Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Moving for summary judgment based on SoL: Who has the burden of proof on accrual?
The Date the Plaintiff's Claim Accrued - an element of proof in MSJ based on the applicable statute of limitations as an affirmative defense
“A defendant moving for summary judgment on the affirmative defense of limitations has the burden to conclusively establish that defense.” KPMG Peat Marwick v. Harrison Cnty. Hous. Fin. Corp., 988 S.W.2d 746, 748 (Tex. 1999). “Thus, the defendant must (1) conclusively prove when the cause of action accrued, and (2) negate the discovery rule, if it applies and has been pleaded or otherwise raised, by proving as a matter of law that there is no genuine issue of material fact about when the plaintiff discovered, or in the exercise of reasonable diligence should have discovered the nature of its injury.” Id. If the movant establishes that the statute of limitations bars the action, the respondent must then adduce summary judgment proof raising a fact issue in avoidance of the statute of limitations. Id.
Generally, when a cause of action accrues is a question of law. Provident, 128 S.W.3d at 221. “[A] cause of action accrues and the statute of limitations begins to run when facts come into existence that authorize a party to seek a judicial remedy.” Id. “In most cases, a cause of action accrues when a wrongful act causes a legal injury, regardless of when the plaintiff learns of that injury or if all resulting damages have yet to occur.” Id.
However, two exceptions may defer accrual of a claim: the discovery rule and the doctrine of fraudulent concealment. The discovery rule is “a very limited exception to statutes of limitations” and applies “only when the nature of the plaintiff’s injury is both inherently undiscoverable and objectively verifiable.” Wagner & Brown, Ltd. v. Horwood, 58 S.W.3d 732, 734 (Tex. 2001). “[W]hen the discovery rule applies, accrual is tolled until a claimant discovers or in the exercise of reasonable diligence should have discovered the injury and that it was likely caused by the wrongful acts of another.” Childs v. Haussecker, 974 S.W.2d 31, 40 (Tex. 1998) (emphasis added).
Similarly, the doctrine of fraudulent concealment defers accrual of a cause of action because “a person cannot be permitted to avoid liability for his actions by deceitfully concealing wrongdoing until limitations has run.” S.V. v. R.V., 933 S.W.2d 1, 6 (Tex. 1996).
Under the discovery rule, once a plaintiff discovers or in the exercise of reasonable diligence should have discovered the injury and that it was likely caused by the wrongful acts of another, “limitations commences, even if the plaintiff does not know the exact identity of the wrongdoer.” Childs, 974 S.W.2d at 40; see also Exxon Corp. v. Emerald Oil & Gas Co., No. 05-1076, 2011 WL 1226100, at *8 (Tex. Apr. 1, 2011) (“Once a claimant learns of a wrongful injury, the statute of limitations begins to run even if the claimant does not yet know ‘the specific cause of the injury; the party responsible for it; the full extent of it; or the chances of avoiding it.’”) (quoting PPG Indus., Inc. v. JMB/Houston Ctrs. Partners Ltd., 146 S.W.3d 79, 93 (Tex. 2004)) (emphasis added). That is, the plaintiff must be aware that his injury was caused by someone’s wrongful act, but need not necessarily know who performed the wrongful act. The discovery rule is written into the statute of limitations for misappropriation of trade secrets. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 16.010(a) (West 2002) (“A person must bring suit for misappropriation of trade secrets not later than three years after the misappropriation is discovered or by the exercise of reasonable diligence should have been discovered.”).
SOURCE: San Antonio Court of Appeals - 04-10-00243-CV - 5/25/11
ADDITIONAL CASELAW SNIPPETS:
When the defendant bases a summary judgment motion on the statute of limitations, he must conclusively prove each element of that affirmative defense as a matter of law. KPMG Peat Marwick v. Harrison County Housing Finance Corp., 988 S.W.2d 746, 748 (Tex. 1999); Shah, 67 S.W.3d at 842. Ryland Group, Inc. v. Hood, 924 S.W.2d 120, 121 (Tex. 1996). A plaintiff suffers a “legal injury” when facts come into play which would authorize him to seek a judicial remedy. Apex Towing Co. v. Tolin, 41 S.W.3d 118, 120 (Tex. 2001). Once a claimant learns of a wrongful injury, the statute of limitations begins to run even if the claimant does not yet know “the specific cause of the injury; the party responsible for it; the full extent of it; or the chances of avoiding it.” PPG Industries, Inc. v. JMB/Houston Centers. Partners Ltd. Partnership, 146 S.W.3d 79, 93-94 (Tex. 2004); Velsicol Chemical Corp. v. Winograd, 956 S.W.2d 529, 531 (Tex. 1997).