Notary Bulletin

Appellate Court Again Holds Notary And Employer To Higher Standards

A Notary accused of skirting identity requirements has ignited a legal battle between one of the worlds largest banks  Bank of America  and a southern Illinois man who claims the improper notarization cost him more than $64,000. And an Illinois Appellate Court, ruling on the side of professional standards of practice to protect the public, has cleared the way for the victim to sue for damages.

The case  Bank of America v. Bird  marks the second time in less than a year that a state appellate court held a Notary and the Notarys employer to standards of notarial practice that go beyond what state law requires. The rulings principles and implications could ripple nationwide and affect all of Americas 4.8 million Notaries  and the companies that employ them.

In the lawsuit, homeowner Ross E. Bird claims that his ex-wife forged his signature on two loan documents and the Notary failed to obtain satisfactory evidence of identity. The bank tried to have the lawsuit dismissed, claiming that its liability for the actions of its employee-Notary were strictly governed by the Illinois Notary Public Act. But citing another recent lawsuit  the groundbreaking December 2008 decision from another Illinois Appellate Court in the Vancura v. Katris case  the Illinois Appellate Court, Fifth District, ruled that Bird could sue because the employer could be held accountable based on standards not spelled out in state statutes. The case was ordered back to a trial court where a jury will soon decide on its merits.

The Impact On Notaries
The fact that two separate court rulings applied legal principles and standards of conduct beyond what most state laws require implies that individual Notaries across the nation increasingly will be expected to know and follow the common law standard of practice. If, for example, state law does not clearly define satisfactory evidence of identification or specifically require the presence of a signer, Notaries will need to rely on the guidance contained in such established, industry-wide standards as the Model Notary Act  which was cited as the industry standard in the Vancura v. Katris case  and The Notary Public Code of Professional Responsibility.

Failure to abide by these standards could be costly. The Notary in the Vancura case settled the claims against him for $30,000. The Notary in the bank case is still embroiled in litigation.

The Impact On Employers
Any company that employs Notaries also must take note. Courts are beginning to hold businesses responsible for the actions of their Notary employees. It is no longer enough for a business to leave Notary employees to their own devices. Employers must make sure their Notary employees follow the requirements of state law and broadly accepted notarial principles.

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Quiz: The Many Types Of Notarial Acts

Notaries perform many different duties for the public — and it’s easy to lose track of the different acts and what states they’re authorized in. Test your familiarity with common — and uncommon — notarial acts.

(A link to the correct answers is provided at the end of the quiz.)

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