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Striking ‘Paid in Full’

When parties haggle over a debt, one of them may try to get the last word by making partial payment and claiming an accord and satisfaction.

In a new case of homeowner v. plumber, the Supreme Court of Virginia says that crossing out the words “Paid in Full” on the homeowner’s check was not enough to preserve the plumber’s right to full payment.

Homeowner Michael Helton hired Phillip A. Glick Plumbing for work on a new home under construction in Penn Laird. Helton hung around and complained several times about the plumbing crew’s waste of time and materials, even sending two letters to Glick’s with reports of overbilling on the original job and on a water heater installation.

Glick billed for $2,986.51. Helton sent a check for $1,300, marked “Paid in Full” on the memo line, along with a letter indicating no more payments would be made.

Glick Plumbing sent Helton an invoice for the remainder, plus a copy of Helton’s check, which had been deposited with the words “Paid in Full” crossed out, and the words “No” and “Balance due $1,686.51” added.

No good, the Supreme Court said in Helton v. Phillip A. Glick Plumbing Inc. Helton’s payment by instrument contained a conspicuous statement that it was intended as full payment. In an opinion by Justice S. Bernard Goodwyn, the high court adopted the majority view that the UCC does not change the common law, which does not allow acceptance with alteration of an instrument tendered in good faith as a full payment of the disputed debt.

The high court reversed and entered final judgment for Helton, who appeared pro se.

By Deborah Elkins

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