Lesson. To be absolutely safe, in Indiana a lender’s suit to enforce a promissory note should be filed within six years of the borrower’s last payment. At a minimum, assuming the note has an optional acceleration clause, the debt should be formally accelerated within six years, and it would be advisable to file suit within a period of time thereafter that is reasonable under the circumstances.
NOTE: This case currently is before the Indiana Supreme Court on the lender's appeal. Thus the opinion of the Indiana Court of Appeals that is the subject of this post has been vacated. Once our Supreme Court rules on this issue, I will update my blog. I expect an opinion during the first half of 2020.
Legal issue. Whether the statute of limitations barred a lender’s action to enforce a promissory note.
Vital facts. Borrower signed a 25-year promissory note on June 29, 2007 that was secured by a junior mortgage. After the senior lender filed a mortgage foreclosure action, Borrower stopped paying on the junior note. Borrower’s last payment was July 28, 2008. Plaintiff Lender, an assignee (successor-in-interest) of the junior mortgage loan, accelerated the promissory note (declared the note due and payable in full) on October 24, 2016 and filed suit seeking to collect the accelerated debt on April 26, 2017. It does not appear that the action sought to foreclosure the junior mortgage but simply sought a money judgment under the note. Significantly, the note contained an “optional acceleration clause,” meaning Lender had the right to declare the entire debt due and payable after default.
Procedural history. The trial court granted Borrower’s motion to dismiss based upon the statute of limitations at Indiana Code 34-11-2-9. Lender appealed to the Indiana Court of Appeals.
Key rules. I.C. 34-11-2-9 says that actions under promissory notes for payment of money “must be commenced within six (6) years after the cause of action accrues.” Indiana case law holds that “an action to recover a debt must be commenced within six years of the last payment.”
However, Indiana common law further provides that, if the installment contract contains an optional acceleration clause, then the statute of limitations to collect the debt “does not begin to run immediately upon the debtor’s default.” Rather, the statute begins to run “only when the creditor exercises the optional acceleration clause.”
Here’s the rub: the Court in Alialy cited to a 2010 Indiana Court of Appeals opinion for the proposition that lenders should not be permitted to wait an “unreasonable amount of time to invoke an optional acceleration clause” following a default: “a party is not at liberty to stave off operation of the statute of limitations inordinately by failing to make a demand.”
Holding. The Court affirmed the order dismissing the case.
Policy/rationale. Here is how the Court rationalized its conclusion:
[Lender’s] acceleration option was exercised a full two years after [its] cause of action was barred by the statute of limitation. As [Lender’s] attempt to exercise the acceleration clause did not prevent the six-year statute of limitation from taking effect and expiring, [Lender’s] acceleration clause cannot be given effect and its Complaint is barred.”
Respectfully, I’m not convinced that the Court’s logic was sound, but I can understand the result.
What is the takeaway from Alialy, which seems to establish some kind of potentially-challenging (for creditors) reasonableness standard for certain statute of limitations scenarios? Besides the basic idea that lenders should act sooner, it seems to me that the outcome in Alialy could have been avoided had Lender accelerated the debt within six years of the default (non-payment). Even if Lender did not file suit at that time, Lender would have taken at least some action against Borrower to enforce the note. So, for example, if Lender had accelerated by July 2014, instead of waiting until October 2016, Lender’s April 2017 suit may have survived.
(Lender sought to apply a different statute of limitations under Indiana’s version of the UCC at I.C. 26-1-3.1-118. The Court determined that Lender had waived the argument. I will study that statute further and may post about it later.)
- Indiana’s Statute Of Limitations For The Enforcement Of Promissory Notes – 6 Years
- Indiana’s Statute Of Limitations For “Open Account” Claims: Supplier’s Case Too Late
- Indiana 2013 Legislation, Part III: Mortgage Statute Of Limitations Amended
I represent parties in disputes arising out of loans. If you need assistance with a similar matter, please call me at 317-639-6151 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.