Lesson. The deadline for creditors to file suit on an “open account,” including a guaranty of an “open account,” is six years.
Legal issue. Whether a creditor’s claims against a debtor and a guarantor were barred by the statute of limitations.
Vital facts. In 1996, the defendant debtor, a builder, signed an application for a line of credit with the plaintiff creditor, a supplier. The debtor also signed a credit account agreement. The debtor’s president signed a personal guaranty agreement in connection with the arrangement. The last charge against the account was February 21, 2006. In November of 2012, the creditor filed its complaint against the debtor and the guarantor for a failure to make payments under the terms of the agreements.
Procedural history. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment against one another related to liability under the agreements and defendants’ statute of limitations defense. The trial court granted summary judgment for the creditor.
- Indiana’s statute of limitations for actions on accounts and contracts not in writing is six years pursuant to Ind. Code 34-11-2-7. I.C. 34-11-3-1 governs the accrual date: “an action brought to recover a balance due upon a mutual, open, and current account … is considered to have accrued from the date of the last item proved in the account on either side.”
- I.C. 34-11-2-9 controls actions based upon promissory notes and other written contracts for the payment of money. Although this statute also has a six-year limitation period, the accrual date is different. See my 3/9/09 post.
- An action upon a contract in writing, other than for the payment of money, must be commenced within ten years. I.C. 34-11-2-11.
- Indiana case law is settled that a written credit card application and/or agreement does not constitute a written contract or a promissory note. Rather, “the contract creating the indebtedness is formed only when the customer accepts the bank’s offer of credit by using the card.” This type of arrangement is materially different than a promissory note or installment loan. As such, Indiana treats a credit card relationship as an “open account” as opposed to being governed by a written contract per se. For more, see my 9/27/10 post.
- The Court in Ganz cited to Black’s Law Dictionary to define an open account as: “an account that is left open for ongoing debit and credit entries by two parties and that has a fluctuating balance until either party finds it convenient to settle and close, at which time there is a single liability.”
Holding. The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s decision and held that the creditor untimely filed its claims against both the debtor and the guarantor.
Policy/rationale. In Ganz, there were fluctuating balances resulting from a series of transactions, and the creditor kept the account open in anticipation of future purchases. The Court thus concluded that the credit arrangement was in the nature of an open account, like a credit card, as opposed to one based upon a written contract or a promissory note – both of which have different statutes of limitations and accrual triggers.
The accrual date under I.C. 34-11-3-1 – “date of the last item proved in the account on either side” – meant the last charge to, or the last payment made on, the account. In Ganz, the last activity at issue was February 21, 2006, meaning that the latest the creditor could file a claim was February 21, 2012. November of 2012 was too late.
Regarding the guarantor, the Court basically approached the two defendants the same. The separate written guaranty still fell under the open account analysis, according to the Court. Although the accrual date arguably may have been slightly different, the same six years applied, so the guarantor, too, prevailed on the defense.
- Indiana’s Statute Of Limitations For The Enforcement Of Promissory Notes – 6 Years
- Credit Card Debt's 6-Year Statute Of Limitations Held To Commence When Account Due
I frequently represent creditors and debtors in business-related collection actions. If you need assistance with a similar matter, please call me at 317-639-6151 or email me at [email protected]. Also, don’t forget that you can follow me on Twitter @JohnDWaller or on LinkedIn, or you can subscribe to posts via RSS or email as noted on my home page.