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25.5 Cases

Breach of Presentment Warranties and Conduct Precluding Complaint about Such Breach

Bank of Nichols Hills v. Bank of Oklahoma

196 P.3d 984 (Okla. Civ. App. 2008)

Gabbard, J.

Plaintiff, Bank of Nichols Hills (BNH), appeals a trial court judgment for Defendant, Bank of Oklahoma (BOK), regarding payment of a forged check. The primary issue on appeal is whether BOK presented sufficient proof to support the trial court’s finding that the [UCC] § 3-406 preclusion defense applied. We find that it did, and affirm.

Facts

Michael and Stacy Russell owned a mobile home in Harrah, Oklahoma. The home was insured by Oklahoma Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Company (Farm Bureau). The insurance policy provided that in case of loss, Farm Bureau “will pay you unless another payee is named on the Declarations page,” that “Loss shall be payable to any mortgagee named in the Declarations,” and that one of Farm Bureau’s duties was to “protect the mortgagee’s interests in the insured building.” The Declarations page of the policy listed Conseco Finance as the mortgagee. Conseco had a mortgage security interest in the home.

In August 2002, a fire completely destroyed the mobile home. The Russells submitted an insurance claim to Farm Bureau. Farm Bureau then negotiated a $69,000 settlement with the Russells, issued them a check in this amount payable to them and Conseco jointly, and mailed the check to the Russells. Neither the Russells nor Farm Bureau notified Conseco of the loss, the settlement, or the mailing of the check.

The check was drawn on Farm Bureau’s account at BNH. The Russells deposited the check into their account at BOK. The check contains an endorsement by both Russells, and a rubber stamp endorsement for Conseco followed by a signature of a Donna Marlatt and a phone number. It is undisputed that Conseco’s endorsement was forged. Upon receipt, BOK presented the check to BNH. BNH paid the $69,000 check and notified Farm Bureau that the check had been paid from its account.

About a year later, Conseco learned about the fire and the insurance payoff. Conseco notified Farm Bureau that it was owed a mortgage balance of more than $50,000. Farm Bureau paid off the balance and notified BNH of the forgery. BNH reimbursed Farm Bureau the amount paid to Conseco. BNH then sued BOK.

Both banks relied on the Uniform Commercial Code. BNH asserted that under § 4-208, BOK had warranted that all the indorsements on the check were genuine. BOK asserted an affirmative defense under § 3-406, alleging that Farm Bureau’s own negligence contributed to the forgery. After a non-jury trial, the court granted judgment to BOK, finding as follows:

  • Conseco’s endorsement was a forgery, accomplished by the Russells;
  • Farm Bureau was negligent in the manner and method it used to process the claim and pay the settlement without providing any notice or opportunity for involvement in the process to Conseco;
  • Farm Bureau’s negligence substantially contributed to the Russells’ conduct in forging Conseco’s endorsement; and
  • BOK proved its affirmative defense under § 3-406 by the greater weight of the evidence.

From this judgment, BNH appeals.

Analysis

It cannot be disputed that BOK breached its presentment warranty to BNH under § 4-208.Section 4-208 provides as follows: “(a) If an unaccepted draft is presented [in this case, by BOK] to the drawee [BNH] for payment or acceptance and the drawee pays or accepts the draft,(i) the person obtaining payment or acceptance, at the time of presentment, and(ii) a previous transferor of the draft, at the time of transfer, warrant to the drawee that pays or accepts the draft in good faith, that:(1) The warrantor is, or was, at the time the warrantor transferred the draft, a person entitled to enforce the draft or authorized to obtain payment or acceptance of the draft on behalf of a person entitled to enforce the draft;(2) The draft has not been altered; and(3) The warrantor has no knowledge that the signature of the purported drawer of the draft is unauthorized.(b) A drawee making payment may recover from a warrantor damages for breach of warranty.…(c) If a drawee asserts a claim for breach of warranty under subsection (a) of this section based on an unauthorized indorsement of the draft or an alteration of the draft, the warrantor may defend by proving that…the drawer [here, Farm Bureau] is precluded under Section 3-406 or 4-406 of this title from asserting against the drawee the unauthorized indorsement or alteration.” Thus the primary issue raised is whether BOK established a preclusion defense under 3-406 [that BNH is precluded from complaining about BOK’s breach of presentment warranty because of its own negligence].(a) A person whose failure to exercise ordinary care substantially contributes to an alteration of an instrument or to the making of a forged signature on an instrument is precluded from asserting the alteration or the forgery against a person who, in good faith, pays the instrument or takes it for value or for collection. BNH asserts that the evidence fails to establish this defense because the mailing of its check to and receipt by the insured “is at most an event of opportunity and has nothing to do with the actual forgery.”

