Harriman National Bank v. Seldomridge
249 U.S. 1 (1919)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Harriman National Bank v. Seldomridge, 249 U.S. 1 (1919)

Harriman National Bank v. Seldomridge

No. 173

Argued January 31, 1919

Decided March 3, 1919

249 U.S. 1

ERROR TO THE CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE SECOND CIRCUIT

Syllabus

A, the cashier of the M. National Bank and in control of its affairs, acting in the name of B, its president, by correspondence induced the H. National Bank to agree to lend B a sum of money to be secured by the joint note of A and B and certain collateral. A then bought certain shares from T with a check on the M. Bank signed with B's name, and forwarded by mail to the H. Bank a forged note and collaterals in apparent compliance with the loan agreement, upon receipt of which the H. Bank credited B with the amount greed on; but, in the meantime, the check to T had been paid by the M. Bank, and A, to meet it, had made a slip falsely purporting to show a deposit there by B of a check on the H. Bank for the amount of the proposed loan. Having at first credited B with the amount of the loan, the H. Bank, under instructions sent by A in the names of the M. Bank and of B, respectively, made bookkeeping entries transferring the credit to the M. Bank, and later, upon receiving notice from B to cancel A's authority to act for the M. Bank, made further entries withdrawing the credit from the

Page 249 U. S. 2

M. Bank's account, and still later, upon learning that the M. Bank had failed, made additional entries to cancel the loan. B repudiated A's action and denied liability.

Held: (1) that, as against the M. Bank, the H. Bank had the right to rescind and cancel the loan agreement for failure to comply with its conditions and for the fraud; (2) that the payment of the check to T and the making of the fraudulent deposit to meet it, having occurred before the H. Bank received the note and collateral or made any entry on its books, could not subject it to liability in favor of the M. Bank; (3) that the bookkeeping entries made by the H. Bank could not create such liability in the absence of any consideration moving to it from the M. Bank, and in the absence of any ground for estoppel. P. 249 U. S. 10.

240 F. 111 reversed.

The case is stated in the opinion.

Page 249 U. S. 6

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

Following the failure in March, 1915, of the Mercantile National Bank of Pueblo, Colorado, the receiver appointed by the Comptroller commenced this suit to recover from the Harriman National Bank of New York City $30,000 alleged to be due to the Mercantile Bank. On issue joined before a jury, the court, after refusing a request of the Harriman National Bank for a peremptory instruction directing a verdict in its favor, granted a request of like character made by the receiver, and a judgment on the resulting verdict for the amount claimed was entered.

The case is before us on error to the judgment of the court below affirming that of the trial court, our jurisdiction to review resulting because the case, from its inception, involved the enforcement of the National Banking Act, and therefore, was not dependent in the trial court solely upon diversity of citizenship. Auten v.

Page 249 U. S. 7

United States National Bank,174 U. S. 125, 174 U. S. 141; International Trust Co. v. Weeks,203 U. S. 364, 203 U. S. 366.

The case is this: W. B. Slaughter, through stock ownership, controlled the Mercantile National Bank of Pueblo, Colorado. He was president and his son, C. C. Slaughter, was cashier. Prior to 1915, Slaughter, the president, removed his residence from Pueblo to Texas, engaging there in the cattle business and leaving his son, the cashier, in complete control of the Mercantile Bank and of all its affairs. W. B. Slaughter was also the president of the Silverton National Bank of Silverton, Colorado, and controlled the affairs of that bank by the ownership of a majority of its stock. At Silverton, there was another national bank carrying on business, the First National, the majority of whose stock was owned by one Thatcher.

