Citizens National Bank v. Gaston Farmers' Union Warehouse Co., 172 N.C. 602 (1916)

Nov. 29, 1916 · Supreme Court of North Carolina
172 N.C. 602


(Filed 29 November, 1916.)

1. Reference — Pleas—Limitation of Actions.

A plea of tbe statute of limitations is a plea in bar, and wben pending tbe court cannot order a reference except by consent.

2. Limitation of Actions — Pleas—Interpretation.

Tbe plea of tbe statute of limitations must sufficiently state tbe facts upon wbicb it rests; and tbe courts in determining the sufficiency of tbe allegations will construe it liberally without requiring technical accuracy or precision.

3. Same — Conversion.

A plea of tbe statute of limitations to an action for conversion of personal property, tbat tbe defendant “expressly pleads the statute of limitations,” and then alleges “more particularly” tbat tbe plaintiff for more than three years next prior to tbe commencement of tbe action bad knowledge that tbe property had been sold, and received tbe proceeds of sale, though a plea in payment, is also a sufficient plea of tbe statute.

Civil action tried before Garter, J., at April Term, 1916, of GastoN.

This is an action to recover damages for a conversion of cotton, tbe plaintiff claiming under warehouse receipts issued by tbe defendants.

*603Tbe defendants, after answering tbe different allegations of tbe complaint, filed tbe following plea as a part of its answer:

“For further answer and defense tbe defendant warehouse company expressly pleads tbe statute of limitation, laches and estoppel, alleging, more particularly, that for more than three years next before tbe beginning of this action and for more than a reasonable length of time the plaintiff bank bad actual knowledge and repeated notice that tbe warehouse receipts sued upon in this action were valueless and should be surrendered to tbe defendant warehouse company for cancellation, tbe plaintiff having received proceeds from the sale of cotton evidenced thereby; that the plaintiff bank failed to make any proper demand within reasonable time after notice upon the said defendant warehouse company.”

His Honor held that the statute of limitations was not sufficiently pleaded and ordered a reference over the objection of the defendant, who excepted and appealed.

Mangum & Woltz for plaintiff.

S. J. Durham, Margaret Berry, E. B. Preston for defendant.

AlleN, J.

The plea of the statute of limitations is a plea in bar, and the court cannot order a reference when such a plea is pending except by consent. Duckworth v. Duckworth, 144 N. C., 620; Oldham v. Rieger, 145 N. C., 260.

It is also true, as the plaintiff contends, that the plea is not good if it merely states that the party pleads the statute of limitations, and that he must go further and state the facts constituting the defense. Pope v. Andrews, 90 N. C., 401; Turner v. Shuffler, 103 N. C., 642; Lassiter v. Roper, 114 N. C., 17.

We must then examine the pleadings and see if the acts are sufficiently alleged, and when doing so we must keep i'n mind that a pleading is liberally construed, and “If it can be seen from its general scope that a party has a cause of action or defense, though imperfectly alleged, the fact that it has not been stated with technical accuracy or precision will not be so taken against him as to deprive him of it.” Blackmore v. Winders, 144 N. C., 215; Brewer v. Wynne, 154 N. C., 471.

The action, is to recover damages for the conversion of personal property, and the statute applicable is that of three years.

The defendant in its plea says it “expressly pleads the statute of limitation,” and then alleges “more particularly” that for more than three years prior to the commencement of the action the plaintiff had actual knowledge that the cotton had been sold, and that it had received the proceeds of sale.

*604This may amount to a plea of payment, but it also contains all the facts constituting the defense of the statute of limitations, because if there was a conversion it took place prior to or at the time of the sale, and by fair intendment it is alleged that the sale was more than three years before the commencement of the action.

We are therefore of opinion that it was erroneous to order a reference with the plea of the defendant undisposed of.