UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
December 24, 1969
MICHAEL RATNER, for himself and all others similarly situated, Plaintiff,
CHEMICAL BANK NEW YORK TRUST COMPANY, Defendant
The opinion of the court was delivered by: CANNELLA
CANNELLA, District Judge.
Defendant moves for an order staying any further proceedings herein until twenty days after a ruling is obtained from the Federal Reserve Board, which the defendant asserts has primary jurisdiction in this controversy. The motion is denied.
Plaintiff alleges in his complaint that the defendant has violated the Consumer Credit Protection Act
[hereinafter "Act"] in regard to its billing practices under a Master Charge Credit plan. The violation alleged is that the defendant fails to notify all participants in the plan, whether assessed a finance charge or not, of the annual interest rate each time they are billed.
The defendant at present apparently notifies only those participants who have actually incurred a finance charge. The facts in the case are essentially not in dispute, and the issue raised is basically a question of law: whether defendant's practices violate the Act and Regulation Z.
Defendant contends that the Federal Reserve Board has primary jurisdiction in this matter since the defendant is a member of the Federal Reserve System,
and that this court should, in accordance with the doctrine of primary jurisdiction, allow the Board to initially determine the issues in this case. Defendant asserts that the Board's jurisdiction is derived from 15 U.S.C. § 1607(a)(1)(B), which states; in part:
(a) Compliance with the requirements imposed under this subchapter shall be enforced under
(1) Section 1818 of Title 12, in the case of . . .
(B) Member banks of the Federal Reserve System (other than national banks), by the Board.
This Section, in conjunction with 12 U.S.C. § 1818, allows the Board, in effect, to act as a policeman over its member banks. It does not allow a private party to bring an action before the Board to seek redress or injunctive relief for any violation of the Act. However, the Act does provide a civil remedy for private persons under 15 U.S.C. § 1640, and subsection (e) thereunder gives any United States District Court jurisdiction over such an action. The court finds that the two sections thus provide separate jurisdiction for separate remedies -- § 1607 when the Federal Reserve Board acts on its own initiative; and § 1640 when a private party brings a civil action under the Act.
When there is no dual jurisdiction between the district court and the administrative agency, the doctrine of primary jurisdiction does not operate. See Armour & Co. v. Alton R.R., 312 U.S. 195, 85 L. Ed. 771, 61 S. Ct. 498 (1941); Davis, Administrative Law 363 (1965); 2 Am. Jur. 2d, Administrative Law § 789.
Even assuming arguendo that the Board does have concurrent jurisdiction here with the district court, the doctrine of primary jurisdiction is nevertheless inapplicable. As stated previously, the facts in this controversy are essentially not in dispute. What is involved here is a question of law, to wit, whether the defendant has complied with the Act and Regulation Z. When only a question of law is involved, the doctrine is not applicable. Rather, the district court will retain jurisdiction since the administrative agency's expertise in the particular field which would be useful in resolving complicated questions of fact is not required. See Federal Maritime Board v. Isbrandtsen Co., 356 U.S. 481, 521, 2 L. Ed. 2d 926, 78 S. Ct. 851 (1958) (Frankfurter, J., dissenting); United States v. Western Pacific R., 352 U.S. 59, 62-70, 1 L. Ed. 2d 126, 77 S. Ct. 161 (1956); New York, Susquehanna & Western R.R. v. Follmer, 254 F.2d 510 (3d Cir. 1958); 2 Am. Jur. 2d Administrative Law § 793. This case is unlike Chambers v. Beatty, 281 F. Supp. 711 (S.D.N.Y. 1968), which involved the general accounting practices of banks,
and thus necessitated the exercise of the Board's expertise in that area. In addition, that case involved a complicated factual pattern, whereas this case involves essentially a question of law.
Although the doctrine of primary jurisdiction is in general applied to insure uniformity of treatment and regulation, its application and the granting of a stay pending administrative action rests in the sound discretion of the court considering all the facts and circumstances presented to it. The question of law presented in this case not only concerns the defendant and the other member banks of the Federal Reserve System, it transcends that limited group and will undoubtedly have a bearing on the other institutions extending an open line of credit to their customers. The Board does not directly regulate these other creditors. In the interests of uniformity and interpretation of the Act, and to best carry out the objectives of Congress in passing the Act, it would be most desirable to have this court pass upon the questions of law involved herein as soon as possible, without a prior determination of the Board.
Any determination of the Board would be reviewable in the courts,
and needless delay should be avoided.
Accordingly, this court, after a consideration of all the facts and circumstances surrounding this case, finds that the doctrine of primary jurisdiction is inapplicable and, exercising its discretion, denies the defendant's motion for a stay.
Dated New York, N.Y.
December 24, 1969.
John M. Cannella