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14.4 Cases

Bearer Paper

(Note: this is a trial court’s opinion.)

Chung v. New York Racing Ass’n

714 N.Y.S.2d 429 (N.Y. Dist. Ct. 2000)

Gartner, J.

A published news article recently reported that an investigation into possible money laundering being conducted through the racetracks operated by the defendant New York Racing Association was prompted by a small-time money laundering case in which a Queens bank robber used stolen money to purchase betting vouchers and then exchanged the vouchers for clean cash. [Citation] The instant case does not involve any such question of wrongdoing, but does raise a novel legal issue regarding the negotiability of those same vouchers when their possession is obtained by a thief or finder. The defendant concedes that “there are no cases on point.”

The defendant is a private stock corporation incorporated and organized in New York as a non-profit racing association pursuant to [New York law]. The defendant owns and operates New York’s largest thoroughbred racetracks—Belmont Park Racetrack, Aqueduct Racetrack, and Saratoga Racetrack—where it stages thoroughbred horse races and conducts pari-mutuel wagering on them pursuant to a franchise granted to the defendant by the State of New York.

The plaintiff was a Belmont Park Racetrack horse player. He attended the track and purchased from the defendant a voucher for use in SAMS machines. As explained in [Citation]:

In addition to accepting bets placed at parimutuel facility windows staffed by facility employees, [some] facilities use SAMS. SAMS are automated machines which permit a bettor to enter his bet by inserting money, vouchers or credit cards into the machine, thereby enabling him to select the number or combination he wishes to purchase. A ticket is issued showing those numbers.Authors’ note: Pari-mutuel betting (from the French pari mutuel, meaning mutual stake) is a betting system in which all bets of a particular type are placed together in a pool; taxes and a house take are removed, and payoff odds are calculated by sharing the pool among all winning bets.

When a voucher is utilized for the purpose of placing a bet at a SAMS machine, the SAMS machine, after deducting the amount bet by the horse player during the particular transaction, provides the horse player with, in addition to his betting ticket(s), a new voucher showing the remaining balance left on the voucher.

In the instant case, the unfortunate horse player departed the SAMS machine with his betting tickets, but without his new voucher—showing thousands of dollars in remaining value—which he inadvertently left sitting in the SAMS machine. Within several minutes he realized his mistake and hurried back to the SAMS machine, only to find the voucher gone. He immediately notified a security guard. The defendant’s personnel thereafter quickly confirmed the plaintiff as the original purchaser of the lost voucher. The defendant placed a computerized “stop” on the voucher. However, whoever had happened upon the voucher in the SAMS machine and taken it had acted even more quickly: the voucher had been brought to a nearby track window and “cashed out” within a minute or so of the plaintiff having mistakenly left it in the SAMS machine.

The plaintiff now sues the defendant, contending that the defendant should be liable for having failed to “provide any minimal protection to its customers” in checking the identity and ownership of vouchers prior to permitting their “cash out.” The defendant, in response, contends that the voucher consists of “bearer paper,” negotiable by anyone having possession, and that it is under no obligation to purchasers of vouchers to provide any such identity or ownership checks.

As opposed to instruments such as ordinary checks, which are typically made payable to the order of a specific person and are therefore known as “order paper,” bearer paper is payable to the “bearer,” i.e., whoever walks in carrying (or “bearing”) the instrument. Pursuant to [New York’s UCC] “[a]n instrument is payable to bearer when by its terms it is payable to…(c) ‘cash’ or the order of ‘cash’, or any other indication which does not purport to designate a specific payee.”

Each New York Racing Association voucher is labeled “Cash Voucher.” Each voucher contains the legend “Bet Against the Value or Exchange for Cash.” Each voucher is also encoded with certain computer symbols which are readable by SAMS machines. The vouchers do by their terms constitute “bearer paper.”

