High court affirms summary judgment for bank

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2008
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A bank that opened an account for a man who used it to fraudulently deposit checks wasn't required under Indiana Code to exercise ordinary care when opening the account, ruled the Indiana Supreme Court.

At issue in Auto-Owners Insurance Company v. Bank One, et al., No. 49S04-0701-CV-27 is whether Bank One violated Section 405 of the Indiana Uniform Commercial Code by not exercising ordinary care when it allowed Kenneth B. Wulf to open a fraudulent account.

Wulf was a resident adjustor for Auto-Owners and worked for the company for 10 years. He handled files for each case of subrogation and salvage claims and it was his responsibility to forward any checks the company received for those claims to the clerical staff to send to the company's headquarters.

In 1991, Wulf opened an account at Bank One in the name of "Auto-Owners, Kenneth B. Wulf" and the bank did not request any documents to confirm he was allowed to open and use an account in Auto-Owners' name. Over the course of eight years, he deposited more than half a million dollars into that account. While he was on vacation, Auto-Owners discovered what he had been up to.

Auto-Owners brought a suit against Bank One, arguing the bank failed to exercise ordinary care when it opened the account and that failure substantially contributed to the company's losses. It also argued Bank One was liable for losses up to the moment of discovery, regardless of any statute of limitations.

The trial court granted Bank One's motion for summary judgment and denied Auto-Owners' motion for partial summary judgment on the statute of limitations issue only. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

In today's ruling authored by Justice Frank Sullivan, the majority affirmed the Court of Appeals decision. The case and the court's decision rested upon Indiana's Uniform Commercial Code, which allows a person bearing a loss because of fraudulent activity to recover from the person failing to exercise ordinary care to prevent the loss.

Section 405 does not mention a bank's responsibilities when opening an account and only requires ordinary care from a bank in the "paying" or "taking" of an instrument, wrote Justice Sullivan. In fact, in the absence of the bank's negligence, the section shifts the responsibility of monitoring employees' activities onto the employer. The employer is in a better position to supervise its employees than the bank, he wrote.

As to the second issue raised on appeal, even if Bank One didn't demonstrate ordinary care by accepting the checks, Auto-Owners still has to show that lack of ordinary care substantially contributed to its losses. To determine whether the conduct has substantially contributed to a loss, the high court looked to I.C. 26-1-3.1-406, to view Bank One's conduct in its entirety. Other than the lack of procedure used in opening the account in 1991, Bank One followed required protocol in depositing Wulf's checks. Even if opening the account was a contributing factor to Auto-Owners' loss, the Supreme Court agrees with the lower courts that the bank's conduct in its entirety does not meet the "substantially contributed" test (Thompson Maple Products v. Citizens National Bank of Corry, 234 A.2d 32 (Pa.Super.Ct.1967)).

Justice Theodore Boehm, in a separate opinion in which Justice Brent Dickson concurred, agreed that the statute of limitations barred much of Auto-Owners' claims but did not agree Bank One is entitled to summary judgment because he believes there are issues of fact not resolvable on summary judgment.

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  1. I think the cops are doing a great job locking up criminals. The Murder rates in the inner cities are skyrocketing and you think that too any people are being incarcerated. Maybe we need to lock up more of them. We have the ACLU, BLM, NAACP, Civil right Division of the DOJ, the innocent Project etc. We have court system with an appeal process that can go on for years, with attorneys supplied by the government. I'm confused as to how that translates into the idea that the defendants are not being represented properly. Maybe the attorneys need to do more Pro-Bono work

  2. We do not have 10% of our population (which would mean about 32 million) incarcerated. It's closer to 2%.

  3. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  4. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  5. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.