Rankin v. Chase National Bank

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Court Documents

United States Supreme Court

188 U.S. 557

Rankin  v.  Chase National Bank

 Argued: December 3, 4, 1902. --- Decided: February 23, 1903

On the 23d day of May, 1893, the Elmira National Bank of Elmira, New York, failed, and a receiver was shortly thereafter appointed. At the date of the failure, on the face of the ledger of the Chase National Bank of New York city, there was a balance to the credit of the Elmira bank which was paid with interest at 6 per cent, as previously agreed on. The receiver at the time of this payment, asserted that he was entitled to a larger sum. This being disputed by the Chase bank, the present suit was brought. In substance the cause of action was based upon the averment that the Chase bank had wrongfully charged the account of the Elmira bank with a check for $15,012.50. The answer, whilst admitting the charging of the check, asserted its validity. In addition, it was averred that, even although the check had not been legally charged, the Elmira bank was not entitled to recover, because at the time the check was debited to its account, and as a result of such charge, two credit items, one of $8,000 and the other of $7,000, had been put to the account of the Elmira bank, to which it otherwise would not have been entitled, and hence the check had been counterbalanced by the credits in question. There was verdict and judgment in favor of the Chase bank, and the case was taken by the Elmira bank to the circuit court of appeals. That court decided that the trial court had correctly instructed the jury that the check for $15,012.50 was void, and therefore had been illegally debited to the Elmira bank. The court, moreover, held that the court below was right in instructing that the two credit items, referred to in the answer, could be retained by the Chase bank if the sum thereof belonged to that bank, which had given credit to Elmira for the amount solely as a counter entry to the charge of the check for $15,012.50. The judgment was, however, reversed, and a new trial ordered, because it was concluded there was no proof from which the jury could have inferred that the Chase bank had a right to retain the $7,000 item. 43 C. C. A. 496, 104 Fed. 214. On the new trial the case made was as follows:

J. J. Bush, who was the cashier of the Elmira bank, borrowed for his individual account from the Chase bank a sum of money, and his debt, evidenced by his demand note, secured by stock of the Elmira bank as collateral, amounted, on the 4th of May, 1893, in principal and interest, to a sum slightly exceeding $15,000. On that day Porter, the vice president of the Chase bank, through the long-distance telephone, called Bush at Elmira, and requested that he either pay his debt or furnish additional security. Bush replied that he would come to New York city on the next morning and settle the matter. On the morning of the 5th of May he appeared at the office of the Chase bank and offered to Porter, the vice president, $8,000 in cash and a draft for $7,000, signed by Bush as cashier of the Elmira bank, drawn on the Quaker City National Bank of Philadelphia. The vice president stated to Bush that the draft on Philadelphia was not equivalent to cash, because of the disturbed financial condition prevailing in Philadelphia, and hence declined to receive the draft in payment of the note. It was thereupon agreed that Bush would give his individual check on the Elmira bank for the principal and interest of his debt; that this check should be by him certified and made payable at the Chase bank; that the cash offered should be received, and that the check and cash should be at once put, respectively, to the debit and credit of the account of the Elmira bank. It was also understood that the draft on Philadelphia should be taken, and when collected its proceeds should be credited to the Elmira account. Thereupon a check was drawn by Bush individually on the Elmira bank. Across the face of this check the following was written:

Certified and accepted May 5, 1893.

Payable at Chase National Bank, New York.

Elmira National Bank.

By J. J. Bush, Cashier.

There was conflict in the testimony as to whether the $7,000 draft on Philadelphia, signed by Bush as cashier, was, when first offered by him, payable to his individual order or to his order as cashier. The officer of the Chase bank testified that when the draft was first offered it was payable to Bush's individual order, and that it was subsequently changed so as to make it payable to the order of Bush as cashier, to carry out the settlement agreed upon. There was no conflict, however, in the proof, showing that the draft on Philadelphia, as actually handed to the Chase bank, was drawn by Bush as cashier of the Elmira bank to his own order as such cashier, and was indorsed by him as cashier for deposit in the Chase bank. The $8,000 in cash, having been received from Bush, was at once credited to the account of the Elmira bank, and also at once the account of that bank was debited with Bush's individual and certified check for the $15,012.50. As the account of the Elmira bank had to its credit a sum more than sufficient to pay the check, it resulted, upon the assumption of the legality and good faith of the Chase bank in charging the check, that it at once received the full amount of the debt due it by Bush. The draft on Philadelphia was forwarded for collection and was thereafter paid, and the proceeds put to the credit of the account of the Elmira bank. It was shown that on the 5th of May, when Bush drew and certified his individual check on the Elmira bank for $15,012.50, his deposit account with that bank was overdrawn. It was shown that at various times, covering a considerable period, Bush had drawn, as cashier of the Elmira bank, a number of checks for a small amount, each to his individual order, and had used such checks to pay his personal debts, and there was also proof tending to show that the officers and directors of the Elmira bank knew, or had reason to know, that such checks had been drawn by the cashier. Other checks were also offered, from which it was contended the inference of implied authority could be legitimately drawn. It was shown that the Elmira bank had no knowledge of the drawing of the check of $15,012.50, and the fact that such check had been charged by the Chase bank to its account was only learned after the failure of the Elmira bank, when the Chase bank rendered its account to the receiver. It was also shown that Bush, the cashier, had, on the evening of the 4th, or the morning of the 5th of May taken the $8,000 of cash which he paid to the Chase bank from the funds of the Elmira bank.

