"It is difficult to imagine a scenario where a bank would voluntarily enter into an arrangement that created a fiduciary duty to oversee and manage a borrower's business activities," the court wrote in a 17-page ruling Thursday. "The record provides no support this occurred here."
The ruling created more financial headache for West Deptford, which came under scrutiny by the state earlier this year when the township made a debt payment that exceeded its 2012 appropriations. In August, the state Local Finance Board ordered West Deptford to start submitting quarterly budgetary reports for review.
For Fulton Bank's part, attorney Christopher R. Gibson said, "we're grateful that the trial court and appellate court have conclusively held that not only did the agreements that [West Deptford] entered into required them to unconditionally pay, but that the arguments that were raised by West Deptford in terms of alleging Fulton Bank owed some duty to West Deptford Township were simply without any basis in fact or law."
RiverWinds is a riverfront development that includes a golf course. In 2001, Fulton Bank bought a $10 million bond issued by the Gloucester County Improvement Authority to finance the project.
The Dobson brothers built a golf course, which opened the following year. A new developer, Phoenix-based Namwest L.L.C., took over in 2008 but defaulted on its obligations.
West Deptford then took over the project and agreed in 2011 to pay the past due principal to the bank. When Republicans took control of the longtime Democratic Township Committee the next year, though, the township sued the bank, saying it had disbursed millions of dollars to the first developer without requiring adequate documentation.
For example, the developer submitted paperwork noting "miscellaneous" work it had done without attaching any invoices, township attorney Mark Cimino said.
The bank, the township alleged, had "the duty to ensure that the monies which were disbursed actually went into the project." It said the breach of that obligation meant it did not have to pay the remaining principal and interest on the bond, according to the court ruling.
In November 2012, Gloucester County Superior Court Judge Anne McDonnell ruled in the bank's favor. The appellate court affirmed her ruling on Thursday.
"The Township has failed to identify any contractual provision that supports its fiduciary relationship claim," the appellate court wrote.