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WASHINGTON – Arguing that Missouri banks “suffer no unfair competition from credit unions” and that banks do not have standing, as has already been determined by two courts, to sue the regulator over field-of-membership rules and decisions, CUNA has stepped in to the Missouri dispute between credit unions and banks with the filing of a friend of the court brief in the suit filed by the Missouri Bankers Association that is before the Missouri Supreme Court. In the case before the high court of the state, the bankers are challenging rulings by the appellate court and the state court of original jurisdiction denying banks and bank associations standing to object to field-of-membership decisions made by the state’s Credit Union Commission. The CU Commission had approved of the decision of the director of the state Credit Union Division to grant the FOM expansion by Telecom CU (formerly Springfield Telephone Employees CU) to serve 800,000 residents within the state’s 417-telephone area code. The banks filed their suit after the commission refused to hear the banks on the issue, saying only credit unions had standing to be heard by the commission. The bankers appealed that ruling first to the state Credit Union Commission, which upheld the division’s decision in May 2001, and then to the circuit court. The legal action did not stay the credit union’s ability to expand, however. The Credit Union Division interpreted the state statute to allow “any party who is aggrieved” to appeal its regulatory decision to the newly created Credit Union Commission, which was created in 1999 as part of a broader legislative expansion of field of membership. However the division determined that “aggrieved” is a narrowly defined term that does not give banks standing. CUNA is reemphasizing that opinion, “We’re saying the banks don’t have much to stand on,” said Patrick Keefe, CUNA vice president of communications. Keefe said Missouri law generally defines standing narrowly. “The question of Appellants’ standing to seek judicial review of decisions of state agencies which do not regulate them and whose actions affect no legally protectable interest of theirs is not a question of interest or importance,” CUNA wrote in its amicus curiae brief. The legal battle began last year when a district court judge ruled that the bankers lacked standing to appeal the decision of the credit union commission created by the Missouri legislature in 1999 as part of new, more expansive field of membership regulations. In its brief, CUNA argues that under Missouri law, just because a party believes that it has an economic competitive interest in a decision by a court does not mean that it necessarily has legal standing to appeal the decision. CUNA also argues that the court record does not even show any “evidence of any actual competitive injury” done to the banks. Keefe said CUNA decided to intervene at this point because, with the case before the state Supreme Court, “We see it becoming more of a national issue.” The battle being waged by the Missouri bankers is another front in the banks’ war against credit unions. Keefe said banks have fought similar battles, notably in North Carolina, against large FOM expansions and are pushing taxes on credit unions in several states. The American Bankers Association has already entered the fray on the side of the Missouri Bankers. Said Amy McLard, vice president of the Missouri Credit Union Association, which is a defendant in the suit: “We’re glad the court will hear from both sides.” -

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