The correspondent of the Mercantile Bank in New York City was the Harriman National, with which it had a checking account. On January 28, 1915, C. C. Slaughter, the cashier of the Mercantile, dictated a letter to the Harriman which was dated at Pueblo and written on the letterhead of the Mercantile Bank, purporting to be from W. B. Slaughter, whose signature was affixed by a rubber stamp. By this letter, its assumed writer, after referring to his ownership and control of the Silverton National, stated his purpose to buy out the interest of Thatcher in the First National Bank of Silverton, and, after doing so, to consolidate the two banks, and requested a loan of $30,000 to enable him to accomplish the purpose. It was stated that it was proposed to evidence the loan by a note at sixty days, to be signed by the writer, W. B. Slaughter, and by his son C. C. Slaughter, if the bank so desired, and to secure the note by the pledge of 500 shares of the Mercantile and 400 shares of the First National of Silverton. The Harriman Bank received this letter on the first of February, and at once telegraphed W. B. Slaughter, president of the Mercantile Bank at Pueblo,

Page 249 U. S. 8

that, whenever desired, the Harriman would be willing to make the loan as requested. On the same day, the bank wrote a letter to W. B. Slaughter, president at Pueblo, but marked it personal, repeating and confirming the telegram and enclosing a blank form of collateral note to be executed and sent to the bank with the collateral when the money was desired.

The telegram of the first of February announcing the willingness of the Harriman Bank to make the loan having come into the hands C. C. Slaughter on the day it was sent, he ordered a seal to be made which he said was intended as the seal of the First National Bank of Silverton, and, on the 5th of February, bought from a printer blank forms of certificates of stock. On the next day, Saturday, the 6th, purporting to act as agent of W. B. Slaughter, C. C. Slaughter bought from Thatcher his interest in the First National of Silverton, and gave a check in the name of W. B. Slaughter and as his representative, on the Mercantile National, for $35,000 in part payment. On Sunday, February 7th, C. C. Slaughter caused a letter to be prepared falsely purporting to be written and signed by W. B. Slaughter, acknowledging the receipt of the telegram sent by the Harriman Bank on the first and asking that the loan be consummated. In this letter, there was returned the collateral note which the bank and sent for execution, along with the promised collateral -- that is, certificates for 400 shares of the First National of Silverton and 500 shares of the Mercantile at Pueblo. The signature of W. B. Slaughter to the note was forged, and the collaterals were also forged, the first, the certificates of the Silverton Bank stock, because they were fabricated by the use of the printed certificates and seal which had been acquired a few days before and described shares which had no existence, and the second, the Mercantile Bank stock, because, although the certificates represented stock standing in the name of W. B. Slaughter on the

Page 249 U. S. 9

books of that bank, the powers of attorney purporting to have been given by W. B. Slaughter to enable them to be transferred to the Harriman Bank were forged.

To meet the check for $35,000 given on Saturday for the Thactcher purchase, on Monday morning, February 8th, C. C. Slaughter made out a deposit slip to show the deposit by W. B. Slaughter of a check on the Harriman National for $30,000, although no such check was in fact deposited, and on that day the check on favor of Thatcher for $35,000 was paid and debited by the Mercantile to W. B. Slaughter's account. The letter of the 7th sending to note to the Harriman reached that bank on the 10th, and, complying with the request it contained, a credit in favor of W. B. Slaughter for $30,000, the amount covered by the loan, was entered by the Harriman on its books.

On the 17th of February, the Mercantile Bank overdrew its account in the Harriman to the extent of $8,000, which that bank honored. It, however, telegraphed the Mercantile, calling attention to the overdraft and asked whether a remittance to cover it had been made. The telegram, moreover, referred to the $30,000 credit in favor of W. B. Slaughter and asked whether possibly it was intended that the amount of the loan credit should be placed to the account of the bank. In reply, C. C. Slaughter dictated a telegram in the name of the Mercantile Bank instructing that the amount of the credit of W. B. Slaughter be transferred to the credit of the Mercantile. On the receipt of this telegram, the Harriman made the necessary bookkeeping entries to transfer the credit of $30,000 from the account of W. B. Slaughter to that of the Mercantile National Bank. On the next day, the 18th, however, the Harriman wrote W. B. Slaughter, Mercantile National Bank, Pueblo, informing him of the instructions they had received from C. C. Slaughter and what they had done under them, and asking

Page 249 U. S. 10

the former's approval. This letter was replied to on February 22d by C. C. Slaughter confirming his previous telegram and saying that the original intention was that the money borrowed should go to the credit of the Mercantile Bank for the use of W. B. Slaughter.

