Before GOODRICH, McLAUGHLIN and KALODNER, Circuit Judges.
Domenick Falconi ("plaintiff") brought suit against the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation ("defendant"), successor in interest to the insolvent First National Bank of Cecil, Pennsylvania ("Cecil Bank") to recover $19,200 allegedly unlawfully appropriated from his account at the First National Bank of Canonsburg, Pennsylvania ("Canonsburg Bank") to the use of the Cecil Bank. The jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff in the amount of $21,000 and judgment was entered thereon. Subsequently the District Court granted defendant's motion for judgment n.o.v. and, alternatively, its motion for a new trial.*fn1 Plaintiff appealed.
The critical facts may be summarized as follows:
Plaintiff is a resident of Canonsburg, Washington County, Pennsylvania. At the time the events which are under consideration took place he was a farmer, beer distributor, livestock and real estate dealer. He maintained his principal personal and business checking accounts in the Cecil Bank. His wife, his daughter, his son, Phillip, his brother, Cesare and his nephew, Angelo, also had checking accounts in the Cecil Bank. Some of these accounts were in individual names; others were in joint names, but plaintiff controlled all of them. At the time the Cecil Bank closed there was some $70,000 on deposit in plaintiff's personal and business accounts and the accounts of his relatives. All of the $70,000 was the plaintiff's money, according to his testimony at the trial. Plaintiff was permitted, in the course of the crazy-quilt operation of the Cecil Bank, to treat the accounts of his relatives as those they were in his own name drawing checks on them at will.
Plaintiff also maintained small checking accounts in the Citizens Trust Company of Canonsburg and the Canonsburg Bank.
The Cecil Bank was a one-man organization operated by the plaintiff's long-time close friend and financial advisor, John F. Wagner ("Wagner"), its executive vice-president and cashier.
Wagner committed suicide on September 25, 1950. Thereafter the directors of the Cecil Bank determined that the institution was insolvent, and called upon the defendant for aid. Pursuant thereto, defendant entered into an agreement with the insolvent Cecil Bank and the First National Bank of McDonald, Pennsylvania, in a nearby town, under which the McDonald Bank assumed all of the deposit liabilities of the Cecil Bank and the defendant provided the necessary funds to make it whole.
During the course of the liquidation of the Cecil Bank defendant discovered numerous irregularities traceable to Wagner's helter-skelter operations and manipulations. Particularly pertinent to the instant case were the ckecks and promissory notes signed in blank by plaintiff and others and the total absence of records of many deposits and other bank transactions.
Plaintiff's claim is based upon a transaction involving two checks drawn on his account at the Canonsburg Bank. These checks, plaintiff testified, were signed in blank and left with Wagner for use in furtherance of his business transactions; the dates, payees and amounts were to be filled in by the Cecil Bank in accordance with his express instructions; the checks, however, were filled in by Wagner and diverted to the bank's exclusive use without his knowledge or authority.
The two checks totalled $19,265.70. The first, in the sum of $9,265.70 was dated September 19, 1950, and made payable to the order of Joe Minehart. The second, in the amount of $10,000, was dated September 21, 1950, and made payable to the First National Bank of Cecil. Plaintiff asserts that, in exchange for these checks, Wagner, on September 19th, gave him three checks totalling $19,200, together with $65.70 in cash. The three checks were drawn on the Cecil Bank and made payable to plaintiff. The first, in the amount of $1,800, was dated September 20, 1950, and signed John F. Wagner. The second, in the amount of $7,400, was dated September 21, u950, and signed Steve Spataro. The third, in the amount of $10,000 was dated September 22, 1950, and signed John C. Joseph (as President) on the P. & J. Coal Mining Co. checking account.
Plaintiff had a balance of only $1,051.78 at the Canonsburg Bank when Wagner filled in the two checks totalling $19,265.70 drawn on that account.*fn2 The three checks given in return were designed to cover these checks and Wagner accordingly instructed plaintiff to deposit them at the Canonsburg Bank. Plaintiff duly deposited the checks as instructed - two on September 22d and the third on September 25th. The deposits enabled the Canonsburg Bank to honor the two checks drawn on plaintiff's account, but the three cover checks were subsequently dishonored when presented for payment at the Cecil Bank. As a result, plaintiff was required to reimburse the Canonsburg Bank in the amount of $19,200, the total of the three checks. It is this sum, plus interest, which plaintiff seeks to recover in this action.
By way of defense to plaintiff's claim, defendant asserts that the transaction in question was part and parcel of a check kiting operation and that recovery should be denied because of its illegality. Plaintiff concedes the existence of a series of check kite operation but argues that his claim is completely separate from and independent of the kite. With the issues so framed, the question presented is: Was the transaction between plaintiff and Wagner a mere continuation of an illegal check kite for plaintiff's benefit or were the checks drawn on plaintiff's account for the exclusive benefit of the Cecil Bank and therefore separate and independent of the illegal operation.
A check kite has been defined as a scheme whereby false credit is obtained by the exhange and passing of worthless checks between two banks.*fn3 The kite in the instant case involved three different types of checks: (1) checks drawn on the Canonsburg Bank which the plaintiff had signed in blank and left with Wagner; (2) checks drawn on the Cecil Bank which plaintiff made payable to himself and signed some name other than his own as the purported drawer; and (3) ...