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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. National Exchange Bank, 214 U.S. 302 (1909)

United States v. National Exchange Bank of Providence

No. 90

Argued January 25, 26, 1909

Decided June 1, 1909

214 U.S. 302


The United States can recover from a bank presenting pension checks to, and receiving the money therefor from, a sub-treasury where the names of the payees have been forged, and the right to recover is not conditioned upon either demand or the giving of notice of the discovery of facts which, by the operation of the legal warranty, were presumably within the knowledge of the bank.

The United States is not chargeable with the knowledge of the signatures chanrobles.com-red

Page 214 U. S. 303

of the vast numbers of persons entitled to receive pensions, and the exceptional rule as to certain classes of commercial paper that the person having knowledge of the genuine signature of the payee whose signature is forged is negligent in paying on such an indorsement and therefore cannot recover does not apply to the United States in regard to pension checks. Leather Manufacturers' Bank v. Merchants' National Bank, 128 U. S. 2, approving White v. Continental National Bank, 64 N.Y. 316, followed.

Quaere, and not decided, whether government pension checks are not official warrants, but checks, and, as such, subject to the general rules of commercial paper as between private parties.

151 F.4d 2 reversed.

This action was brought by the United States to recover the sum of payments made at the sub-treasury in Boston upon 194 pension checks, the signatures or marks of the persons to whom the checks were payable having been forged. The National Exchange Bank of Boston was originally sole defendant, but in legal effect the National Exchange Bank of Providence was substituted as defendant, and the issues were made up between it and the United States. We shall hereafter refer to that bank as the Exchange Bank.

The cause was tried upon an agreed statement, and the material facts may be thus summarized:

Upon receipt of pension vouchers, regular in form and purporting to be executed by the pensioners named therein, but which in fact were forgeries, the United States pension agent at Boston drew the checks in question upon the sub-treasury at Boston, aggregating $6,362.07, in favor of the pensioners named in the vouchers, and transmitted such checks by mail directly to the address of each pensioner as given in the vouchers, in accordance with the provision of § 4765, Rev.Stat. Of the persons named in the checks, fifteen had died, and the others were the widows of soldiers, who had remarried, and whose right to a pension had ceased, all the names, however, as we have said, having been forged. With but two exceptions, the checks were either for $24 or $36.

The checks with the forged indorsements thereon of the chanrobles.com-red

Page 214 U. S. 304

payees were cashed by the Exchange Bank, and immediately indorsed to a national bank in Boston for collection. The checks were presented by the collecting bank at the sub-treasury of the United States in Boston. The collecting bank received payment of the same, and accounted for such payment to the Exchange Bank. *

In May, 1897, a special examiner of the Pension Bureau was detailed at Providence to investigate the case of one Mooy, a deceased pensioner, in whose name three of the checks here in question, each for $36, had been issued and paid in 1896. On June 18, 1897, the examiner reported to the bureau the forgery of the name of the deceased payee, and that it had probably been done by one William A. Munson. December 18, 1897, notice was given to the Exchange Bank by the United States Attorney at Providence that the indorsements of Mooy's name to said checks were forged, and that at a proper time reclamation would be made for the money paid to the bank upon the checks. The remaining forgeries were discovered at different times during the months of February, March, April, and May, 1898, and in December, 1898, Munson, who was undergoing imprisonment upon a sentence imposed June 22, 1898, for forging a pension check, with which presumably this case is not concerned, admitted that he had forged the signatures of the payees on the checks in suit. chanrobles.com-red

Page 214 U. S. 305

On July 22, 1898, the United States Attorney at Providence made written demand upon the Exchange Bank to be refunded the sums paid, except as to checks aggregating $351.27, for which no demand for repayment was made other than by the bringing of this action. The bank refusing to repay, this action was commenced on August 27, 1901.

Each of the 194 checks was made the subject of two counts. An indebtedness of the defendant bank to the United States was averred in the first count to have arisen from the fact that a described check had been lawfully issued by a United States pension agent, drawn upon the Assistant Treasurer of the United States, that a signature, purporting to be that of the payee, was thereafter forged upon the check, and that the Exchange Bank indorsed said check and presented it for payment to the Assistant Treasurer, who paid the amount thereof. The second count was the common count for money received by the defendant to the use of the United States. In substance, the defenses interposed in the answer of the bank were that, if the facts averred in the declaration were established by the proof, the bank was yet not liable, because the action had not been brought within a reasonable time after the alleged payments of the drafts, nor had prompt notice been given of the discovery of the forgeries. It was also averred that the United States had been negligent in not verifying the signatures of the payees of the checks in suits by comparing them with signatures of the payees in its possession.

Upon the agreed facts, the circuit court entered judgment against the bank for the full amount claimed, with interest. The appellate court, however, reversed this judgment, and remanded the cause with directions to enter judgment for the Exchange Bank (151 F.4d 2), and this writ of error was thereupon prosecuted. chanrobles.com-red

Page 214 U. S. 309


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