Wait…That’s Not My Signature!: The Need For Specific Denials

toates Business Law, Published

A person’s signature can hold tremendous power.  The buying and selling of corporations are finalized with signatures. Wars are waged and alliances are created with just a stroke of a pen. In today’s world of rapid technological advancements, the importance given to one’s signature has remained incredibly high. Whatever the reason for this, one thing is clear. A person’s signature is a very intimate and personal belonging. It is often a person’s sole legal identifying mark. It goes without saying that forging another person’s signature is considered a major crime.

According to renowned forensic document examiner Frank Harley Norwitch, “By placing a signature on a document we are implying intent on our part to agree with circumstances provided by that check, codicil, agreement, contract, etc.” [FN. 1] In this context, it is easy to see why the validity of signatures is so heavily scrutinized.

In Florida, signatures are presumed to be genuine unless the validity of the signature is put at issue. (FLA. STAT. §673.307(1)(b)). When a party wishes to deny the validity of a signature, Florida Statute §673.307 (1) dictates:

“Unless specifically denied in the pleadings each signature on an instrument is admitted.”

This statute has been construed as requiring not merely a general denial, but a specific denial addressed to the appropriate allegations of the other party. Lipton v. Southeast First National Bank, 343 So.2d 927 (Fla. 3d DCA 1977), See also Ferris v. Nichols, 245 So.2d 660 (Fla. 4th DCA 1971). The reason for making specific denials necessary when denying a signature is explained by the Uniform Commercial Code. It reads:

“The purpose of the requirement of a specific denial in the pleadings is to give the plaintiff notice that he must meet a claim of forgery or lack of authority as to the particular signature, and to afford him an opportunity to investigate and obtain evidence… In the absence of such specific denial, the signature stands admitted, and is not in issue.”

The case of Lipton v. Southeast First National Bank gives us a clear example. In that case, a bank filed a complaint seeking to recover on two promissory notes and a written guarantee of one of those notes. The defendant’s answer denied the allegations of the complaint, but did not contain specific denials of the signatures on the instruments sued upon. The court ruled that the general denials given to the validity of the signatures were to be treated as admissions because the statute was very clear as to the requirement of specific denials.

Similarly, in Ferris v. Nichols, the plaintiff filed a complaint that alleged that the defendant executed a promissory note to the plaintiff in five numbered paragraphs. The defendant’s answer read, “Defendant denies each and every allegation of paragraphs 1,2,3,4, and 5 of plaintiff’s complaint.” The court ruled that the defendant’s answer was a general denial of the plaintiff’s assertions and held that such general a general denial had the legal effect of admitting that the defendant did sign the note. Here again, the requirement that a signature be specifically denied is essential to challenging the validity of one’s signature.

The distinction between general and specific denials of signatures is significant. Although the extra effort to plead a specific denial is minimal, it can make a world of difference in the outcome of a case. The attorneys at Oates & Oates P.A. are experienced in prosecuting and defendings claims involving the denial of a written signature.

This article was co-authored by Jason Abitbol in 2012. Jason Abitbol was a graduate student pursuing a Juris Doctorate degree at Nova Southeastern University College of Law in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and was a law clerk for the Law Offices of Oates & Oates, P.A.