Ludwig & Robinson Prevails for PNC Bank in $5 Million Lawsuit in Montgomery County, Maryland

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Washington, D.C. law firm obtains favorable trial and appellate decisions finding no bank liability in case involving wire and account activity.

Ludwig & Robinson, PLLC (L&R), a Washington, D.C. law firm, recently prevailed for client PNC Bank, N.A. (PNC) in a lawsuit filed in Rockville, Maryland arising out of a $9 million distressed real estate investment scheme. On May 15, 2015, the Circuit Court for Montgomery County closed the case, after the Maryland Court of Special Appeals affirmed summary judgment. Ivanhoe Investment Partners, LP, et al. v. PNC Bank, N.A., et al., No. 0037 (Sept. Term, 2014).

This action was the last of a series of suits filed in Maryland, Connecticut and New York arising from the latest financial fraud by Michael Howard Clott, who 25 years ago during the S&L crisis, as head of First American Mortgage Co. (FAMCO), pled guilty to “one of the largest [frauds] brought to prosecution in the federal system” in Maryland. E.F. Hutton Mortg. Corp. v. Equitable Bank, 678 F. Supp. 567, 570 (D. Md. 1988).

In this case, while facing separate charges in New York, Clott induced investors from Greenwich and Philadelphia in 2009 to invest $9 million in a purported “no-risk” deal, to buy and sell simultaneously portfolios of foreclosed properties from banks, as “show money” deposited in a Rockville title company’s accounts at PNC. The investors, after settling prior actions against the title company and others, belatedly brought suit in December 2012 against PNC for $5 million in remaining damages, asserting claims of knowing participation in breach of fiduciary duty, negligence, and breach of contract, among others.

On the eve of trial in February 2014, the Hon. Michael D. Mason, having already dismissed eight of ten counts against the bank, granted summary judgment dismissing the rest, finding the bank owed no duty to the investors, and had not acted with actual knowledge of any breach or in bad faith. Judge Mason further held the action barred as a matter of law, both by contributory negligence and the statute of limitations as not tolled by the discovery rule, issues commonly left to the jury.

“This was a hard-fought litigation, and we’re pleased that both the trial and appellate courts saw the case the way we did” said L&R’s Robert Ludwig. “The investor-plaintiffs were not customers but virtual strangers to the bank, all transactions were authorized, and by their own admissions they failed to conduct any due diligence to protect themselves and then ignored numerous red flags.”

On appeal, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals summarily affirmed in all respects. It adopted the opinions of the trial court as its own and issued an unreported opinion focused on the statute of limitations, agreeing that plaintiffs “were on inquiry notice that something was amiss more than three years prior to the filing of the action.” The appellate court rejected the testimony proffered by plaintiffs’ real estate investment expert on multiple grounds, noting it was “undisputed [plaintiffs] made no effort to look into the reputations or backgrounds of [their business associates] for, had [they] done so, [they] would have learned that [Clott’s alias] did not exist.”    

L&R’s team included partners Robert Ludwig and Salvatore Scanio, of counsel James Tompert, and associate W. Clifton Holmes.

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Ludwig & Robinson (http://www.ludwigrobinson.com) is a law firm based in Washington, D.C. with an office in Detroit, and affiliate in Germany. The firm has a national and international practice in banking, insurance, and litigation.

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Robert W. Ludwig
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