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Phillips v. M.N. Bank

Court of Appeals of the State of New York
Jan 16, 1894
140 N.Y. 556 (N.Y. 1894)


Argued December 22, 1893

Decided January 16, 1894

George W. Wingate for appellant.

Charles A. Davison for respondent.

The plaintiff is the receiver of the National Bank of Sumter, in South Carolina, and through this action seeks to recover a balance alleged to be due on a deposit account with the defendant bank. The question presented by the record is whether certain twelve checks, drawn by the cashier of the Sumter bank, which were paid by the defendant bank, could properly be debited in account to the Sumter bank. Bartlett, its cashier, had drawn them upon the defendant for various amounts; some to the order of A.S. Brown and some to the order of C.E. Stubbs. In the check book he would enter sometimes the real amount of the checks and sometimes an amount much less than the checks actually were drawn for. The names of these payees were those of persons who actually resided in Sumter and were dealers with the bank; but they knew nothing of these checks and had no connection whatever with the transactions of the cashier in issuing these checks. Bartlett, after having drawn the checks, indorsed them in the name of the payee; making them payable to the order of some firm of stock brokers in New York, who collected them from the defendant. By subsequent manipulations of the books of his bank, Bartlett was able to prevent a discovery of his dishonest acts, until after he had absconded and the insolvency of the bank was disclosed. The learned trial judge, in dismissing the complaint, discussed the question of what the act of the cashier of the Sumter bank amounted to in law. In his judgment, the cashier's indorsement of the checks in the name of the payee, which he had written in the body of the check, was not, in a legal sense, forgery. He said that act did not defraud the persons whose names were used as payees, nor the bank in New York, nor his own bank; but that the fraud consisted in the unlawful drawing of the check for his own purposes, with the intent to convert his own bank's funds. Regarding the transaction in that light, and the indorsement as a part of one continuous act of preparing the check so that the New York bank should pay the funds drawn upon to the indorsees, he very properly reached the conclusion that, so far as the New York bank was concerned, the cashier's intent was the intent of his bank and, hence, the payment of the checks was conclusive upon it.

At the General Term, the opinion of the court again carefully reviews the legal questions and sustains the judgment below. Upon the question of the effect upon the transaction of the use by Bartlett of names, as payees, of persons who were customers of the bank, it is said in the opinion that that fact did not prevent the application of the principle which would govern, if fictitious names had been selected and used for payees. They held, in substance, that the bank, through its authorized officer, had put in circulation paper, with knowledge chargeable to it that the names of the payees did not represent real persons, and with the intention to indorse thereon the names of the payees; who, for all intents and purposes, were fictitious payees, and whose names were adopted and resorted to as a device to avoid suspicion.

We think the judgments below were right. Whether indorsing the check in the name of the payee therein was a forgery in the legal sense, or not, is not the important question. In a general sense, of course, the cashier did forge the payee's name, but that fact did not affect the title or rights of the defendant. ( Coggill v. American Exchange Bank, 1 N.Y. 113.) In the case cited, a bill was drawn upon the plaintiff to the order of one Truman Billings and was discounted at a bank. The drawer had indorsed it with the name of the payee, Truman Billings; a person who in fact had no interest in the bill. It was held that the defendant in the case, who had accepted and paid the bill, held it by a good title. BRONSON, J., said: "As the payee had no interest and it was not intended that he should ever become a party to the transaction, he may be regarded, in relation to this matter, as a nonentity, and it is fully settled that when a man draws and puts into circulation a bill, which is payable to a fictitious person, the holder may declare and recover upon it as a bill payable to bearer. In legal effect, though not in form, the bill is payable to bearer."

