Join 3,562 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


David vs. capitalist greed and corruption
November 25, 2008 4:10 AM   Subscribe

I would like to sue Citibank. What would be the most effective way to go about doing this?

I'm interested in suing Citibank, and given the David vs. Goliath nature of this affair, I want to make sure I do it right.

Three separate CSRs at Citibank had verbally promised me an offer on three separate occasions. They also included a date by which the offer would expire. Based on this information I had made a number of business deals. Then, I went to execute on the Citibank offer, and Citibank changed their offer, which basically made me lose a lot of money.

I also suspect that Citibank is doing something crooked, here. And, given the current political climate and the bailing out of Citibank by us, the American tax payers, I would also like to take action with my congressperson as well.

Anyway, without getting into the details, how would I best go about this? Should I try to contact an attorney in New York? At this point, cost is irrelevant - I want to recoop my losses and opportunty costs and other damages. But, I also want to sue based on the principal.

I know there are a lot of attorneys on metafilter. I know you are not my attorney, but I want to make sure I go about this the most effective way. How would I best go about this? And how would I best take action with my representatives?
posted by brandnew to Law & Government (22 answers total)
 
IANAL, but....

You made business deals based on a verbal agreement? I don't think there's a court or judge out there that's going to side with you. Verbal agreements, especially those of a financial nature, simply don't hold up in a court of law. If it's not on paper, it didn't happen. It becomes he said / she said. I'm afraid you are probably SOL. Let's see what others say. I'm not hopeful for you. Sorry.
posted by mrbarrett.com at 4:27 AM on November 25, 2008


I'm sorry, I don't have advice to offer about suing other than that you might want to be careful about leaving a trail behind of talking about it openly--they might be able to use it against you, or use advice you've gotten against you.

I'm pretty paranoid though. But it's a thought.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:28 AM on November 25, 2008


What would be the most effective way to go about doing this?

Talking to a lawyer and posting as little as possible on the internet that could be prejudicial to your suit - e.g., this question. Also, and I intend no offense: your grasp of contract law would likely be greatly improved by talking to an attorney.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 4:39 AM on November 25, 2008


verbal agreements, especially those of a financial nature, simply don't hold up in a court of law

This is not true. In practice they are very hard to prove, which makes them extremely unwise, but an oral contract is still a contract. (IAAL, IANYL, TINLA)

And this, brandnew, is why you need to talk to a lawyer who specializes in this area - probably someone whose practice is directed towards small business commercial. The cardholder/lending agreements and the exact timeline of who promised what when, not to mention the specific nature of your damages, will need to be looked at carefully by someone who is familiar with this area of law.

Typically agreements with these lenders will specify a particular state's law which should apply if there is a dispute - check the fine print of your agreements with Citibank and see if that's in there. You will probably want to talk to a lawyer in that jurisdiction first. (It is sometimes possible to get around those choice of forum clauses, but again, it's very fact-specific and you need a lawyer to navigate that.)

Be aware, though, that lawyers do not take these sort of cases on contingency: you will be paying out-of-pocket, legal fees plus disbursements (filing fees, etc.) for the duration of any litigation you enter into. Talk to a lawyer to get an idea of what your options are, and make sure you have a realistic idea of what the risk versus reward is. There may be other ways to resolve this.
posted by AV at 4:40 AM on November 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


You should gather all of your documentation relating to the events- anything Citi gave you, any notes you took, any promotional materials you picked up at Citi, all the documentation for the business deals, etc.- and make a consultation appointment with a respected commercial lawyer in the area that the incident happened. This is not necessarily New York- I can't tell where you are located.

Go to this page to find a lawyer. When you get the list of lawyers, make sure you click on their names and look for their rating. You should only call lawyers with AV ratings-- these are the most respected and most able lawyers. They will cost more, but you said money was not an issue, and anything less than that is more likely to be a hack.

When you call them, ask if you can talk to the lawyer, and give him or her a very brief (less than 5 minutes- they're busy!) description of your issue. They will tell you whether you should make a consultation appointment with them or if you should call someone else. You can also look them up on their firm's website, and you want to see someone that specializes in "commercial litigation" or "complex/contract litigation." Steer clear of "corporate" (means they don't litigate) and "general litigation" (generally, though not always, means they do pretty different stuff from what you want).

