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Shan v. Citibank

August 10, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Paul A. Crotty, United States District Judge


Plaintiff Chen Jie Shan ("Chen Shan") brings this action based on a tale told to him by his father's brother (Uncle Chen Tingjin), whose wife's (Lin Guixiang) mother (Madam Kong Yulin) purportedly deposited gold and silver bars with Citibank of Shanghai's predecessor eighty years ago in 1927. Three years later, in 1930, according to the tale which originated with a long deceased relative by marriage, Madam Kong Yulin ("Madam Kong") converted the gold and silver bars into dollars―some $500,000,000. Rather than the customary documents which normally would accompany such a transaction, Madam Kong instead received a steel box with several steel plates inside with the account numbers etched into the box and the amount of deposit on the plates. This box, which Chen Shan supposedly controls, forms the basis for his claim.

Chen Shan's right to claim the $500,000,000 descended to him when Madam Kong willed her rights to her sole surviving child, Lin Guixiang. Lin Guixiang and her husband, Chen Shan's uncle, Chen Tingjin, had no children when Lin Guixiang died intestate. Chen Shan alleges that under the China's law of intestacy, Chen Tingjin took Lin Guixiang's assets as next of kin. In December 1994, Chen Tingjin then gifted and willed the assets to his nephew, the Plaintiff. Other than Chen Shan's saying so, he produces no proof of China's law of intestacy, or the will and gift instruments through which he claims the right to institute this action.

Citibank moves to dismiss, and, alternatively, for summary judgment, on numerous grounds. To support this incredible tale, Chen Shan produces only pictures of an ornate box, reproductions of the certificates, and extracts from a book recounting the history of Citibank in China. There is no evidence that the alleged Citibank accounts exist. Chen Shan's simply saying that they exist does not make it so. Even if he were to produce some evidence, the claims would be time-barred because, according to Chen Shan's own statements, he came into possession of the various financial "instruments" 13 years ago, in 1994. He did not file his lawsuit until 2006, long after the statute of limitations had run. Accordingly, Citibank's motion for summary judgment is granted.


Citibank, an American corporation with its principal place of business in New York, maintains and operates international offices, including Citibank of Shanghai, previously known as Flower Flag Bank of America. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 4, 13.)*fn1 During the period of the Chinese Nationalists or the Kuomintang Regime ("KMT") in China,*fn2 many Chinese citizens deposited their assets into Citibank accounts to safeguard those assets from the KMT's looting. (Am. Compl. ¶ 21.) Chen Shan, a citizen of the People's Republic of China, alleges that Citibank aided and cooperated with the KMT by transferring, concealing, and laundering deposited looted assets, including gold and foreign exchange, while profiting from these deposits. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 4, 19, 25, 16*.)

Chen Shan alleges that in 1927, his father's, sister-in-law's mother, Madam Kong, was in fear of looting by the KMT, and deposited all of her assets, gold and silver bars, with the Flower Flag Bank of America in Shanghai. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 4, 23.) In 1930, Madam Kong allegedly exchanged the gold and silver bars for $500,000,000 United States dollars and transferred the deposits to the head office of Citibank, in New York. (Am. Compl. ¶ 5.) Citibank created the accounts and gave Madam Kong a steel box with account numbers etched into it, and several steel plates inside engraved with the amounts of the deposits. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 5-7.) Chen Shan alleges that the box was to act as a bearer bond or certificate of deposit and, to this day, only the owner of the box has access to the accounts. (Am. Compl. ¶ 16.)

When the KMT withdrew to Taiwan in 1949, Madam Kong's family remained in China, where they lived in hiding for fear of being persecuted by the new Peoples' Republic of China government. (Am. Compl. ¶ 7.) Madam Kong died in June of 1984, leaving all of her assets to her daughter, Lin Guixiang, Chen Shan's aunt by marriage. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 4, 7.) Lin Guixiang died intestate in September 1984, survived only by her husband, Chen Tingjin, Chen Shan's uncle. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 4, 7.) Chen Tingjin inherited all of his wife's assets, and in December 1994, he left Chen Shan, by will and bequest, the box with the account numbers and deposit plates. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 4, 7) In his initial Complaint, Chen Shan alleges that Uncle Chen Tingjin gave him the box by "will and gift" on or about December 15, 1994.*fn3 (Compl. ¶ 4.) Even before 1994, however, Chen Shan alleges in his initial Complaint that "at all times since the end of World War II," he sought the return of the assets and an accounting. (Compl. ¶¶ 20, 24.)

When Citibank indicated that it intended to move on the grounds of statute of limitations, Chen Shan amended his Complaint to drop the allegations concerning the post-World War II demands. In the Amended Complaint, he now alleges that the box was lost for approximately ten years, and was not recovered by his "agents" until April 2005. (Am. Compl. ¶ 8.)*fn4 That month, Chen Shan's counsel contacted Royce Miller, of Citibank, who said that the inquiry regarding the assets should be submitted to the New York Citibank office.*fn5 (Am. Compl. ¶ 11.) Chen Shan alleges that accounts are valued today in excess of $500,000,000 American dollars (Am. Compl. ¶ 18*.)*fn6


Chen Shan filed the Complaint on July 5, 2006 and amended the Complaint on October 16, 2006. He alleges six causes of action: (1) Citibank breached the depository agreements; (2) Citibank has not accounted for the deposited assets; (3) Citibank breached its fiduciary duty to Chen Shan by i) falsely stating that Citibank had conducted searches and found no accounts established by persons who perished prior to 1949, ii) by failing to provide Chen Shan with information regarding deposits and assets or monies deposited in foreign offices, and iii) by conspiring to conceal information regarding Chen Shan's assets and disposing of the assets without notice; (4) Citibank converted Chen Shan's funds by failing to account for and return those funds; (5) Citibank participated in a conspiracy with the KMT to conceal information about deposits of looted assets; and (6) Citibank was unjustly enriched by its participation in this conspiracy with the KMT.

On November 21, 2006, Citibank moved to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) or, alternatively, for summary judgment, pursuant to Rule 56, and the motion became ripe for decision on January 19, 2007.

Citibank moves to dismiss and for summary judgment on eight grounds: (1) Chen Shan does not have an account with Citibank; (2) the claims are all time-barred; (3) the claims are barred by laches; (4) Citibank does not owe Chen Shan a fiduciary duty; (5) Chen Shan's claims are barred by the presumption of payment; (6) Chen Shan has no claim because any alleged assets would have escheated; (7) Chen Shan cannot maintain an action for conspiracy; and (8) the claims rest entirely on inadmissible ...

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