Section 3-406 requires less stringent proof than the “direct and proximate cause” test for general negligence.The parties do not address Section 3-406(b), which states that the person asserting preclusion may be held partially liable under comparative negligence principles for failing to exercise ordinary care in paying or taking the check. They also do not address any possible negligence by either bank in accepting the forged check without confirming the legitimacy of Conseco’s indorsement. Conduct is a contributing cause of an alteration or forgery if it is a substantial factor in bringing it about, or makes it “easier for the wrongdoer to commit his wrong.” The UCC Comment to § 3-406 notes that the term has the meaning as used by the Pennsylvania court in Thompson [Citation].

In Thompson, an independent logger named Albers obtained blank weighing slips, filled them out to show fictitious deliveries of logs for local timber owners, delivered the slips to the company, accepted checks made payable to the timber owners, forged the owners’ signatures, and cashed the checks at the bank. When the company discovered the scheme, it sued the bank and the bank raised § 3-406 as a defense. The court specifically found that the company’s negligence did not have to be the direct and proximate cause of the bank’s acceptance of the forged checks. Instead, the defense applied because the company left blank logging slips readily accessible to haulers, the company had given Albers whole pads of blank slips, the slips were not consecutively numbered, haulers were allowed to deliver both the original and duplicate slips to the company’s office, and the company regularly entrusted the completed checks to the haulers for delivery to the payees without the payees’ consent. The court noted:

While none of these practices, in isolation, might be sufficient to charge the plaintiff [the company] with negligence within the meaning of § 3-406, the company’s course of conduct, viewed in its entirety, is surely sufficient to support the trial judge’s determination that it substantially contributed to the making of the unauthorized signatures.…[T]hat conduct was ‘no different than had the plaintiff simply given Albers a series of checks signed in blank for his unlimited, unrestrictive use.’

The UCC Comment to § 3-406 gives three examples of conduct illustrating the defense. One example involves an employer who leaves a rubber stamp and blank checks accessible to an employee who later commits forgery; another example involves a company that issues a ten dollar check but leaves a blank space after the figure which allows the payee to turn the amount into ten thousand dollars; and the third example involves an insurance company that mails a check to one policyholder whose name is the same as another policyholder who was entitled to the check. In each case, the company’s negligence substantially contributed to the alterations or forgeries by making it easier for the wrongdoer to commit the malfeasance.

In the present case, we find no negligence in Farm Bureau’s delivery of the check to the Russells. There is nothing in the insurance policy that prohibits the insurer from making the loss-payment check jointly payable to the Russells and Conseco. Furthermore, under § 3-420, if a check is payable to more than one payee, delivery to one of the payees is deemed to be delivery to all payees. The authority cited by BOK, in which a check was delivered to one joint payee who then forged the signature of the other, involve cases where the drawer knew or should have known that the wrongdoer was not entitled to be a payee in the first place. See [Citations].

We also find no negligence in Farm Bureau’s violation of its policy provisions requiring the protection of the mortgage holder. Generally, violation of contract provisions and laxity in the conduct of the business affairs of the drawer do not per se establish negligence under this section. See [Citations].

However, evidence was presented that the contract provision merely reflected an accepted and customary commercial standard in the insurance industry. Failure to conform to the reasonable commercial standards of one’s business has been recognized by a number of courts as evidence of negligence. See, e.g., [Citations].

Here, evidence was presented that Farm Bureau did not act in a commercially reasonable manner or in accordance with reasonable commercial standards of its business when it issued the loss check to the insured without notice to the mortgagee. BOK’s expert testified that it is standard practice in the industry to notify the lender of a loss this size, in order to avoid exactly the result that occurred here. Mortgagees often have a greater financial stake in an insurance policy than do the mortgagors. That was clearly true in this case. While there was opinion testimony to the contrary, the trial court was entitled to conclude that Farm Bureau did not act in a commercially reasonably manner and that this failure was negligence which substantially contributed to the forgery, as contemplated by § 3-406.

