Don't cash the check. Once you negotiate the instrument, you've got no legal leg to stand on.
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In answering your question, I presume that the underlying transaction/contract is governed by New Jersey law.
The legal principle that is applicable to this question is that of "accord and satisfaction." If the check has a notation that the amount listed is for "full satisfaction" or "payment in full" or any other similarly construed terminology, it is likely that any cashing or depositing of the check by the payee will constitute full settlement of the underlying obligation. If you want to ultimately receive the full amount you believe is owed, do not attempt to deposit or cash the check. Under this scenario, a court is likely to find that the obligation was satisfied for the amount of the check you received.
In the absence of an express written statement/condition on the check, ask whether there have been any “accompanying acts, declarations or oral statements” by the opposing party that clearly and expressly condition your ability to deposit/cash the check only on full satisfaction of the underlying obligation for the amount listed on the check. This is a grey area for the court. If you answer in the negative, you should feel relatively comfortable with your personal endorsement of the check, accompanied by a clear notation on the check that the endorsement is “under protest with full reservation of rights.” This notation is likely sufficient to declare that you do not intend to waive or release your rights to the full amount owed.
However, understand that I do not know the full facts of your particular situation — the analysis can be very fact-intensive.
Good luck with your matter.
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The way to indicate that you do not accept the check as payment in full is by not cashing the check.
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