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Deluxe Sales and Service Inc. v. Hyundai Engineering & Construction Co.

Decided: March 6, 1992.

DELUXE SALES AND SERVICE, INC., PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
HYUNDAI ENGINEERING & CONSTRUCTION CO., LTD., DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT



On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Bergen County.

Antell, Baime and Thomas. The opinion of the court was delivered by Baime, J.A.D.

Baime

The opinion of the court was delivered by

BAIME, J.A.D.

Plaintiff Deluxe Sales and Service, Inc. (Deluxe) appeals from a summary judgment entered by the Law Division, dismissing its complaint against defendant Hyundai Engineering & Construction Co., Ltd. (Hyundai) based upon the expiration of the statute of limitations. Deluxe contends that (1) its complaint was filed within the limitations period, (2) the statute of limitations tolled because the invoices which are the subject of this suit were part of a running book account, and (3) Hyundai should be equitably estopped from raising the limitations defense. We find no merit in these arguments and affirm the judgment essentially for the reasons expressed by Judge Meehan.

The facts are not in dispute. Deluxe is engaged in the business of selling trucks, parts and accessories. Hyundai was a steady customer of Deluxe from 1982 through 1991. During this period, Deluxe sent parts to Hyundai's factories and plants throughout the world and was paid by drawing on letters of credit based upon amounts itemized in separate invoices. Unfortunately, Deluxe discarded the letters of credit "back up"

information. Its claims respecting what amounts were due and owing wildly diverged from statement to statement.

On February 8, 1989, Deluxe's president, Arleen Stein, sent a letter to Hyundai's Fort Lee office, stating that upon reviewing its account, over 19 items remained unpaid. These invoices dated from March 9, 1982 to October 3, 1985. A "follow-up" letter was sent on March 7, 1989. In response, Hyundai requested Deluxe to furnish the order numbers on the invoices to facilitate its investigation. On May 19, 1989, Deluxe provided a revised list of invoices on items that it claimed had not been paid. This list eliminated eight of the 19 invoices originally claimed as due. Several months later, Deluxe sent a statement indicating an outstanding balance of $166,649.20 on the unpaid invoices. On November 15, 1989, Deluxe wrote yet another letter again revising the list of unpaid invoices, this time reinstating seven of the items Stein had eliminated in her May 19 letter. During these exchanges, Hyundai never offered to settle these claims. Apparently, at various times, Hyundai asserted that Deluxe was attempting to "double bill" items that had already been paid. According to Stein, however, Hyundai's general manager advised her that the outstanding balance was $131,000 "based on his records" but the Seoul office could confirm "only $40,000 due to Deluxe." Stein nevertheless conceded that this conversation occurred in 1991, long after the limitations period had expired.

On January 16, 1991, some five and one-half years after the most recent invoice at issue was tendered, Deluxe filed its complaint, asserting that invoices totalling $74,639.43 had not been paid. Deluxe subsequently filed an amended complaint, increasing its ad damnum clause to $157,781,43. In granting Hyundai's motion for summary judgment, Judge Meehan reasoned that Deluxe's cause of action accrued when the amounts claimed in the invoices became due. The Judge emphasized that Hyundai's payments were submitted against the most current invoices rather than the oldest balance due. Judge Meehan found that, despite the long standing relationship between the

parties, each transaction was separate and distinct and current payments for more recent invoices did not constitute an admission by Hyundai of an unsettled account. The Judge also determined that Hyundai's conduct in investigating Deluxe's varying claims did not lull it into believing it would be paid without the necessity of resorting to suit.

We are in complete accord with Judge Meehan's findings and Conclusions. Initially, we reject Deluxe's claim that its complaint was filed within the limitations period. Deluxe's argument is somewhat prolix. It asserts that its cause of action accrued when the parts were delivered. Because the dates of delivery were never ...


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