The statute of limitations to recover on a breach of contract is six years. Parties can extend that limitations periods by agreement, and New York General Obligations Law 17-101 governs the form of such agreements. It provides that, “[a]n acknowledgment or promise contained in a writing signed by the party to be charged thereby is the only competent evidence of a new or continuing contract whereby to take an action out of the operation of the provisions of limitations of time for commencing actions under the civil practice law and rules. . . ” Per GOL 17-101, only signed writings acknowledging the indebtedness and promising to pay are sufficient to extend the statute of limitations.
In considering whether a writing satisfies GOL 17-101 and extends a statute of limitations, Courts require three elements: Signature, Content, and Delivery.
First, the acknowledgement must be “signed by the party to be charged thereby.” See 20 Plaza Hous. Corp. v. 20 Plaza E. Realty, 950 N.Y.S.2d 871, 874 (Sup. Ct. N.Y. Cty. Aug. 30, 2012) (Section 17-101 inapplicable because acknowledgment was “not signed by defendant”).
Second, the acknowledgment must convey “an intention to pay Plaintiff’s debt.” See Knoll v. Datek Sec. Corp., 2 A.D.3d 594, 595 (2d Dep’t 2003) (“[T]he critical determination is whether the acknowledgment imports an intention to pay.”). If the writing is at all inconsistent with an unequivocal intention to repay the debt, the writing fails the requirements of GOL 17-101.
Third, the acknowledgment “must have been communicated to the plaintiff or someone acting on his behalf, or intended to influence the plaintiff’s conduct.” See Lynford v. Williams, 34 A.D.3d 761, 763 (2d Dep’t 2006) (Section 17-101 inapplicable where “plaintiff did not learn of the [purported acknowledgments] until after he commenced this action”).
In part because GOL 17-101 was intended to limit the instances in which an acknowledgment revives a cause of action, Courts strictly enforce each of the three requirements. A writing failing any of the Signature, Content, or Delivery requirements is insufficient to restart the statute of limitations. While the requirements of GOL 17-101 are strictly enforced, not every ambiguity in the acknowledgment will defeat its enforcement. Recently, in Hawk Mtn. LLC v. RAM Capital Group LLC, 2021 NY Slip Op. 01349, the First Department held that an acknowledgement was sufficient to satisfy GOL 17-101 and restart the statute of limitations, despite its failure to specifically refer to the debt and inconsistencies between the acknowledgment and the underling note.
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