Beaufort News

Beaufort Marine settles suit against nation's second-largest bank

JPMorgan Chase and U.S. Marine Capt. Jonathon Rowles of Beaufort have agreed to settle a class-action lawsuit in which Rowles alleged the bank repeatedly violated a federal law designed to protect active-duty military personnel from financial stress.

The agreement, which is pending court approval, calls for the bank to pay out about $56 million, mostly in payments to affected servicemembers.

Last year, Rowles filed suit in federal court against a subsidiary of the nation's second-largest bank, alleging it violated the law during his recent deployment by threatening to foreclose on his home, requiring him to verify his active-duty status every 90 days for more than two years and aggressively seeking to collect more than he owed on a 2004 mortgage for a home in Colorado. The lawsuit alleged the bank's systematic failures deprived thousands of military men and women of their rights under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, which allows active-duty troops to receive mortgage-rate reductions and protects them from foreclosure.

The case thrust Rowles, a fighter pilot at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, and his family into national headlines and led him to testify before a congressional panel.

In announcing the settlement Thursday, Chase apologized and thanked Rowles and his wife, Julia, for helping fix what it said were mistakes. The couple's legal team included Bill Harvey of the Harvey & Battey law firm in Beaufort.

"We hold ourselves accountable and responsible for these mistakes, and fixing them is just the beginning of a new way forward with the military and veteran community as we make serving them a core part of how we operate our business every day," Frank Bisignano, JPMorgan Chase's chief administrative officer, said in the announcement.

According to the announcement and court documents, in addition to about $6 million in refunds Chase has already provided, the bank will:

  • Pay $12 million to the class of about 6,000 affected servicemembers.
  • Set aside $15 million for additional damages to be determined by a special master on a case-by-case basis.
  • Provide an estimated $6.4 million and other remedies to class members who were the subject of wrongful foreclosures.
  • Remove derogatory credit reporting in connection with class members' loans.
  • Reduce interest rates on loans for eligible borrowers from 6 percent to 4 percent, a move worth about $9 million to class members in the first year.
  • Pay as much as $8 million in attorney fees and costs.
  • Rowles, will receive an incentive award of $25,000 and become an informal adviser to Chase's veterans advisory council, according to documents filed in federal court in Beaufort.

    Another plaintiff, George Holloway, will receive an incentive award of $10,000. He is a sergeant in the U.S. Army Reserve whose house in Fountain Inn was foreclosed on in 2009. The case previously included other plaintiffs, but those cases have been dismissed, according to the documents.

    Rowles thanked the bank for resolving the matter.

    "It is our hope that this settlement will result in greater attention by the entire financial services industry to the nation's laws that protect our military families," Rowles said in the announcement. "We also hope others follow Chase's lead in creating additional programs for job creation, home ownership, and other financial assistance for veterans and members of the military."

    Julia Rowles has entered into a separate, unspecified individual settlement with the bank, according to the documents.