Thus things stood until the twenty-third of March, when the Harriman received a telegram from W. B. Slaughter, president of the Mercantile Bank, telling them to cancel all authority of C. C. Slaughter to act as an officer of the Mercantile because he had resigned. The Harriman thereupon telegraphed and wrote W. B. Slaughter, informing him of what had transpired on the subject of the credit for the loan under the note and its transfer, and saying that, as he had given no personal instructions on the subject, they had made bookkeeping entries taking the $30,000 out of the account of the Mercantile so as to hold it for a full understanding of the situation, and when, a few days later, the Harriman learned of the failure of the Mercantile, such entries were made as to cancel the loan without diminishing or changing the credits which otherwise existed in favor of the Mercantile.

Subsequently W. B. Slaughter notified the Harriman that he had never applied for the loan in question, or signed the note which evidenced it, and denied all liability. The appointment of the receiver and the bringing of the suit which we have stated at the outset followed in due season.

Passing the fact that both parties to the loan agreement, the Harriman Bank on the one side and W. B. Slaughter on the other, insist, although for different reasons, that the loan agreement has no existence, there nevertheless can be no room for dispute that such contract, by the failure to comply with its conditions and by the fraud and forgery committed concerning the collaterals as between the parties to it and those in privity, was rightly cancelled, and can be the source of no obligation against

Page 249 U. S. 11

the Harriman Bank. The right of the Mercantile Bank as here asserted, if it has any existence, must rest therefore not in the loan agreement, but on some condition or consideration extraneous to that contract creating as against the Harriman and in favor of the Mercantile the duty to pay the amount which both the courts below awarded.

No semblance of ground, however, supporting that view results from the undisputed facts which we have stated unless it can be sustained from two considerations: (1) the payment which was made by the Mercantile on February 8th of the check purporting to be drawn by W. B. Slaughter in favor of Thatcher and the making by C. C. Slaughter on the 8th of the fraudulent and false deposit slip purporting to show the deposit on that day by W. B. Slaughter of a check drawn by him on the Harriman for $30,000, and (2) the bookkeeping entries which were made by the Harriman on the 18th transferring the credit for the amount of the agreed loan from the account of W. B. Slaughter to that of the Mercantile Bank. But a moment's thought demonstrates that the circumstances referred to cannot possibly sustain the conclusions stated. This is true as to the first because both the payment of the check by the Mercantile and the making of the false deposit slip took place before the Harriman had even received the collateral note or made any entry on its books concerning the same, and the second because the mere bookkeeping entry made by the Harriman of credit to the Mercantile, in the very nature of things, was incapable alone of conferring rights on the Mercantile to which it was not otherwise entitled, especially in the absence of all consideration moving from the Mercantile to the Harriman and the nonexistence of any condition upon which to base even the pretext of estoppel in favor of the Mercantile as against the Harriman resulting from action taken by the former upon the faith of the bookkeeping

Page 249 U. S. 12

credit. Indeed, when the reasoning upon which the relief below was awarded is considered, and the arguments pressed at bar sustaining that result are weighed, they all at last come to the assumption that, by some undisclosed process, the Mercantile Bank was entitled to enforce as against the Harriman the contract for the loan agreement made with W. B. Slaughter, without the duty to comply with the obligations of that contract, and therefore became possessed of the power to enforce the contract against the Harriman despite the fraud and forgery practiced upon the Harriman in the attempt which was made to procure the benefits of the loan agreement.

It follows that the judgment of the circuit court of appeals and that of the district court must be and they are reversed, and the case be remanded to the district court with instructions, that, after setting aside its judgment, it take such further proceedings as may be in conformity with this opinion.

And it is so ordered.

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