Contra Non Valentem in France and Louisiana: Revealing the Parenthood, Breaking a Myth

Author:Benjamin West Janke - François-Xavier Licari
Position:Attorney, Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, PC (New Orleans) - Dr. en droit (University of Strasbourg, France); Dr. iuris (University of Saarland, Germany); Maître de conférences (Associate Professor), University of Metz, France.
Pages:503-540
SUMMARY

I. Introduction - II. Contra Non Valentem in Louisiana Law: A Spanish Girl in French Dress, or Vice Versa? - III. The Fate of Contra Non Valentem in France and Louisiana: A Short Study in Parallel - A. The Fate of Contra Non Valentem in France: From an Announced Death to a Crowning Codification - B. Contra Non Valentem in Louisiana: The Animated Success Story of an Old Maxim - IV. Does Contra... (see full summary)

 
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Contra Non Valentem in France and Louisiana:
Revealing the Parenthood, Breaking a Myth
Benjamin West Janke
François-Xavier Licari∗∗
But here comes your carriage, Colonel. Adieu, young folks.
Miss Julia, keep your heart till I come back again; let there be
nothing done to prejudice my right whilst I am non valens agere.1
TABLE OF CONTENTS
I. Introduction ..........................................................................504
II. Contra Non Valentem in Louisiana Law: A Spanish
Girl in French Dress, or Vice Versa? ...................................505
III. The Fate of Contra Non Valentem in France and
Louisiana: A Short Study in Parallel ...................................511
A. The Fate of Contra Non Valentem in France: From
an Announced Death to a Crowning Codification .........511
B. Contra Non Valentem in Louisiana: The
Animated Success Story of an Old Maxim ....................522
IV. Does Contra Non Valentem Apply to
Acquisitive Prescription? .....................................................527
A. The French Jurisprudence ..............................................529
B. The Louisiana Jurisprudence .........................................533
V. Conclusion ...........................................................................540
Copyright 2011, by BENJAMIN WEST JANKE & FRANÇOIS-XAVIER LICARI.
Attorney, Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, PC (New
Orleans); J.D. & B.C.L. (Paul M. Hebert Law Center, Louisiana State
University); B.S. & M. Ed. (Vanderbilt University).
∗∗ Dr. en droit (University of Strasbourg, France); Dr. iuris (University of
Saarland, Germany); Maître de conférences (Associate Professor), University of
Metz, France.
All translations, unless otherwise indicated, are our own. The original text is
retained where appropriate.
1. WALTER SCOTT, GUY MANNERING OR THE ASTROLOGE R (1815).
504 LOUISIANA LAW REVIEW [Vol. 71
I. INTRODUCTION
At first blush, prescription in the Louisiana Civil Code takes
shape differently than in the French Civil Code. But as Justice
Oliver Otis Provosty of the Louisiana Supreme Court noted in
1918, both systems share a common ancestor:
The arrangement, distribution, or classification, of the
subject-matter of prescription in the Code Napoléon is not
the same as in ours. The two prescriptions, liberandi causa
and acquirandi causa, are there dealt with together, instead
of separately, as in our Code. Basing himself upon this, the
learned counsel for the defendant in this case contends that
these French decisions and authorities are not applicable.
The answer to that argument is that the principles of
prescription embodied in the two Codes are absolutely the
same. Both Codes are very largely, if not entirely, derived
in the matter of prescription from . . . Pothier’s treatises, De
la Propriété; De la Possession; De la Prescription;
Introduction aux Coutumes d’Orleans, at the part dealing
with Prescription; and Obligations. The French Code is
more condensed than ours, not expressing those things
which follow as logical consequences; whereas ours
expresses those consequences. That is the only difference.
But what is thus expressed in our Code and not found in the
Code Napoléon is found, mostly in the same words, in
Pothier. Pothier in his treatise De la Propriété has a chapter
