Canada: Endossement frauduleux et vol d'identité : la Cour d'appel détermine qui de deux parties innocentes doit subir la perte liée à l'encaissement d'un chèque par un fraudeur

Dans Gescoro inc. c. Rémillard, la Cour d'appel du Québec s'est prononcée sur la question suivante : qui, entre deux parties innocentes, doit subir la perte liée à un chèque fait à l'ordre d'une personne ayant usurpé l'identité d'autrui? En application de la Loi sur les lettres de changeLLC »), la Cour d'appel conclut que ces risques sont imputés à l'institution encaissant le chèque, plutôt qu'au tireur.

Les faits

En 2011, un prêt hypothécaire est accordé à un prétendu acheteur afin d'acquérir l'immeuble d'une prétendue vendeuse, ces derniers ayant usurpé l'identité de vrais individus. Un double mandat est confié au notaire Me Francis-Pierre Rémillard, soit d'instrumenter l'acte d'hypothèque et l'acte de vente. Le prêteur hypothécaire a déposé les fonds dans le compte en fidéicommis du notaire, puis, une fois l'acte d'hypothèque et la vente conclus, le notaire a émis un chèque tiré de son compte en fidéicommis à la prétendue vendeuse. Celle-ci l'a encaissé dans un centre d'encaissement de chèque (« Gescoro ») qui lui a remis le produit du chèque en argent liquide, moins sa commission. .

Une fois la fraude découverte et les actes d'hypothèque et de vente grevant l'immeuble radiés, à la demande de la véritable vendeuse, l'assureur du prêteur hypothécaire a indemnisé ce dernier pour la perte des sommes prêtées, tout en demandant au notaire de prendre toutes les mesures nécessaires pour s'assurer que le chèque soit retourné à la compensation pour endossement frauduleux. Suivant le retour à la compensation du chèque, la banque de la prétendue vendeuse a retourné le produit de celui-ci à la banque du notaire. Gescoro a intenté une action contre le notaire afin de récupérer le produit du chèque.

Le jugement de première instance

En octobre 2016, la Cour supérieure du Québec rejette la demande de Gescoro et détermine qu'en raison d'un endossement frauduleux, tel que défini à l'article 48 de la LLC, celle-ci n'est pas détentrice régulière du chèque au sens de l'article 55 (1) de la LLC et de la Règle A4 de l'Association Canadienne de Paiement, tel que rapporté à l'époque.

La décision de la Cour d'appel

Gescoro porte le jugement d'octobre 2016 en appel, alléguant essentiellement que l'endossement du chèque ne serait pas frauduleux et donc qu'elle serait une détentrice régulière du chèque. La Cour soulève deux erreurs de droit dans le jugement de première instance, n'affectant toutefois pas le dispositif du jugement, rejetant donc l'appel.

La Cour détermine d'abord qu'un endossement frauduleux n'a pas d'incidence sur la qualification du détenteur comme étant régulier au sens de l'article 55(1) LLC. En l'espèce, puisque le chèque avait, en apparence, tous les éléments requis et semblait conforme aux exigences légales, il s'agissait d'une lettre « manifestement complète et régulière » rendant son détenteur, Gescoro, régulier. Toutefois, cela n'empêche pas de soulever dans un second temps que l'endossement est frauduleux.

En effet, la Cour rappelle que l'examen de l'endossement n'est fait que si celui-ci est nécessaire, ce qui n'est pas le cas si le preneur est une personne « fictive ou qui n'existe pas » au sens de l'article 20 (5) LLC, examen n'ayant pas été fait par la juge de première instance. Si l'endossement n'était pas nécessaire, son caractère frauduleux n'affecterait pas les droits des parties.

La Cour d'appel retient le test établi par la majorité de la Cour suprême dans la décision Teva Canada Ltée c. TD Canada Trust, 2017 CSC 51 (« Teva »), soit qu'une personne est « fictive » si le tireur n'avait pas l'intention de payer le preneur, et qu'une personne «n'existe pas» si elle n'est pas un preneur légitime vis-à-vis du tireur ou qu'elle n'aurait pas pu être raisonnablement confondue avec un preneur légitime. En l'espèce, puisque le notaire n'était pas partie à la fraude et voulait payer la prétendue vendeuse, il ne s'agissait pas d'une personne fictive. De plus, comme la vendeuse est une personne réelle qui est propriétaire de la maison ayant fait l'objet de la vente, il ne s'agissait pas d'une personne qui n'existe pas. Ainsi, l'endossement était nécessaire et, en raison de son caractère frauduleux, Gescoro ne pouvait en requérir le paiement.

Tout en soulignant que l'approche de la dissidence dans Teva imputerait le chèque au tireur, qui est généralement le mieux placé pour détecter la fraude, la Cour d'appel rappelle le raisonnement de la Cour suprême dans Teva et Boma Manufacturing Ltd. c. Banque Canadienne Impériale de Commerce, [1996] 3 RCS 727, selon lequel les banques bénéficient le plus du régime des lettres de change et qu'elles peuvent répartir les pertes infligées par les chèques frauduleux, contrairement aux particuliers ou aux petites entreprises.

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