We find the trial court’s judgment supported by the law and competent evidence. Accordingly, the trial court’s decision is affirmed. Affirmed.

Case Questions

  1. How did BOK breach its presentment warranty to BNH?
  2. What part of the UCC did BOK point to as why it should not be liable for that breach?
  3. In what way was Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Co. negligent in this case, and what was the consequence?

Presentment, Acceptance, Dishonor, and Warranties

Messing v. Bank of America

821 A.2d 22 (Md. 2003)

At some point in time prior to 3 August 2000, Petitioner, as a holder, came into possession of a check in the amount of Nine Hundred Seventy-Six Dollars ($976.00) (the check) from Toyson J. Burruss, the drawer, doing business as Prestige Auto Detail Center. Instead of depositing the check into his account at his own bank, Petitioner elected to present the check for payment at a branch of Mr. Burruss’ bank, Bank of America, the drawee.Petitioner’s choice could be viewed as an attempt at risk shifting. Petitioner, an attorney, may have known that he could have suffered a fee charged by his own bank if he deposited a check into his own account and then the bank on which it was drawn returned it for insufficient funds, forged endorsement, alteration, or the like. Petitioner’s action, viewed against that backdrop, would operate as a risk-shifting strategy, electing to avoid the risk of a returned-check fee by presenting in person the check for acceptance at the drawee bank. On 3 August 2000, Petitioner approached a teller at Bank of America…in Baltimore City and asked to cash the check. The teller, by use of a computer, confirmed the availability of funds on deposit, and placed the check into the computer’s printer slot. The computer stamped certain data on the back of the check, including the time, date, amount of the check, account number, and teller number. The computer also effected a hold on the amount of $976.00 in the customer’s account. The teller gave the check back to the Petitioner, who endorsed it. The teller then asked for Petitioner’s identification. Petitioner presented his driver’s license and a major credit card. The teller took the indorsed check from Petitioner and manually inscribed the driver’s license information and certain credit card information on the back of the check.

At some point during the transaction, the teller counted out $976.00 in cash from her drawer in anticipation of completing the transaction. She asked if the Petitioner was a customer of Bank of America. The Petitioner stated that he was not. The teller returned the check to Petitioner and requested, consistent with bank policy when cashing checks for non-customers, that Petitioner place his thumbprint on the check. [The thumbprint identification program was designed by various banking and federal agencies to reduce check fraud.] Petitioner refused and the teller informed him that she would be unable to complete the transaction without his thumbprint.

…Petitioner presented the check to the branch manager and demanded that the check be cashed notwithstanding Petitioner’s refusal to place his thumbprint on the check. The branch manager examined the check and returned it to the Petitioner, informing him that, because Petitioner was a non-customer, Bank of America would not cash the check without Petitioner’s thumbprint on the instrument.…Petitioner left the bank with the check in his possession.…

Rather than take the check to his own bank and deposit it there, or returning it to Burruss, the drawer, as dishonored and demanding payment, Petitioner,…[sued] Bank of America (the Bank)…Petitioner claimed that the Bank had violated the Maryland Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) and had violated his personal privacy when the teller asked Petitioner to place an “inkless” thumbprint on the face of the check at issue.…

…[T]he Circuit Court heard oral arguments…, entered summary judgment in favor of the Bank, dismissing the Complaint with prejudice. [The special appeals court affirmed. The Court of Appeals—this court—accepted the appeal.]

[Duty of Bank on Presentment and Acceptance]

Petitioner argues that he correctly made “presentment” of the check to the Bank pursuant to § 3-111 and § 3-501(a), and demands that, as the person named on the instrument and thus entitled to enforce the check, the drawee Bank pay him.…In a continuation, Petitioner contends that the teller, by placing the check in the slot of her computer, and the computer then printing certain information on the back of the check, accepted the check as defined by § 3-409(a).…Thus, according to Petitioner, because the Bank’s computer printed information on the back of the check, under § 3-401(b) the Bank “signed” the check, said “signature” being sufficient to constitute acceptance under § 3-409(a).

