* Late fees "extravagant", other fees allowable - court
* Some 38,000 ANZ customers were seeking A$57 mln in
* Late fees estimated at 25 pct of claims sought - Betham
* Ruling opens door to further bank class actions
(Adds judgment detail, estimate on late fee value, background)
By Byron Kaye
SYDNEY, Feb 5 Australia and New Zealand Banking
Group was "extravagant, exorbitant and unconscionable"
to charge its customers fees for late payments, the Federal
Court ruled on Wednesday, opening the door to further lawsuits
on such charges.
In one of the country's largest class-action suits, law firm
Maurice Blackburn had sought up to A$57 million ($50.70 million)
from ANZ on behalf of around 38,000 customers for what it said
were excessive and unfair fees in the six years to 2010.
While the late fees were ruled illegal, Australia's
third-largest bank was however allowed to charge additional
honour, dishonour, non-payment and overlimit fees, the court
The ruling opens the door for seven other class-action suits
against Australian banks planned by Maurice Blackburn on behalf
of customers of other major banks. The firm has signaled it
wants another A$186 million for forthcoming bank fee law suits.
Betham IMF Ltd, the company funding the ANZ
litigation, said it believed the late payment fees accounted for
about a quarter of the value of the total claims brought in the
class action against ANZ.
The fees hinged on a "primary stipulation to make a payment
by a particular date" and that stipulation was "extravagant,
exorbitant and unconscionable", Justice Michelle Gordon SC said.
Justice Gordon did not award final damages and instead gave
the parties until February 12 to negotiate a settlement,
suggesting further hearings would be needed if negotiations
The action has also been seen as a precursor to fresh
scrutiny on a range of commercial contracts in Australia
including building contracts, energy supply contracts and mobile
ANZ was not immediately available to comment.
($1 = 1.1242 Australian dollars)
(Editing by Stephen Coates)