August 1st, 2023
construction
APPEALS COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA AFFIRMS JUDGMENT AGAINST BUILDER AFTER HOLDING STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS DEFENSE WAS WAIVED DUE TO A LACK OF SPECIFICITY IN PLEADING

In Borel Builders, Inc. v. Burke, 292 A.3d 1117 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2023), the Superior Court of Pennsylvania upheld a judgment against a home builder and determined it waived its statute of limitation defense because it failed to plead sufficient facts to support the defense.

In May 2012, Brian and Pamela Burke (“the Burkes”) contracted with Borel Builders, Inc. (“Borel”) to construct a home for $402,880. The contract permitted the Burkes “to submit a list of complaints and defects to Borel within one year of the date of occupancy and requiring Borel to make any reasonable and necessary repairs, adjustments, or replacements within 60 days of receipt of the list and for no additional cost.” Borel, 292 A.3d at 1117. Sometime in February or early March 2013, the Burkes moved into the home. On four (4) separate occasions in 2013 and two (2) instances in 2014, the Burkes sent “punch lists” to Borel, requesting it make certain repairs or alterations. In February 2014, after performing some of the requested work, Borel submitted an invoice for $42,968.25, which the Burkes refused to pay.

Due to the Burkes’ refusal to make payment, Borel filed suit in January 2017. Rather than file a counterclaim, the Burkes filed a separate suit against Borel in November 17, 2017. Within that separate complaint, the Burkes raised claims for breach of contract and breach of warranty based on defective workmanship and Borel's failure to remedy the items in the punch lists. Borel answered and asserted the Burkes’ “claims are barred by the applicable statute of limitations.” Borel, 292 A.3d at 1117.

After a non-jury trial, the trial judge entered a decision on October 12, 2021, and awarded the Burkes $20,892.57 in compensatory damages based on Borel's failure to rectify defective workmanship that had been specified by the contract. Notably, the trial court held, within its decision, that the Borel's statute of limitations defense would have been meritorious as to any defects the Burkes identified prior to November 17, 2013, four years before they filed suit, but the defense was waived for a lack of specificity in its pleading.

In response to this decision, Borel appealed and raised two issues for appellate review. First, whether the lower court abused its authority by determining Borel waived its statute of limitations defense. Second, whether the lower court erred in determining waiver was proper due to the lack of specificity alleged in the pleading.

As to both questions, the appellate court found no error committed by the trial court. In determining whether the waiver occurred, the Court noted that Borel merely alleged “a cursory legal conclusion” without providing “sufficient facts to substantiate the statute of limitations defense” in its pleading. Borel, 292 A.3d at 1117. As a result, the Court determined Borel waived its legal defense and affirmed the judgment.

Statutes of limitations continue to be great gatekeeping tools to combat stale claims from proceeding. However, contractors should ensure that their pleadings not simply state legal conclusions, but also provide a factual basis for their defenses.

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