Petitioner’s remaining arguments line up like so many dominos. According to Petitioner, having established that under his reading of § 3-409(a) the Bank accepted the check, Petitioner advances that the Bank is obliged to pay him, pursuant to § 3-413(a)…Petitioner extends his line of reasoning by arguing that the actions of the Bank amounted to a conversion under § 3-420,…Petitioner argues that because the Bank accepted the check, an act which, according to Petitioner, discharged the drawer, he no longer had enforceable rights in the check and only had a right to the proceeds. Petitioner’s position is that the Bank exercised unauthorized dominion and control over the proceeds of the check to the complete exclusion of the Petitioner after the Bank accepted the check and refused to distribute the proceeds, counted out by the teller, to him.

We turn to the Bank’s obligations, or lack thereof, with regard to the presentment of a check by someone not its customer. Bank argues, correctly, that it had no duty to the Petitioner, a non-customer and a stranger to the Bank, and that nothing in the Code allows Petitioner to force Bank of America to act as a depository bank…

Absent a special relationship, a non-customer has no claim against a bank for refusing to honor a presented check. [Citations] This is made clear by § 3-408, which states:

A check or other draft does not of itself operate as an assignment of funds in the hands of the drawee available for its payment, and the drawee is not liable on the instrument until the drawee accepts it.

Once a bank accepts a check, under § 3-409, it is obliged to pay on the check under § 3-413. Thus, the relevant question in terms of any rights Petitioner had against the Bank [regarding presentment] turns not on the reasonableness of the thumbprint identification, but rather upon whether the Bank accepted the check when presented as defined by § 3-409. As will be seen infra [below] the question of the thumbprint identification is relevant only to the issue of whether the Bank’s refusal to pay the instrument constituted dishonor under § 3-502, a determination which has no impact in terms of any duty allegedly owed by the Bank to the Petitioner.

The statute clearly states that acceptance becomes effective when the presenter is notified of that fact. The facts demonstrate that at no time did the teller notify Petitioner that the Bank would pay on the check. Rather, the facts show that:

[T]he check was given back to [Petitioner] by the teller so that he could put his thumbprint signature on it, not to notify or give him rights on the purported acceptance. After appellant declined to put his thumbprint signature on the check, he was informed by both the teller and the branch manager that it was against bank policy to honor the check without a thumbprint signature. Indignant, [Petitioner] walked out of the bank with the check.

As the intermediate appellate court correctly pointed out, the negotiation of the check is in the nature of a contract, and there can be no agreement until notice of acceptance is received. As a result, there was never acceptance as defined by § 3-409(a), and thus the Bank, pursuant to § 3-408 never was obligated to pay the check under § 3-413(a). Thus, the answer to Petitioner’s second question [Did the lower court err in finding the Bank did not accept the…check at issue, as “acceptance” is defined in UCC Section 3-409?] is “no.”

“Conversion” under § 3-420.

Because it never accepted the check, Bank of America argues that the intermediate appellate court also correctly concluded that the Bank did not convert the check or its proceeds under § 3-420. Again, we must agree. The Court of Special Appeals stated:

“Conversion,” we have held, “requires not merely temporary interference with property rights, but the exercise of unauthorized dominion and control to the complete exclusion of the rightful possessor.” [Citation] At no time did [Respondent] exercise “unauthorized dominion and control [over the check] to the complete exclusion of the rightful possessor,” [Petitioner].

[Petitioner] voluntarily gave the check to [Respondent’s] teller. When [Petitioner] indicated to the teller that he was not an account holder, she gave the check back to him for a thumbprint signature in accordance with bank policy. After being informed by both [Respondent’s] teller and branch manager that it was [Respondent’s] policy not to cash a non-account holder’s check without a thumbprint signature, [Petitioner] left the bank with the check in hand.

Because [Petitioner] gave the check to the teller, [Respondent’s] possession of that check was anything but “unauthorized,” and having returned the check, within minutes of its receipt, to [Petitioner] for his thumbprint signature, [Respondent] never exercised “dominion and control [over it] to the complete exclusion of the rightful possessor,” [Petitioner]. In short, there was no conversion.

