The commercial chamber of the Court of Cassation holds that claims rejected on a ground of inadmissibility do not interrupt the limitation period (com. 26 January 2016 no. 14-17.952). The Court thereby provides a solution awaited since the time limitation reform introduced by the act dated 17 June 2008.
As well as reducing the length of the time limitation to five years, this act also reformed its starting point and interruption causes.
These interruption causes now include court claims dismissed for "procedural flaws", the aim being to avoid litigants losing their right to bring legal proceedings on purely procedural grounds (article 2241 of the French Civil Code).
Case law previously indicated that the former article 2247 of the French Civil Code (according to which the interruption was inapplicable if the claim was in the end rejected) set out an absolute principle and did not allow any distinction by the grounds on which the claim was rejected (com. 21 April 1980 no. 78-14.382; com. 13 September 2011 no. 10-19.384).
The new articles 2241 and 2243 of the French Civil Code now respectively provide that claims annulled for "procedural flaws" interrupt the time limitation, but that the interruption is inapplicable if the claim is "definitively" rejected.
The question then arose of the interrupting effect on limitation periods of claims rejected based on a french “fin de non-recevoir” since, while these grounds for inadmissibility are not covered by article 2241 of the French Civil Code as they do not result in annulment, they do not necessarily all appear to be covered by article 2243 of the same Code either.
Indeed, while some, such as the authority of res judicata and time limitation, result in the definitive rejection of the claim, others, such as some cases of wrong seizure of jurisdiction, do not prevent claimants from reiterating their claims.
That was precisely the case in these proceedings: the claim had been rejected because of the court clerk's failure to call in a director for a personal hearing in the council chamber and could therefore perfectly well be, and indeed was, brought again.
The solution adopted by the commercial chamber is therefore surprising to that extent.
While the solution is in accordance with the principle by which exceptions are strictly interpreted, it appears to be contrary to the spirit of the reform, since it deprives the litigant of his right to bring legal proceedings because of the omission of a purely procedural formality.
Furthermore, while it is justified in respect of the wording of article 2241 of the French Civil Code, it appears to ignore the provisions of article 2243 since, despite the legislator's specification, it does not make a distinction depending on whether claims have been "definitively" rejected or not.
In light of the interpretation adopted in case law, the rules applicable to claims rejected as inadmissible therefore remain unchanged.
Litigants planning to eventually raise a defence under the statute of limitations will therefore have every strategic interest in defending their clients by invoking a ground for inadmissibility rather than one for nullity. The former will offer them the benefit of the time limitation, while the second will only enable them to gain time.