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National Family Insurance Co. v. Exchange National Bank of Chicago

decided: February 20, 1973.

NATIONAL FAMILY INSURANCE COMPANY, A MINNESOTA CORPORATION, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
EXCHANGE NATIONAL BANK OF CHICAGO, A NATIONAL BANKING ASSOCIATION, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE



Hastings, Senior Circuit Judge, and Fairchild and Pell, Circuit Judges. Pell, Circuit Judge (dissenting).

Author: Hastings

HASTINGS, Senior Circuit Judge.

National Family Insurance Company, a Minnesota corporation (National Family), filed this action in the district court against Exchange National Bank of Chicago, a national banking association (Exchange Bank). Plaintiff is an insurance company and at all times herein concerned was 100 per cent reinsured by American Allied Insurance Company (American Allied) at a cost to plaintiff of more than $1,000,000 in premiums. American Allied was one of a group of insurance companies in Minnesota and Illinois owned and controlled by the Phillip Kitzer family. American Allied was adjudged to be insolvent by a Minnesota state court, and a receiver was appointed.

In brief, National Family seeks to recover substantial damages because of heavy losses it sustained by reason of Exchange Bank's alleged fraudulent misrepresentations of the true financial status of plaintiff's 100 per cent reinsurer, American Allied.

The instant appeal is by National Family from an order of the district court dismissing this action against Exchange Bank on the ground that it was barred by the running of the five-year Illinois statute of limitations, Illinois Revised Statutes, chapter 83, § 16 (1969), which provides that an action such as plaintiff's herein "shall be commenced within 5 years next after the cause of action accrued." Plaintiff seeks to avoid this limitation by relying on the "fraudulent concealment" exception set out in Illinois Revised Statutes, chapter 83, § 23 (1969), which provides: "If a person liable to an action fraudulently conceals the cause of such action from the knowledge of the person entitled thereto, the action may be commenced at any time within five years after the person entitled to bring the same discovers that he has such cause of action, and not afterwards." This action having arisen in Illinois and being based upon diversity of citizenship, the Illinois law governing limitations applies. Bernard Food Industries, Inc. v. Dietene Co., 7 Cir., 415 F.2d 1279, 1282 (1969), cert. denied, 397 U.S. 912, 90 S. Ct. 911, 25 L. Ed. 2d 92, 164 U.S.P.Q. (BNA) 481 (1970).

Plaintiff filed its complaint on September 25, 1970, and its notice of demand for jury trial on September 30, 1970. On October 15, 1970, defendant raised the limitations issue by filing its motion to dismiss the complaint on the ground that it failed to state a claim against defendant upon which relief could be granted because of the five-year limitations bar raised by chapter 83, § 16, supra. Thereafter, each party filed numerous exhibits, affidavits, counter-affidavits, depositions and memoranda in support of and in opposition to the motion to dismiss. Subsequently, pursuant to Rule 12(b), Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Title 28, U.S.C.A., defendant's motion to dismiss was treated as one for summary judgment.

On May 3, 1971, the district court filed its written opinion and order and concluded:

"The conflict that arises from the facts outlined above creates an issue that is not ripe for resolution on motion for summary judgment and would ordinarily be cause for denial. However, in view of the obviously complicated and lengthy litigation that will ensue on the trial of this cause, the court has decided to order a factual hearing solely to determine whether, in accordance with the standard set out earlier in this opinion, the statute of limitations began to run prior to September 23, 1965."

We have carefully reviewed the trial court's memorandum opinion of May 3, 1971. In our judgment it correctly summarizes the nature of the cause of action and the relation of parties thereto, as well as the position of American Allied and the "Kitzer Family" and its activities. The court properly treated the motion to dismiss as one for summary judgment. Sticker Industrial Supply Corp. v. Blaw-Knox Co., 7 Cir., 367 F.2d 744, 745 n.1 (1966).

We have examined the Illinois law cited by the trial court in its written opinion. The court correctly determined that, although the "fraudulent concealment" exception set out in chapter 83, § 23, supra, literally reads that the right of action for concealment of fraud remains for a period of five years from the date plaintiff actually discovers the fraud, yet the Illinois courts have applied the ordinary fraud standards to determine when the cause of action accrues. The applicable statutory period here commences at the time the plaintiff, through ordinary diligence, should have discovered the fraudulent actions causing its injury. "Mere silence of the defendant and mere failure on the part of the complainant to learn of a cause of action do not amount to such fraudulent concealment." Jackson v. Anderson, 355 Ill. 550, 557, 189 N.E. 924, 927 (1934).

