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Slater v. Stoffel

February 8, 1963

GEORGE SLATER, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
MARK E. STOFFEL, ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF BERNARD J. STOFFEL, DECEASED, AND THE COMMUNITY STATE BANK, HUNTINGTON, INDIANA, ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF DONALD H. STOFFEL, DECEASED, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS. ROBERT SLATER, BY GEORGE SLATER, HIS FATHER, AS NEXT FRIEND, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE, V. MARK E. STOFFEL, ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF BERNARD J. STOFFEL, DECEASED, AND THE COMMUNITY STATE BANK, HUNTINGTON, INDIANA, ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF DONALD H. STOFFEL, DECEASED, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS.



Author: Duffy

Before DUFFY, CASTLE and KILEY, Circuit Judges.

DUFFY, Circuit Judge.

On June 6, 1959, an automobile collision occurred on a public highway in Huntington County, Indiana. One of the motor vehicles involved was driven by George Slater, a resident of the State of Georgia. His son, Robert Slater, was, at said time and place, a passenger in the Slater automobile.

The other motor vehicle involved in the collision was operated by either Bernard J. Stoffel or Donald H. Stoffel, both of whom were killed in the collision. The Stoffels were residents of Huntington County, Indiana.

Mark E. Stoffel was appointed administrator of the Bernard J. Stoffel estate by the Huntington Circuit Court. The first publication of notice to creditors was made on July 16, 1959. The Community State Bank, huntington, Indiana, was appointed administrator of the estate of Donald H. Stoffel. The first publication of notice to creditors in this estate was made on December 2, 1959.

On December 2, 1959, George Slater, as plaintiff in suit No. 13812, and Robert Slater, by George Slater, his father and next friend, as plaintiff in suit No. 13813, filed actions for damages in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana. The defendants named in each suit were the administrators of the two Stoffel estates. Each suit was based on diversity of citizenship with requisite amount in controversy.

The principal issue on each appeal before us is whether plaintiffs may maintain these actions in a United States District Court without first complying with the requirements of § 7-801 and § 7-802, Burns' Indiana Stat. (1953 Repl. Ed.).

Section 7-801(a) contains the statute of limitations on filing claims against a decedent's estate. In pertinent part it provides: "All claims against a decedent's estate * * * shall be forever barred against the estate, the personal representative, the heirs, devisees and legatees of the decedent, unless filed with the court * * * within six (6) months after the date of the first published notice to creditors."

Section 7-802 provides, in part: "No action shall be brought by complaint and summons against the personal representative of an estate for the recovery * * against the decedent, or his estate, but the holder thereof * * * shall file a succinct and definite statement thereof in the office of the clerk of the court in which the estate is pending * * * the statement * * * shall be accompained by the affidavit of the claimant, his agent or attorney * * * and no claim shall be received unless accompanied by such affidavit * * *."

The Indiana Survival Statute, § 2-403, Burns' Indiana Stat. (1962 Cum.Supp.) provides: "All causes of action shall survive, and may be brought, notwithstanding the death of the person entitled or liable to such action, by or against the representative of the deceased party * * * in event the action be brought subsequent to the death of the party against whom the cause existed, then the same shall be prosecuted as other claims against said decedent's estate."

It is admitted that neither plaintiff filed a claim together with the required statutory affidavit against the estate of either of the decedents pursuant to §§ 7-801 and 7-802, Burns' Indiana Stat. (1953 Repl. Ed.). However, it is established that each plaintiff did file his complaint in the United States District Court within the six months period provided by § 7-801(a).

Defendants, by amended answers, allege the United States District Court had no jurisdiction of the subject matter of the action because jurisdiction thereof was vested exclusively in the Huntington Circuit Court; that plaintiffs' claims were barred by the statute of limitations because plaintiffs failed to file their claims as required by § 7-801(a), Burns' Indiana Stat. (1953 Repl. Ed.); that §§ 7-801 and 7-802 are not merely acts of limitation but constitute the denial of a right of action and impose conditions precedent.

Plaintiffs moved to strike the affirmative defenses. The Court sustained the motions to strike and an order striking the defenses was entered. The Court found the order involved a controlling question of law as to which there is substantial ground for a difference of opinion, and that an immediate appeal from the interlocutory order might materially advance the termination of the litigation. This Court granted leave to appeal. 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b).

Inasmuch as Bernard Stoffel and Donald Stoffel died at the time of the collision or shortly thereafter, it is clear that plaintiffs could not have brought a suit for damages against them or their estates or personal representatives except for a right created by the State of Indiana. This is the right under the so-called "Survival Statute", § 2-403, Burns' Indiana Stat. (1962 Cum.Supp.). An important provision of this statute to be kept in mind is: "* * * [In] event the action be brought subsequent to the ...


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