Statute of limitations for personal actions with no specific expiration term

Written on 18 Nov 2015

The amendment of the Civil Procedure Law contains, among other provisions, a remarkable reduction of the statute of limitations applicable to personal actions, which is generally reduced to five years. 

On 6 October 2015, the Law 42/2015, of 5 October, of amendment of the Law 1/2000, of 7 January, of Civil Procedure (“Law 42/2015“), was published in the Official State Gazette. This law, which is enforceable as from the day after it was published, contains a noteworthy provision regarding the amendment of article 1964 of the Spanish Civil Code, which establishes the general statute of limitations of personal actions with no legal specific duration period.

Personal actions are those that allow the plaintiff to claim the accomplishment of the obligations undertaken by a third party. On the opposite side, we find actions in rem, which are not exercised against a person but against an object, by virtue of a right in rem over said object, held by the plaintiff.

Merely by way of example, some actions subject to the new statute of limitations set forth in article 1964 of the Civil Code are: actions to claim the accomplishment of the obligations arising from a sale agreement; the action of termination due to breach of contract (article 1124 Civil Code); the action for claiming the warranty on title of a sale and purchase agreement; or actions for defective performance of obligations.

Following the coming into force of Law 42/2015, “personal actions that do not have a special statute of limitations expire five years after the compliance of the obligation can be claimed”. Previously these actions had a statute of limitation of fifteen years.

Moreover, as a novelty, new section 2 of article 1964 sets forth that “in continuing obligations of doing or not doing, the term shall commence each time they are not met”.

Regarding the transitional regime that shall govern the application of the new statute of limitations period, this is included in the fifth Transitory Provision of the Law 42/2015, which directly refers to article 1939 of the Spanish Civil Code. By applying this provision to the matter at hand, it results that:

  • Personal actions born before 7 October 2000 (that is, fifteen years before the coming into force of Law 42/2015) have expired.
  • Personal actions born between 7 October 2000 and 7 October 2005 are subject to the previous fifteen years statute of limitation.
  • Personal actions born between 7 October 2005 and 7 October 2015 will expire, in any case, on 7 October 2020.
  • Personal actions born as from 7 October 2015 will expire five years after the date of their birth.

As indicated in the preamble of the Law 42/2015, the purpose of this specific amendment “is carrying out a first update of the statute of limitations regime contained in the Spanish Civil Code“, from where we may presume that the lawmaker has the intention to keep on amending the statute of limitations periods, which, until today, had not suffered any alteration at all since the Civil Code came into force in 1889.