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Murray v. Mansheim

February 24, 2010

CHRISTOPHER JOHN MURRAY, A/K/A CHRIS MURRAY, PLAINTIFF AND APPELLEE,
v.
TRAVIS GARY MANSHEIM, A/K/A TRAVIS MANSHEIM, DEFENDANT AND APPELLANT.



APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE SIXTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT TRIPP COUNTY, SOUTH DAKOTA HONORABLE KATHLEEN F. TRANDAHL Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Miller, Retired Justice

CONSIDERED ON BRIEFS ON OCTOBER 5, 2009

[¶1.] In this decision we affirm the circuit court and hold that a compulsory counterclaim seeking affirmative relief in a personal injury action cannot be served after the expiration of the statute of limitations. Christopher John Murray and Gary Travis Mansheim were involved in a two-car accident. Immediately prior to the expiration of the statute of limitations, Murray commenced an action against Mansheim for damages he sustained as a result of the accident. Along with his timely answer, Mansheim served a counterclaim against Murray after the expiration of the statute of limitations. Murray moved for summary judgment seeking to dismiss Mansheim's counterclaim grounded on the failure to bring the counterclaim within the time imposed by the statute of limitations. The circuit court granted the motion.

FACTS

[¶2.] The salient facts are not in dispute. On September 13, 2003, Murray and Mansheim were involved in a motor vehicle accident in which both Murray and Mansheim sustained injuries. On September 12, 2006, Murray commenced a timely personal injury action against Mansheim by service of summons pursuant to SDCL 15-2-30. On September 13, 2006, a personal injury action by either party arising from the September 13, 2003 accident became time-barred. See SDCL 15-2-1, -14(3). On October 9, 2006, nearly a month after the expiration of the action, Mansheim served an answer and a counterclaim alleging Murray's negligence and seeking damages for injuries sustained as a result of the accident. It is undisputed that Mansheim's counterclaim arose out of the same transaction or occurrence as the subject matter of Murray's claim, and therefore, is a compulsory rather than permissive counterclaim. See SDCL 15-6-13(a).

[¶3.] On July 10, 2008, Murray moved for summary judgment, arguing that because Mansheim's counterclaim was initiated after the applicable three-year statute of limitations, it should be dismissed. At the hearing, the parties disputed the applicability of the statute of limitations to Mansheim's compulsory counterclaim. SDCL 15-2-14(3) provides a three-year limitation on the commencement of personal injury actions: "Except where, in special cases, a different limitation is prescribed by statute, the following civil actions... can be commenced only within three years after the cause of action shall have accrued:

...

(3) An action for personal injury." Because Mansheim served his compulsory counterclaim after the running of the statute of limitations, and because the circuit court interpreted SDCL 15-2-14.1 and SDCL 15-2-14.5 to indicate legislative disapproval of tolling for affirmative compulsory counterclaims, it granted Murray's motion for summary judgment. Mansheim appeals.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

[¶4.] Our standard of review regarding summary judgment is well established:

[W]e must determine whether the moving party demonstrated the absence of any genuine issue of material fact and showed entitlement to judgment on the merits as a matter of law. The evidence must be viewed most favorably to the nonmoving party and reasonable doubts should be resolved against the moving party. The nonmoving party, however, must present specific facts showing that a genuine, material issue for trial exists. Our task on appeal is to determine only whether a genuine issue of material fact exists and whether the law was correctly applied.

If there exists any basis which supports the ruling of the trial court, affirmance of a summary judgment is proper.

Jacobson v. Leisinger, 2008 SD 19, ¶24, 746 NW2d 739, 745 (quoting Cooper v. James, 2001 SD 59, ¶6, 627 NW2d 784, 787).

[¶5.] When summary judgment is granted on a statute of limitations defense:

The burden of proof is upon the movant to show clearly that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that he is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. When faced with "'a summary judgment motion where the defendant asserts the statute of limitations as a bar to the action and presumptively establishes the defense by showing the case was brought beyond the statutory period, the burden shifts to the [nonmoving party] to establish the existence of material facts in avoidance of the statute of limitations[.]'" It is well settled that "'[s]ummary judgment is proper on statute of limitations issues only when application of the law is in question, and not when there are remaining issues of material fact.'" Generally, a statute of limitations question is left for the jury; however, deciding what constitutes accrual of a cause of action is a question of law and reviewed de novo.

Id.

(quoting James, 2001 SD 59, ¶7, 627 NW2d at 787). There are no issues of material fact in this case. Both issues presented are questions of law reviewed de novo. Id.

ISSUES

1. Whether counterclaims are deemed commenced with the initial action, as part of the initial action, or when stated in the pleadings and served on the opposing party.

2. Whether a compulsory counterclaim seeking affirmative relief relates back to the opposing party's timely initial complaint or if that initial complaint tolls the statute of limitations for ...


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