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Superior Court Of Connecticut Grants Defendant Architect’s Motion To Decide Questions Of Law And To Dispense With Jury Trial Based On The Statute Of Repose

 In Town of Windsor v. Loureiro Engineering Assoc., 2016 WL 4007747 (Conn. Super. Ct. June 20, 2016), the Superior Court of Connecticut (the “Superior Court”) granted a Motion to Decide Questions of Law and to Dispense with a Jury Trial filed by Defendants Loureiro Engineering, Inc., Newman Architects, LLC, Herbert S. Newman, and Michael Raso (collectively, “Defendants”), the engineer and architects hired by Plaintiff the Town of Windsor (the “Town”) to design the Windsor High School auditorium.  

In the late 1990s, Defendants performed work for the Town pursuant to two separate contracts for services related to the renovation of Windsor High School.  Under the first contract, Defendants produced a report dated June 16, 1998 summarizing an investigation and analysis of existing conditions wherein Defendants determined the existing structure was structurally sound and could be renovated to standards comparable to a new facility (the “Report”).  In June, 1999, Defendants entered into a second contract with the Town related to the design and construction of the high school renovation project.  

On February 2, 2011, a ceiling located in the auditorium of Windsor High School collapsed.  The Town commenced an action against Defendants on July 14, 2011, alleging Defendants were professionally negligent and breached their contracts and warranties with the Town.  Defendants filed a Motion to Decide Questions of Law and to Dispense with a Jury Trial arguing the statute of repose barred the Town’s claims. 

The relevant statute of repose provides: “(a) No action or arbitration, whether in contract, in tort, or otherwise, (1) to recover damages (A) for any deficiency in the design, planning . . . or land surveying in connection with, an improvement to real property . . . shall be brought against any architect, professional engineer or land surveyor . . . more than seven years after substantial completion of such improvement . . . .”  Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-584a(a).  Substantial completion for an improvement to real property is defined by the statute as the time when “it is first available for use after having been completed in accordance with the contract or agreement covering the improvement, including any agreed changes to the contract or agreement, whichever occurs first.”  Id. § 52-584a(c).  

In light of the statute of repose, the Town abandoned its claims based on the second contract related to the design of the high school renovation project, and argued the seven-year statute of limitations did not apply to services performed pursuant to the first contract, because the contract did not contemplate an improvement to real property.  The Superior Court rejected the Town’s argument, determining the statute of repose contemplated a situation where contractual terms are intended to effect the anticipatedimprovement to real property, even if the improvement occurs pursuant to a different contract.  

The Superior Court’s holding can be expanded to include a situation where a design professional performs a feasibility report pursuant to a contract, but does not actually design the improvements to the real property.  The holding in Windsor allows design professionals to rest at ease knowing they will not be brought into court several years after performing a work on a project for the improvement to real property, even where their work was not directly related to the design of the improvement.