Time Limitations for Lawsuits: Paternity Claims in Succession Cases

time_clock_movement_motion-scaledAlthough there is a common saying, “good things come to those who wait,” that is not true in the context of filing lawsuits, especially if they involve establishing paternity after your purported father passed away. Louisiana law has strict requirements that establish the time by which you must file a lawsuit. Your lawsuit will be dismissed if you do not comply with these requirements. What happens if the law governing how long you have to bring your lawsuit changes? 

William Dalton Pelt died without a will at his Vernon Parish, Louisiana home. His brothers and sisters filed a petition to have Barbara Lee Pelt Cooley appointed as administratrix of his succession. In the petition, they claimed Pelt had never been married and had no children. The trial court signed an order appointing Cooley as administratrix of his succession. Later, Kristina Wright petitioned to intervene in Pelt’s succession, claiming he was her father. Wright claimed her mother had had an affair with Pelt, and she was conceived during their relationship. She wanted recognition for her rights to Pelt’s estate and to have Cooley removed as the administratrix. 

Pelt’s brothers and sisters filed an exception of prescription. At a hearing, the trial court agreed with Pelt’s brothers and sisters and dismissed Wright’s petition. Wright appealed, claiming the trial court erred in not correctly applying La. C.C. art. 197 to establish paternity. 

On appeal, the court reviewed La. C.C. art. 197, which came into effect in 2005. Previously, La. C.C. art. 209 established a time limit of one year after the parent’s death or nineteen years after a child’s birth to establish paternity. In contrast, the current La. C.C. art. 197 established one year from the date of death of the alleged father for filing a petition in the context of succession. La. C.C. art. 197 came into effect after Wright turned nineteen but before Pelt died. As a result, the appellate court had to consider if Wright lost her right to file her claim once she turned nineteen, based on the law in effect at that time. 

The appellate court found the legislature had decided to replace La. C.C. art. 209 with La. C.C. art. 197 due to equity and policy considerations. The appellate court explained La. C.C. art. 197 needed to be considered in connection with the law governing succession, La. C.C. art. 870. Because La. C.C. art. 870 specifies that succession rights are governed by the law in effect on the date of the decedent’s death, the appellate court found La. C.C. art. 197 governed whether Wright was able to bring her petition. There was also specific language in La. C.C. art. 197  applicable to claims in the succession context. Here, Wright was able to bring her action because she filed it within one year of Pelt’s death. Therefore, the appellate court reversed the trial court’s dismissal of Wright’s claim. 

This case highlights the intricate nature of time limitations in lawsuits, especially when there are changes in relevant laws. In establishing paternity after an alleged father’s death, compliance with the prescribed timeframe is essential. By interpreting the applicable laws, the appellate court determined that the petitioner had not exceeded the time limit for filing her claim, allowing her lawsuit to proceed. To navigate the complexities of filing a lawsuit within the specified time limits, consulting a skilled

Additional Sources: Succession of William Dalton Pelt

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