Plaintiff Kidwell Construction Co., Inc., (hereinafter referred to as "Kidwell"), sued Exchange Bank & Trust Co., (hereinafter referred to as "the bank"), and Virginia Beavers Denman to recover funds deposited with the bank and paid out upon forged checks, alleged to have been forged by Virginia Beavers Denman, the corporate secretary of Kidwell.
The bank specially pleaded that the failure on the part of Kidwell to have other employees examine the cancelled checks and monthly bank statements containing the forged checks constituted negligence on the part of Kidwell directly contributing and proximately causing the loss; that as a result of such negligence, the alleged forger was able to carry on her unauthorized act for a period of time exceeding three years, from November 10, 1964 through December 14, 1967, and that by reason of Kidwell's negligence, it should be held to have been estopped from seeking a recovery. The bank also specially pleaded as a special defense Sec. 4.406 of the Uniform Commercial Code, V.A. T.S., providing that the customer is precluded from recovering upon a forgery where the bank supplies the customer with a statement accompanied with the items paid and the customer fails to use reasonable care in discovering the forger or reporting same to the bank within 14 days.
After a trial before the court, sitting without a jury, the trial court entered judgment awarding Kidwell a joint and several judgment against both the bank and Mrs. Denman for $25,725.88 and also awarded Kidwell an additional judgment against Virginia Beavers Denman and husband for $26,652.84. From this judgment, only the bank has appealed, seeking a review only of that portion of the judgment affecting it.
The facts are basically without dispute. Appellee, Kidwell Construction Co., Inc., was a depositor with appellant, Exchange Bank & Trust Co., and maintained a rather large deposit at all times material hereto. Graber Kidwell, President of Kidwell Construction, was authorized to draw checks upon the account in question. Virginia Beavers Denman had been employed by Kidwell for many years as a bookkeeper and was ultimately made corporate secretary for Kidwell Construction. Between November 10, 1964 and December 14, 1967, Mrs. Denman forged Graber Kidwell's signature upon 65 checks made payable to her totaling the sum of $63,038.55. The record shows that she forged several checks each and every month except for the month of October, 1966. Before the case was brought to trial, Kidwell was able to obtain partial restitution from Mrs. Denman and her husband so that at the time of trial
The trial court filed extensive findings of fact and conclusions of law. In substance the trial court found that although the bank mailed Kidwell statements of its account each month accompanied by the items paid, Kidwell was not guilty of negligence nor did Kidwell fail to exercise reasonable care and promptness in examining the statement and discovering the unauthorized signature. The trial court further found that by the exercise of proper care and skill the bank could have detected the forgeries prior to charging the same against Kidwell's account and that the bank was negligent in failing to detect the forgery which was a proximate cause of the loss.
The bank has brought forward nine points of error. In substance, the bank contends that the trial court erred in rendering judgment for the depositor Kidwell because it says the evidence shows as a matter of law that Kidwell was negligent in failing to detect the forgeries, and that the evidence likewise shows as a matter of law that there was no negligence or lack of good faith on the part of the bank in paying the forged checks. In the alternative, the bank asserts that the judgment in favor of the depositor is not supported by the evidence and is against the overwhelming weight and preponderance of the evidence. The principal contention of the bank is that Kidwell should not be permitted to recover because of its negligence which consisted, as claimed by the bank, of employment of an unfaithful agent. Thus the bank says Kidwell failed to exercise reasonable care in discovering and reporting promptly the forgeries claimed after the checks had been returned. Because of such negligence, it is claimed, Kidwell should be estopped from asserting liability against the bank.
Some of the checks involved in this litigation were drawn and cashed prior to July 1, 1966, when the Uniform Commercial Code became effective in this State. However, in view of the fact that Kidwell does not seek to recover upon any of the checks uttered prior to the effective date of the Uniform Commercial Code, but seeks recovery only upon the checks uttered within the one year period prior to notifying the bank in December, 1967, all of the checks involved in this litigation would be controlled by the provisions of the Uniform Commercial Code. Jackson v. First National Bank of Memphis, Inc., 55 Tenn. App. 545, 403 S.W.2d 109. The provisions of these uniform laws applicable to the transaction here involved are as follows:
Sec. 3.406, V.A.T.S.