If they tell you they can't help you because your case has no merit- listen to them! I have no idea what the merits of your case are, but they will after talking to you, and lawyers don't turn down paying clients easily. If they tell you that you don't have a leg to stand on, you are probably wasting your money trying to find another lawyer to take on your case. If they can't take your case for other reasons (too busy, won't bring in enough money), keep calling down your list!
posted by ohio at 4:46 AM on November 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


check the fine print of your agreements with Citibank and see if that's in there.

What agreements? There's only a verbal agreement. How can he check it?
posted by mrbarrett.com at 4:47 AM on November 25, 2008


On preview, everything that AV said is also correct. One thing though-- I wouldn't contact a lawyer in the state specified by the agreement quite yet if that state is far away from you. It might not be worth your trouble to make an appointment with a New York (just an example) lawyer if you are in Kansas, and a Kansas lawyer can tell you what the effect of the state-selection clause is on you and whether you need to go find a New York lawyer. Depending on what kind of agreement you had (or didn't have) with Citi, that clause may not apply. If you are in New Jersey, though, AV is right- it will be easier to contact a New York lawyer in the first instance.
posted by ohio at 4:53 AM on November 25, 2008


If you didn't sign any paperwork, you're SOL. This is not because verbal contracts are not binding--they most definitely are--but these kind of commercial contracts are required by law to be committed to paper before they have legal effect. You cannot take out a significant loan from a commercial lending institution without signing something. If you signed a promissory note stating the terms under which Citibank was going to lend you money, and then they changed their mind, you may have a case. But if you signed no such paper, all you had was an understanding that a paper would be signed at some point in the future. This is not an actionable contract.

The fact that you relied on the understanding is not sufficient to give you a case. Reliance must be reasonable, and relying on a loan for which no contract has been signed is not reasonable.

Still, the facts you've given here are not particularly clear. You'll need to talk to a licensed attorney in New York for a definitive answer. But based on what you have said, this is probably a waste of time. AV is right: attorneys don't take contract cases on contingency, and you'll run up a multi-thousand dollar legal tab before you know it.

Your best option here is to take this as a lesson learned: don't rely on a bank to come through with a loan unless you've actually signed the paperwork. Until then, you don't really have anything.
posted by valkyryn at 4:57 AM on November 25, 2008


To amplify a point valkyryn alludes to: it does not appear that you had a contract of any kind with Citibank, as best I can tell. A contract requires offer and acceptance, and as you describe it, there was only an offer from Citibank. To be sure, Citibank stated that the offer would be valid for a certain period of time, but it's not entirely clear (IAAL, IANYL) that Citibank was outside its rights to withdraw the offer. There are concepts of detrimental reliance -- in which the withdrawal of an offer could give rise to liability if a reasonable person relied to his detriment on it -- which could cover you case, but in most instances, a party must pay consideration in order for an offer to remain outstanding for a period of time (i.e., an option). Without knowing more of your facts, my sense is that this raises the bar to a successful suit.

Nthing contacting a lawyer who can give you a better understanding of your rights.
posted by hawkeye at 6:02 AM on November 25, 2008


IAAL; IANYL. IANCTTINJACLH (I am not convinced that this is not just a contract law hypothetical.)

Without going into the merits of your proposed suit, you need to read more about offer and acceptance. You are using terms incorrectly. Citibank made an offer (subject to the parole evidence rule), which they revoked when you tried to accept it or prior to that time. You did not have an agreement, unless you had an option, i.e. if you gave them something of value in return for an agreement to keep an offer open for a certain period of time. From your facts, you did not.

You may be able to make out a claim that you detrimentally relied on Citibank's offer and Citibank should reasonably have known that you might do so. You should read about promissory estoppel.

You should also learn a little bit about concepts like the parole evidence rule and statutes of frauds. Your jurisdiction likely has codified versions of these concepts, so you'll need to find what applies to your situation. Of course, you are likely party to a binding written agreement with Citibank that you agreed to when you opened your account. This agreement probably provides for disclaimers of warranties, agreed jurisdiction and venue and arbitration.

