Humble Oil & Refining Co. v. Lane, 12716

CourtSupreme Court of West Virginia
Writing for the CourtCAPLAN
Citation152 W.Va. 578,165 S.E.2d 379
Decision Date21 January 1969
Docket NumberNo. 12716,12716
Parties, 43 A.L.R.3d 747 HUMBLE OIL & REFINING COMPANY, a Delaware Corp. v. Walter LANE and Oran Baker d/b/a Hilltop Auto and Wrecking Company, and Walter Lane, Individually.

Syllabus by the Court

1. In order to create an estoppel to plead the statute of limitations the party seeking to maintain the action must show that he was induced to refrain from bringing his action within the statutory period by some affirmative act or conduct of the defendant or his agent and that he relied upon such act or conduct to his detriment.

2. In the absence of any promise or agreement not to plead the statute of limitations, a mere request by a debtor for delay or forbearance will not estop him from asserting the statute as a defense.

3. The doctrine of estoppel should be applied cautiously and only when equity clearly requires it to be done.

4. Statutes of limitation are statutes of repose, the object of which is to compel the exercise of a right of action within a reasonable time.

Steptoe & Johnson, Edward W. Eardley, Carl F. Stucky, Jr., Charleston, for appellants.

Stone, Bowles, Kauffelt & McDavid, T. D. Kauffelt, F. T. Graff, Jr., Charleston, for appellee.

CAPLAN, Judge.

This is an appeal from a judgment entered in a civil action instituted on September 12, 1966, in the Circuit Court of Jackson County. The action resulted from a collision between the plaintiff's tractor-trailer and the defendants' two-ton flat-bed truck.

According to the testimony appearing in the record, the collision occurred on U.S. Route 21 in Jackson County, West Virginia on April 29, 1964, at approximately 6:45 A.M. The plaintiff's vehicle, driven by Glenville Taylor, was travelling in a northerly direction and the defendants' truck, operated by defendant Walter Lane, was travelling south on said Route 21. Mr. Taylor testified that as the defendants' vehicle approached it appeared that it was attempting to pass the car in front of it and that it came over into the northbound lane and collided with the plaintiff's tractor-trailer. Mr. Taylor further said that he turned to his right in an attempt to avoid the collision but was unable to do so.

Defendant Lane testified that as he was travelling south on Route 21 he noticed a 1957 Mercury sedan travelling in the same direction approximately two hundred feet in front of him. He stated that the Mercury began to slow down and he applied his brakes to a point where he was travelling about thirty-five miles an hour. He then alleged that the Mercury, without any signal, rapidly reduced its speed and that he was forced to apply his brakes. By reason thereof, he said, and because the road was damp and had a thin layer of mud on it, he skidded into the plaintiff's lane of travel and collided with the plaintiff's vehicle.

In its complaint the plaintiff alleged that Lane, while acting in the regular course of business as an owner and agent of the defendants, Walter Lane and Oran Baker d/b/a Hilltop Auto and Wrecking Company, drove his truck into the plaintiff's vehicle causing damage to said vehicle in the sum of $6,750.19. It is further alleged by the plaintiff that the defendants referred this claim to Motorists Mutual Insurance Company, their insurer, and that the insurance company 'through a series of letters and representations, induced plaintiff to believe that the claim would be settled, and plaintiff relying upon said representations did not institute suit within the two year period after the date of the accident.'

The defendants answered, denying negligence and contending that the plaintiff could not recover for the reason that its claim was barred by the statute of limitations. Subsequently, the defendants filed a motion for summary judgment. Attached to this motion was the affidavit of Garry L. Wharton, an attorney for their insurer, which purported to place before the court all of the correspondence between the insurance company and the plaintiff, relative to the accident. The defendants thereby contended that there was no genuine issue as to any material fact and that inasmuch as the statute of limitations had run the claim was barred.

A counter affidavit was filed on behalf of Humble Oil & Refining Company, the plaintiff, which, in essence, embodies the plaintiff's position on this appeal. In that affidavit, made by L. J. Stanley, Credit Supervisor for Humble, it was alleged that Humble, relying on statements contined in correspondence from the insurance company that its claim would be settled after the personal injury claim was disposed of, did not authorize suit to be instituted or did not take any action to collect its claim. Further, Mr. Stanley said that in all of the correspondence the insurance company did not indicate that it intended to contest the claim and that it was his understanding and belief from said correspondence that the insurance company would pay the claim after the disposition of the personal injury claim. He further said he acted in complete reliance on said correspondence.

The trial court upon hearing arguments denied the defendants' motion for summary judgment, stating as the reason therefor that 'the repeated requests by the Motorists Insurance Company to diary the file ahead and the compliance therewith by Humble Oil & Refining Company is sufficient to constitute an estoppel by the defendants from pleading the statute of limitations.'