The trial court further found that the statutory period of five years was uninterrupted. It noted the complaint charged that the Kitzers and American Allied were customers of defendant Exchange Bank for almost four years from August 1, 1961, through June 5, 1965, and from that logically assumed that all acts of fraudulent representations must have occurred within that period. Insolvency proceedings against American Allied commenced June 10, 1965. Beginning as early as April 12, 1965, and continuing on through September 21, 1965, a total of 27 newspaper articles appeared in the St. Paul-Minneapolis area (where plaintiff is located) questioning various financial dealings of American Allied and reporting a suit against defendant Exchange Bank by the receiver of American Allied. These were attached as exhibits to defendant's motion for dismissal and/or summary judgment. The court specifically found that "this publicity and the insolvent condition of American Allied would alone appear to be sufficient notice."

However, because of plaintiff's counter-showing by affidavit that it was unaware of any fraud on the part of defendant Exchange Bank until 1967, the trial court wisely decided that this conflict was not ripe for summary judgment disposition.

Following the foregoing order of May 3, 1971, certain depositions were taken by plaintiff and additional documentary evidence was filed. The next hearing on the limitations issue was held before the court the afternoon of June 9, 1971. Plaintiff presented the testimony of one witness. Both parties relied on depositions previously taken. The matter was not concluded but was next resumed on the afternoon of June 23, 1971.

The hearing was resumed on the limitations issue previously considered and under the guidelines set out in the earlier order. Certain documents in the Minnesota state court insolvency matter were admitted in evidence, and all counsel were heard at length on the issue before the court. At the conclusion of the hearing the trial court orally announced the following findings and ruling from the bench:

"The hour is late, you have argued, all of you, adequately and capably. I have read the pleadings. We have had occasion to consider the matter earlier in the context of a ruling on a motion for summary judgment.

"I take the argument today to be in support of an alternative motion to dismiss, which is based solely on the statute of limitations, and it is on that sole issue that I am prepared to rule.

"It is the finding of the Court, after the consideration of the evidence that is available to me in the form of pleadings, depositions, and other matters called to my attention, that the misrepresentations of the Exchange National Bank which are basically what is sued upon, whether directly or indirectly, relate to the financial condition of American Allied. The extent to which Exchange National Bank may be involved in any financial machinations, as they have been called here, to bring about the insolvency, or even to conceal the insolvency of American Allied, are not relevant, except as they operate to deceive National Family as to the financial condition of American Allied.

"The operative facts which put National Family on notice of their cause of action here are the evidences of insolvency of American Allied and nothing else. National's faith in the misrepresentations causing it to believe that American Allied was solvent, ripened into a cause of action when National learned, or should have learned that American Allied was insolvent. It seems clear from the evidence the beginning of that knowledge certainly should have occurred somewhere around June 10th, 1965, when National found American Allied no longer able, because of insolvency and the Court ruling, to live up to its obligations under the reinsurance contract.

"The cause of action which is asserted here, therefore, ripened into a cause of action some time in June or in any event, no later than mid-September of 1965. The complaint here was filed more than five years after that date. Therefore, the motion to dismiss filed by the defendant, based on the statute of limitations, is granted."

We have examined the record before the district court and understand the district court's interpretation thereof to mean that plaintiff's available information should have been sufficient to have put plaintiff upon notice of its cause of action at a time between June 10 and mid-September 1965. The chronology of events and publicity involving defendant Exchange Bank which, through the exercise of ordinary diligence, should have caused plaintiff National Family to have discovered the fraudulent actions causing its injury, follows:

The newspaper articles appearing on April 12, 1965, related accusations by two state legislators that the Minnesota Insurance Commissioner (later indicted with the Kitzers and three bank officers) had misused his office and that $1,000,000 of American Allied funds had been transferred to an unauthorized Chicago bank account.

In June 1965, American Allied was no longer able to pay claims on its reinsurance obligations, and National Family began to pay them itself. Insolvency proceedings against American Allied were commenced in the Minnesota state courts on June 10, 1965. On August 4, 1965, American Allied was found to be insolvent, and a receiver was appointed. In June, July and August 1965, the newspaper articles earlier mentioned informed the public in that area concerning the alleged illegal activities of defendant Exchange Bank, certain of its officers, the Kitzers, the Minnesota Insurance Commissioner, together with other attendant litigation, and the resulting insolvency of American Allied. Further publicity concerning the same subject matter appeared on September 14, 17 and 18, 1965. Deposition testimony of Jensch, ...


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