Jury awards woman $77M in case against Wells Fargo

CLAYTON, Mo. - A Missouri jury has awarded a woman $77 million in damages in a lawsuit alleging Wells Fargo Bank mismanaged her family trusts, costing her tens of millions of dollars.

The St. Louis County jury, after a trial of more than two weeks, sided late Monday with 78-year-old Barbara Burton Morriss of the St. Louis suburb of Olivette, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Tuesday.

Morriss sued Wells Fargo (WFC) in early 2012, alleging the bank breached its fiduciary duty by failing to fully disclose financial transactions in two family trusts that lost millions of dollars.

Wells Fargo spokeswoman Vince Scanlon said the bank was "disappointed" by the verdict and was considering its legal options, including whether to appeal.

Morriss was a beneficiary and co-trustee on both trusts with her son, venture capitalist B. Douglas Morris. That man, who is serving five years in federal prison for tax evasion, had helped raise through his Clayton-based venture and other companies tens of millions of dollars in private equity and venture capital funds until the companies he led filed for bankruptcy in January 2012, listing more than $35 million in debts.

Barbara Morriss, the widow of a former Boatmen's Trust Co. chairman, has contended that she first learned her accounts were drained in late 2011, when her credit card was declined at Neiman Marcus.

Her lawsuit alleged that funds in both trusts were wrongfully pledged as collateral for risky business ventures - something she became aware of after the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission accused her son of defrauding investors in January 2012.

"We think that the jury ruled for Mrs. Morriss because the evidence demonstrated the bank failed to live up to the most basic obligation to take care and safe-keep the assets of the trust that were placed with the bank," her attorney, Jim Bennett, said.

The jury award includes more than $45 million in actual damages and about $32 million in punitive damages related to one of the trusts. A hearing on damages related to the second trust is expected to be held later this month.