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Delbrueck & Co. v. Manufacturers Hanover Trust Co.

decided: November 2, 1979.


Action brought by Delbrueck & Co. against Manufacturers Hanover Trust Company for negligence and breach of contract in failing to revoke $12.5 million in transfers to the Chase Manhattan Bank. The District Court (Honorable Vincent L. Broderick, Judge ) dismissed the complaint after a bench trial in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, holding that (1) Manufacturers was not negligent in transferring the funds or in failing to revoke the transfers and (2) that even if Manufacturers was negligent, Delbrueck's contributory negligence precluded it from recovering. Affirmed.

Before Moore, Oakes and Newman, Circuit Judges.

Author: Moore

Delbrueck & Company ("Delbrueck") appeals from the dismissal of its complaint after a bench trial held in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Honorable Vincent L. Broderick, District Judge ). The complaint charged Manufacturers Hanover Trust Company ("Manufacturers") with negligence and breach of contract in failing to revoke two transfers to the Chase Manhattan Bank ("Chase") for the account of Bankhaus I.D. Herstatt, K.G.a.A. ("Herstatt") totaling $12.5 million. The transfers were made via an electronic funds transfer system established by the New York Clearing House Association ("Clearing House") called the Clearing House Interbank Payments System and known as CHIPS.*fn1 Although the facts are more fully presented in Judge Broderick's opinion below (464 F. Supp. 989), a brief statement of those facts is necessary for this discussion of the appeal.

Delbrueck is a German banking house and performs functions as a commercial bank, a brokerage house and an investment bank. In connection with its banking business in 1974, Delbrueck was involved in buying and selling large quantities of foreign currency. Delbrueck maintained an account with Manufacturers, a New York banking corporation, and authorized Manufacturers to make payments out of the account. These authorizations consisted of telex messages which were customarily sent the day before the transfer was to be made.

Delbrueck had entered into three foreign exchange contracts with Herstatt which are of importance for this appeal: one for.$2.5 million and one for $10 million, both due on June 26, 1974, and one for $10 million due on June 27, 1974. In accordance with the authorization procedure, Delbrueck sent a telex message to Manufacturers on June 25, 1974 ordering Manufacturers to transfer, on June 26, a total of $12.5 million to Chase for the account of Herstatt. In addition, early on the morning of June 26, Delbrueck authorized the payment of the $10 million due on June 27.

Then the problems began. Herstatt was closed by the German banking authorities around 10:30 a. m. (all times referred to are Eastern Standard Time) on June 26. Chase heard of the closing and immediately froze payments out of Herstatt's account but continued to accept incoming transfers. Delbrueck sent a telex message to Manufacturers at 11:30 a. m. requesting that the $10 million transfer to be made on June 27 be stopped. On June 26 Manufacturers transferred to Chase via the CHIPS system the payments which had been ordered to be made that day, namely, $10 million transferred at 11:36 a. m. and.$2.5 million at 11:37 a. m. Delbrueck called Manufacturers at around 12:00 noon and later sent a telex message, trying to stop or recall the $12.5 million in payments which had already been made. That afternoon phone calls were made to Chase by Manufacturers and Delbrueck. These calls were directed at having the funds returned, but were unsuccessful. At around 9:00 p. m. the evening of June 26, Chase formally credited Herstatt's account with the $12.5 million.

Delbrueck maintains that the transfers were revokable until 9:00 p. m. and that by failing to revoke the transfers, Manufacturers was negligent and had breached its implied creditor-depositor contract with Delbrueck. Stella Flour & Feed Corp. v. National City Bank, 285 A.D. 182, 136 N.Y.S.2d 139, 142-43 (1st Dept. 1954), Aff'd, 308 N.Y. 1023, 127 N.E.2d 864 (1955). Thus, the crucial issue on this appeal is whether the transfers of funds via CHIPS at 11:36 and 11:37 a. m. were final.*fn2 We hold those transfers were irrevocable and affirm the dismissal of the complaint.

First, the form of the transactions and the manner in which the banks viewed the transactions lead to the conclusion that the 11:36 and 11:37 a. m. transfers were final. The CHIPS system was specifically created to replace cashier's checks as a means of interbank payments of large amounts. As is stated in the CHIPS manual, "CHIPS completely eliminates checks for interbank payment transfers". (App. 377). It is not disputed that cashier's checks are irrevocable when transferred to the payee bank.

In addition, the Clearing House changed its rules after the Herstatt failure to allow revocation of transfers. Although the Clearing House previously had no specific rule concerning the finality of CHIPS transfers, all member banks must have believed that once transfers were released, they were final, except for adjustments made for clerical errors. Delbrueck's conduct supports this fact, because it initially requested stop payment only on the $10 million to be paid on June 27, apparently believing that the June 26 transfers had been made and were irrevocable.

As a direct result of the Herstatt failure, this new procedure was announced on July 1, 1974. The change was necessitated by a backlog in releasing orders created by uncertainties in the financial markets due to the Herstatt failure. Orders were not being released until the transferor was certain that funds were available to cover the transfer. The new procedure outlined in the July 1 announcement allowed members to release payments but still have a right to recall them until 10:00 a. m. of the morning after the transfer. The change would not have been required if the transfers were considered revocable by member banks. And subsequently, on November 4, 1974, the CHIPS system reverted to the tacitly accepted procedure used before July 1, which was that the transfers were irrevocable.

The fact that final settling of the accounts was not done until 9:00 p. m. is irrelevant. That was a mere bookkeeping entry. As Manufacturers asserts, a cash payment or a cashier's check would not have been formally entered on Chase's books until 9:00 p. m. and even Delbrueck agrees that cash or a cashier's check would be irrevocable when transferred.

The practices associated with banking transactions can be conclusive evidence of the legal effect of those transactions. Indianapolis Morris Plan Corp. v. Karlen, 28 N.Y.2d 30, 36, 319 N.Y.S.2d 831, 268 N.E.2d 632 (1971); Hanlon v. Union Bank of Medina, 247 N.Y. 389, 391, 160 N.E. 650 (1928). Based on the nature of the CHIPS system, and the fact that the member banks viewed the transactions as irrevocable (as evidenced by the short term change instituted after the Herstatt failure) we hold that the CHIPS transfers were irrevocable when made.

The Uniform Commercial Code ("UCC") is not applicable to this case because the UCC does not specifically address the problems of electronic funds transfer. However, analogous use of concepts such as the finality of checks once "accepted" (ยงยง 3-410, 4-303) would support the irrevocability of these transfers.

The common law supports the view that these transfers were irrevocable. Delbrueck's deposits with Manufacturers were choses in action and as such were assignable. Miller v. Wells Fargo Bank International Corp., 406 F. Supp. 452 (S.D.N.Y.1975), Affirmed, 540 F.2d 548 (2d Cir. 1976); Paragon International, N. V. v. Standard Plastics, Inc., 353 F. Supp. 88, 93 (S.D.N.Y.1973). In order for there to be a valid assignment of a chose in action, there ...

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