Hansen v. First American Bank & Trust of Minot

Decision Date13 March 1990
Docket NumberNo. 890080,890080
Citation452 N.W.2d 770
CourtNorth Dakota Supreme Court
PartiesLynn Jackson HANSEN, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. FIRST AMERICAN BANK & TRUST OF MINOT, Defendant and Appellee. Civ.

William L. Strate (argued), Bismarck, for plaintiff and appellant.

Pringle & Herigstad, P.C., Minot, for defendant and appellee; argued by David J. Hogue.

ERICKSTAD, Chief Justice.

Lynn Jackson Hansen appeals from a district court judgment dismissing her complaint against First American Bank and Trust of Minot [Bank]. We affirm.

On June 9, 1987, Hansen commenced this action against the Bank, alleging that, in its capacity as personal representative of the estate of Leslie E. Jackson, it "breached its fiduciary duty" by "wrongfully or negligently" disbursing $10,000 from the estate to Hansen's ex-husband. Hansen is the granddaughter and an heir of Jackson. The Bank's initial answer to the lawsuit consisted of a general denial of the allegations in the complaint and did not present any affirmative defenses to Hansen's claim.

On July 14, 1988, the day set for trial of the case, the Bank orally moved to amend its answer to raise various affirmative defenses, including an assertion that Hansen's action was barred under the provisions of Sec. 30.1-21-05, N.D.C.C., because it was not commenced within six months of the filing of the closing statement of the estate. 1 The district court took the motion under advisement and proceeded to try the case without a jury. Two witnesses, who had been previously deposed, testified at the trial, which lasted approximately one-half day.

Following the trial, the district court requested the parties to brief the issue of whether the Bank should be allowed to amend its answer to assert the limitation period contained in Sec. 30.1-21-05. Hansen asserted in her brief that the "affirmative defenses ... have been waived by the Bank's failure to plead them in its initial answer." The trial court granted the Bank's motion to amend its answer to assert Sec. 30.1-21-05 as a bar to the action, reasoning:

"The Court in considering the motion to amend is aware of the mandate that leave to amend should be '... freely given when justice so requires.' (See Rule 15, N.D.R.Civ.P.) The Court is also aware of the judicial concept that cases should be tried on their merits if at all possible. Further, the Plaintiff has had ample opportunity to brief, comment upon, and confront the issues raised by the Amended Answer of the Defendant. Accordingly, I will allow the amendment of the Defendant's Answer as proposed."

After noting that there was no dispute that the action was commenced more than six months after the formal closing of Jackson's estate, the trial court dismissed the action without addressing the merits of Hansen's claim against the Bank.

Hansen does not assert on appeal that the trial court incorrectly ruled that Sec. 30.1-21-05 barred her action against the Bank. Rather, she asserts that Sec. 30.1-21-05 is a statute of limitations, rather than a statute of repose, which is waived unless it is plead as an affirmative defense in the initial answer pursuant to Rule 8(c), N.D.R.Civ.P. We need not determine whether Sec. 30.1-21-05 is a statute of limitations or a statute of repose, because even if it is a statute of limitations as asserted by Hansen, we conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in allowing the Bank to amend its answer under Rule 15(a), N.D.R.Civ.P., to assert the statute as a defense.

Rule 8(c) provides in pertinent part:

"(c) Affirmative Defenses. In pleading to a preceding pleading, a party shall set forth affirmatively accord and satisfaction, arbitration and award, assumption of risk, contributory negligence, discharge in bankruptcy, duress, estoppel, failure of consideration, fraud, illegality, injury by fellow servant, laches, license, payment, release, res judicata, statute of frauds, statute of limitations, waiver, and any other matter constituting an avoidance or affirmative defense...."

