The Business Litigation Session of the Massachusetts Superior Court has joined other courts in holding that a bank is not liable to its customer for wiring money to a foreign account at the customer's instruction. The Plaintiff, Sarrouf Law LLP ("Sarrouf"), alleged negligence and breach of the California Uniform Commercial Code, but the Court found that the UCC expressly displaced common law and that the bank's conduct comported with the UCC's requirements. Sarrouf Law LLP v. First Republic Bank, No. SUCV2016-03069-BLS1 (Mass.Super. Aug. 2, 2018).
Would it surprise you to learn that when you see a clause in your international sales contract stating that Massachusetts (or any other State's) law applies, that it actually incorporates an international treaty that will likely supersede the Uniform Commercial Code ("UCC")?
In Armenian Missionary Association of America, Inc. v. TD Bank, N.A., et al, 87 UCC Rep. Serv. 2d 766 (D.N.J. 2015), the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey dismissed check fraud claims brought against TD Bank N.A. ("TD"). Plaintiff Armenian Missionary Association of America, Inc. ("AMAA" or "Plaintiff"), a non-profit organization that relies on donations to provide aid and assistance to Armenians throughout the world, sued TD after it discovered a series of alleged thefts by its former employee, Tigran Melkonyan, of over $800,000.00.
In a recent Minnesota case, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals held that where a bank accepted and paid two checks despite missing endorsements, the jilted payee had no viable claim because it ultimately suffered no loss.
While Section 4-111 of the Uniform Commercial Code ("UCC") contains a three-year statute of limitations for filing claims against a bank for paying an unauthorized or altered item from an account, a more potent tool for banks can be found in UCC 4-406(f), a one-year statute of repose for reporting the disputed item to the bank. Under UCC 4-406(f), a customer is required to report the disputed item to the bank within one year after the bank makes available the account statement or other documentation of the items paid, but what constitutes a "report" to the bank by the customer is not spelled out in the statute. Courts that have analyzed the issue have read UCC 4-406(f) as requiring such a report to specify the account, payment amount, check number, or other specific information identifying the unauthorized draft. Among the methods which have failed to satisfy the reporting requirement: Placing a blanket stop-payment order on an account and requesting copies of the account statements, Hatcher Cleaning Co. v. Comerica Bank - Texas, 995 S.W.2d 933 (Tex. App. 1999); requesting copies of potentially invalid checks from the bank, Watseka First National Bank v. Horney, 686 N.E.2d 1175 (Ill. App. 1997); reporting to the bank that a specific employee was suspected of check forgery on the company accounts, Villa Contracting Co., Inc. v. Summit Bancorporation, 695 A.2d 762 (N.J. Super. Ct. Law Div. 1996); discussing with a bank officer possible irregularities with single signatures on a dual-signature account, First Place Computers, Inc. v. Security Nat. Bank of Omaha, 558 N.W.2d 57 (Neb. 1997); reporting to the bank a belief of foul play or general notice of a possible theft, Simi Management Corp. v. Bank of America, N.A., 930 F. Supp. 2d 1082 (N.D. Calif. 2013).
The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has joined with the majority of courts in rejecting application of the discovery rule for check conversion claims under the Uniform Commercial Code ("UCC"). In Pate v. Huntington Nat'l Bank, et al., 560 Fed.Appx. 506 (2014), the Sixth Circuit addressed the application of Ohio's general statutory discovery rule for the wrongful taking of personal property in the context of check conversion subject to UCC § 3-118(g). Ohio Rev. Code § 2305.09 provides that a cause for wrongful taking of personal property "shall not accrue until the wrongdoer is discovered." UCC § 3-118(g), on the other hand, provides that an action for conversion "must be commenced within three years after the cause of action accrues."
In "check fraud" litigation, bank customers often sue their banks after learning that someone has made a forged or otherwise unauthorized signature on the front of one or more of the customer's checks. It often turns out that the fraudster has perpetrated the scheme over a long period of time and has made unauthorized signatures on many different checks. This article offers a brief overview of the "same wrongdoer" rule, an important defense that is available to banks in such cases under the Uniform Commercial Code ("UCC") as adopted in Massachusetts.