Obtaining Case Dismissal on Limitations Grounds

                            Trey Wilson Attorney                         

What is Limitations?

“Limitations” refers to the period within which a Plaintiff must file a lawsuit. Failure to file suit within the applicable limitations period can render the suit time-barred.

The existence of limitations periods is grounded in the notion that justice requires suits to be brought within a reasonable time so that witness memories are fresh and evidence is not lost through the passage of time. The idea is that the passage of too much time would allow memories to fade, witnesses to disappear and evidence to be destroyed. For this reason, it is important that a Plaintiff files suit within a prescribed time period.

When the Plaintiff fails to timely bring suit, the Defendant may be able to obtain dismissal through the summary judgment procedure established by the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure.

Limitations is an affirmative defense. Therefore, the Defendant that asserts that a suit is barred by limitations has the burden of proof on the defense.“ 

What is the Limitations Period for a Plaintiff’s Claim?

It depends. The applicable limitations period varies according to the Plaintiff’s cause of action.  For example, limitations on a negligence claim (which describes most car accidents) is 2 years. The limitations period for a breach of contract action is 4 years.

The various limitations periods are governed by statute as set-forth in Chapter 16 of the Texas Civil Practices and Remedies Code. Typically, the clock for limitations purposes starts running (“accrues”) on the date of injury or act/omission that caused the injury (the “accrual date“).

What should a Defendant do when a Plaintiff files suit after the expiration of limitations?

Since limitations is an affirmative defense, Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 94 requires the Defendant give the Plaintiff notice of intent to rely upon limitations. This is accomplished by stating in the Answer that limitations is relied upon.  If an Answer (General Denial) has already been filed and limitations is not alleged by the Defendant, an Amended Answer can be filed. 

Once the defense of limitations has been asserted, the Defendant may ask the Court to dismiss the Plaintiff’s case by filing a Motion for Summary Judgment in accordance with Rule 166a.  It is critical to plead limitations in the Answer before moving for Summary Judgment.

What is the Standard for Obtaining Summary Judgement on Limitations Grounds? 

A defendant moving for summary judgment on the affirmative defense of limitations has the burden to conclusively establish that defense. Draughon v. Johnson, 631 S.W.3d 81, 88 (Tex. 2021).  

The Texas Supreme Court has clarified what a defendant moving for traditional summary judgment must prove to conclusively establish that the applicable statute of limitations has expired. Id.

First, the defendant has the burden regarding any issues raised that affect which days count
toward the running of limitations—such as accrual, the discovery rule, and tolling.” Id.

Second, if the defendant carries that burden and conclusively establishes its defense, the plaintiff can avoid
summary judgment by raising a genuine issue of material fact on any equitable defense that its suit
should not be barred even though the limitations period has run—such as fraudulent concealment,
estoppel, or diligent service.” Id. at 88–89. This is called “burden shifting.”

“Thus, to obtain traditional summary judgment on a limitations defense, the defendant must
conclusively prove:

(1) when the cause of action accrued, and

(2) that the plaintiff brought its suit later than the applicable number of years thereafter—i.e, that the statute of limitations has run.” Id. at 89