Appeals, Nos. 53 and 56, Jan. T., 1955, from judgments of Court of Common Pleas of Berks County, June T., 1954, Nos. 416 and 655, in case of Riley J. Brubaker v. County of Berks et al. Judgments affirmed.
James W. Bertolet, with him Donald F. Spang, for County of Berks, appellant.
George B. Balmer, with him Cornelius C. Leary, Carl F. Mogel, and Snyder, Balmer & Kershner, for Fireman's Fund Indemnity Co., appellants.
Jean de B. Bertolet, with him Frederick J. Bertolet, for appellee.
Before Stern, C.j., Stearne, Jones, Bell, Chidsey and Musmanno, JJ.
OPINION BY MR. JUSTICE MUSMANNO
In November and December, 1951, the plaintiff Riley J. Brubaker gave to Samuel N. Moyer two checks totaling $7,000 for the purchase of certain real estate. Mr. Moyer, who at the time was County Treasurer of Berks County, did not use the checks for the purpose intended by Brubaker but deposited them in his account as County Treasurer. When Moyer's term as Treasurer expired in January, 1952, a settlement of his accounts showed them to be in balance.
Moyer died on June 17, 1952, without having applied the plaintiff's money to the projected real estate transaction or without having returned the money to the plaintiff, whereupon the latter in October, 1952,
brought suit against the County to recover his $7,000, claiming that the County had been unjustly enriched in that sum. The County brought in as additional defendants the estate of the deceased Moyer and the Fireman's Fund Indemnity Company (surety on Moyer's public official bond). At the ensuing trial the jury returned a verdict in Brubaker's favor in the sum of $7,823.90, and a verdict in the same sum in favor of the County against Moyer's estate and the bonding company, as additional defendants. Both defendants moved for a new trial and for judgment n.o.v. The motions were refused by the court below and this appeal followed.
Looking at this entire transaction through the eyes of abstract justice, one can come to no conclusion other than that Brubaker is entitled to his $7,000. Moyer had no right to turn the money over to the County and the County had no ethical or moral right to keep it once it was ascertained that the money in no way belonged to the County. Coming to this conclusion of natural justice, it would be shockingly incongruous if the law were to stamp on the money a title of County ownership simply because, through some adroit maneuvering on the part of the Treasurer, the money had fallen into the County's coffers.
Section 55 of the Negotiable Instruments Law (Act of May 16, 1901, P.L. 194, Ch. I, Art. IV, 56 P S § 135) states that: "The title of a person who negotiates an instrument is defective, within the meaning of this act, when he obtained the instrument or any signature thereto by fraud, duress or force, and fear, or other unlawful means, or for an illegal consideration, or when he negotiates it in breach of faith or under such circumstances as amount to a fraud." Since Moyer's title to the two checks was defective in that he negotiated them in breach of faith or under circumstances
which amounted to fraud, the defendant County had the burden of showing under Section 59 of Negotiable Instruments Law, supra, 56 P S § 139, that it had acquired title as holder in due course. It thus was obligated to show that it had met the requirements of a holder in due course by demonstrating, inter alia (Section 52 of Negotiable Instruments Law, supra; 56 PS § 132) that it had given value for the checks. The County failed to produce such proof, advancing only the supposition that Moyer might have owed the County $7,000 before he deposited the checks and that, therefore, the County came into possession of the checks through value received. The County entertained also the supposition that Moyer might have extracted $7,000 from the safe, leaving there in its place the two checks. But the bridge of legal proof cannot be built on the phantom piers of suppositions. There was no evidence of any kind to give ...