The court instructed the jury that the check for $15,012.50 was void as to the Elmira bank, 'because it was the certification of the casher's individual check, given and received for his individual benefit, with no authority either to certify or to make it payable elsewhere than at the office of the Elmira National Bank. . . . There is no evidence tending to show that Bush had any real or apparent authority for this certification or to make the check payable at the office of the defendant. . . . The certification by a cashier of his own individual check is void, irrespective of the question whether he had funds in the bank to meet it, for he could not act in regard to the same check in two capacities, both as drawer and as indorser, to bind the bank for its payment.'

To this instruction of the court no exception was reserved by the defendant. Having thus eliminated the check of $15,012.50 from the account, the court said:

'The importance of this case turns upon another set of facts, to which I will now call your attention. You will see that Bush, as cashier, certified his own individual check for $15,012.50, and that he left the currency, $8,000, and the Quaker City draft for $7,000. Consequently, whatever is to be found about the liability of the defendant to repay $15,000, there is no question that it is liable to repay $12.50 and interest from May 5, 1893, and your verdict will be for the plaintiff for that sum at least.'

To this charge also no exception was reserved by the defendant. The court then proceeded:

'The questions in the case beyond the $12.50 are in regard to the right of the Chase National Bank to retain the $8,000 in currency and the $7,000 draft. You will see that, with the exception of this $12.50, I put the case as though when Bush came in with his bag containing $8,000 in currency and $7,000 in a draft, those two, the currency and the draft, had been received by Porter and credited upon the note, and this form, this illegal, improper form of taking Bush's individual check and having it certified by himself as cashier, had not been gone into. The questions in the case beyond the $12.50 are in regard to the right of the Chase National Bank to retain the $8,000 in currency and the $7,000 draft. Now, this money, this currency, was without question taken by Bush from the vaults of the Elmira bank without authority, and was its property, but inasmuch as it was currency or money, bank bills, if it was received by the defendant in good faith, in due course of business and for the payment of a valid debt, the defendant is not subjected to the risk of repayment to the person from whom it was illegally obtained.'

Coming to consider the draft for $7,000, the court first called the attention of the jury to the fact that there was some dispute in the testimony as to whether this draft, when originally offered by Bush to the Chase bank in part payment of his debt, was drawn to his individual order or to his order as cashier, but expressed an opinion that it was satisfactorlly established by the testimony adduced by the Chase bank that the draft, when first offered to that bank, was drawn to Bush's individual order, and that the adding of the word 'cashier' after the name of Bush, so as to make it payable to him as cashier, was subsequently done, and that such also was the case as to the indorsement on the draft making it payable for deposit in the Chase National Bank to the credit of Bush, cashier, that is, of the Elmira bank. The court, however, instructed the jury that in any event the addition of the word cashier upon the face of the draft and the indorsement put upon it was of no importance except as a mere element of proof on the subject of the good faith of the Chase bank in having received the money and draft from Bush. Thus treating the fact that the draft was signed by Bush as cashier, and was payable to his order as cashier for deposit in the Chase bank to the credit of the Elmira bank, as irrelevant, except on the question of good faith, the court came to consider whether the Chase bank was entitled to retain the proceeds of the draft. The jury were instructed that 'in the absence of any authority in the cashier to draw cashier's drafts to his own order in payment of his individual debts, the person who receives such a draft in payment of a cashier's individual debt takes the risk of being obliged to pay the draft to the bank. . . . The general authority of the cashier to draw drafts or checks on the bank in the conduct of its business does not, by itself, permit him to draw such drafts or checks in payment of his personal debts, or to raise money for the transaction of his personal business. When, therefore, he draws a draft or a check on the bank payable to his own order, and for his own individual debt, the party action thereon takes the risk that he may act without authority to do so.'

The jury, however, were instructed that either express or implied authority might have been conferred to draw such drafts, but that, as there was no proof tending to show express authority, it could only be found by implication. The source from which such implication might be derived from the proof before it was stated to the jury is as follows:

'The authority of a cashier may be inferred from the general manner in which, for a period sufficiently long to establish a settled course of business, he has been allowed, without interference, to conduct the affairs of the bank. It may be implied from the conduct or acquiescence of a corporation as represented by its board of directors. When during a series of years and in numerous business transactions he has been permitted without objection, and in his official capacity, to pursue a particular course of conduct, it may be presumed, as between his bank and those who in good faith deal with it upon the basis of his authority to represent the corporation, that he has acted in conformity with instructions received from those who have the right to control its operation. His authority is to be implied from the acquiescence of the directors in permitting an officer, during a series of years, to pursue a particular course of conduct, and this acquiescence is derived from their actual knowledge, or from what should bave been their knowledge of the conduct, of the course of business of the officers.'

Commenting at length upon the testimony showing the drawing of checks by Bush as cashier to his individual order, and pointing out the fact that the proof on the subject was different and stronger than had been the proof in the case when previously tried, the question of fact as to the existence of the course of business authorizing the inference of authority in Bush was submitted to the jury. Exceptions were reserved by the receiver to the foregoing rulings, as well as to the refusal of the court to give instructions which were asked, embodying asserted principles of law which were directly antagonistic to those charged by the court to the jury. There was verdict and judgment against the Chase bank for $12.50 with interest, and the case was taken again to the circuit court of appeals. That court, considering that all the legal controversies in the case had been settled by its previous opinion, and that the additional evidence on the subject of course of business was sufficient to support the verdict as to the proceeds of the draft for $7,000, affirmed the judgment, for the reasons just mentioned, which were stated in a per curiam opinion.

Mr. E. B. Whitney for plaintiff in error.

Messrs. Thomas Thacher and Alfred B. Thacher for defendant in error.

Mr. Justice White, after making the foregoing statement, delivered the opinion of the court:


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).