South-Western Legal Studies in Business

Bank May Be Liable for Conversion for Cashing Check without Endorsement
Description Wisconsin high court held that a financial advisor who cashed a client’s check exceeded his limited powers of attorney, and so was liable for conversion. The bank that processed the check without endorsement by the payee may be liable for conversion for failure to follow reasonable banking procedures.
Topic Negotiable Instruments and Credit
Key Words Check; Endorsement; Conversion; Power of Attorney
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Putnam Mutual Funds had limited powers of attorney, executed by client Schmitz, in favor of his financial advisor with respect to certain investments. Schmitz’s financial advisor at Putnam deposited two checks made out to Schmitz into the account of Georgetown Financial without Schmitz’s knowledge. Firstar Bank cashed the checks without Schmitz’s signature, but with Putnam’s stamp on the back. Schmitz sued Putnam and Firstar for conversion. The district court held for defendants. Schmitz appealed.
Decision

Reversed. The limited powers of attorney gave Putnam no authority to endorse and deposit checks from Schmitz’s accounts that were not listed on the forms he signed. Powers of attorney are strictly construed and interpreted to grant only those powers that are clearly specified. So Putnam converted Schmitz’s funds. Liability on the part of the bank will have to be determined at trial. Whether the bank “acted in good faith or in accordance with reasonable commercial standards” under §403 of the UCC has yet to be tried. In general, accepting a check with the payee’s endorsement missing is not in accordance with reasonable commercial standards of banking.

Citation Schmitz v. Firstar Bank Milwaukee, 658 N.W.2d 442 (Sup. Ct., Wisc., 2003)

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