WATERING DOWN THE 10 YEAR STATUTE OF REPOSE PERIOD FOR CONSTRUCTION DEFECT DISPUTES

platYes, it appears that the Second District Court of Appeals in Clearwater Housing Authority v. Future Capital Holding Corp., 38 Fla. L. Weekly D2323a (2nd DCA 2013), just entered an opinion that has watered down the ten year statute of repose for construction disputes. That is right – watered down the statute of repose. This is excellent for owners with construction latent defect disputes, but bad for contractors and design professionals.

 

The statute of limitations for construction disputes is governed by Florida Statute s. 95.11(3)(c):

 

(c) Within Four Years. An action founded on the design, planning, or construction of an improvement to real property, with the time running from the date of actual possession by the owner, the date of the issuance of a certificate of occupancy, the date of abandonment of construction if not completed, or the date of completion or termination of the contract between the professional engineer, registered architect, or licensed contractor and his or her employer, whichever date is latest; except that, when the action involves a latent defect, the time runs from the time the defect is discovered or should have been discovered with the exercise of due diligence. In any event, the action must be commenced within 10 years after the date of actual possession by the owner, the date of the issuance of a certificate of occupancy, the date of abandonment of construction if not completed, or the date of completion or termination of the contract between the professional engineer, registered architect, or licensed contractor and his or her employer, whichever date is latest.

 

The bolded language above is the ten year statute of repose language, which means that a lawsuit brought after this date is forever barred even if it is otherwise filed within four years from the date an owner discovered a latent defect (the statute of limitations period). In other words, after this repose period, latent defects become moot.

 

However, the Second District in Clearwater Housing Authority gave owner an excellent argument to extend the repose period. In this case, an owner hired a contractor and design professionals for purposes of building an apartment project in Clearwater. The property was then purchased by Clearwater Housing Authority. The Certificate of Occupancy was issued in 2000 and this was when Clearwater Housing Authority took possession of the property. However, a final plat was not submitted by the engineers on the project until 2003.

 

In 2009, Clearwater Housing Authority initiated a dispute for construction defects against various parties. But, in 2011, it amended its complaint to assert a claim against Future Capital Holding Corporation (“Future Capital”). Future Capital did the right thing and moved for summary judgment due to the expiration of the statute of repose. The math was simple. The Certificate of Occupancy occurred in 2000 and it was brought into the lawsuit in 2011, more than 10 years after-the-fact. The trial court agreed and summary judgment was entered in favor of Future Capital.

 

Clearwater Housing Authority creatively argued that the engineer did not submit the final plat until 2003 and this marked the date that triggered the beginning of the repose period; thus, it had until 2013 to assert claims for construction defects. This argument was based on the repose language: “[T]he action must be commenced within 10 years after the date of actual possession by the owner, the date of the issuance of a certificate of occupancy, the date of abandonment of construction if not completed, or the date of completion or termination of the contract between the professional engineer, registered architect, or licensed contractor and his or her employer, whichever date is latest.” Stated differently, “the [ten year] repose period commences on the latest date that any of the listed entities—the professional engineer, registered architect, or licensed contractor—completed or terminated their contract.Clearwater Housing Authority, supra.

 

The Second District reversed the summary judgment based on Clearwater Housing Authority’s argument and because an issue of fact remained as to when the contract was completed.

 

What effect does this have? A huge effect! An owner can sue a contractor or design professional outside of ten years from the issuance of the Certificate of Occupancy and argue that the repose period did not run based on the following arguments: (a) the contractor’s contract was not completed until well after the Certificate of Occupancy date because the contractor was doing endless punchlist work or (b) the design professional had not completed its contract because it was required to submit as-built plans (or some relatively minor task) which it did not do until well after the Certificate of Occupancy. Therefore, based on this holding, owners can be very creative as to when contracts were arguably completed to create questions of fact to postpone the repose period, especially if they are concerned with this defense. On the other hand, contractors and design professionals sued for construction defects that otherwise have a statute of repose argument, like Future Capital seemed to have in the Clearwater Housing Authority case, need to appreciate that a creative owner will be able to create a question of fact to preclude the entry of summary judgment.

 

 

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

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