The case of Shipman v. Bank of the State of New York ( 126 N.Y. 318), which was recently before us, did not decide any question inconsistently with what the courts below have decided. There it had been found that the checks were signed by the firm, in the belief that the names of the payees represented real persons entitled to receive the amounts of the checks, and with the intention that they should be delivered to real payees and should not go into circulation otherwise than through a delivery to and an indorsement by the payees named. Bedell was their clerk, whose employment did not comprehend the drawing or indorsing of checks or drafts; and, in indorsing upon the checks the names of the payees, he committed the crime of forgery, because he was without authority in that respect and did so with the intention to deceive his employers, the makers, and to put their checks in circulation for his account. That was a case wholly other than was made out here. It was stated in the Shipman case that the maker's intention is the controlling consideration, which determines the character of the paper, and that the statutory rule, which gives to paper drawn payable to the order of a fictitious person, and negotiated by the maker, the same validity as paper payable to bearer, applies only when such paper is put into circulation by the maker with knowledge that the name of the payee does not represent a real person. The principle of that decision is quite applicable to the case at bar. Though Bartlett selected, for the execution of his dishonest purposes, the names of persons who were dealers with his bank, it was, in legal effect, as though he had selected any names at random. The difference is that, by the methods resorted to, he averted suspicion on the part of the directors or other officers of his bank. The names he used were, for his purposes, fictitious, because he never intended that the paper should reach the persons whose names were upon them. The transaction was one solely for the fraudulent purpose of appropriating his bank's moneys, by a trick which his position enabled him to perform. Concededly, if the names of the payees were of fictitious persons, the Sumter bank would have had no claim upon the defendant; how, then, can the transaction be said to assume a different aspect because the names adopted were of known persons? That the intention was to treat them as being of fictitious persons is manifest. As cashier, invested with the authority to draw checks upon the bank's accounts with its correspondents, instead of drawing them directly to the order of the parties, who he intended should get the moneys, he drew them to the order of persons who had no interest in them, and thereupon wrote their names under a direction to pay to the real parties, who were intended to be the recipients of the funds drawn upon. If the checks had been drawn directly to the order of the real parties, the defendant would undoubtedly have been protected in paying them. As it was, the payees were fictitious persons in the eye of the law, and the only real parties were the firms in New York, to whom the cashier sent them in such form as that they could draw the moneys upon them.

The fictitiousness of the maker's direction to pay does not depend upon the identification of the name of the payee with some existent person, but upon the intention underlying the act of the maker in inserting the name. Where, as in this case, the intent of the act was, by the use of the names of some known persons, to throw directors and officers off their guard, such a use of names was merely an instrumentality or a means which the cashier adopted, in the execution of his purpose to defraud the bank, in an apparently legitimate exercise of his authority. The cashier, through his office and the powers confided to him for exercise, was enabled to perpetrate a fraud upon his bank, which a greater vigilance of its officers might have earlier discovered, if it might not have prevented. If his position and the confidence reposed in him were such as to enable him to escape detection for the while, then the consequences of his fraudulent acts should fall upon the bank, whose directors, by their misplaced confidence and gift of powers, made them possible, and not upon others who, themselves acting innocently and in good faith, were warranted in believing the transaction to have been one coming within the cashier's powers.

It may be quite true that the cashier was not the agent of the bank to commit a forgery, or any other fraud of such a nature; but he was authorized to draw or check upon the bank's funds. If he abused his authority and robbed his bank, it must suffer the loss. The distinction between such a case and the many other cases, which the plaintiff's counsel cites from, is in the fact that it was within the scope of this cashier's powers to bind the bank by his checks. In transmitting them, made out and indorsed as they were, the bank was so far concluded by his acts as to be estopped from now denying their validity.

For the reasons given, the judgment should be affirmed, with costs.

All concur, except BARTLETT, J., not sitting.

Judgment affirmed.

Summaries of

Phillips v. M.N. Bank

Court of Appeals of the State of New York
Jan 16, 1894
140 N.Y. 556 (N.Y. 1894)
Case details for

Phillips v. M.N. Bank

Case Details

Full title:JOHN E. PHILLIPS, as Receiver, etc., Appellant, v . THE MERCANTILE…

Court:Court of Appeals of the State of New York

Date published: Jan 16, 1894


140 N.Y. 556 (N.Y. 1894)
35 N.E. 982

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