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Triffin v. Somerset Valley Bank

July 17, 2001

ROBERT J. TRIFFIN, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT
v.
SOMERSET VALLEY BANK, PAVON FLORES, GEOVANY AYALA, MARIO GOMES, MARCELINA MEJIA, GEORGE LOPEZ MARTINEZ, PEDRO LOPEZ, SAUL A. BELTRAN, NOE CUADRA, MARVIN O. RODRIGES, DEFENDANTS AND HAUSER CONTRACTING CO., DEFENDANT/THIRD-PARTY PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT
v.
AUTOMATIC DATA PROCESSING, INC., THIRD-PARTY DEFENDANT



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Special Civil Part, Somerset County, DC-795-99.

Before Judges Havey, Cuff and Lisa.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Cuff, J.A.D.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Argued: May 29, 2001

This case concerns the enforceability of dishonored checks against the issuer of the checks under Article 3 of the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC), as implemented in New Jersey in N.J.S.A. 12A:3-101 to 3-605.

Plaintiff purchased, through assignment agreements with check cashing companies, eighteen dishonored checks, issued by defendant Hauser Contracting Company (Hauser Co.). Plaintiff then filed suit in the Special Civil Part to enforce Hauser Co.'s liability on the checks. The trial court granted plaintiff's motion for summary judgment. Hauser Co. appeals the grant of summary judgment. It also argues, for the first time, that plaintiff lacked standing to file suit against Hauser Co. We affirm.

In October 1998, Alfred M. Hauser, president of Hauser Co., was notified by Edwards Food Store in Raritan and the Somerset Valley Bank (the Bank), that several individuals were cashing what appeared to be Hauser Co. payroll checks. Mr. Hauser reviewed the checks, ascertained that the checks were counterfeits and contacted the Raritan Borough and Hillsborough Police Departments. Mr. Hauser concluded that the checks were counterfeits because none of the payees were employees of Hauser Co., and because he did not write the checks or authorize anyone to sign those checks on his behalf. At that time, Hauser Co. employed Automatic Data Processing, Inc. (ADP) to provide payroll services and a facsimile signature was utilized on all Hauser Co. payroll checks.

Mr. Hauser executed affidavits of stolen and forged checks at the Bank, stopping payment on the checks at issue. Subsequently, the Bank received more than eighty similar checks valued at $25,000 all drawn on Hauser Co.'s account.

Plaintiff is in the business of purchasing dishonored negotiable instruments. In February and March 1999, plaintiff purchased eighteen dishonored checks from four different check cashing agencies, specifying Hauser Co. as the drawer. The checks totaled $8,826.42. Pursuant to assignment agreements executed by plaintiff, each agency stated that it cashed the checks for value, in good faith, without notice of any claims or defenses to the checks, without knowledge that any of the signatures were unauthorized or forged, and with the expectation that the checks would be paid upon presentment to the bank upon which the checks were drawn. All eighteen checks bore a red and green facsimile drawer's signature stamp in the name of Alfred M. Hauser. All eighteen checks were marked by the Bank as "stolen check" and stamped with the warning, "do not present again." Each of the nine payees on the eighteen checks are named defendants in this case.

Plaintiff then filed this action against the Bank, Hauser Co., and each of the nine individual payees.*fn1 Plaintiff contended that Hauser Co. was negligent in failing to safeguard both its payroll checks and its authorized drawer's facsimile stamp, and was liable for payment of the checks.

The trial court granted plaintiff's summary judgment motion, concluding that no genuine issue of fact existed as to the authenticity of the eighteen checks at issue. Judge Hoens concluded that because the check cashing companies took the checks in good faith, plaintiff was a holder in due course as assignee. Judge Hoens also found that because the checks appeared to be genuine, Hauser Co. was required, but had failed, to show that plaintiff's assignor had any notice that the checks were not validly drawn.

On appeal, Hauser Co. contends for the first time that plaintiff lacked standing to sue. As a general rule, an appellate court will not consider matters not properly raised below, unless the issue goes to the jurisdiction of the trial court or substantially implicates a matter of public interest. Alan J. Cornblatt, P.A. v. Barow, 153 N.J. 218, 230 (1998); Nieder v. Royal Indem. Ins. Co., 62 N.J. 229, 234 (1973).

Even if the matter satisfies that test, the court will not consider the issue if the record before the court is incomplete as to the newly presented issue. Alan J. Cornblatt, supra, 153 N.J. at 230. Because the issue of plaintiff's standing is ascertainable from the existing record, there is no factual barrier to appellate review of this issue. We also conclude that the issue of standing is of substantial importance because standing involves a threshold determination which governs the ability of a party to initiate and maintain an action before the court. In re Adoption of Baby T., 160 N.J. 332, 340 (1999).

The "essential purpose" of the standing doctrine in New Jersey is to assure that the invocation and exercise of judicial power in a given case are appropriate. Further, the relationship of plaintiffs to the subject matter of the litigation and to other parties must be such to generate confidence in the ability of the judicial process to get to the truth of the matter and in the integrity and soundness of the final adjudication. Also, the standing doctrine serves to fulfill the paramount judicial responsibility of a court to seek just and expeditious determinations on the ...


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