Man Takes Down Anti-Santander Billboards After Bank Sues For False Advertising, Defamation, Trademark Infringement

Image courtesy of Santander legal filing

A Philadelphia man who is upset with Santander Bank wanted to voice his opinion in a pair of recently posted billboards in the city. His message was short-lived, however, after the bank responded by filing a lawsuit against him in federal court.

Chuck Peruto, a well-known criminal defense attorney in Philly, has been very public about his dispute with Santander over a $270,000 early repayment penalty he faces for paying back a $1.9 million loan years earlier than planned.

He sued Santander over that matter back in June, but in late October the judge dismissed the case. Peruto had already been protesting Santander outside its Philadelphia offices, but after the dismissal (he has appealed), that’s when two digital billboards went up near a very busy section of I-95.

The billboards — using the familiar Santander color scheme, typeface, and logo — declare, “Santander/The Bank That Robs You” along with a line mentioning Peruto’s website.

In the below video (the accompanying article appears to have been removed) from Metro, he claims that it took months to find a billboard owner willing to take his ads, and that they cost him $25,000.

In response to the billboards, Santander filed a federal lawsuit [PDF] against Peruto on Nov. 7, alleging a variety of violations of the law.

The bank accused Peruto of false advertising because the billboards look like ads for a civil attorney looking to solicit clients for an action against Santander. The complaint contends that the billboard give the inaccurate impression that Peruto has experience “representing the general public in cases against Santander.”

Then there are the allegations of commercial disparagement, defamation, and trade libel for the statements made on the billboards — and in Peruto’s comments in public — that Santander maintains he knows are not true, and which he made knowing they could inflict financial harm on the bank.

Santander also hit Peruto with an allegation of tortious interference, claiming that one of his objectives was to convince others to not do business with the bank. The complaint notes that at least one Santander customer withdrew all their money from the bank because of Peruto’s actions.

And let’s not forget about the charges of trademark infringement and dilution. Even though most people would probably guess that Santander would not publicly advertise that it “robs you,” the bank nonetheless contends that the use of the trademarked logo and name is “likely to cause customer confusion.”

The case did not last long. By Nov. 11, barely a week after the billboards went up, the anti-Santander messages were down, and the case had been suspended [PDF] as “parties have agreed to enter into good faith negotiations aimed at reaching an amicable resolution to the current dispute.”

As part of that deal, Peruto has agreed to not put the billboards — or any others — back up before Dec. 1. However, he tells Philadelphia Magazine that “If the settlement talks are not fruitful, it goes back up,” but with a twist: “I’ll change the logo to a devil with a pitchfork.”

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.