Equitable Estoppel Approved by Court As a Bar to the Statute of Limitations

In Major League Baseball v. Morsani, 790 So. 2d 1071, 1076 (Fla. 2001) the plaintiffs acknowledged that the statute of limitations had expired before they filed suit, but argued that the defendants should be estopped from asserting such a defense because they induced the plaintiffs to forebear filing suit. Id. at 1073. The Court held that section 95.051, Florida Statutes (1993), which delineates the circumstances that can "toll" the statute of limitations, did not abrogate the doctrine of equitable estoppel, and that such a defense was available. Id. at 1080. The Court quoted the longstanding definition of equitable estoppel, id. at 1076, and cited several Florida and federal cases that "have approved equitable estoppel as a bar to the statute of limitations." Id. at 1078-80 & nn. 21-22. Every one of the cases cited involved plaintiffs who knew of the cause of action but had been induced to forebear from filing suit. The Court also quoted with approval the following language from a federal case: Equitable estoppel . . . comes into play only after the statute of limitations has run and addresses itself to the circumstances in which a party will be estopped from asserting the statute of limitations as a defense to an admittedly untimely action because his conduct has induced another into forebearing suit within the applicable limitations period. Bomba v. W.L. Belvidere, Inc., 579 F. 2d 1067, 1070 (7th Cir. 1978), quoted in Morsani, 790 So. 2d at 1079. We therefore intended in Morsani that a plaintiff asserting the doctrine would have prior knowledge of the cause of action. Other cases from this Court discussing the doctrine also involved plaintiffs with prior knowledge of their claims. See: Barnett Bank of Palm Beach County v. Estate of Read, 493 So. 2d 447, 449 (Fla. 1986) (where the decedent's estate induced the bank not to file a formal claim but later invoked the statute of limitations when the bank brought proceedings to collect, noting that "valid grounds, such as estoppel or fraud, may exist that would and should excuse untimely claims"); Rabinowitz v. Town of Bay Harbor Islands, 178 So. 2d 9, 11-12 (Fla. 1965) (holding that a municipality was estopped from asserting a statutory notice requirement on tort claims where municipal agents misled the injured parties into not filing).