There is no doubt that under the [1990 Revision] Model Uniform Commercial Code the defendant would be a “holder in due course” of the voucher, deemed to have taken it free from all defenses that could be raised by the plaintiff. As observed in 2 White & Summers, Uniform Commercial Code pp. 225–226, 152–153 (4th ed.1995):

Consider theft of bearer instruments…[T]he thief can make his or her transferee a holder simply by transfer to one who gives value in good faith. If the thief’s transferee cashes the check and so gives value in good faith and without notice of any defense, that transferee will be a holder in due course under 3-302, free of all claims to the instrument on the part…of any person and free of all personal defenses of any prior party. Therefore, the holder in due course will not be liable in conversion to the true owner.…Of course, the owner of the check will have a good cause of action against the thief, but no other cause of action.…

If an instrument is payable to bearer…the possessor of the instrument will be a holder and, if he meets the other tests, a holder in due course. This is so even though the instrument may have passed through the hands of a thief; the holder in due course is one of the few purchasers in Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence who may derive a good title from a chain of title that includes a thief in its links.

However, the Model Uniform Commercial Code in its present form is not in effect in New York.Authors’ note: As of 2010, New York is the sole remaining state yet to adopt the 1990 revisions to Articles 3 and 4; it entertained a bill in 2007 and 2008 that would have enacted the 1990 revisions as amended by the 2002 amendments. However, that bill floundered. Keith A. Rowley, UCC Update [American Bar Association, Business Law Committee], available at http://www.abanet.org/buslaw/committees/CL190000pub/newsletter/200901/subcommittees/developments.pdf. In 1990, the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws and the American Law Institute approved a revised Article 3. This revised Article 3 has never been enacted in New York. Comment 1 to § 3-201 of the [1990] Uniform Commercial Code, commenting on the difference between it and its predecessor (which is still in effect in New York), states:

A person can become holder of an instrument…as the result of an event that occurs after issuance. “Negotiation” is the term used in Article 3 to describe this post-issuance event.…In defining “negotiation” former Section 3-202(1) used the word “transfer,” an undefined term, and “delivery,” defined in Section 1-201(14) to mean voluntary change of possession. Instead, subsections (a) and (b) [now] use the term “transfer of possession,” and subsection (a) states that negotiation can occur by an involuntary transfer of possession. For example, if an instrument is payable to bearer and it is stolen by Thief or is found by Finder, Thief or Finder becomes the holder of the instrument when possession is obtained. In this case there is an involuntary transfer of possession that results in negotiation to Thief or Finder.

Thus, it would initially appear that under the prior Model Uniform Commercial Code, still in effect in New York, a thief or finder of bearer paper, as the recipient of an involuntary transfer, could not become a “holder,” and thus could not pass holder-in-due-course status, or good title, to someone in the position of the defendant.

This conclusion, however, is not without doubt. For instance, in 2 Anderson, Uniform Commercial Code § 3-202:35 (2nd ed.1971), it was observed that:

The Code states that bearer paper is negotiated by “delivery.” This is likely to mislead for one is not inclined to think of the acquisition of paper by a finder or a thief as a “voluntary transfer of possession.”

By stating that the Code’s terminology was “misleading,” the treatise appears to imply that despite the literal import of the words, the contrary was true—negotiation could be accomplished by involuntary transfer, i.e., loss or theft.

In [Citation], the Appellate Division determined that the Tropicana Casino in New Jersey became a holder in due course of signed cashier’s checks with blank payee designations which a thief had stolen from the defendant and negotiated to the casino for value after filling in the payee designation with his brother-in-law’s name. The Appellate Division, assuming without discussion that the thief was a “holder” of the stolen instruments and therefore able to transfer good title, held the defendant obligated to make payment on the stolen checks. Accord [Citation] (check cashing service which unknowingly took for value from an intervening thief the plaintiff’s check, which the plaintiff had endorsed in blank and thus converted to a bearer instrument, was a holder in due course of the check, having received good title from the thief).

Presumably, these results have occurred because the courts in New York have implicitly interpreted the undefined term “transfer” as utilized in [the pre-1990] U.C.C. § 3-202(1) as including the involuntary transfer of possession, so that as a practical matter the old Code (as still in effect in New York) has the same meaning as the new Model Uniform Commercial Code, which represents a clarification rather than a change in the law.

This result makes sense. A contrary result would require extensive verification procedures to be undertaken by all transferees of bearer paper. The problem with imposing an identity or ownership check requirement on the negotiation of bearer paper is that such a requirement would impede the free negotiability which is the essence of bearer paper. As held in [Citation (1970)],

[Where] the instrument entrusted to a dishonest messenger or agent was freely negotiable bearer paper…the drawee bank [cannot] be held liable for making payment to one presenting a negotiable instrument in bearer form who may properly be presumed to be a holder [citations omitted].