D. “Reasonable Identification” under § 3-501(b)(2)(ii) and “Dishonor” under § 3-502

We now turn to the issue of whether the Bank’s refusal to accept the check as presented constituted dishonor under § 3-501 and § 3-502 as Petitioner contends. Petitioner’s argument that Bank of America dishonored the check under § 3-502(d) fails because that section applies to dishonor of an accepted draft. We have determined, supra, [above] that Bank of America never accepted the draft. Nevertheless, the question remains as to whether Bank of America dishonored the draft under § 3-502(b)…

(2) Upon demand of the person to whom presentment is made, the person making presentment must (i) exhibit the instrument, (ii) give reasonable identification…

(3) Without dishonoring the instrument, the party to whom presentment is made may (i) return the instrument for lack of a necessary indorsement, or (ii) refuse payment or acceptance for failure of the presentment to comply with the terms of the instrument, an agreement of the parties, or other applicable law or rule.

The question is whether requiring a thumbprint constitutes a request for “reasonable identification” under § 3-501(b)(2)(ii). If it is “reasonable,” then under § 3-501(b)(3)(ii) the refusal of the Bank to accept the check from Petitioner did not constitute dishonor. If, however, requiring a thumbprint is not “reasonable” under § 3-501(b)(2)(ii), then the refusal to accept the check may constitute dishonor under § 3-502(b)(2). The issue of dishonor is arguably relevant because Petitioner has no cause of action against any party, including the drawer, until the check is dishonored.

Respondent Bank of America argues that its relationship with its customer is contractual, [Citations] and that in this case, its contract with its customer, the drawer, authorizes the Bank’s use of the Thumbprint Signature Program as a reasonable form of identification.

According to Respondent, this contractual agreement allowed it to refuse to accept the check, without dishonoring it pursuant to § 3-501(b)(3)(ii), because the Bank’s refusal was based upon the presentment failing to comply with “an agreement of the parties.” The intermediate appellate court agreed. We, however, do not.

…Bank and its customer cannot through their contract define the meaning of the term “reasonable” and impose it upon parties who are not in privity with that contract. Whether requiring a thumbprint constitutes “reasonable identification” within the meaning of § 3-501(b)(2)(ii) is therefore a broader policy consideration, and not, as argued in this case, simply a matter of contract. We reiterate that the contract does not apply to Petitioner and, similarly, does not give him a cause of action against the Bank for refusing to accept the check. This also means that the Bank cannot rely on the contract as a defense against the Petitioner, on the facts presented here, to say that it did not dishonor the check.

Petitioner, as noted, argues that requiring a thumbprint violates his privacy, and further argues that a thumbprint is not a reasonable form of identification because it does not prove contemporaneously the identity of an over the counter presenter at the time presentment is made. According to Petitioner, the purpose of requiring “reasonable identification” is to allow the drawee bank to determine that the presenter is the proper person to be paid on the instrument. Because a thumbprint does not provide that information at the time presentment and payment are made, Petitioner argues that a thumbprint cannot be read to fall within the meaning of “reasonable identification” for the purposes of § 3-501(b)(2)(ii).

Bank of America argues that the requirement of a thumbprint has been upheld, in other non-criminal circumstances, not to be an invasion of privacy, and is a reasonable and necessary industry response to the growing problem of check fraud. The intermediate appellate court agreed, pointing out that the form of identification was not defined by the statute, but that the Code itself recognized a thumbprint as a form of signature, § 1-201(39), and observing that requiring thumbprint or fingerprint identification has been found to be reasonable and not to violate privacy rights in a number of non-criminal contexts.…

We agree with [Petitioner] that a thumbprint cannot be used, in most instances, to confirm the identity of a non-account checkholder at the time that the check is presented for cashing, as his or her thumbprint is usually not on file with the drawee at that time. We disagree, however, with [Petitioner’s] conclusion that a thumbprint signature is therefore not “reasonable identification” for purposes of § 3-501(b)(2).

Nowhere does the language of § 3-501(b)(2) suggest that “reasonable identification” is limited to information [Bank] can authenticate at the time presentment is made. Rather, all that is required is that the “person making presentment must…give reasonable identification.” § 3-501(b)(2). While providing a thumbprint signature does not necessarily confirm identification of the checkholder at presentment—unless of course the drawee bank has a duplicate thumbprint signature on file—it does assist in the identification of the checkholder should the check later prove to be bad. It therefore serves as a powerful deterrent to those who might otherwise attempt to pass a bad check. That one method provides identification at the time of presentment and the other identification after the check may have been honored, does not prevent the latter from being “reasonable identification” for purposes of § 3-501(b)(2) [Citation].

