On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division, whose opinion is reported at 326 N.J. Super. 505 (1999).
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Long
This case requires us to plumb the relationship between the Uniform Commercial Code (Code or U.C.C.) and the law of negligence in connection with the return of a check by a drawee bank within the time allowed by the Code. The question presented is whether the drawee bank's dealings with a non-customer in an unsolicited telephone conversation breached a common law duty, rendering it potentially liable for the loss.
The facts of the case are largely undisputed. In 1994, plaintiff, City Check Cashing, Inc., was a check cashing service located in Jersey City that had been in operation for almost ten years. Robert Santoro was the manager. The clerk was Peggyann Slansky (also referred to as Peggy D'Anna).
On July 1, 1994, Misir Koci, an agent of Jul-Ame Construction, presented Santoro with a $145,000 check signed by Melvin Green, an agent of the Nimbus Corporation, drawn on defendant Manufacturers Hanover Trust Company ("Manufacturers") for cashing. Slansky called Chemical Bank,*fn1 the successor to Manufacturers, and was informed by computer that the check was not good. Santoro advised Koci that he could not cash the check unless it was certified. Slansky also contacted Green, who asked her to call his bank branch for verification. The number he gave her was wrong. Green also told Slansky that the check would be good despite the Bank's statement to the contrary. Check Cashing refused to cash the $145,000 check.
Two weeks later, on July 14, 1994, Koci sought to cash another check of Nimbus Enterprises, Inc., also signed by Melvin Green and drawn on Manufacturers. That check, in the amount of $290,000, was stamped with a Manufacturers certification stamp, although, as has been noted, that institution had previously been merged into Chemical Bank. The date on the check had clearly been changed from August 8, 1994 to July 7, 1994.
Santoro asked Slansky to call Chemical Bank and verify the authenticity of the check. Around 11:00 a.m., on July 14, Slansky called Chemical and spoke to Anne McClellan. The following is a transcript of the full conversation between Slansky and McClellan:
S: Hi, I'm calling from City Check Cashing and I have a customer here with a certified check and I need to verify it's authenticity of the certification.
M: What is the serial number?
S: The serial number on the certified thing? It says number on top of the stamp, that number?
S: I as in ice cream, 2936898, it was certified yesterday
[omitting interruption by a Check Cashing employee].
M: Is that the number off the top right hand S: The top of the certification, that's the serial number on it. It looks like it was certified at the 125th Street office in New York City, West 125th Street.
M: Because normally it doesn't start with an I, that's the only reason I'm asking.
S: I wonder what it is, it looks like an I to me, it's signed by Walter or somebody with a W, Walter, you know, what I'm talking about, the certified stamp?
S: Is it possible that I can get through to that branch, maybe they can help me?
M: How much is the check for?
M: Let me just read it back, is that a definite I?
S: Definite unless it's a T or something.