…Moreover, the plaintiff in the instant case knew that the voucher could be “Exchange[d] for cash.” The plaintiff conceded at trial that (1) when he himself utilized the voucher prior to its loss, no identity or ownership check was ever made; and (2) he nevertheless continued to use it. The plaintiff could therefore not contend that he had any expectation that the defendant had in place any safeguards against the voucher’s unencumbered use, or that he had taken any actions in reliance on the same.

This Court is compelled to render judgment denying the plaintiff’s claim, and in favor of the defendant.

Case Questions

  1. Was the instrument in question a note or a draft?
  2. How did the court determine it was bearer paper?
  3. What would the racetrack have to have done if it wanted the machine to dispense order paper?
  4. What confusion arose from the UCC’s pre-1990 use of the words “transfer” and “delivery,” which was clarified by the revised Article 3’s use of the phrase “transfer of possession”? Does this offer any insight into why the change was made?
  5. How had—have—the New York courts decided the question as to whether a thief could be a holder when the instrument was acquired from its previous owner involuntarily?

Forged Drawer’s Signature, Forged Indorsements, Fictitious Payee, and Comparative Negligence

Victory Clothing Co., Inc. v. Wachovia Bank, N.A.

2006 WL 773020 (Penn. [Trial Court] 2006)

Abramson, J.

Background

This is a subrogation action brought by the insurance carrier for plaintiff Victory Clothing, Inc. (“Victory”), to recover funds paid to Victory under an insurance policy. This matter arises out of thefts from Victory’s commercial checking account by its office manager and bookkeeper, Jeanette Lunny (“Lunny”). Lunny was employed by Victory for approximately twenty-four (24) years until she resigned in May 2003. From August 2001 through May 2003, Lunny deposited approximately two hundred (200) checks drawn on Victory’s corporate account totaling $188,273.00 into her personal checking account at defendant Wachovia Bank (“Wachovia”). Lunny’s scheme called for engaging in “double forgeries” (discussed infra). Lunny would prepare the checks in the company’s computer system, and make the checks payable to known vendors of Victory (e.g., Adidas, Sean John), to whom no money was actually owed. The checks were for dollar amounts that were consistent with the legitimate checks to those vendors. She would then forge the signature of Victory’s owner, Mark Rosenfeld (“Rosenfeld”), on the front of the check, and then forge the indorsement of the unintended payee (Victory’s various vendors) on the reverse side of the check. The unauthorized checks were drawn on Victory’s bank account at Hudson Bank (the “drawee bank” or “payor bank”). After forging the indorsement of the payee, Lunny either indorsed the check with her name followed by her account number, or referenced her account number following the forged indorsement. She then deposited the funds into her personal bank account at Wachovia (the “depositary bank” or “collecting bank”).

At the time of the fraud by Lunny, Wachovia’s policies and regulations regarding the acceptance of checks for deposit provided that “checks payable to a non-personal payee can be deposited ONLY into a non-personal account with the same name.” [Emphasis in original]

Rosenfeld reviewed the bank statements from Hudson Bank on a monthly basis. However, among other observable irregularities, he failed to detect that Lunny had forged his signature on approximately two hundred (200) checks. Nor did he have a procedure to match checks to invoices.

In its Complaint, Victory asserted a claim against Wachovia pursuant to the Pennsylvania Commercial Code, [3-405]…[it] states, in relevant part:

Employer’s responsibility for fraudulent indorsement by employee

(b) RIGHTS AND LIABILITIES.-For the purpose of determining the rights and liabilities of a person who, in good faith, pays an instrument or takes it for value or for collection, if an employer entrusted an employee with responsibility with respect to the instrument and the employee or a person acting in concert with the employee makes a fraudulent indorsement of the instrument, the indorsement is effective as the indorsement of the person to whom the instrument is payable if it is made in the name of that person. If the person paying the instrument or taking it for value or for collection fails to exercise ordinary care in paying or taking the instrument and that failure substantially contributes to loss resulting from the fraud, the person bearing the loss may recover from the person failing to exercise ordinary care to the extent the failure to exercise ordinary care contributed to the loss.

In essence, Victory contends that Wachovia’s actions in accepting the checks payable to various businesses for deposit into Lunny’s personal account were commercially unreasonable, contrary to Wachovia’s own internal rules and regulations, and exhibited a want of ordinary care.