[So held the lower courts.] We agree, and find this conclusion to be compelled, in fact, by our State’s Commercial Law Article.

The reason has to do with warranties. The transfer of a check for consideration creates both transfer warranties (§ 3-416(a) and (c)) and presentment warranties (§ 3-417(a) and (e)) which cannot be disclaimed. The warranties include, for example, that the payee is entitled to enforce the instrument and that there are no alterations on the check. The risk to banks is that these contractual warranties may be breached, exposing the accepting bank to a loss because the bank paid over the counter on an item which was not properly payable.…In such an event, the bank would then incur the expense to find the presenter, to demand repayment, and legal expenses to pursue the presenter for breach of his warranties.

In short, when a bank cashes a check over the counter, it assumes the risk that it may suffer losses for counterfeit documents, forged endorsements, or forged or altered checks. Nothing in the Commercial Law Article forces a bank to assume such risks. See [Citations] To the extent that banks are willing to cash checks over the counter, with reasonable identification, such willingness expands and facilitates the commercial activities within the State.…

Because the reduction of risk promotes the expansion of commercial practices, we… conclude that a bank’s requirement of a thumbprint placed upon a check presented over the counter by a non-customer is reasonable. [Citations] As the intermediate appellate court well documented, the Thumbprint Program is part of an industry wide response to the growing threat of check fraud. Prohibiting banks from taking reasonable steps to protect themselves from losses could result in banks refusing to cash checks of non-customers presented over the counter at all, a result which would be counter to the direction of § 1-102(2)(b).

As a result of this conclusion, Bank of America in the present case did not dishonor the check when it refused to accept it over the counter. Under § 3-501(b)(3)(ii), Bank of America “refused payment or acceptance for failure of the presentment to comply with…other applicable law or rule.” The rule not complied with by the Petitioner-presenter was § 3-502(b)(2)(ii), in that he refused to give what we have determined to be reasonable identification. Therefore, there was no dishonor of the check by Bank of America’s refusal to accept it. The answer to Petitioner’s third question is therefore “no,” [Did Bank dishonor the check?]…

Judgment of the court of special appeals affirmed; costs to be paid by petitioner.

Eldridge, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part.

I cannot agree with the majority’s holding that, after the petitioner presented his driver’s license and a major credit card, it was “reasonable” to require the petitioner’s thumbprint as identification.

Today, honest citizens attempting to cope in this world are constantly being required to show or give drivers’ licenses, photo identification cards, social security numbers, the last four digits of social security numbers, mothers’ “maiden names,” 16 digit account numbers, etc. Now, the majority takes the position that it is “reasonable” for banks and other establishments to require, in addition, thumbprints and fingerprints. Enough is enough. The most reasonable thing in this case was petitioner’s “irritation with the Bank of America’s Thumbprint Signature Program.” Chief Judge Bell has authorized me to state that he joins this concurring and dissenting opinion.

Case Questions

  1. Petitioner claimed (a) he made a valid presentment, (b) Bank accepted the instrument, (c) Bank dishonored the acceptance, and (d) Bank converted the money and owes it to him. What did the court say about each assertion?
  2. There was no dispute that there was enough money in the drawer’s account to pay the check, so why didn’t Petitioner just deposit it in his own account (then he wouldn’t have been required to give a thumbprint)?
  3. What part of UCC Article 3 became relevant to the question of whether it was reasonable for Bank to demand Petitioner’s thumbprint?
  4. How do the presentment and transfer warranties figure into the majority opinion?
  5. What did the dissenting judges find fault with in the majority’s opinion? What result would have obtained if the minority side had prevailed?

Breach of Transfer Warranties and the Bank’s Obligation to Act in Good Faith

PNC Bank v. Robert L. Martin

2010 WL 3271725, U.S. Dist. Ct. (Ky. 2010)

Coffman, J.

This matter is before the court on plaintiff PNC Bank’s motion for summary judgment. The court will grant the motion as to liability and damages, because the defendant, Robert L. Martin, fails to raise any genuine issue of material fact, and the evidence establishes that Martin breached his transfer warranties and account agreement with PNC.…

I. Background

Martin, an attorney, received an e-mail message on August 16, 2008, from a person who called himself Roman Hidotashi. Hidotashi claimed that he was a representative of Chipang Lee Song Manufacturing Company and needed to hire a lawyer to collect millions of dollars from past-due accounts of North American customers. Martin agreed to represent the company.

