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Meridian bank appeals in Citizens' dispute

By By Suzanne Monk/The Meridian Star
July 24, 2001
A legal battle between the two "Citizens" banks Citizens National Bank and The Citizens Bank is on its way to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.
David Barr, executive vice president of Citizens National Bank, said Monday officials at his bank will appeal last week's ruling against them in U.S. District Court.
The two banks clashed in 1995 when The Citizens Bank, headquartered in Philadelphia, opened a loan production office in Meridian. Officials of Meridian's Citizens National Bank, which had opened a branch office in Philadelphia in 1985, said the similarity of the names was confusing to customers.
Citizens National Bank ultimately filed suit in U.S. District Court, seeking to prevent the Philadelphia bank from doing business in Lauderdale County under that name.
U.S. District Judge Tom Lee ruled against Citizens National Bank on July 17, granting The Citizens Bank's motion for summary judgment even before the trial began.
Citizens National Bank officials have been criticized in some quarters for their legal action against The Citizens Bank. Why, some observers ask, did they file a lawsuit against The Citizens Bank for opening a branch in Meridian when The Citizens Bank did not file a lawsuit against them for opening a branch in Philadelphia?
Citizens National Bank officials have two responses.
President and CEO Archie McDonnell said last week that The Citizens Bank had the opportunity to file suit in 1985.
Barr said Monday that Citizens National Bank's experience in Philadelphia is the reason the Meridian-based bank is availing itself of all legal remedies.
Steve Webb, president and CEO of The Citizens Bank, said today that he "absolutely cannot understand" this latest development.
Webb had planned to expand his Meridian office, making it a full-service branch. Those plans, he said, will now have to be more conservative.
No preliminary hearing date has been set in the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, and it is unknown how long Citizens National Bank's appeal will take to work through the court.
Suzanne Monk is managing editor of The Meridian Star. Call her at 693-1551, ext. 3229, or e-mail her at smonk@themeridianstar.com.