievances to the Constitutional Court for judgement.

Presiding Officer Singh agreed with the plaintiff that few people read the fine print before signing agreements or contracts, and that the service he had received from the Bank regarding his account was not satisfactory, but stated that the Court had no jurisdiction to force banks, or any other corporate entities, to change the manner in which they conducted their business. Nor did the Court have the authority to refer the plaintiff’s grievances to the Constitutional Court.

The plaintiff’s case did have merit, but it would have to be pursued at a higher level, and it was therefore dismissed.

In an interview with the Rising Sun after the judgement, Mr Muller stated that he intended taking the matter to the Constitutional Court on behalf of all the “little people” who sought justice through the lower courts, but were denied this justice because they did not have the money to fight Big Business.

MSCRS Reporter

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