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Gaffney v. Jpmorgan Chase Bank, N.A.

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

July 31, 2018

MICHAEL S. GAFFNEY, Independent Executor for the Succession of Mary Catherine Regan



         This matter is before the Court on the Motion for Summary Judgment, [1] filed by Defendant JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A. (“Defendant”). Plaintiff, Michael S. Gaffney, Independent Executor for the Succession of Mary Catherine Regan (“Plaintiff”), has filed an Opposition[2] to this motion to which Defendant filed a Reply.[3] For the reasons which follow, Defendant's motion shall be GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Following the February 10, 2015 death of Mary Catherine Regan (“Regan”), a Succession was filed in state court, and Plaintiff was appointed as the Independent Executor for the Succession. A review of the decedent's property led to the discovery of an alleged “Cashier's Check” made out to Mary Catherine Regan on April 18, 1960, in the amount of $1 million, that was issued by The National Bank of Commerce.[4] This check was included as an asset of the Succession. Plaintiff presented the check to Defendant on March 11, 2016 for payment; however, after weeks of investigation, the Defendant refused the check and maintains that the check is invalid. Defendant also moves for summary judgment on the grounds that the check has prescribed.

         The check appears below:


         At the time of Regan's death, she had lived with her roommate, Marilyn Wenzel (“Wentzel”), for over fifty years. Plaintiff contends Regan retired from Bell South Telephone Company after 47 years of employment. Wentzel's deposition testimony reflects that she and Regan had knowledge of each other's finances, bought several properties together, and discussed their wills and final wishes with each other. Wentzel testified that Regan “told me what she wanted” for the distribution of her estate.[5]

         Wentzel discovered the check at issue after Regan's death and testified that she did not know of the check before its discovery, and Regan had never mentioned the check while she was alive.[6] Wentzel discovered the check when she was going through Regan's clothing and sorting her files.[7] The check was discovered in an unlabeled file in a filing cabinet.[8] Wentzel brought the check to her financial advisor who advised her to take the check to the bank.[9]

         Defendant contends Plaintiff has no explanation of the source or circumstances of the “check, ” its issuance, the conflicting payable amounts, or that it is signed in the name of a fictional character on a popular 1950s television show called “The Millionaire.” Defendant argues that the check appears to be a counter check upon which someone typed “Cashier's Check, ” and points out that the embossed “ribbon writer” value of $100, 000 on the check conflicts with the typed amount of $1, 000, 000. Defendant's expert Robert G. Foley opines that the check appears to be “a vintage 1960s era check issued by [Defendant's predecessor bank] that was modified by unknown parties for spurious purposes or as a gag, prop, or souvenir.”[10] Moreover, Defendant maintains that Plaintiff cannot establish that he is a “holder in due course, ” and any claims on this check have long ago prescribed under applicable Louisiana law.

         In opposition to this motion, Plaintiff primarily attacks the credibility and expertise of Defendant's experts. However, the expert opinions put forth by Defendant's experts are largely uncontroverted.[11] Plaintiff maintains that Defendant's experts rely on facts not in evidence and unsubstantiated speculation in reaching their determinations that the check at issue is not authentic. Plaintiff takes issue with defense experts' conclusion that 1950s television personality John B Tipton signed the check. Rather, Plaintiff contends the signature is illegible, and under Louisiana law, the person who signed a cashier's check is presumed to be authorized by the Bank. Thus, Plaintiff argues Defendant has not overcome this presumption and shifted the burden onto Plaintiff to prove that Regan was the holder in due course. Plaintiff also maintains that the check is not governed by the law as of 1960, and it has not prescribed.

         The Court will turn its focus to the issue of prescription which should be decided before reaching the merits of the other claims.


         A. Summary Judgment Standard

         “The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” “When assessing whether a dispute to any material fact exists, we consider all of the evidence in the record but refrain from making credibility determinations or weighing the evidence.” A party moving for summary judgment “must ‘demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact,' but need not negate the elements of the nonmovant's case.” If the moving party satisfies its burden, “the non-moving party must show that summary judgment is inappropriate by setting ‘forth specific facts showing the existence of a genuine issue concerning every essential component of its case.'” However, the non-moving party's burden “is not satisfied with some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, by conclusory allegations, by unsubstantiated assertions, or by only a scintilla of evidence.” Notably, “[a] genuine issue of material fact exists, ‘if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.'” All reasonable factual inferences are drawn in favor of the nonmoving party. However, “[t]he Court has no duty to search the record for material fact issues. Rather, the party opposing the summary judgment is required to identify specific evidence in the record and to articulate precisely how this evidence supports his claim.” “Conclusory allegations unsupported by specific facts … will not prevent the award of summary judgment; ‘the plaintiff [can]not rest on his allegations … to get to a jury without any “significant probative evidence tending to support the complaint.”'”

         B. Prescription of a Check and/or Cashier's Check

         Defendant contends the current law governing prescription of claims on a cashier's check is inapplicable here because the check was allegedly issued in 1960, fourteen years prior to Louisiana's adoption of the Uniform Commercial Code in 1974. Defendant cites La. C.C. art. 3498 (formerly art. 3540), which provides the general prescriptive period for actions on negotiable instruments:

Actions on instruments, whether negotiable or not, and on promissory notes, whether negotiable or not, are subject to a liberative prescription of five years. This prescription commences to run from the day payment is exigible.

         Defendant also points to La. R.S. 10:3-118, which offers more specific prescriptive periods for specific types of negotiable instruments, and provides, in pertinent part:

(d) An action to enforce the obligation of the acceptor of a … cashier's check … must be commenced within three years after demand for payment is made to the acceptor or issuer, as the case may be.

Defendant acknowledges that La. R.S. 10:3-118 appears to provide no limit on the amount of time a customer may hold a cashier's check before making demand for payment.

         Defendant notes that, in 1960 when this check was allegedly issued, the general prescriptive period for a cause of action on a negotiable instrument was governed entirely by the Louisiana Civil Code, which was five years. The law was silent as to when a cause of action on a negotiable instrument accrued; thus, the only available guidance in the pre-1960 law was the ...

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