JPMorgan is facing a lawsuit from a couple who accuse the bank of improperly opening their safe deposit boxes and selling millions of dollars worth of jewelry and other personal property inside.
Jorge and Stella Araneta, who live in the Philippines but have an apartment in Manhattan, said JPMorgan sent bills for their vaults to the wrong address, causing them to miss payments.
They said that despite settling their account with the bank, two of their storage boxes were punctured and the contents were eventually auctioned off for a fraction of their value.
They sued JPMorgan last year, arguing that several million dollars of their assets, including jewelry and precious metals, had been sold without their knowledge due to bank errors.
A U.S. district judge dismissed part of the lawsuit Wednesday under New York banking law, but allowed the negligence and other charges against JPMorgan.
In 2016, the bank mailed final notices to renew two of the seven safe deposit boxes the couple began renting in 2006.
Those notices warned that if the Aranetas failed to make payments for the storage facilities within 60 days, JPMorgan would breach their vaults and remove the contents, according to the lawsuit.
However, the Aranetas claimed that the notices were not sent to their address, but to a post office box in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. They said they never maintained a PO. Box in Baton Rouge, and had never advised or authorized JPMorgan to send notices to that PO Box.
In February 2017, the bank drilled into four of the Aranetas’ safes and removed their contents, according to the lawsuit, with the couple claiming the company had not informed them that it had done so.
When they visited one of the bank’s branches in New York in 2019, they said, they were informed that the contents of their safe deposit boxes had been moved to a secure location in another city. They claimed to have made payments that day to renew their annual leases on three safes and to repay any previous payments not made.
In turn, bank officials reportedly told them that their personal belongings would be returned to the boxes that had been drilled.
However, the lawsuit accused JPMorgan of scheduling an auction date for the items in question less than 10 months after that meeting, where the contents of their safes were sold for a total of $552,700 without giving them notice.
According to the lawsuit, the items sold had an estimated value of between $8 million and $10 million.
JPMorgan declined to comment on the lawsuit when contacted by Fortune Friday.
In court filings, the company said it “denies all allegations” of wrongdoing by the Aranetas.
JPMorgan said in documents filed last April that Stella Araneta had not made payments on certain vaults for several years.
He said he sent several rounds of correspondence to the addresses he had on file for her, including several reminders to make payments. All of these reminders warned Araneta of the potential consequences of not tracking payments, the bank said.
JPMorgan said some payments were made through over-the-counter transactions in 2019.
However, he said he sent notices in 2020 to an address he had on file for Stella Araneta warning that if payment was not made in full by a specified date, the contents of opened boxes would be auctioned off. He said no further payments had been made, so the auction continued.
According to court documents from the bank, it neither purchased ownership of Araneta’s vault nor profited from the proceeds, which were transferred to New York State.