Sec. 4.406, V.A.T.S.
In discussing the foregoing provisions of the code, the writer at 18 A.L.R.3rd, p. 1400, makes these observations:
In view of the fact that the bank has predicated its appeal solely on no evidence and insufficient evidence points, it becomes our duty to determine (1) whether there is any evidence of probative force to sustain the trial court's finding that Kidwell did not fail in its duty to exercise reasonable care in examining the bank statement and discovering the forgeries within a period of one year from the time it was reported to the bank, and (2) whether there is any evidence of probative force to support the trial court's finding that the bank failed to exercise ordinary care in paying the forged checks.
With respect to the first proposition, the record shows that for many years Mrs. Denman had been in the employment of the Kidwell Corporation. The officers thereof had complete trust and confidence in her and had never had any reason to suspicion that she was unfaithful. She had access to all the books and received the monthly bank statements in the mail from the bank. Some of the checks forged by
As stated, the negligence of the depositor relied on by the bank is its failure to personally examine the statement and the checks and report the forgery and its negligence in entrusting the duty of examination to a dishonest employee.
In 10 Am.Jur.2d, Banks, sec. 14, p. 483, it is said:
According to a majority of authorities, the depositor is not chargeable with the knowledge of the forgeries possessed by the agent from the fact of his dishonesty so as absolutely to bar recovery, but the depositor is chargeable with a knowledge of such facts as an honest agent would acquire from an impartial examination. Other authorities, however, hold that the knowledge of the clerk or agent of the forgery is chargeable to the depositor and the bank cannot be held liable on the forgeries being subsequently discovered. 9 C.J.S. Banks and Banking § 356, p. 756. While we have been unable to find any precedent in this state, we are inclined to follow the majority view.
As we view the record, the conclusion is inescapable that an honest agent upon examining the bank statement and the cancelled checks or copies thereof would have readily discovered that Mrs. Denman was forging the name of Graber Kidwell and paying herself large amounts of money without authority. Therefore the depositor must be held to have failed in its duty to use reasonable care in discovering the forgeries. As a result the bank would not be liable on such forgeries unless it can be said that the bank was
To the adoption of the Uniform Commercial Code, the rule was that if the bank's officers, before paying forged or altered checks, could by proper care and skill have detected the forgeries, then it cannot receive a credit for the amount of these checks, even if the depositor omitted all examination of his account. Southwest National Bank of Dallas v. H. F. Underwood & Co., 120 Tex. 83, 36 S.W.2d 141, 143. Thus, stated in the terms of negligence, the rule was that a bank which had been guilty of negligence in failing to discover an alteration or a forgery could not avoid liability on the ground that the depositor was negligent in failing to examine his balanced passbook, statement of account, or returned checks. Substantially the same rule is adopted in the Uniform Commercial Code if the customer establishes lack of ordinary care on the part of the bank in making payment. 10 Am.Jur.2d, sec. 519, p. 490; Uniform Commercial Code, sec. 4.406(b) (2).
With respect to the question of negligence on the part of the bank the trial court made the following findings of fact:
Graber Kidwell testified with regard to the quality of the forged signature that "a lot of them were very crude and ackward and some of them are—are fair." Kidwell's certified public accountant testified that in calling on the Exchange Bank with regard to the forgeries, Don E. Johnson, assistant vice president of the bank, made the statement, "Well, we can't check all the signatures because there's too many come through the bank." Johnson denied making such statement. Other employees of the bank testified that all the signatures upon all the forged checks had been compared with the signature card. The bank also called a witness from another bank who testified that he had examined the forged checks and compared them with the signature card and that he would have paid the checks had they been presented to him. There was other testimony as to the large volume of checks handled by the Exchange Bank as compared to other banks.
It is the province of the trier of the fact to determine what constitutes ordinary
After a careful review of all of the evidence in the record, both that in favor of the judgment and that contrary thereto, we have concluded that we cannot agree with the proposition that the judgment is so against the overwhelming weight and preponderance of the evidence so as to be manifestly wrong and unjust.
The judgment of the trial court is affirmed.