Discussion

I. Double Forgeries

As stated supra, this case involves a double forgery situation. This matter presents a question of first impression in the Pennsylvania state courts, namely how should the loss be allocated in double forgery situations. A double forgery occurs when the negotiable instrument contains both a forged maker’s [bank customer’s] signature and a forged indorsement. The Uniform Commercial Code (“UCC” or “Code”) addresses the allocation of liability in cases where either the maker’s signature is forged or where the indorsement of the payee or holder is forged. [Citation] (“the Code accords separate treatment to forged drawer signatures…and forged indorsements”). However, the drafters of the UCC failed to specifically address the allocation of liability in double forgery situations.…Consequently, the courts have been left to determine how liability should be allocated in a double forgery case.…

II. The Effect of the UCC Revisions

In 1990, new revisions to Articles 3 and 4 of the UCC were implemented (the “revisions”).…The new revisions made a major change in the area of double forgeries. Before the revisions, the case law was uniform in treating a double forgery case as a forged drawer’s signature case [only], with the loss falling [only] on the drawee bank. The revisions, however, changed this rule by shifting to a comparative fault approach. Under the revised version of the UCC, the loss in double forgery cases is allocated between the depositary and drawee banks based on the extent that each contributed to the loss.…

Specifically, revised § 3-405 of the UCC, entitled “Employer’s Responsibility for Fraudulent Indorsement by Employee,” introduced the concept of comparative fault as between the employer of the dishonest employee/embezzler and the bank(s). This is the section under which Victory sued Wachovia. Section 3-405(b) states, in relevant part:

If the person paying the instrument or taking it for value or for collection fails to exercise ordinary care in paying or taking the instrument and that failure substantially contributes to loss resulting from the fraud, the person bearing the loss may recover from the person failing to exercise ordinary care to the extent the failure to exercise ordinary care contributed to the loss.

Wachovia argues that this section is applicable only in cases of forged indorsements, and not in double forgery situations. However, at least one court has found that the new revisions have made section 3-405 apply to double forgery situations. “Nothing in the [Revised UCC] statutory language indicates that, where the signature of the drawer is forged…the drawer is otherwise precluded from seeking recovery from a depositary bank under these sections” [Citation]…The Court finds the reasoning persuasive and holds that…Victory can maintain its cause of action against Wachovia.

III. The Fictitious Payee Rule

Lunny made the fraudulent checks payable to actual vendors of Victory with the intention that the vendors not get paid. Wachovia therefore argues that Victory’s action against it should be barred by the fictitious payee rule under UCC 3-404 [which] states, in relevant part:

(b) Fictitious Payee. If a person…does not intend the person identified as payee to have any interest in the instrument or the person identified as payee of an instrument is a fictitious person, the following rules apply until the instrument is negotiated by special indorsement:

(1) Any person in possession of the instrument is its holder.

(2) An indorsement by any person in the name of the payee stated in the instrument is effective as the indorsement of the payee in favor of a person who, in good faith, pays the instrument or takes it for value or for collection.…

The theory under the rule is that since the indorsement is “effective,” the drawee bank was justified in debiting the company’s account. Therefore, [Wachovia argues] the loss should fall on the company whose employee committed the fraud.

…[However] under revised UCC §§ 3-404 and 3-405, the fictitious payee defense triggers principles of comparative fault, so a depositary bank’s own negligence may be considered by the trier of fact.…Therefore, based on the foregoing reasons, the fictitious payee defense does not help Wachovia in this case.

IV. Allocation of Liability

As stated supra, comparative negligence applies in this case because of the revisions in the Code. In determining the liability of the parties, the Court has considered, inter alia [among other things], the following factors:

