Origins of 10-year statute of limitations on contract actions in West Virginia
January 4, 2011 10:54 AM   Subscribe

Looking for citation-worthy information about the origin of the statute of limitations on contract actions in West Virginia, including pre-Civil War statute of limitations on contract actions in Virginia.

I'm working on a research project that has raised the interesting question of the origin of the 10-year statute of limitations on contract actions in West Virginia. The history of the current statute, W. Va. Code S. 55-2-6, refers to Code Va. 1860, c. 149, S. 5, and Code 1868, c. 104 S. 6. I'm taking this to mean that West Virginia adopted the law in Virginia vis a vis statutes of limitations for contract actions when it seceded from Virginia.

I'm looking for any kind of background on this, preferably with citations, including but not limited to: confirmation that Virginia's 1860 contract statute of limitations was 10 years; the origins of Virginia's 10-year limitations period for contract actions (did VA get it from British common law? How did the common law impose limitations periods?); confirmation that West Virginia did adopt/inherit/pick and choose from the Virginia code when it seceded. Anything you see fit to tell me on the matter, I'll be interested in.

I have a Westlaw account and some rusty legislative history research skills. Feel free to be as technical as necessary. Thanks!
posted by mchorn to Law & Government (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The history of the current statutes refers further back than that, to Code Va. 1849, c. 149, § 5. That code also adopts the common law of England as it existed prior to the fourth year of the reign of James the First. Code Va. 1849, c. 16 §§ 1-2. That year (1607) may sound like an odd cut off point, but it's a common one because it was the year the first permanent English settlers arrived.
posted by jedicus at 11:27 AM on January 4, 2011

Best answer: One of the references in that 1849 code is to 3 & 4 William IV, c. 42 s. 3, an Act of Parliament, which codified several different statutes of limitations.

If you want to get into the cases cited alongside that 1849 code section, it may help you know to know that "H. and M." should be "Hen. & M." when you're using WestLaw or LexisNexis. I think the rest of the reporters can be cited as they appear.

And indeed by perusing some of those cases (for example Coalter v. Coalter, 40 Va. 79, 1 Rob. 79 (1842)), we see references to the Virginia Revised Code of 1819 and its statute of limitations. The commentary on that section mentions
It is deemed unnecessary to make references from the particular provisions of this act, to laws existing before the revisal of 1792; a general reference to them will be given wherever one is thought likely to be useful.—From the Revisal of 1705, to that of 1792, the limitation of real actions was always inserted in the acts for settling the titles and bounds of lands, &c. The act of limitation of personal actions and for preventing frivolous and vexatious suits, and that concerning Jeofails, were separate and distinct statutes. These laws were consolidated into one act, and amended, at the Revisal of 1792, Edi. '94, '03, and 1814, c. 76.
Under the 1819 Code, many actions were limited to five years.

As you start to really get into law that old you may find it difficult to find a definite answer about "contract actions" specifically. The old common law writ system was kind of a mess.
posted by jedicus at 12:20 PM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You're going to want to make liberal use of Black's Law Dictionary as you get back into the common law origins. For example, in the 1819 Code the term to look for is "action of account" or "action on account," as that's probably closest to what we think of as breach of contract. NB, however, that the 1819 Code explicitly excludes accounts concerning merchants from the general 5 year statute of limitations. Such cases had special rules (sections 7-9) and generally had a 1 year statute of limitations.
posted by jedicus at 12:32 PM on January 4, 2011

Best answer: Oh, one last thing. Don't be surprised if you start running into holes in the source material. The 1819 Code was the first in Virginia. Before that things get dicey. The online Hening's Statutes at Large may be of use to you.
posted by jedicus at 12:35 PM on January 4, 2011

Response by poster: Jedicus, all of that is fantastic! I hadn't even thought of Google Books; I turned up W. Va. Code c. 184 (1868), which adopts the section of the Virginia Code setting the statute of limitations at 5 years and W. Va. Code c. 104 S. 6, which changes the statute of limitations for contract actions from 5 years to 10 years. Because I was wrong about the adoption of the 10-year limitations period from Virginia wholesale, I don't think I'm going to go any further back than that. (If you're interested, though, I also turned up Virginia v. West Virginia, 78 U.S. 39 (1870), the case considering the constitutionality of the secession by West Virginia.) Thanks so much for your help!
posted by mchorn at 12:39 PM on January 4, 2011

Response by poster: Sorry, the second link should read W. Va. Code c. 104 S. 6 (1882). Again, I can't thank you enough!
posted by mchorn at 12:40 PM on January 4, 2011

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