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Robert J. Triffin v. Storr Tractor Company


April 11, 2012


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division-Special Civil Part, Somerset County, Docket No. DC-003376-10. Robert J.

Per curiam.


Argued: February 29, 2012 -

Before Judges Cuff and Waugh.

Plaintiff Robert Triffin appeals from the order dismissing his complaint to recoup a dishonored check. The trial judge concluded he was not a holder in due course.

We affirm.

On November 6, 2009, Daryl Kilgore requested a donation from defendant Storr Tractor Company (Storr) for a charity sponsoring "an extreme makeover for a single mother of a disabled child in the area." Storr wrote a check for $2000 made payable to the sponsoring company, Down & Dirty Maintenance, LLC, owned by Kilgore. He cashed the check that day at Friendly Check Cashing Corporation (Friendly), a state-licensed check casher. Later that day, Storr realized Kilgore's "charity" was a fraud and put a stop payment order on the check. On February 9, 2010, Friendly sold its rights in the check to Triffin, who filed a complaint seeking recoupment on April 26, 2010.

Two witnesses testified for Triffin at trial. The president of Friendly, Jose Fernandez, explained Friendly's practice of obtaining a corporate resolution before it cashed any corporate checks. Friendly maintained those resolutions on file. Fernandez verified that Friendly kept a corporate resolution for Down & Dirty Windows, Inc. on file; however, he did not have a corporate resolution for Down & Dirty Maintenance, LLC. Jessica Garrido, the Friendly teller who cashed Storr's check, also testified. She knew Kilgore as a frequent customer who cashed corporate checks with Friendly many times. She believed Friendly had a corporate resolution for Down & Dirty Maintenance, LLC. She was not aware at the time she cashed the check that Kilgore obtained it by misrepresentations or fraud.

On appeal, Triffin argues that the trial judge based his decision on facts not in evidence and committed legal error by utilizing N.J.S.A. 17:15A-1 to -52 to establish the standard of care for a check casher. He also contends that the judge misapprehended that the drawer's intent, not misidentified or misspelled names, determines the payer of a check.

A holder in due course of a negotiable instrument is exempt from certain defenses raised by an adverse party. See N.J.S.A. 12A:3-305a, b; Triffin v. Automatic Data Processing, Inc., 394 N.J. Super. 237, 247 (App. Div. 2007). The status relieves innocent purchasers from losing their security in unsound financial instruments. Gen. Inv. Corp v. Angelini, 58 N.J. 396, 403 (1971) (quoting Unico v. Owen, 50 N.J. 101, 109 (1967)).

In order to be a holder in due course, one must "take[] the instrument (a) for value, (b) in good faith and (c) without notice that it is overdue or has been dishonored or of any defense against or claim to it on the part of any person."

Breslin v. N.J. Investors, Inc., 70 N.J. 466, 471 (1976) (citing N.J.S.A. 12A:3-302[a(2)]). "Good faith" requires that the holder act honestly and "'observe "reasonable commercial standards of fair dealing" under the particular circumstances.'" Pascack Cmty. Bank v. Universal Funding, LLP, 419 N.J. Super. 279, 292 (App. Div. 2011) (quoting Uniform Commercial Code Comment 5 at N.J.S.A. 12A:9-331).

In Triffin v. Liccardi Ford, Inc., 417 N.J. Super. 453, 460 (App. Div. 2011), this court held that "reasonable commercial standards" include the statutory requirements imposed on licensed check cashers by the New Jersey Check Cashers Regulatory Act (NJCCRA), N.J.S.A. 17:15A-1 to -52. Accord Valley Nat'l Bank v. P.A.Y. Check Cashing, 378 N.J. Super. 406, 425 (Law Div. 2004). The statute provides in relevant part:

No licensee, or any person acting on behalf of a licensee, shall:

a. Cash a check which is made payable to a payee which is other than a natural person unless the licensee has on file a corporate resolution or other appropriate documentation indicating that the corporation, partnership or other entity has authorized the presentment of a check on its behalf and the federal taxpayer identification number of the corporation, partnership or other entity[.] [N.J.S.A. 17:15A-47a.]

Appropriate documentation means "a corporate resolution filed with the Secretary of State, Federal taxpayer identification number, filed New Jersey Certificate of Authority, filed trade-name certificate or other readily verifiable official document." N.J.A.C. 3:24-1.3.

Here, the trial judge held that Friendly maintained in its records a corporate resolution authorizing Kilgore to present checks for payment made payable to Down & Dirty Windows, Inc. The judge found, however, that Friendly did not have in its files a resolution from Down & Dirty Maintenance, LLC, the entity to which Storr had made the check payable. Judge Kumpf determined Friendly did not follow reasonable commercial standards when it paid a check Kilgore made payable to a corporate entity for which it lacked the appropriate authorization. Finding that Friendly did not act in accordance with reasonable commercial standards, the judge held neither it nor its assignee was a holder in due course.

The findings of a trial judge sitting without a jury are "considered binding on appeal when supported by adequate, substantial and credible evidence." Rova Farms Resort, Inc. v. Investors Ins. Co. of Am., 65 N.J. 474, 484 (1974). However, "[a] trial court's interpretation of the law and the legal consequences that flow from the established facts are not entitled to any special deference" on appellate review. Manalapan Realty, L.P. v. Manalapan Twp. Comm. of Manalapan, 140 N.J. 366, 378 (1995).

We discern no basis to disturb the findings of the trial judge. His findings are supported by the testimony offered by the check casher. We also hold that the judge properly applied the governing law to the facts as found.

The remaining issues presented by Triffin are without sufficient merit to warrant discussion in a written opinion. R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(E).

We, therefore, affirm the April 18, 2011 order dismissing the complaint with prejudice.



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