Wednesday, April 23, 2014

When is a “Holder” considered a “Holder in Due Course” so as to be Allowed to Recover?

 In the case at bar as the payee acquired the check under circumstances which should have put it to inquiry, why the holder had the check and used it to pay his own personal account, the duty devolved upon it, plaintiff-appellee, to prove that it actually acquired said check in good faith. The stipulation of facts contains no statement of such good faith, hence we are forced to the conclusion that plaintiff payee has not proved that it acquired the check in good faith and may not be deemed a holder in due course thereof.”
The case below discusses the rights of a holder of a negotiable instrument, and his corresponding obligations when he comes into possession of an instrument under circumstances that put, or should put a reasonably prudent man to inquiry on the title of the person negotiating the instrument.
Brief Statement of Facts
In this case, Plaintiff-appellee Ocampo Clinic (“Ocampo”) sued Defendants Anita and Hipolito Gatchalian (each “Gatchalian,” collectively the “Gatchalians”) for recovery of the value of a check in the amount of P600.00 representing payment made by Manuel Gonzales (“Gonzales”), when the Gatchalians ordered a “stop payment” on the said check it issued to Gonzales. Ocampo claims that it received the check in payment of an indebtedness–hospital bills of the wife of Gonzales. The Gatchalians, on the other hand, denies his claim counterclaiming that they issued the check to Gonzales as a mere evidence of good faith in their intention to purchase the car belonging to Ocampo, which Gonzales was selling, as Ocampo’s agent, to the Gatchalians.
The Court held:
“Our resolution of this issue leads us to a consideration of the last question presented by the appellants, i.e., whether the plaintiff-appellee may be considered as a holder in due course.
Section 52, Negotiable Instruments Law, defines holder in due course, thus:
A holder in due course is a holder who has taken the instrument under the following conditions:
(a) That it is complete and regular upon its face;
(b) That he became the holder of it before it was overdue, and without notice that it had been previously dishonored, if such was the fact;
(c) That he took it in good faith and for value;
(d) That at the time it was negotiated to him he had no notice of any infirmity in the instrument or defect in the title of the person negotiating it.
The stipulation of facts expressly states that plaintiff-appellee was not aware of the circumstances under which the check was delivered to Manuel Gonzales, but we agree with the defendants-appellants that the circumstances indicated by them in their briefs, such as the fact that appellants had no obligation or liability to the Ocampo Clinic; that the amount of the check did not correspond exactly with the obligation of Matilde Gonzales to Dr. V. R. de Ocampo; and that the check had two parallel lines in the upper left hand corner, which practice means that the check could only be deposited but may not be converted into cash — all these circumstances should have put the plaintiff-appellee to inquiry as to the why and wherefore of the possession of the check by Manuel Gonzales, and why he used it to pay Matilde's account. It was payee's duty to ascertain from the holder Manuel Gonzales what the nature of the latter's title to the check was or the nature of his possession. Having failed in this respect, we must declare that plaintiff-appellee was guilty of gross neglect in not finding out the nature of the title and possession of Manuel Gonzales, amounting to legal absence of good faith, and it may not be considered as a holder of the check in good faith. To such effect is the consensus of authority.
In order to show that the defendant had "knowledge of such facts that his action in taking the instrument amounted to bad faith," it is not necessary to prove that the defendant knew the exact fraud that was practiced upon the plaintiff by the defendant's assignor, it being sufficient to show that the defendant had notice that there was something wrong about his assignor's acquisition of title, although he did not have notice of the particular wrong that was committed. Paika v. Perry, 225 Mass. 563, 114 N.E. 830.
It is sufficient that the buyer of a note had notice or knowledge that the note was in some way tainted with fraud. It is not necessary that he should know the particulars or even the nature of the fraud, since all that is required is knowledge of such facts that his action in taking the note amounted bad faith. Ozark Motor Co. v. Horton (Mo. App.), 196 S.W. 395. Accord. Davis v. First Nat. Bank, 26 Ariz. 621, 229 Pac. 391.
Liberty bonds stolen from the plaintiff were brought by the thief, a boy fifteen years old, less than five feet tall, immature in appearance and bearing on his face the stamp a degenerate, to the defendants' clerk for sale. The boy stated that they belonged to his mother. The defendants paid the boy for the bonds without any further inquiry. Held, the plaintiff could recover the value of the bonds. The term 'bad faith' does not necessarily involve furtive motives, but means bad faith in a commercial sense. The manner in which the defendants conducted their Liberty Loan department provided an easy way for thieves to dispose of their plunder. It was a case of "no questions asked." Although gross negligence does not of itself constitute bad faith, it is evidence from which bad faith may be inferred. The circumstances thrust the duty upon the defendants to make further inquiries and they had no right to shut their eyes deliberately to obvious facts. Morris v. Muir, 111 Misc. Rep. 739, 181 N.Y. Supp. 913, affd. in memo., 191 App. Div. 947, 181 N.Y. Supp. 945." (pp. 640-642, Brannan's Negotiable Instruments Law, 6th ed.).
