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Promissory Note = Negotiable Instrument

On November 13, 2008,  the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana in United States of America v. Lockett, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 92998 (Lockett.pdf) granted summary judgment in favor of lender in a straightforward promissory note default case.  Lockett provides a nice primer on Indiana’s basic rules surrounding promissory notes and the evidentiary hoops through which a lender must jump in order to obtain a summary judgment in federal court.

Federal court summary judgment standard.  The procedural standard for summary judgments in Indiana’s federal courts is different from Indiana’s state courts.  Without going into detail, the movant’s initial procedural burden is easier to meet in federal court.  For those interested, here is the procedural standard as articulated in Lockett:

Summary judgment is appropriate when “the pleadings, depositions, answers to the interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”  Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c).  In deciding whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, “the evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.”  No genuine issue of material fact exists when a rational trier of fact could not find for the nonmoving party even when the record as a whole is viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.  A nonmoving party cannot rest on mere allegations or denials to overcome a motion for summary judgment; “instead, the nonmovant must present definite, competent evidence in rebuttal.”  Specifically, the nonmoving party must point to enough evidence to show the existence of each element of its case on which it will bear the burden at trial. 

(Indiana’s state court standard requires the movant to designate evidence that definitively negates each element of the nonmovant’s case.)

Promissory note, defined.  Judge Miller reminds us that a promissory note “is a negotiable instrument subject to Indiana’s version of the Uniform Commercial Code.  See, Ind. Code § 26-1-3.1-104.  In Indiana, the holder of a negotiable instrument (usually, a lender) may recover on the instrument simply by:

  producing the signed note, or a copy;
  proving that the note was executed; and
  showing that the note is due and unpaid.

See, I.C. § 26-1-3.1-308.  Typically, these matters easily are established by filing an affidavit from a lender representative.  At that point, the only way the defendant (the borrower) can avoid entry of judgment is to prove some defense to liability.  The potential defenses are too voluminous to list or discuss here, but they would involve, for instance, evidence that the borrower did not sign the note or that the borrower contests the amounts due. 

In Lockett, the borrower failed to refute any of the lender’s factual allegations and failed to raise any legal defense to negate her responsibility to pay the full amount of the loan.  The borrower, who was unrepresented in the litigation, simply expressed a desire to settle the debt.  Accordingly, the Court concluded that there were no genuine issues of material fact for trial and held that the holder of the note was entitled to a judgment as a matter of law in the amount requested.

The fundamentals.  The Lockett case warranted a short post to remind secured lenders and their counsel involved in Indiana commercial foreclosures of the basic proof needed to obtain a pre-trial disposition of the case through summary judgment.  For the Indiana lawyers who may be reading, Lockett would be a nice case to cite in a summary judgment brief involving a default on a promissory note.