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17.5 Summary and Exercises

Summary

Traditionally when a customer wrote a check (on the payor bank) and the payee deposited it into his account (at the depository bank), the check was physically routed by means of ground and air transportation to the various intermediary banks until it was physically presented to the payor bank for final settlement. The federal Check 21 Act (2004) promotes changes in this process by allowing banks to process electronic images of customers’ checks instead of the actual paper instrument: the data on the check is truncated (stripped) from the instrument and the data are transmitted. The original check can be digitally recreated by the making of a “substitute check.” Merchants—indeed, anyone with a check scanner and a computer—can also process electronic data from checks to debit the writer’s account and credit the merchant’s instantly.

In addition to Check 21 Act, the Electronic Fund Transfer Act of 1978 also facilitates electronic banking. It primarily addresses the uses of credit and debit cards. Under this law, the electronic terminal must provide a receipt of transfer. The financial institution must follow certain procedures on being notified of errors, the customer’s liability is limited to $50 if a card or code number is wrongfully used and the institution has been notified, and an employer or government agency can compel acceptance of salary or government benefits by EFT.

Article 4 of the UCC—state law, of course—governs a bank’s relationship with its customers. It permits a bank to pay an overdraft, to pay an altered check (charging the customer’s account for the original tenor of the check), to refuse to pay a six-month-old check, to pay or collect an item of a deceased person (if it has no notice of death) and obligates it to honor stop payment orders. A bank is liable to the customer for damages if it wrongfully dishonors an item. The customer also has duties; primarily, the customer must inspect each statement of account and notify the bank promptly if the checks have been altered or signatures forged. The federal Expedited Funds Availability Act requires that, within some limits, banks make customers’ funds available quickly.

Wholesale funds transactions, involving tens of millions of dollars, were originally made by telegraph (“wire transfers”). The modern law governing such transactions is, in the United States, UCC Article 4A.

A letter of credit is a statement by a bank or other financial institution that it will pay a specified sum of money to specified persons when certain conditions are met. Its purpose is to facilitate nonlocal sales transactions by ensuring that the buyer will not get access to the goods until the seller has proper access to the buyer’s money. In the US letters of credit are governed by UCC Article 5, and in international transactions they may be covered by a different internationally recognized law.

Exercises

  1. On March 20, Al gave Betty a check for $1,000. On March 25, Al gave Carl a check for $1,000, which Carl immediately had certified. On October 24, when Al had $1,100 in his account, Betty presented her check for payment and the bank paid her $1,000. On October 25, Carl presented his check for payment and the bank refused to pay because of insufficient funds. Were the bank’s actions proper?
  2. Winifred had a balance of $100 in her checking account at First Bank. She wrote a check payable to her landlord in the amount of $400. First Bank cashed the check and then attempted to charge her account. May it? Why?
  3. Assume in Exercise 2 that Winifred had deposited $4,000 in her account a month before writing the check to her landlord. Her landlord altered the check by changing the amount from $400 to $4,000 and then cashed the check at First Bank. May the bank charge Winifred’s account for the check? Why?
  4. Assume in Exercise 2 that Winifred had deposited $5,000 in her account a month before writing the check but the bank misdirected her deposit, with the result that her account showed a balance of $100. Believing the landlord’s check to be an overdraft, the bank refused to pay it. Was the refusal justified? Why?
  5. Assume in Exercise 2 that, after sending the check to the landlord, Winifred decided to stop payment because she wanted to use the $300 in her account as a down payment on a stereo. She called First Bank and ordered the bank to stop payment. Four days later the bank mistakenly paid the check. Is the bank liable to Winifred? Why?
  6. Assume in Exercise 5 that the landlord negotiated the check to a holder in due course, who presented the check to the bank for payment. Is the bank required to pay the holder in due course after the stop payment order? Why?
  7. On Wednesday, August 4, Able wrote a $1,000 check on his account at First Bank. On Saturday, August 7, the check was cashed, but the Saturday activity was not recorded by the bank until Monday, August 9. On that day at 8:00 a.m., Able called in a stop payment order on the check and he was told the check had not cleared; at 9:00 he went to the bank and obtained a printed notice confirming the stop payment, but shortly thereafter the Saturday activity was recorded—Able’s account had been debited. He wants the $1,000 recredited. Was the stop payment order effective? Explain.
  8. Alice wrote a check to Carl’s Contracting for $190 on April 23, 2011. Alice was not satisfied with Carl’s work. She called, leaving a message for him to return the call to discuss the matter with her. He did not do so, but when she reconciled her checks upon receipt of her bank statement, she noticed the check to Carl did not appear on the April statement. Several months went by. She figured Carl just tore the check up instead of bothering to resolve any dispute with her. The check was presented to Alice’s bank for payment on March 20, 2012, and Alice’s bank paid it. May she recover from the bank?
  9. Fitting wrote a check in the amount of $800. Afterwards, she had second thoughts about the check and contacted the bank about stopping payment. A bank employee told her a stop payment order could not be submitted until the bank opened the next day. She discussed with the employee what would happen if she withdrew enough money from her account that when the $800 check was presented, there would be insufficient funds to cover it. The employee told her that in such a case the bank would not pay the check. Fitting did withdraw enough money to make the $800 an overdraft, but the bank paid it anyway, and then sued her for the amount of the overdraft. Who wins and why? Continental Bank v. Fitting, 559 P.2d 218 (1977).
  10. Plaintiff’s executive secretary forged plaintiff’s name on number checks by signing his name and by using a rubber facsimile stamp of his signature: of fourteen checks that were drawn on her employer’s account, thirteen were deposited in her son’s account at the defendant bank, and one was deposited elsewhere. Evidence at trial was presented that the bank’s system of comparing its customer’s signature to the signature on checks was the same as other banks in the area. Plaintiff sued the bank to refund the amount of the checks paid out over a forged drawer’s signature. Who wins and why? Read v. South Carolina National Bank, 335 S.E.2d 359 (S.C., 1965).
  11. On Tuesday morning, Reggie discovered his credit card was not in his wallet. He realized he had not used it since the previous Thursday when he’d bought groceries. He checked his online credit card account register and saw that some $1,700 had been charged around the county on his card. He immediately notified his credit union of the lost card and unauthorized charges. For how much is Reggie liable?

Self-Test Questions

  1. Article 4 of the UCC permits a bank to pay

    1. an overdraft
    2. an altered check
    3. an item of a deceased person if it has no notice of death
    4. all of the above
  2. The type of banks covered by Article 4 include

    1. depository banks
    2. payor banks
    3. both of the above
    4. none of the above
  3. A bank may

    1. refuse to pay a check drawn more than six months before being presented
    2. refuse to pay a check drawn more than sixty days before being presented
    3. not refuse to pay a check drawn more than six months before being presented
    4. do none of the above
  4. Forms of electronic fund transfer include

    1. automated teller machines
    2. point of sale terminals
    3. preauthorized payment plans
    4. all of the above

Self-Test Answers

  1. d
  2. c
  3. a
  4. d