On September 8, 2008, Martin received a check for $290,986.15 from a purported Chipang Lee Song Manufacturing Company customer, even though Martin had yet to commence any collections work. The check, which was drawn on First Century Bank USA, arrived in an envelope with a Canadian postmark and no return address. The check was accompanied by an undated transmittal letter. Martin endorsed the check and deposited it in his client trust account at PNC. Martin then e-mailed Hidotashi, reported that he had deposited the check, and stated that he would await further instructions.

Hidotashi responded to Martin’s e-mail message on September 9, 2008. Hidotashi stated that he had an “immediate need for funds” and instructed Martin to wire $130,600 to a bank account in Tokyo. Martin went to PNC’s main office in Louisville the next morning and met with representative Craig Friedman. According to Martin, Friedman advised that the check Martin deposited had cleared. Martin instructed Friedman to wire $130,600 to the Tokyo account.

Martin returned to PNC later the same day. According to Martin, Friedman accessed Martin’s account information and said, “I don’t understand this. The check was cleared yesterday. Let me go find out what is going on.” Friedman returned with PNC vice president and branch manager Sherry Jennewein, who informed Martin that the check was fraudulent. According to Martin, Jennewein told him that she wished he had met with her instead of Friedman because she never would have authorized the wire transfer.

First Century Bank, on which the check was drawn, dishonored the check. PNC charged Martin’s account for $290,986.15. PNC, however, could not recover the $130,600 the bank had wired to the Tokyo account. Martin’s account, as a result, was left overdrawn by $124,313.01.

PNC commenced this action. PNC asserts one count for Martin’s alleged breach of the transfer warranties provided in Kentucky’s version of the Uniform Commercial Code and one count for breach of Martin’s account agreement. PNC moves for summary judgment on both counts.

II. Discussion

A. Breach of transfer warranties

PNC is entitled to summary judgment on its breach-of-transfer-warranties claim because the undisputed facts establish Martin’s liability.

Transfer warranties trigger when a person transfers an instrument for consideration. UCC § 3-416(a)). A transfer, for purposes of the statute, occurs when an instrument is delivered by a person other than its issuer for the purpose of giving to the person receiving delivery the right to enforce the instrument. § 3-203(a). Martin transferred an instrument to PNC when he endorsed the check and deposited it in his account, thereby granting PNC the right to enforce the check. [Citation] Consideration, for purposes of the statute, need only be enough to support a simple contract. [Citation] Martin received consideration from PNC because PNC made the funds provisionally available before confirming whether First Century Bank would honor the check.

As a warrantor, Martin made a number of representations to PNC, including representations that he was entitled to enforce the check and that all signatures on the check were authentic and authorized. [UCC] § 3-416(a). Martin breached his warranties twofold. First, he was not entitled to enforce the check because the check was a counterfeit and, as a result, Martin had nothing to enforce. Second, the drawer’s signature was not authentic because the check was a counterfeit.

Martin does not dispute these facts. Instead, Martin argues, summary judgment is inappropriate because Friedman and Jennewein admitted that PNC made a mistake when Friedman said that he thought the check cleared and Jennewein said that she never would have authorized the wire transfer. Friedman’s and Jennewein’s statements are immaterial facts. The transfer warranties placed the risk of loss on Martin, regardless of whether PNC, Martin, or both of them were at fault. [Citation] Martin, in any event, fails to support Friedman’s and Jennewein’s statements with firsthand deposition testimony or affidavits, so the statements do not qualify as competent evidence. [Citation]

Martin claims that the risk of loss falls on the bank. But the cases Martin cites in support of that proposition suffer from two defects. First, all but one of the cases were decided before the Kentucky General Assembly adopted the Uniform Commercial Code. Martin fails to argue, much less demonstrate, that his cases are good law. Second, Martin’s cases are inapposite even if they are good law. [UCC] § 3-416(a) addresses whether a transferor or transferee bears the risk of loss. Martin’s cases address who bears the risk of loss as between other players: a drawee bank and a collecting agent [Citation]; a drawer and a drawee bank [Citation]; and an execution creditor and drawee bank [Citation—all of these cases are from 1910–1930]. The one modern case that Martin cites is also inapposite because the case involves a drawer and a drawee bank. [Citation]

In sum, the court must grant summary judgment in PNC’s favor on the breach-of-transfer-warranties claim because the parties do not contest any material facts, which establish Martin’s liability.