While is it generally true that failure to plead an affirmative defense results in a waiver of the defense [e.g., First Nat'l Bank of Belfield v. Burich, 367 N.W.2d 148, 152 (N.D.1985) ], Rule 8(c) must be read in conjunction with Rule 15(a), which provides:

"(a) Amendments. A party may amend his pleading once as a matter of course at any time before a responsive pleading is served or, if the pleading is one to which no responsive pleading is permitted and the action has not been placed upon the trial calendar, he may so amend it at any time within 20 days after it is served. Otherwise a party may amend his pleading only by leave of court or by written consent of the adverse party; and leave shall be freely given when justice so requires. A party shall plead in response to an amended pleading within the time remaining for response to the original pleading or within 10 days after service of the amended pleading, whichever period may be the longer, unless the court otherwise orders."

Under Rule 15(a), amendments to the pleadings are to be freely given when justice so requires. First Trust Co. v. Scheels Hardware, 429 N.W.2d 5, 11 (N.D.1988). It is well settled that the decision on a motion to amend a pleading is within the sound discretion of the trial court and will not be overruled on appeal in the absence of an abuse of discretion by the trial court. Geo-Mobile, Inc. v. Dean Bender Chevrolet, 386 N.W.2d 918, 919 (N.D.1986), overruled on other grounds in Peterson v. Zerr, 443 N.W.2d 293, 296 (N.D.1989). A trial court abuses its discretion when it acts in an arbitrary, unreasonable, or unconscionable manner. Fleck v. Fleck, 337 N.W.2d 786, 789 (N.D.1983).

Hansen essentially asserts that, because the purpose of Rule 8(c) is to prevent prejudicial surprise resulting from affirmative defenses raised for the first time at trial [see First Nat'l Bank of Belfield v. Burich, supra ], the trial court abused its discretion in allowing the amendment which was sought on the morning of the trial. Hansen also asserts that she was prejudiced because, during the 13 months between the service of the complaint and the trial, both parties took depositions, participated in pre-trial motions, and were required to prepare for trial. All of this, she asserts, resulted in concomitant expenses and inconvenience to the...

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8 cases
  • First Interstate Bank of Fargo, N.A. v. Rebarchek
    • United States
    • North Dakota Supreme Court
    • 5 Enero 1994
    ...trial court and will not be overturned on appeal in the absence of an abuse of discretion by the trial court. Hansen v. First American Bank & Trust, 452 N.W.2d 770 (N.D.1990); First Trust Co. v. Scheels Hardware, 429 N.W.2d 5 (N.D.1988). We find no abuse of discretion Rebarchek's proposed a......
  • Kambeitz v. Acuity Ins. Co.
    • United States
    • North Dakota Supreme Court
    • 16 Septiembre 2009
    ...defense, amendments to the pleadings under N.D.R.Civ.P. 15(a) are to be freely given when justice so requires. Hansen v. First Am. Bank & Trust, 452 N.W.2d 770, 771-72 (N.D.1990). In Leet v. City of Minot, 2006 ND 191, ¶¶ 3-4, 721 N.W.2d 398, the plaintiffs sued the City for negligence and ......
  • Wayne-Juntunen Fertilizer Co. v. Lassonde, WAYNE-JUNTUNEN
    • United States
    • North Dakota Supreme Court
    • 1 Junio 1990
    ...under Rule 15(a), N.D.R.Civ.P., amendments to the pleadings are to be freely given when justice so requires. Hansen v. First American Bank & Trust, 452 N.W.2d 770, 772 (N.D.1990); First Trust Co. v. Scheels Hardware, 429 N.W.2d 5, 11 Thus, notwithstanding that we have found this to be a ver......
  • Leet v. City of Minot
    • United States
    • North Dakota Supreme Court
    • 13 Septiembre 2006
    ...(E.D.Ark.1997). Generally, the failure to plead an affirmative defense results in a waiver of the defense. Hansen v. First American Bank & Trust, 452 N.W.2d 770, 771 (N.D.1990). Rule 8(c), N.D.R.Civ.P., governing affirmative defenses, provides in relevant In pleading to a preceding pleading......
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