Legal Memorandum: Fraudulent Concealment Doctrine in IA

Issue: Whether the fraudulent concealment doctrine affects the running of the statutory limitations period under Iowa law.

Area of Law: Litigation & Procedure
Keywords: Fraudulent concealment; Statutory limitations period; Equitable estoppel
Jurisdiction: Iowa
Cited Cases: 692 N.W.2d 694
Cited Statutes: None
Date: 07/01/2012

In Christy, v. Miulli, 692 N.W.2d 694 (Iowa 2005) the court reviewed the history of the doctrine in Iowa jurisprudence, observing that two lines of cases emphasized different aspects of the doctrine.  In the first, fraudulent concealment was discussed as something akin to the discovery rule; in the second, “the analysis rests on the doctrine of equitable estoppel.”  692 N.W.2d at 700-01.  Eliminating this dichotomy, the Christy court concluded that “a more solid analytical framework is provided by confirming the doctrine of fraudulent concealment as a form of equitable estoppel.”  Id. at 701.  “Under this view,” it explained, “fraudulent concealment does not affect the running of the statutory limitations period; rather, it estops a defendant raising a statute-of-limitations defense … when it would be inequitable to permit the defendant to do so.”  Id.  Thus, the discovery rule and the idea of inquiry notice are distinct from the doctrine of fraudulent concealment and the duty of the plaintiff to use diligence to discover a defendant’s concealment.  Id. at 703.

Thus, under Christy, a defendant may not rely on a statute-of-limitations defense if the elements of equitable estoppel are met.

The foundational elements of equitable estoppel are well established:

(1) The defendant has made a false representation or has concealed material facts; (2) the plaintiff lacks knowledge of the true facts; (3) the defendant intended the plaintiff to act upon such representations; and (4) the plaintiff did in fact rely upon such representations to […]

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