B. Breach of Contract

PNC is also entitled to summary judgment on its breach-of-contract claim because the undisputed facts establish Martin’s liability.

To support its allegation that a contract existed, PNC filed copies of Martin’s account agreement and Martin’s accompanying signature card. Under the agreement’s terms, Martin agreed to bind himself to the agreement by signing the signature card. Martin does not dispute that the account agreement was a binding contract, and he does not dispute the account agreement’s terms.

Martin’s account agreement authorized PNC to charge Martin’s account for the value of any item returned to PNC unpaid or any item on which PNC did not receive payment. If PNC’s charge-back created an overdraft, Martin was required to pay PNC the amount of the overdraft immediately.

The scam of which Martin was a victim falls squarely within the charge-back provision of the account agreement. The check was returned to PNC unpaid. PNC charged Martin’s account, leaving it with an overdraft. Martin was obliged to pay PNC immediately.

As with the breach-of-transfer-warranties claim, Martin cannot defend against the breach-of-contract claim by arguing that PNC made a mistake. The account agreement authorized PNC to charge back Martin’s account “even if the amount of the item has already been made available to you.” The account agreement, as a result, placed the risk of loss on Martin. Any mistake on PNC’s part was immaterial because PNC always had the right to charge back Martin’s account. [Citation]

C. Martin’s Counterclaims

Martin has asserted counterclaims for violations of various Uniform Commercial Code provisions; negligence and failure to exercise ordinary care; negligent misrepresentation; breach of contract and breach of the implied covenants of good faith and fair dealing; detrimental reliance; conversion; and negligent retention and supervision. Martin argues that “[t]o the extent that either party should be entitled to summary judgment in this case, it would be Martin with respect to his counterclaims against PNC.” Martin, however, has not moved for summary judgment on his counterclaims, and the court does not address them on PNC’s motion.

D. Damages

PNC’s recovery under both theories of liability is contingent on PNC’s demonstrating that it acted in good faith. PNC may recover for breach of the transfer warranties only if it took the check in good faith. § 3-416(b). Moreover, PNC must satisfy the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, which Kentucky law incorporates in the account agreement. [Citation] Good faith, under both theories, means honesty in fact and the observance of reasonable commercial standards of fair dealing. That means “contracts impose on the parties thereto a duty to do everything necessary to carry them out.” [Citation]

The undisputed evidence establishes that PNC acted in good faith. PNC accepted deposit of Martin’s check, attempted to present the check for payment at First Century Bank, and charged back Martin’s account when the check was dishonored. Martin cannot claim that PNC lacked good faith and fair dealing when PNC took actions permitted under the contract. [Citation] Although PNC might have had the ability to investigate the authenticity of the check before crediting Martin’s account, PNC bore no such obligation because Martin warranted that the check was authentic. [UCC] § 3-416(a). Friedman’s and Jennewein’s statements do not impute a lack of good faith to PNC, even if Martin could support the statements with competent evidence. The Uniform Commercial Code and the account agreement place the risk of loss on Martin, even if PNC made a mistake.

Martin suggests that an insurance carrier might have already reimbursed PNC for the loss. Martin, however, presents no evidence of reimbursement, which PNC, presumably, would have disclosed in discovery.

PNC, therefore, may recover from Martin the overdraft value of $124,313.01, which is the loss PNC suffered as a result of Martin’s breach of the transfer warranties and breach of contract. [UCC] § 3-416(b)…

III. Conclusion

For the foregoing reasons, IT IS ORDERED that PNC’s motion for summary judgment is granted…to the extent that…PNC is permitted to recover $124,313.01 from Martin.…

Case Questions

  1. How did Martin come to have an overdraft of $124,313.01 in his account?
  2. Under what UCC provision did the court hold Martin liable for this amount?
  3. The contract liability the court discusses was not incurred by Martin on account of his signature on the check (though he did indorse it); what was the contract liability?
  4. If the bank had not taken the check in good faith (honesty in fact and observing reasonable commercial standards), what would the consequence have been, and why?
  5. Is a reader really constrained here to say that Mr. Martin got totally scammed, or was his behavior reasonable under the circumstances?