Upon the trial of this matter, at the conclusion of the plaintiff's evidence and after all of the evidence was introduced, the defendants made a motion for a directed verdict. Upon the denial of said motion and upon submission of the case to the jury, a verdict was returned in favor of the plaintiff in the amount of $6,000.00. It is from this verdict and the judgment entered thereon that this appeal is prosecuted.

While the defendants assign multiple errors to the judgment of the circuit court, it is clearly apparent that they rely principally on their contention that the court erred in overruling their defense of the statute of limitations. It is undisputed that the plaintiff failed to commence its action within the two-year period prescribed by the statute of limitations, the accident having occurred on April 29, 1964 and the action having been instituted on September 12, 1966. Therefore, unless the defendants are estopped from pleading said statute as a defense, the action is barred.

Basically, the plaintiff contends that in reliance upon certain statements contained in a series of letters, which statements are alleged to constitute representations by Motorists Mutual Insurance Company, the plaintiff refrained from instituting an action against the defendants within two years after the accident. It is asserted by the plaintiff that the insurance company thereby represented that it would pay or settle the claim as soon as it disposed of Mr. Taylor's personal injury claim, and that it would not plead the statute of limitations as a defense.

The defendants take the position that their insurer made no such representations in the letters written to the plaintiff and that in the absence thereof they cannot be estopped from pleading the statute of limitations.

As contended by the plaintiff and as illustrated by the many cases cited, it is well established that the equitable doctrine of estoppel may, in a proper case, be applied to prevent a fraudulent or inequitable resort to the statute of limitations. A debtor may by his representations, promises or conduct be estopped to assert the defense of the statute where the elements of estoppel are present. Where a debtor makes representations to his creditor by which the latter is misled and in reliance thereon the creditor fails to commence his action within the statutory period, the debtor may be estopped from pleading the statute of limitations as a defense. An estoppel may be created even though there was no actual fraud in the technical sense, bad faith or intent to deceive. The essential element is inducement. The creditor must be induced by the debtor to refrain from instituting his action within the statutory period. See Annotation, Estoppel to rely on statute of limitations, 130 A.L.R. 8; 34 Am.Jur., Limitation of Actions, Section 411 et seq.; and 53 C.J.S. Limitations of Actions § 25.

Statutes of limitations are statutes of repose. Their object is to compel the exercise of a right of action within a reasonable time. Street v. Consumers Mining Corporation, 185 Va. 561, 39 S.E.2d 271, 167 A.L.R. 886; Burnett v. New York Central R. Co., 380 U.S. 424, 85 S.Ct. 1050, 13 L.Ed.2d 941; Walter v. August, 186 Cal.App.2d 395, 8 Cal.Rptr. 778, 83 A.L.R.2d 941; Burns v. Burns, 233 Iowa 1092, 11 N.W.2d 461, 150 A.L.R. 306; Summers v. Connolly, 159 Ohio St. 396, 112 N.E.2d 391, 39 A.L.R.2d 661.

At one time the attitude of cour...

To continue reading

Request your trial
33 cases
  • Samsell v. State Line Development Co., 12840
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • May 15, 1970
    ...'The doctrine of estoppel should be applied cautiously and only when equity clearly requires it to be done.' Humble Oil & Refining Company v. Lane, 152 W.Va. 578, pt. 3 syl., 165 S.E.2d 379. 'To raise an equitable estoppel there must be conduct, acts, language or silence amounting to a repr......
  • Forshey v. Jackson, 33834.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • November 19, 2008
    ...imposed by a statute of limitations and has enforced such temporal limits as they are written. See, e.g., Humble Oil & Ref. Co. v. Lane, 152 W.Va. 578, 583, 165 S.E.2d 379, 383 (1969) (declaring that statutes of limitation "are entitled to the same respect as other statutes, and ought not t......
  • Parsons v. Halliburton Energy Servs., Inc.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • April 11, 2016 to his detriment. Nisbet v. Watson [162 W.Va. 522], 251 S.E.2d 774 (W.Va.1979), Syllabus Point 3; Humble Oil & Refining Co. v. Lane, 152 W.Va. 578, 165 S.E.2d 379 (1969) ; Helmick v. Broll, 150 W.Va. 285, 144 S.E.2d 779 (1965), Syllabus Point 2[.]Mundy, 165 W.Va. at 131, 267 S.E.2d at 45......
  • Albright v. White, 24111.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • June 22, 1998
    ...of the defendant or his agent and that he relied upon such act or conduct to his detriment.' Syl. Pt. 1, Humble Oil & Ref. Co. v. Lane, 152 W.Va. 578, 165 S.E.2d 379 (1969)."). For these reasons, we decline to address this assignment of error as inadequately briefed. See Ohio Cellular RSA L......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT