Time Limit for Filing Compulsory Portion Claims

 

In case No. Up-155/16, U-I-40/16 (Decision dated 4 June 2020), the Constitutional Court decided on a constitutional complaint filed against a final decision of the courts rejecting the complainant’s claim to have certain gifts returned due to the deprivation of his compulsory portion of an estate. The courts rejected his claim as the three-year limitation period for filing such a claim determined by Article 41 of the Inheritance Act, which runs from the day of the testator’s death, had already expired on the day the action was filed.

The Constitutional Court noted that it has already adopted the position that the successful objection of a defendant claiming that the time limit for filing a claim has expired may entail that the plaintiff’s right determined by the first paragraph of Article 23 of the Constitution was affected. The existence of limitation periods in itself, however, is not incompatible with the right to access to court. The Constitutional Court stressed that the purpose of the institution of a limitation period is primarily to ensure the legal protection of the debtor against time-barred claims. In addition, limitation periods prevent the court from ruling on events that took place in the too distant past and with regard to which sufficient and reliable evidence no longer exists. However, overly strict application of limitation periods whereby the court fails to take into consideration the circumstances of the individual case may entail an inadmissible interference with the right to access to court if such application makes it disproportionately difficult for the parties to apply an available legal remedy or prevents them from doing so.

In the assessment of the Constitutional Court, in light of the safeguarding of the effective exercise of the applicant’s right to judicial protection, the peculiar circumstances of the case at issue (i.e. primarily the circumstance that the probate court failed to serve the applicant the decision that succession proceedings – due to the fact that no property existed –  would not be carried out, and the circumstance that the defendant allegedly misled the applicant both regarding the existence of the estate and the progress of the succession proceedings) indicate the need for a more flexible interpretation of the time-barring rule determined by Article 41 of the Inheritance Act in conjunction with Article 360 of the Obligations Code (which regulates the suspension of time-barring in cases involving insurmountable obstacles). As the courts did not evaluate the particular circumstances of the case at issue from the viewpoint of Article 360 of the Obligations Code, they violated the complainant’s right to judicial protection determined by the first paragraph of Article 23 of the Constitution. Therefore, the Constitutional Court granted the constitutional complaint, abrogated the challenged court judgments, and remanded the case to the court of first instance for new adjudication.