Comerica Inc. appears to be headed for trial in a $7 million lawsuit filed in federal court by a company claiming that a Comerica banker led it down the road to bankruptcy.
"It's a sad story," said Jeffrey Meek, the lawyer representing plaintiff Sardo Corp. of Novi, Mich. "Those people really got screwed."
Sardo, a small, family concrete-pouring business founded 40 years ago by Vincent and Jennie Doa, says advice from banker David Provost between 1984 and 1991 pushed it into a Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing. The company sued Mr. Provost and Comerica alleging breach of fiduciary duty.
No trial date has been set. Mr. Meek and Mr. Doa say they turned down an undisclosed sum that Comerica offered to settle the case. Bank officials would not confirm or deny that such an offer was made.
Judge John Feikens of U.S. District Court in Detroit ruled Aug. 30 that Mr. Provost could not be sued, because of Michigan's three-year statute of limitations. Mr. Provost left the company in January 1989; Sardo sued in December 1993.
However, Comerica's request to dismiss the case because of the statute of limitations was denied, as were several previous motions for dismissal.
Sardo says the monetary damages it claims represent the loss of potential earnings and the cost of dissolving the company. According to the plaintiffs, Mr. Provost acted as a financial adviser to the company and encouraged it to grow rapidly through increasingly large lines of credit.
The company's credit line rose from $50,000 in 1983 to $1 million by December 1989. In 1991, the bank called a $1 million loan due on the basis of losses and a deteriorating collateral base. Sardo's owners say that forced the company into bankruptcy.
Mr. Provost, now president of Bank of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., declined to comment. In a court affidavit, he denies ever having close financial ties to Sardo.
Officials from Comerica, which has $35 billion in assets, also would not comment, citing a policy against discussing pending litigation.
But in documents filed in U.S. District Court in Detroit, Comerica said that if Mr. Provost influenced the Doas to increase their credit line at the bank, he did so outside his capacity as a bank employee.
Though Mr. Provost once had a relationship with Sardo as a commercial banker, that association ended in 1985 when he transferred to private banking, according to Comerica. As a private banker, Mr. Provost had no official responsibility for Sardo, bank officials said.
But the Doas say Mr. Provost remained very involved in the management of their company, overseeing accounting, advising on hiring and firing decisions and encouraging Sardo to buy new equipment using increased lines of credit through the bank.
Vicent Doa Jr., president of Sardo, said his business even paid Mr. Provost $450 to $550 a month in consulting fees between 1985 and 1990. The Doas contend that the bank knew of Mr. Provost's dealings and blessed the relationship because Sardo was giving the bank more loan business.