On September 22, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana granted summary judgment to a defendant beneficiary bank in an action concerning a fraudulent wire transfer that was allegedly sent to a hacker instead of the intended recipient. According to the opinion, the originating bank executed a wire transfer on behalf of the commercial plaintiff to a supplier. However, a hacker had inserted false account information into the supplier’s email to the plaintiff, causing the plaintiff’s instruction to the originating bank to indicate the wrong account at the beneficiary bank. As a result, the funds were deposited by the beneficiary bank into an account for which the account number did not match its account name. A large sum of the plaintiff’s money was thereupon withdrawn by a hacker from the account into which the funds had been deposited. The plaintiff sued asserting several claims, including, negligence and gross negligence, violations of the EFTA and the Louisiana’s Uniform Commercial Code (UCC), and aiding fraud. After all the claims except for the UCC claim were dismissed, the defendant moved for summary judgment on the grounds that it did not violate the UCC “because it did not have actual knowledge that the wire transfer at issue misdescribed the beneficiary prior to payment of the wire transfer as contemplated by that statute.”

The court ruled that based on the evidence, no reasonable juror could find that the defendant had actual knowledge of the misdescription at the time it made the transfer, explaining that the defendant did not have actual knowledge that a hacker had accessed the plaintiff’s wire transfer order, provided false instructions, and changed the target account number to its own. The court stated that under Louisiana law, a bank’s liability for completing a wire transfer that misidentifies a beneficiary or account number depends on whether it has “actual knowledge prior to payment that there was a misdescription of a beneficiary”—constructive knowledge is not actionable, the court said. The defendant also did not have actual knowledge of the misdescription prior to the payment, but rather acquired actual knowledge of the misdescription roughly two weeks later when the originating bank alerted the defendant of the alleged fraud. The court further contended that under Louisiana law a beneficiary bank that uses a fully automated payment system for wire transfers is allowed “to act on the basis of the number without regard to the name if the bank does not know that the name and number refer to different persons.”