South Florida apparently is not big enough for two banks named Republic.
Republic National Bank of Miami, a $1.5 billion-asset bank based in Coral Gables, has filed suit against $2.3 billion-asset Republic Bank, St. Petersburg, demanding that the central Florida bank change its name to avoid possible customer confusion.
The banks peacefully shared the Republic name in the Sunshine State for 25 years, but that was when they did business 260 miles from each other. Republic Bank has swallowed up seven other Florida banks in recent years, including one deal that put it right on Republic National's doorstep.
Republic Bank's November purchase of Bankers Savings Bank gave it a branch on Ponce de Leon Boulevard, just a few blocks from Republic National's headquarters.
And that is too confusing for customers, said Republic National attorney Ignacio E. Sanchez. So Republic National, citing trademarks it has owned since 1965, is asking a U.S. District Court judge to prevent Republic Bank from using that name anywhere in Florida.
"For them to prevail, they would have to prove that having two banks called Republic Bank in the same market does not cause consumer confusion," Mr. Sanchez said. "I find that hard to believe."
He said customers are already confusing the banks' advertisements. Even the postman is mixed up. A Republic Bank phone directory that was supposed to go to its Coral Gables branch was delivered to Republic National's headquarters by mistake.
The case is hardly clear cut, though. Republic National holds the rights only to the names Republic National Bank, RNB Republic Bank, and Republic National Bank of Miami. No bank holds a trademark on the word "Republic" by itself.
And the confusion is only going to get worse. By the end of the first quarter, the St. Petersburg company will convert 14 former NationsBank Corp. and Barnett Banks Inc. branches it bought into Republic Bank branches. That includes three more branches in Republic National's native Dade County.
Republic Bank officials would not comment on the litigation. However, the bank dismissed Republic National's charges in its most recent form 10-Q filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
The filing points to a third South Florida institution, Republic Security Bank, as proof that Republic is a common name. Indeed, 18 banks nationwide go by the name Republic.
So far, Republic Security has been left out of the fray. Mr. Sanchez said the word "Security" is enough to differentiate it from his bank.
Because Republic Bank has had its name for 25 years, and since there are other banks named Republic in Florida, the lawsuit is "entirely without merit," the St. Petersburg bank said. It said it "intends to defend itself vigorously."
The two companies-Republic Banking Corp. of Florida, parent of Republic National, and Republic Bancshares, parent of Republic Bank-are not scheduled to meet in court until the case is heard in August.
South Florida has had its share of name disputes.
Miami's Popular Bank got an injunction against Banco Popular NA earlier this year. The order limited the San Juan, Puerto Rico-based company's use of the Popular name to certain Florida counties. The trial in that case is pending.
And years ago, when New York's Chase Manhattan Bank came south, it was met by objections from a small Miami thrift named Chase Federal Bank. Chase Federal was sold to NationsBank Corp. in August 1996.