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Federal District Court In Florida Holds Successor Architect Statute Does Not Release Original Architect From Liability

In Hotels of Deerfield, LLC v. Studio 78, LLC, the Court held the Florida Administrative Code Section which confers “all professional and legal responsibility” to successor architects who reuse already sealed contract documents does not also release original architects from liability.

Hotels of Deerfield, LLC and MHG Hotels, LLC (“Plaintiffs”) retained Studio 78, LLC and Shailesh Kalyan (“Defendants”) to provide design documents for a project, but Defendants were subsequently replaced by another architect.  The Project was still built using Defendants’ original design.  When defects were discovered, Plaintiffs sued Defendants, who moved for summary judgment.  

Defendants argued Rule 61G1-18.002 of the Florida Administrative Code released them from liability after their involvement on the project ended.  Rule 61G1-18.002 states, in pertinent part:

“(1) A successor registered architect seeking to reuse already sealed contract documents under the successor registered architect’s seal must be able to document and produce upon request evidence that he has in fact recreated all the work done by the original registered architect. Further, the successor registered architect must take all professional and legal responsibility for the documents which he sealed and signed and can in no way exempt himself from such full responsibility. . . .”

Fla. Admin. Code R. 61G1-18.002(1) (emphasis added). The provision makes clear the successor architects take “full responsibility” but is silent as to what, if any, liability remains for original architects like the Defendants.

Plaintiffs argued Defendants were still liable to some extent, but Defendants argued the provision releases the original architects from liability, as it confers “full responsibility” to the successor architects. Since it was an issue of first impression for the Court, the Court relied on Villenueva v. Reynolds, Smith and Hills, Inc., 159 So. 3d 200 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2015), which interpreted an analogous provision that pertains to engineers rather than to architects.

The Villenueva case held original engineers could still be liable under the equivalent administrative provision, even though successor engineers had stepped in. The Hotels of Deerfield Court ultimately held identically, reasoning that even though “Rule [61G1-18.002] is silent with regard to the original architect’s liability,” there is “no basis to conclude Rule 61G1-18.002 releases the original architect of liability.” Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment was denied.

Architects should be aware that their liability for a design can outlive their involvement in a project.  Without the ability to respond to Requests for Information or otherwise remain involved, this poses an exceptional problem.  Architects should build protections into their contracts to release them from liability for the subsequent use of their designs.