  • At the time of the fraud by Lunny, Wachovia’s policies and regulations regarding the acceptance of checks for deposit provided that “checks payable to a non-personal payee can be deposited ONLY into a non-personal account with the same name.” [Emphasis in original]
  • Approximately two hundred (200) checks drawn on Victory’s corporate account were deposited into Lunny’s personal account at Wachovia.
  • The first twenty-three (23) fraudulent checks were made payable to entities that were not readily distinguishable as businesses, such as “Sean John.” The check dated December 17, 2001 was the first fraudulent check made payable to a payee that was clearly a business, specifically “Beverly Hills Shoes, Inc.”
  • In 2001, Victory had approximately seventeen (17) employees, including Lunny.
  • Lunny had been a bookkeeper for Victory from approximately 1982 until she resigned in May 2003. Rosenfeld never had any problems with Lunny’s bookkeeping before she resigned.
  • Lunny exercised primary control over Victory’s bank accounts.
  • Between 2001 and 2003, the checks that were generated to make payments to Victory’s vendors were all computerized checks generated by Lunny. No other Victory employee, other than Lunny, knew how to generate the computerized checks, including Rosenfeld.
  • The fraudulent checks were made payable to known vendors of Victory in amounts that were consistent with previous legitimate checks to those vendors.
  • After forging the indorsement of the payee, Lunny either indorsed the check with her name followed by her account number, or referenced her account number following the forged indorsement.
  • About ten (10) out of approximately three hundred (300) checks each month were forged by Lunny and deposited into her personal account.
  • Rosenfeld reviewed his bank statements from Hudson Bank on a monthly basis.
  • Rosenfeld received copies of Victory’s cancelled checks from Hudson Bank on a monthly basis. However, the copies of the cancelled checks were not in their normal size; instead, they were smaller, with six checks (front and back side) on each page.
  • The forged indorsements were written out in longhand, i.e., Lunny’s own handwriting, rather than a corporate stamped signature.
  • Victory did not match its invoices for each check at the end of each month.
  • An outside accounting firm performed quarterly reviews of Victory’s bookkeeping records, and then met with Rosenfeld. This review was not designed to pick up fraud or misappropriation.

Based on the foregoing, the Court finds that Victory and Wachovia are comparatively negligent.

With regard to Wachovia’s negligence, it is clear that Wachovia was negligent in violating its own rules in repeatedly depositing corporate checks into Lunny’s personal account at Wachovia. Standard commercial bank procedures dictate that a check made payable to a business be accepted only into a business checking account with the same title as the business. Had a single teller at Wachovia followed Wachovia’s rules, the fraud would have been detected as early as December 17, 2001, when the first fraudulently created non-personal payee check was presented for deposit into Lunny’s personal checking account. Instead, Wachovia permitted another one hundred and seventy-six (176) checks to be deposited into Lunny’s account after December 17, 2001. The Court finds that Wachovia failed to exercise ordinary care, and that failure substantially contributed to Victory’s loss resulting from the fraud. Therefore, the Court concludes that Wachovia is seventy (70) percent liable for Victory’s loss.

Victory, on the other hand, was also negligent in its supervision of Lunny, and for not discovering the fraud for almost a two-year period. Rosenfeld received copies of the cancelled checks, albeit smaller in size, on a monthly basis from Hudson Bank. The copies of the checks displayed both the front and back of the checks. Rosenfeld was negligent in not recognizing his own forged signature on the front of the checks, as well as not spotting his own bookkeeper’s name and/or account number on the back of the checks (which appeared far too many times and on various “payees” checks to be seen as regular by a non-negligent business owner).

Further, there were inadequate checks and balances in Victory’s record keeping process. For example, Victory could have ensured that it had an adequate segregation of duties, meaning that more than one person would be involved in any control activity. Here, Lunny exercised primary control over Victory’s bank accounts. Another Victory employee, or Rosenfeld himself, could have reviewed Lunny’s work. In addition, Victory could have increased the amount of authorization that was needed to perform certain transactions. For example, any check that was over a threshold monetary amount would have to be authorized by more than one individual. This would ensure an additional control on checks that were larger in amounts. Furthermore, Victory did not match its invoices for each check at the end of each month. When any check was created by Victory’s computer system, the value of the check was automatically assigned to a general ledger account before the check could be printed. The values in the general ledger account could have been reconciled at the end of each month with the actual checks and invoices. This would not have been overly burdensome or costly because Victory already had the computer system that could do this in place. Based on the foregoing, the Court concludes that Victory is also thirty (30) percent liable for the loss.

Conclusion

For all the foregoing reasons, the Court finds that Wachovia is 70% liable and Victory is 30% liable for the $188,273.00 loss. Therefore, Victory Clothing Company, Inc. is awarded $131,791.10.

