Have A Defense? Use it!

A recent Massachusetts case illustrates the perils of sitting on your legal rights, rather than exercising them without delay. The case is based on claims for damage to a valuable painting that fell from a wall. The picture hangers that held it up tore the canvas of the painting. See American International Insurance Co. v. Robert Seuffer GMBH & Co. KG (“American Int’l Ins. Co.”), SJC-11418, slip op. (May 14, 2014).

In “American Int’l Ins. Co. the defendant-manufacturer of the picture hangers raised the defense of lack of personal jurisdiction in its first answer to the plaintiff’s complaint. However, the defendant failed to make a motion to dismiss the case for lack of personal jurisdiction. See Mass. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(2); 12(h)(1). Instead, the defendant pursued litigation for twenty months before making a motion for summary judgment for lack of personal jurisdiction.

The lower court denied the motion for summary judgment, finding that although the court lacked personal jurisdiction over the defendant, the defendant forfeited the defense of lack of personal jurisdiction by waiting to act on that defense. This appeal followed.

The S.J.C. agreed with the lower court. It held that “raising the absence of personal jurisdiction as a defense in a responsive pleading may not alone suffice to preserve that defense. If a party alleges a lack of personal jurisdiction in an answer and then fails timely to pursue the defense, a forfeiture of that defense may result.” American Int’l Ins. Co. The court emphasized the need to ensure “the just, speedy and inexpensive determination of every action,” Id., citing Mass. R. Civ. P. 1, as amended, 450 Mass. 1403 (2008).

This case is a warning to individuals and attorneys engaged in litigation—do not sit on your rights! If you do, you may be waiving them. The statute of limitations limits the amount of time you have to pursue legal recourse, but it is not the only limit enforced by the courts. If you have questions about a legal issue, consult the attorneys of Hutchins Law, P.C. today.

The purpose of this article is to inform our clients of developments in the law and to provide information of general interest. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or to assume a client relationship. The content of this article could be considered advertising under the rules of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. Copyright © 2012 Hutchins Law, P.C. All Rights Reserved.