Session August 26, 2014
Appeal from the Circuit Court for Bradley County No. V13455 Hon. Larry Puckett, Judge.
Greg Phillips, Cleveland, Tennessee, Pro Se.
Michael E. Jenne, Cleveland, Tennessee, for the appellee, Southern Heritage Bank.
John W. McClarty, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Charles D. Susano, Jr., C.J., and Thomas R. Frierson, II, J., joined.
JOHN W. McCLARTY, JUDGE
Greg Phillips ("Plaintiff"), along with his mother, Patricia Phillips ("Mother"), opened the bank account at issue with Southern Heritage Bank ("Bank") on May 16, 2011. Plaintiff and Mother were designated as authorized users of the account. From January 2012 through June 13, 2012, Plaintiff was incarcerated for various charges. Plaintiff did not inform Bank of his incarceration. Upon Plaintiff's release, he discovered that his bank account had been closed due to insufficient funds in May 2012 and that his entire account had been depleted, largely as a result of six checks that appeared to have been signed by Mother. Attesting that his sister, Tracy Phillips Caldwell ("Sister"), had forged Mother's signature, Plaintiff requested the return of the funds. Bank refused Plaintiff's request.
On June 11, 2013, Plaintiff filed suit, alleging that Bank was negligent in processing payment for six checks, totaling $1, 557.50, between February 3 and March 27 that bore Mother's name as the signatory. Plaintiff requested damages in the amount of $100, 000, reflecting the amount of the checks, overdraft fees, the alleged loss of an insurance policy for failure to pay his premiums, other losses as a result of his account being closed without his knowledge or consent, and punitive damages. Bank responded by denying wrongdoing and alleging that Plaintiff's negligence caused the damages at issue.
Bank filed a motion for summary judgment, asserting that Plaintiff's claim must fail because the checks at issue were signed by Mother, an authorized account user, and that Plaintiff had violated his legal and statutory duty to timely review his bank statements and provide notice of the alleged unauthorized signatures pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 47-4-406. In support of its motion, Bank attached affidavits from Patsy Locklear, Marty Pearce, and Sister.
Ms. Locklear attested that Plaintiff failed to inform Bank of his incarceration and that Bank processed six checks for payment that bore Mother's name as signatory. She stated that Plaintiff admitted that two of the six checks were written to Gilbert Real Estate for rent he incurred while incarcerated. She asserted that all six checks were lawfully signed by Mother and that Plaintiff had also given his debit card to an unauthorized user, who further depleted his account in the amount of $282.43, in violation of his agreement with Bank. She provided that the account had been overdrawn in the amount of $411.34 but that Plaintiff had not provided any funds in fulfillment of the deficiency.
Mr. Pearce, a certified forensic document examiner, attested that "based upon a reasonable degree of certainty within [his] profession of expertise as a handwriting expert" that four of the six checks were signed by Mother. Likewise, he believed that the fifth check was "more likely than not" signed by Mother. He conceded that the sixth check was of such poor quality that he was unable to form a conclusion beyond his bare belief that the signature "appear[ed] to be consistent" with the other signatures.
Sister attested that she had not signed the checks at issue but that the checks were "most definitely" signed by Mother.
Plaintiff failed to respond to Bank's motion for summary judgment. Following a hearing, the trial court granted Bank's motion for summary judgment, finding that there were no genuine issues as to any material fact and that Bank was entitled to judgment as a matter of law. ...