Case Questions

  1. How does the double-forgery scam work?
  2. What argument did Wachovia make as to why it should not be liable for the double forgeries?
  3. What argument did Wachovia make as to why it should not be liable under the fictitious payee rule?
  4. What change in the revised UCC (from the pre-1990 version) made Wachovia’s arguments invalid, in the court’s opinion?
  5. What factors appear to have caused the court to decide that Wachovia was more than twice as responsible for the embezzlement as Victory was?

Joint Payees and Conditional and Restrictive Indorsements

Wisner Elevator Company, Inc. v. Richland State Bank

862 So.2d 1112 (La. App. 2003)

Gaskins, J.

Wisner Elevator Company, Inc. [plaintiff] (“Wisner”), appeals from a summary judgment in favor of the defendant, Richland State Bank. At issue is the deposit of a check with a typed statement on the back directing that a portion of the funds be paid to a third party. We affirm the trial court judgment.

Facts

On July 13, 2001, the United States Treasury, through the Farm Service Agency, issued a check in the amount of $17,420.00, made payable to Chad E. Gill. On the back of the check the following was typed:

PAY TO THE ORDER OF RICHLAND STATE BANK FOR ISSUANCE OF A CASHIER’S CHECK PAYABLE TO WISNER ELEVATOR IN THE AMOUNT OF $13,200.50 AND PAY THE BALANCE TO CHAD GILL IN THE AMOUNT OF $4,219.50.

On July 23, 2001, the check was deposited into Gill’s checking account at Richland State Bank. Gill’s signature is found on the back of the check below the typed paragraph. No cashier check to Wisner Elevator was issued; instead the entire amount was deposited into Gill’s checking account as per Gill’s deposit ticket.

…On May 28, 2002, Wisner filed suit against the bank, claiming that its failure to apply the funds as per the restrictive indorsement constituted a conversion of the portion of the check due to Wisner under UCC 3-206(c)(2) [that a depositary bank converts an instrument if it pays out on an indorsement “indicating a purpose of having the instrument collected for the indorser or for a particular account”].

[The bank] asserted that the indorsement on the back of the check was a conditional indorsement and ineffective under 3-206(b), [which states:]

An indorsement stating a condition to the right of the indorsee to receive payment does not affect the right of the indorsee to enforce the instrument. A person paying the instrument or taking it for value or collection may disregard the condition, and the rights and liabilities of that person are not affected by whether the condition has been fulfilled.

…[T]he bank asserts the fault of the United States Treasury…, in failing to make the check payable to both Gill and Wisner. To the extent that the indorsement was conditional, the bank contends that it was unenforceable; to the extent that it was restrictive, it maintains that the restrictions were waived by the indorser when he deposited the full amount of the check into his own checking account.

Wisner…[stated that it] was owed $13,200.50 by Gill for seeds, chemicals, crop supplies and agricultural seed technology fees. [It] further stated that Gill never paid the $13,200.50 he owed and that Wisner did not receive a cashier’s check issued in that amount by Richland State Bank.…According to [the bank teller], Gill asked to deposit the entire amount in his account. She further stated that the bank was unaware that the indorsement was written by someone other than Gill.

…The court found that the typed indorsement placed on the check was the indorsement of the maker, not Gill. However, when Gill signed below the indorsement, he made it his own indorsement. The court concluded that Gill had the legal power and authority to verbally instruct that the entire proceeds be deposited into his account. The court stated that as long as the indorsement was his own, whether it was restrictive or conditional, Gill had the power to ignore it, strike it out or give contrary instructions. The court further concluded that the bank acted properly when it followed the verbal instructions given by Gill to the teller and the written instructions on his deposit slip to deposit the entire proceeds into Gill’s account. Consequently, the court gave summary judgment in favor of the bank. Wisner appeals.…

Discussion

Wisner contends that the trial court erred in holding that the bank could disregard what Wisner characterizes as a special and restrictive indorsement on the back of the check. It claims that under UCC 3-206, the amount paid by the bank had to be “applied consistently with” the indorsement and that the bank’s failure to comply with the indorsement made it liable to Wisner. According to Wisner, Gill was not entitled to deposit the amount due to Wisner by virtue of his own special indorsement and the bank converted the check under 3-420 by crediting the full amount to Gill’s account.

