No. 1293 Philadelphia, 1981, No. 2386 Philadelphia, 1981, Appeal from the Order & Judgment of the Court of Common Pleas, Civil Trial Division, Philadelphia County, at No. 3028 May Term, 1977.
Gilbert E. Toll, Philadelphia, for appellant.
Christopher K. Walters, Philadelphia, for appellee.
Johnson, Montemuro and Montgomery, JJ.
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The instant action presents the problem of deciding which of two innocent parties suffers a loss when a fiduciary is a
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thief. Appellant herein is the administrator of an estate who opened an estate account at the appellee bank, Western Savings. Appellee disbursed funds from the account when the attorney for the estate presented the passbook together with a withdrawal slip correctly signed by appellant himself. The court below entered judgment in favor of the bank-appellee and against the administrator-appellant and we affirm.
The appellant first contacted another attorney to handle the estate, and presented him with certain papers and records, among which were the passbook and a withdrawal slip signed in blank. On January 12, 1976, appellant turned the estate over to a new attorney, S. Donald Keesal. The passbook and the withdrawal slip were in the file. Within twenty-four hours, Keesal had presented the passbook and the withdrawal slip filled in by him for $27,000, to a teller at the Western Savings Bank (appellee bank) and had requested disbursal in the form of three checks and cash in an amount exceeding a thousand dollars.
When the teller followed bank procedure by requesting a signed acknowledgment by the customer of the dangers of carrying more than a thousand dollars in cash, he realized that the signature was not that of the administrator as on the withdrawal slip. This was not unusual because estate monies are frequently disbursed by the attorney rather than the executor of the estate, as the teller later testified. He nevertheless spoke with his supervisor, the bank manager, who checked the signature for authenticity, and then issued the requested sums in checks only: two checks, each for more than $7,000 were made out to individuals, one check for $10,000 was made out to the estate, and a fourth check was made out to Keesal himself for $1,104.83.
Because appellee was a savings bank and not a full-service bank, it maintained a checking account at Fidelity Bank as an ordinary customer, and the four checks were all drawn on that account. Three of those checks were indorsed with the name of the individuals to whom they were written. The estate check was negotiated at Industrial Valley Bank with
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an endorsement as follows: "Estate of Alexander S. Layman, S. Donald Keesal." This check was then sent on to ...