I also suspect that Citibank is doing something crooked, here. And, given the current political climate and the bailing out of Citibank by us, the American tax payers, I would also like to take action with my congressperson as well.

This just makes you sound like a kook. There are certainly people in far worse shape than you, and certainly people who have been truly wronged or defrauded by financial institutions. It sounds like you did not have access to credit or a loan to which you anticipated having access. It may not seem fair to you, but that is a common problem for borrowers big and small these days, and what Citibank did is almost certainly legal under the agreements they have with you. Your representative is not going to want to waste time on this.

I know you are not my attorney, but I want to make sure I go about this the most effective way. How would I best go about this?

You would best not go about this. You may find a lawyer to take your money, but it would just be throwing it away. You are not going to recover from Citibank on this. I want to be blunt so that you don't waste your time and money on a lark.
posted by iknowizbirfmark at 6:18 AM on November 25, 2008


I know you are not my attorney, but I want to make sure I go about this the most effective way. How would I best go about this?

You would best not go about this. You may find a lawyer to take your money, but it would just be throwing it away. You are not going to recover from Citibank on this. I want to be blunt so that you don't waste your time and money on a lark.


I find it extraordinary that you can be a lawyer and make that comment based on the evidence in the question.

The advice from AV and ohio makes sense - do speak to a lawyer local to you about what has happened. You may to pay some small amount for an initial meeting but you will quickly get a feel for the strength of your case. Don't end up making this some quixotic crusade if the advice is that you have no case or that it's impossible to prove, but by the same token don't be put off by naysayers who say banks are infallible or will always win.
posted by patricio at 6:30 AM on November 25, 2008


Know what exactly you're getting yourself into if you decide to sue a major corporation. A lot of lawyers (who want your money) won't tell you in advance.

Think: several years of watching vast sums of money being promised (or given) to a lawyer, with each year bringing decreasing odds of success.

The most likely outcome, even if you have a strong case, is several years and tens of thousands of dollars pissed away. They won't even have to beat you...they'll just drag things out as long as possible assuming (probably rightly) that you can't sustain your effort. In the best case, you MIGHT get them to agree to a settlement that will do nothing more than stop _your_ financial bleeding.

I've known three different sets of people in your boat who decided to sue some big company, and all wound up really, really, really, REALLY regretting it. For you, it'll become a very personal, very unpleasant quest to bring down someone who is big and mean. For them, it'll be just another day at the office, squashing ants.
posted by paanta at 7:21 AM on November 25, 2008


What agreements? There's only a verbal agreement. How can he check it?

There are likely agreements that the original poster agreed to when he opened an account or applied for credit. If not, that may get the original poster into the jurisdiction of his choice (and a court instead of arbitration), but it's not likely to otherwise help him very much. Federal credit law issues are probably implicated as well.

I find it extraordinary that you can be a lawyer and make that comment based on the evidence in the question.

That probably speaks to our relative experience with respect to commercial and consumer litigation involving large commercial entities in US jurisdictions. No one's said that the fact that there's a bank on the other side is the main issue - the counterparty doesn't really come into play (except for trying to extract a nuisance settlement) unless you can make out a colorable claim. As for extracting a nuisance settlement, it's not saying that banks always win to suggest that they don't want to enter into settlements which are contrary to their obligations under existing agreements and which would encourage thousands of people to bring suits like the one under consideration.

To be clear, I am not speaking as the original poster's attorney (which I am not) or offering legal advice.
posted by iknowizbirfmark at 7:25 AM on November 25, 2008


"I find it extraordinary that you can be a lawyer and make that comment based on the evidence in the question. "

I personally believe this has been the best advice given yet. Sure talking to a lawyer briefly to ge a feel for the case is prudent, but with a motivated plaintiff some less scrupulous types may let you believe you have more of a case then is realistic.
posted by bitdamaged at 7:31 AM on November 25, 2008


Three separate CSRs at Citibank had verbally promised me an offer on three separate occasions.

