SOL, the PSA, and Rule 81
September 16, 2015 § 3 Comments
I posted here not too long ago about the need to assert a defense of statute of limitations (SOL), saying that “It is not an automatic bar to the action, but rather a defense that must be affirmatively pled.”
That quote goes a tad too far. Although MRCP 12 specifically requires that SOL be pled as an affirmative defense, R 12(b) goes on to say that, “If a pleading sets forth a claim for relief to which the adverse party is not required to serve a responsive pleading, he may assert at the trial any defense in law or fact to that claim for relief.” Of course, matters brought under R 81 do not require an answer, so no affirmative defensive pleading is required, and the SOL defense may be asserted at trial.
That is what happened in DHS v. Guidry, 830 So.2d 628, 634 (Miss. 2002). In a contempt action brought under R 81, Jackie Guidry did file an answer to the R 81 petition, but it did not include a SOL defense. Jackie instead raised the defense of SOL for the first time at trial, and DHS objected on the basis that no pleading asserting the defense had been filed. The chancellor ruled in Jackie’s favor, and DHS appealed. The MSSC affirmed:
¶ 19. DHS next argues Jackie waived his defense of statute of limitations when he failed to raise the defense in his answer. Jackie contends that though he did file responsive pleadings, no answer was required under Miss. R. Civ. P. 12(b). Because no answer was required, Jackie argues his affirmative defenses could have been properly pled at any time.
¶ 20. An affirmative defense, such as a statute of limitations, is waived if not raised by a pleading. Miss. R. Civ. P. 12(b). However, this rule only applies when a responsive pleading is required. Rule 12(b) states in pertinent part:
If a pleading sets forth a claim for relief to which the adverse party is not required to serve a responsive pleading, he may assert at the trial any defense in law or fact to that claim for relief….
Pursuant to Miss. R. Civ. P. 81(d)(2) & (4), no answer is required in a petition for contempt based on unpaid child support. Nevertheless, Jackie’s counsel did file an answer, but did not raise the affirmative defense of statute of limitations. However, at the hearing, Jackie made an ore tenus motion to dismiss the petition as being barred by the statute of limitations.
¶ 21. In a recent case handed down by the court of appeals, that court held there was no waiver for failure to plead an affirmative defense when no pleading was required. Brown v. Brown, 822 So.2d 1119 (Miss.Ct.App.2002). The facts of Brown are remarkably similar to the case sub judice. The Browns were divorced in 1979, and Mr. Brown was ordered to pay child support. Id. at 1120. In February 2000, Mrs. Brown filed a motion for contempt alleging Mr. Brown had failed to pay any child support since the 1979 decree. Id. The chancellor awarded Mrs. Brown $54,697.66 in unpaid child support. Id. at 1121.
¶ 22. The Court of Appeals held that because no answer was required to the petition for contempt, the answer, although filed by Brown, was not a required pleading. Id. “We find no waiver for failure to plead an affirmative defense when no pleading is required.” Id. Because the affirmative defense of statute of limitations had not been waived, the claim for the older child was barred. Id. But, the daughter’s claim was viable because she had not yet reached her twenty-eighth birthday. Id. at 1121-22.
¶ 23. This Court finds the affirmative defense of statute of limitations was not waived here because, although Jackie filed an answer, such pleading was not required. The chancellor was correct in finding Jackie had the right to raise his defenses at any stage, including at trial. Therefore, Jackie’s defense of statute of limitations will serve as a bar to any claims filed after February 1, 1998, seven years after his youngest child reached the age of 21.
So I was correct in the original post insofar as I advised you to assert the defense, but went too far in saying that it must be pled — at least in R 81 matters. It should go without saying that if you don’t get something into the record with the words statute of limitations included, you won’t be able to complain about it on appeal.
Actually, though, even if a matter is not required to be pled, you may file a pleading as Jackie did, and sometimes it’s just a good idea to do that.
Thanks to Joe K. for the reference to Guidry.