Can a contractor cash a check clearly marked for something elseunder because he believes that more money is owed on the contract?

I had a contract for home repairs that were done incorrectly or not all. I provided a series of checks for the contractor which he cashed. There was 1 check for $1500 that he cashed which was clearly indicated in the memo for a garage door. He never provided the garage door and when I asked him about it, he said that it was money that I owed him originally from the contract. Can he cash that check under false pretenses when it clearly states what it is for?

Asked on July 26, 2010 under General Practice, Pennsylvania


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

Unfortunately, if you did legitimately owe him money, there was no "false pretenses"--you owed him money; you gave him a check; he cashed it. There is a common misconception that the memo field of a check has some legal effect and can control what the check is used for. That's not the case; the memo field is the equivalent of a "post-it" note--it can jog the memory as to what a check was for and help with bookkeeping, but is not legally binding. Note that if  you owed him money, the contractor coud have sued you for what you owed him, so you're not behind if he simply cashed the check. If you did not owe him money, or did not owe him that much, that would be a different story, however, and you might have a cause of action; in that event, you should consult with an attorney.

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