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GREENFIELD v. NATIONAL WESTMINSTER BANK USA

March 21, 1994

SCOTT H. GREENFIELD, ESQ., Plaintiff,
v.
NATIONAL WESTMINSTER BANK USA, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: SHIRLEY WOHL KRAM

 SHIRLEY WOHL KRAM, U.S.D.J.

 In this action seeking monetary damages for a bank's refusal to honor a cashier's check, plaintiff Scott H. Greenfield, Esq. ("Greenfield") moves to remand to the Supreme Court of the State of New York, County of New York (the "State Court") and for sanctions. In response, defendant National Westminster Bank USA ("NatWest" or the "Bank") contends that removal was proper, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441. *fn1" For the reasons set forth below, plaintiff's motion to remand is granted, and this case is remanded to the State Court for further proceedings. Greenfield's motion for sanctions is denied. *fn2"

 BACKGROUND3

 On April 21, 1991, Carmen Martinez ("Martinez") asked Greenfield to represent her former husband, Angel Martinez, in a criminal prosecution in State Court. Greenfield advised Martinez that, in order to retain his law firm, she would have to tender to him a cashier's check for legal services.

 Accordingly, the next day, on April 22, 1991, NatWest issued and delivered a cashier's check to Martinez in the amount of $ 84,229.42 (the "Check"). Martinez endorsed the Check and transferred it to plaintiff's law firm, Meyer & Greenfield. The same day, Greenfield deposited the Check in the Meyer & Greenfield account at Citibank, NA. ("Citibank").

 On April 23, 1991, Citibank presented the check to NatWest through the New York Clearing House exchange. On April 24, 1991, however, NatWest received a warrant of seizure issued by a United States Magistrate Judge of this Court, ordering NatWest to seize the Check and hold it as substitute custodian for the Drug Enforcement Administration ("DEA") until a final decree of forfeiture was served on it. As a result, NatWest dishonored the Check and returned a photocopy of it to Citibank that day. Thereafter, on April 26, 1991, Greenfield received a notice from Citibank that NatWest had stopped payment on the Check. Greenfield also received a photocopy of the front and back of the Check and an "Indemnification Notice," which stated that "this is a photographic facsimile of the original check which was restrictively endorsed by the undersigned and reported lost, stolen, or destroyed while in the regular course of bank collection." See Indemnification Notice, annexed to the Despotakis Aff. as Exh. "C."

 The DEA subsequently commenced administrative forfeiture proceedings, which resulted in an administrative declaration of forfeiture against the Check on April 2, 1992, pursuant to 19 U.S.C. § 1609. Before the declaration was issued, however, on February 28, 1992, Meyer & Greenfield petitioned for remission or mitigation of the forfeiture "as assignees for value of Carmen Martinez in consideration of legal services rendered and to be rendered on behalf of Angel Martinez." See Petition for Remission or Mitigation of the Forfeiture (the "Petition"), annexed to the Declaration of William J. Snider, dated March 29, 1993 ("Snider Dec."), as Exh. "68." On November 19, 1992, the Petition was denied. See letter from Mark H. Kaczynski to Martinez of 11/19/92, annexed to the Snider Dec. as Exh. "71."

 Thereafter, plaintiff commenced a petition under Article 78 of the Civil Practice Law and Rules ("CPLR"), seeking to stay Angel Martinez's criminal action on the theories that (1) Greenfield was entitled to payment of the Check as his legal fees; and (2) the state prosecutor improperly seized the Check under federal forfeiture laws, rather than utilizing state forfeiture laws. People v. Martinez, 151 Misc. 2d 641, 574 N.Y.S.2d 467 (S. Ct. N.Y. Co. 1991). The State Court denied plaintiff's motion, finding that the prosecutor could elect to proceed under either state or federal forfeiture laws. The court found further that New York State has no effective jurisdiction over the bank account from which the Check was drafted, as the bank account was in Martinez's name, and Angel Martinez did not claim ownership of it.

 As a result, on March 1, 1993, Greenfield commenced this action in State Court by Notice of Motion for Summary Judgment in Lieu of Complaint, pursuant to CPLR § 3213, seeking monetary damages against the Bank. Greenfield claims that Meyer & Greenfield became the holder in due course of the Check on April 22, 1991, when it endorsed and deposited the Check in its account. As a holder in due course, Meyer & Greenfield "took the cashier's check free from 'all claims to it on the part of any person' and 'all defenses of any party to the instrument with whom the holder has not dealt.'" See Affirmation of Andrew Lavoot Bluestone, sworn to on February 24, 1993, at P 4 (quoting N.Y.U.C.C. Law § 3-305). Greenfield alleges further that NatWest violated state law by dishonoring the Check, which "is a primary obligation of the [Bank]." Id., P 3 Finally, Greenfield alleges that the Bank's dishonor of the Check was untimely. Id., P 7, n.1.

 On March 8, 1993, NatWest petitioned for removal, claiming that this Court has original and preemptive jurisdiction over the Check, to the exclusion of state law. Greenfield now moves to remand, claiming that this case does not involve a federal question, as it consists of nothing more than a claim for monetary damages arising out of a breach of New York State's Uniform Commercial Code ("UCC"). Plaintiff also moves for sanctions. The Court will consider each of Greenfield's motions in turn.

 DISCUSSION

 I. Motion to Remand

 Plaintiff contends that removal was inappropriate, as the dispute arises solely from a violation of New York State law, and therefore does not involve ...


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