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One Court of Justice Blog

April 12, 2017

A statute of limitations defense belongs only to the party raising it and cannot be resolved before that party is added to an action

A court may not preemptively decide whether a statute of limitations defense is available to a necessary party before he or she has been made a party to the litigation, held the Michigan Supreme Court in Graham v. Foster, No. 152058.  Additionally, the Court also held that a person timely made a party to an action may not claim on his or her own behalf that the action is time-barred on the basis of the plaintiff’s failure to add a necessary party before the limitations period expired.

This case arises from the plaintiff, Shea Graham’s, attempt to establish his alleged paternity of a child, Blake, under the Revocation of Paternity Act (“RPA”).  The defendant, Sharea Foster, gave birth to Blake in 2009 while married to Christopher Foster.  However, Graham alleged that notwithstanding Christopher’s presumed status as Blake's father, Graham was entitled to the paternity and legal fatherhood of Blake.  Accordingly, Graham filed an action in May of 2013 under the RPA seeking a judicial determination that Blake was born out of wedlock, a determination of Graham’s own biological paternity, and an appropriate order of filiation.  In June of 2013, after the RPA’s limitations period expired, Sharea moved for summary disposition, asserting that her husband, Christopher, was a necessary party to the litigation.  Because he had not been joined to the action within the applicable limitations period, Sharea asserted that the action was time-barred.  The trial court found that Christopher was not a necessary party to the action and therefore denied Sharea’s motion for summary disposition. 
 
On interlocutory appeal, the Court of Appeals held that Christopher was a necessary party to the action because the success of Graham’s action necessarily required the termination of Christopher’s parental rights to BF.  Nonetheless, the Court affirmed the trial court’s denial of summary disposition.  While acknowledging that an action in which a party is first named in an amended complaint ordinarily commences as to that party on the date the amended complaint is filed, the Court of Appeals recognized the applicability of the necessary-party exception to Christopher.  Because Christopher was necessary to fully resolve the litigation, he could be added to the action even though the limitations period had expired.
 
The Michigan Supreme Court agreed that Christopher was a necessary party to the action.  However, the Court found two flaws in the Court of Appeals’ opinion.  First, the Court concluded that the Court of Appeals erred in allowing Sharea to assert Christopher’s statute of limitations defense on her own behalf, reasoning that a statute of limitations defense is personal to the party raising it.  As such, Sharea could not assert a defense that was only available to Christopher.  Second, the Court concluded that the Court of Appeals erred in preemptively adjudicating the merits of a statute of limitations defense that belonged to a party that had not yet been added to the litigation.  Because Graham had not yet designated Christopher as a defendant and given Christopher the option to assert a statute of limitations defense, the availability of the defense could not be resolved.  Accordingly, the Michigan Supreme Court vacated that portion of the Court of Appeals’ opinion adjudicating the merits of Christopher’s statute of limitations defense and left undisturbed the Court of Appeals’ holding regarding Christopher being a necessary party to the litigation. 
 
To view our previous blog on the Court of Appeals’ opinion, click here.

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