The bank argues that the indorsement was conditional and thus could be ignored pursuant to 3-206(b). It also asserts that nothing on the check indicated that the indorsement was written by someone other than Gill. Since the check was made payable to Gill, the indorsement was not necessary to his title and could be ignored, struck out or simply waived. The bank also claims that Wisner had no ownership interest in the check, did not receive delivery of the check, and had no claim for conversion under 3-420.

We agree with the bank that the true problem in this case is the failure of the government to issue the check jointly to Gill and Wisner as co-payees. Had the government done so, there would be no question as to Wisner’s entitlement to a portion of the proceeds from the check.

Although the writing on the back of the check is referred to as an indorsement, we note that, standing alone, it does not truly conform to the definition found in 3-204(a) [which states]:

“Indorsement” means a signature, other than that of a signer as maker, drawer, or acceptor, that alone or accompanied by other words is made on an instrument for the purpose of (i) negotiating the instrument, (ii) restricting payment of the instrument, or (iii) incurring indorser’s liability on the instrument, but regardless of the intent of the signer, a signature and its accompanying words is an indorsement unless the accompanying words, terms of the instrument, place of the signature, or other circumstances unambiguously indicate that the signature was made for a purpose other than indorsement.

This paragraph was placed on the back of the check by the government as the maker or drawer of the check. Consequently, the bank argues that Gill as sole payee could waive, ignore or strike out the language.

Although the Louisiana jurisprudence contains no similar case dealing with the Uniform Commercial Code, we may look to other jurisdictions for guidance…In [Citation, a New Jersey case] (1975), the drawer of a check placed instructions on the backs of several checks…that the instruments not be deposited until a specific future date. However, the payee presented some of the checks prior to the date specified on the back. The court found that the drawer did not have the capacity to indorse the instruments; as a result the typed instructions on the backs of the checks could not be indorsements. Instead, they were “merely requests to plaintiff who may or may not comply at its own pleasure. The instructions are neither binding on plaintiff nor the subsequent holders.” In other words, the payee could ignore the instructions.

In the instant case, the payee did precisely that. Gill ignored the writing on the back of the check and instructed the teller at the defendant bank to do the same through verbal and written instructions.

Wisner argues that by affixing his signature under the writing on the back of the check, Gill made it his own indorsement. Furthermore, it asserts that it was a restrictive indorsement, not a conditional one which could be disregarded pursuant to 3-206. Wisner relies upon the provisions of 3-206 for the proposition that the check had a restrictive indorsement and that the bank converted the check because it failed to apply the amount it paid consistently with the indorsement. However, Comment 3 to 3-206 states, in pertinent part:

This Article does not displace the law of waiver as it may apply to restrictive indorsements. The circumstances under which a restrictive indorsement may be waived by the person who made it is not determined by this Article.

Not all jurisdictions recognize a doctrine of waiver of restrictive indorsements. [Citing cases from various jurisdictions in which a bank customer effectively requested the bank to disregard a restrictive indorsement; some cases affirmed the concept that the restriction could be waived (disregarded), others did not.]…

In two cases arising under pre-UCC law, Louisiana recognized that indorsements could be ignored or struck out. In [Citation] (1925), the Louisiana Supreme Court held that the holder of a check could erase or strike out a restrictive indorsement on a check that was not necessary to the holder’s title. In [Citation] (1967), the court stated that an erroneous indorsement could be ignored and even struck out as unnecessary to the plaintiff’s title.

Like the trial court, we find that when Gill affixed his signature under the writing on the back of the check, he made it his own indorsement. We further find that the indorsement was restrictive, not conditional. As Gill’s own restrictive indorsement, he could waive it and direct that the check, upon which he was designated as the sole payee, be deposited in his account in its entirety.

Affirmed.

Case Questions

  1. Notice that the check was made payable to Chad Gill—he was the named payee on the front side of the check. To avoid the problems here, if the drawer (the US government) wanted to control the uses to which the check could be put, how should it have named the payee?
  2. The court held that when Gill “affixed his signature under the writing on the back of the check, he made it his own indorsement.” But why wasn’t it the indorsement of the drawer—the US government?
  3. If the language on the back was considered his own conditional indorsement (the instrument was not valid unless the stated conditions were met), how could the condition be disregarded by the bank?
  4. If it was his own restrictive indorsement, how could it be disregarded by the bank?
  5. What recourse does Wisner have now?