Which says to me there was no actual offer, just a prediction of when the offer would be made. It'd be tough to prove detrimental reliance since there was no actual offer.
posted by electroboy at 7:42 AM on November 25, 2008


"unless you can make out a colorable claim."

Agreed, and I am happy to defer to whatever commercial litigation experience you may have, but I still think it is over the top to be so dismissive where your only knowledge is four sentences in the question.
posted by patricio at 8:05 AM on November 25, 2008


IANAL, but I totally agree with electroboy's assessment. Unless the OP is getting his facts confused, there's not even an offer at stake here, just the "promise" of one. Am I crazy for thinking it odd that all of the self-proclaimed lawyers in this thread are overlooking this basic issue?

brandnew, if you actually think you have a bona-fide claim against Citibank that is grounded in the facts at hand rather than your emotions, I'd personally advise you stick to those facts as a "wronged party", and not approach this like you're Taking On The Man in some sort of crusade.
posted by mkultra at 8:25 AM on November 25, 2008


"I find it extraordinary that you can be a lawyer and make that comment based on the evidence in the question. "

It's not that extraordinary. In fact, it's 100% spot on. The odds that the OP has the capital required to recover from Citibank is laughably small... and that's if we assume that he has the law on his side, which is far from a given.

We definitely don't have enough evidence to say that the CSRs did or did not make offers, promises of offers (different from an offer), or even enter into verbal contracts with the OP. What is pretty clear, though, is that litigating it would be prohibitively expensive.

The reason this is important advice is because it's one of the things that a lawyer with the prospect of landing another client might de-emphasize or downplay... either intentionally or subconsciously.

Bottom line: it is difficult to fathom a realistic scenario in which this proposed suit would be a good idea given the facts outline in the original post.
posted by toomuchpete at 11:01 AM on November 25, 2008


What's the amount of money at stake?
posted by raf at 11:22 AM on November 25, 2008


Am I crazy for thinking it odd that all of the self-proclaimed lawyers in this thread are overlooking this basic issue

No, not crazy (although that "self proclaimed" bit was uncalled-for) but in my experience these kind of disputes almost always arise after the initial, perfectly valid, contract or agreement has been executed. For example, if a lender promised an extended grace period or a borrowing limit increase on an already existing account. The number of situations in which a person would have an actionable claim (or even would think they had an actionable claim) before an account was even opened or an agreement signed is very small. The number of situations in which a person would possibly have an actionable claim after that point is comparatively larger.

I'll point out, though, that the confusion about this point is yet another demonstration of why the OP needs to talk to a lawyer who will have the benefit of all the facts.
posted by AV at 4:53 PM on November 25, 2008


although that "self proclaimed" bit was uncalled-for

Easy, hoss. It's not meant as a pejorative at all, just a way to separate the "IAAL" crowd from the "IANAL" one.
posted by mkultra at 9:17 PM on November 25, 2008


IAAL; IANYL; TINLA

What's the amount of money at stake?


Speaking as someone who has practised as a commercial litigator in the City the question of quantum is key. Commercial dispute resolution should not be an emotion-led struggle. Rather expenditure on legal fees should be an investment and the likely chance of success should in turn determine the appropriate level of investment.

Seek independent legal advice; you are going to have evidential difficulties when put to proof. You are going to need help putting together the pleadings and once you've issued a claim and they start incurring legal costs you don't want to be on the hook (for Citi's fees) because you don't know what you're doing.

Am I crazy for thinking it odd that all of the self-proclaimed lawyers in this thread are overlooking this basic issue


It's not unusual at all for lawyers to miss the basic issue so, no you're not crazy for thinking this at all! However, your analysis states that no offer has been made, merely that a promise has been made. As iknowizbirfmark (a lawyer) upthread notes, Citi may be bound by the doctrine of promissory estoppel from going back on its promise, if the claimant reasonably relied upon it resulting in detriment. Now, whether the reasonably prudent businessman would expose himself to liability relying on what is in effect, telemarketing, is a totally separate question. Nevertheless you will be aware that there is more going on here than simple contractual analysis.
posted by dmt at 6:21 AM on November 26, 2008


« Older Anyone have a really good caly...   |  Suggestions for making a Guita... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.