headed “Comment se Perd le Domaine de Propriété,” “How
Ownership is Lost.”2
Justice Provosty’s comments are as true today as they were
when he wrote them in 1918. That is why the domain of
prescription, perhaps more so than any other mode of comparative
law between Louisiana and France, proves so fruitful.3
2. Harang v. Golden Ranch Land & Drainage Co., 79 So. 768, 778 (La.
1918) (Provosty, J., dissenting).
3. See Benjamin West Janke, The Failure of Louisiana’s Bifurcated
Liberative Prescription Regime, 54 LOY. L. REV. 620 (2008); Benjamin West
Janke & François-Xavier Licari, The French Revision of Prescription: A Model
for Louisiana?, 85 TUL. L. REV. 1 (2010); François-Xavier Licari, Le nouveau
droit français de la prescription extinctive à la lumière d’expériences étrangères
récentes ou en gestation (Louisiane, Allemagne, Israël), 61 REVUE
INTERNATIONALE DE DROIT COMPARÉ 739, 749 (2009) (Fr.); Benjamin West
Janke, Comment, Revisiting Contra Non Valentem in Light of Hurricanes
Katrina and Rita, 68 LA. L. REV. 498, 50512 (2008) [hereinafter Janke,
Revisiting Contra Non Valent em].
2011] CONTRA NON VALENTEM IN FRANCE & LA. 505
In this Article, we will show that the relationship between
Louisiana and France is not limited to written law; it also exists in
one important extra-codal and equitable principle of prescription
law: contra non valentem agere non currit praescriptio.4 In this
regard, the juridical parenthood is tight. We will show that contra
non valentem in Louisiana is the fruit of French doctrine and
jurisprudence. Furthermore, we will bring to light the noticeable
similarity of the maxim’s fate in France and Louisiana. Courts in
both jurisdictions proclaimed it as dead, but despite the antagonism
it faced, contra non valentem evolved as a major component of
prescription’s institution. Finally, we will dispel a deep-rooted
myth that contra non valentem does not apply to the domain of
acquisitive prescription and reveal another strong convergence
between Louisiana and France.
II. CONTRA NON VALENTEM IN LOUISIANA LAW: A SPANISH GIRL IN
FRENCH DRESS, OR VICE VERSA?
The origin of the maxim seems enigmatic. When applying
contra non valentem in the 1817 case of Quierry’s Executor v.
Faussier’s Executors,5 the Louisiana Supreme Court did not
4. This is the formulatio n of the maxim in modern French Law. Sometimes
it is expressed as “Agere non valenti non currit praescriptio,” especially in
ancient French literature. See, e.g., FRANÇOIS IGNACE DUNOD DE CHARNAGE,
TRAITÉS DES PRESCRIPTIONS, DE LALIENATION DES BIENS DEGLISE ET DES
DIXMES 270 (1730) (Fr.); 2 BALTHAZARD-MAR IE EMERIGON, TRAITÉ DES
ASSURANCES ET DES CONTRATS À LA GROSSE 287, 289, 305 (1783) (Fr.). In
German law, see Karl Spiro, Zur neueren Geschichte des Satzes “Agere non
valenti non currit praescriptio, in FESTSCHRIFT FÜR H ANS LEWALD 585 (1953)
(Ger.). But everywhere the maxim is established, “contra non valentem agere
non currit praescriptio” is the usual form. E.g., Belgium (Jean Dabin, Sur
l’adage Contra non valentem agere non currit praescriptio, 1969 REVUE
CRITIQUE DE JURISPRUDENCE BELGE 93 (Belg.)); Italy (MAURO TESCARO,
DECORRENZA DELLA PRESC RIZIONE E AUTORESPONSABILITÀLA RILEVANZA
CIVILISTICA DEL PRINCIPIO CONTRA NON VALENTEM AGERE NON CURRIT
PRAESCRIPTIO (2006) (It.)); Scotland (JOHN HEPBURN MILLAR & MARK NAPIER,
A HANDBOOK OF PRESCRIPTION ACCORDING TO THE LAW OF SCOTLAND 100
(1893) (Scot.)). In Louisiana, one may encounter the latter form as well as
Contra non valentem agere nulla currit praescriptio.” Many recent Louisiana
cases mistakenly use the expression “contra non valentum.” Presumably this is a
contagious typographical error. For a comparative survey on this maxim, see
further RAFAEL DOMINGO OSLÉ ET AL., PRINCIP IOS DE DERECHO GLOBAL, 1000
REGLAS Y AFORÍSMOS JUR ÍDICOS COMENTADOS 129 No. 70 (2006) (Spain)
(Agere non valenti non currit praescriptio); id. No. 210 (contra non valentem
agere non currit praescriptio). See also REINHARD Z IMMERMANN,
COMPARATIVE FOUNDATIONS OF A EUROPEAN LAW OF SET-OFF AND
PRESCRIPTION 132 (2002).
5. 4 Mart. (o.s.) 609 (La. 1817).

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