The above considerations would seem sufficient to justify our ruling that plaintiff-appellee should not be allowed to recover the value of the check. Let us now examine the express provisions of the Negotiable Instruments Law pertinent to the matter to find if our ruling conforms thereto. Section 52 (c) provides that a holder in due course is one who takes the instrument "in good faith and for value;" Section 59, "that every holder is deemed prima facie to be a holder in due course;" and Section 52 (d), that in order that one may be a holder in due course it is necessary that "at the time the instrument was negotiated to him "he had no notice of any . . . defect in the title of the person negotiating it;" and lastly Section 59, that every holder is deemed prima facie to be a holder in due course.
In the case at bar the rule that a possessor of the instrument is prima facie a holder in due course does not apply because there was a defect in the title of the holder (Manuel Gonzales), because the instrument is not payable to him or to bearer. On the other hand, the stipulation of facts indicated by the appellants in their brief, like the fact that the drawer had no account with the payee; that the holder did not show or tell the payee why he had the check in his possession and why he was using it for the payment of his own personal account — show that holder's title was defective or suspicious, to say the least. As holder's title was defective or suspicious, it cannot be stated that the payee acquired the check without knowledge of said defect in holder's title, and for this reason the presumption that it is a holder in due course or that it acquired the instrument in good faith does not exist. And having presented no evidence that it acquired the check in good faith, it (payee) cannot be considered as a holder in due course. In other words, under the circumstances of the case, instead of the presumption that payee was a holder in good faith, the fact is that it acquired possession of the instrument under circumstances that should have put it to inquiry as to the title of the holder who negotiated the check to it. The burden was, therefore, placed upon it to show that notwithstanding the suspicious circumstances, it acquired the check in actual good faith.
The rule applicable to the case at bar is that described in the case of Howard National Bank v. Wilson, et al., 96 Vt. 438, 120 At. 889, 894, where the Supreme Court of Vermont made the following disquisition:
Prior to the Negotiable Instruments Act, two distinct lines of cases had developed in this country. The first had its origin in Gill v. Cubitt, 3 B. & C. 466, 10 E. L. 215, where the rule was distinctly laid down by the court of King's Bench that the purchaser of negotiable paper must exercise reasonable prudence and caution, and that, if the circumstances were such as ought to have excited the suspicion of a prudent and careful man, and he made no inquiry, he did not stand in the legal position of a bona fide holder. The rule was adopted by the courts of this country generally and seem to have become a fixed rule in the law of negotiable paper. Later in Goodman v. Harvey, 4 A. & E. 870, 31 E. C. L. 381, the English court abandoned its former position and adopted the rule that nothing short of actual bad faith or fraud in the purchaser would deprive him of the character of a bona fide purchaser and let in defenses existing between prior parties, that no circumstances of suspicion merely, or want of proper caution in the purchaser, would have this effect, and that even gross negligence would have no effect, except as evidence tending to establish bad faith or fraud. Some of the American courts adhered to the earlier rule, while others followed the change inaugurated in Goodman v. Harvey. The question was before this court in Roth v. Colvin, 32 Vt. 125, and, on full consideration of the question, a rule was adopted in harmony with that announced in Gill v. Cubitt, which has been adhered to in subsequent cases, including those cited above. Stated briefly, one line of cases including our own had adopted the test of the reasonably prudent man and the other that of actual good faith. It would seem that it was the intent of the Negotiable Instruments Act to harmonize this disagreement by adopting the latter test. That such is the view generally accepted by the courts appears from a recent review of the cases concerning what constitutes notice of defect. Brannan on Neg. Ins. Law, 187-201. To effectuate the general purpose of the act to make uniform the Negotiable Instruments Law of those states which should enact it, we are constrained to hold (contrary to the rule adopted in our former decisions) that negligence on the part of the plaintiff, or suspicious circumstances sufficient to put a prudent man on inquiry, will not of themselves prevent a recovery, but are to be considered merely as evidence bearing on the question of bad faith. See G. L. 3113, 3172, where such a course is required in construing other uniform acts.
It comes to this then: When the case has taken such shape that the plaintiff is called upon to prove himself a holder in due course to be entitled to recover, he is required to establish the conditions entitling him to standing as such, including good faith in taking the instrument. It devolves upon him to disclose the facts and circumstances attending the transfer, from which good or bad faith in the transaction may be inferred.
In the case at bar as the payee acquired the check under circumstances which should have put it to inquiry, why the holder had the check and used it to pay his own personal account, the duty devolved upon it, plaintiff-appellee, to prove that it actually acquired said check in good faith. The stipulation of facts contains no statement of such good faith, hence we are forced to the conclusion that plaintiff payee has not proved that it acquired the check in good faith and may not be deemed a holder in due course thereof.
For the foregoing considerations, the decision appealed from should be, as it is hereby, reversed, and the defendants are absolved from the complaint. With costs against plaintiff-appellee.
Padilla, Bautista Angelo, Concepcion, Reyes, J.B.L., Barrera, Paredes, Dizon and De Leon, JJ., concur.
Bengzon, C.J., concurs in the result.

Vicente R. De Ocampo & Co. vs. Anita Gatchalian, et al., G.R. No. L-15126 November 30, 1961
Read the full text of the case here.

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