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U.S. Appeals Court Rules for Big Banks in ATM-Fee Case

By Alan Zibel and Andrew R. Johnson WASHINGTON--A U.S. appeals court Thursday ruled in favor of major banks that charge ATM fees to cardholders who withdraw money from machines owned by other banks. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, ruling in a case filed in July 2004, accusing Bank of America Corp. (BAC), Wells Fargo & Co. (WFC), J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. (JPM) Citigroup Inc. (C) and other banks with fixing those fees. The court, however, found consumers who contested those fees did not have legal standing to do so. The court, in a ruling by Judge N. R. Smith, found that a fee that banks charge each other for such transactions was not directly passed on to customers. The plaintiffs in the case "concede that they have never directly paid" the fees in question, Smith wrote, in an opinion that upheld a lower court's ruling that the consumers filing the lawsuit paid the fees indirectly and did not have standing to challenge the fees. Last October several independent ATM operators and consumers sued Visa Inc. (V), MasterCard Inc. (MA), Bank of America Corp. (BAC), J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. (JPM) and Wells Fargo & Co. (WFC) in federal court over ATM fee policies. They argue that Visa and MasterCard rules requiring ATM operators to charge the same amount of fees regardless of which processing network handles a transaction has stifled competition among ATM operators and raised costs for consumers. A hearing on the defendants' motions to dismiss the suits is scheduled for September, according to court filings. Write to Alan Zibel at alan.zibel@dowjones.com

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