Hill County High School v. Dick Anderson Construction, Inc., 2017 MT 20 (March 21, 2017) (Baker, J.; Wheat, J., dissenting) (5-1, aff’d)
Issue: (1) Whether the district court correctly held that the statute of repose barred the school district’s claims; (2) whether the district court correctly held that the period of repose could not be tolled; and (3) whether the district court properly awarded Springer attorney fees under the contract.
Short Answer: (1) Yes; (2) yes; and (3) yes.
Facts: The school district entered into a contract with Springer in 1996 to design a new roof for the Havre High School, and contracted with Anderson to build the roof in 1997. A final walk through was held in January 1998, the school was in full use by April 1998, and the school district issued final payment around that time.
The new roof had problems almost immediately – it leaked, shingles and ridge caps fell off, interior vertical and horizontal beams were twisted, several vertical beams were not properly attached to the floor, and a portion of the roof began to pull away from a wall. In October 2003, Springer told the school district all repairs were finished and no further work was necessary. In December 2010, after a heavy snowstorm, 6,000 square feet of the roof collapsed.
The school district filed suit in December 2011 against Springer and Anderson.
Procedural Posture & Holding: Springer and Anderson moved to dismiss, asserting the action was time-barred. The district court concluded that the statute of repose barred the school district’s claims because the roof was completed in 1998, and further concluded that alleged fraudulent concealment would not toll the statute of repose. It awarded attorney fees to Springer under the parties’ contract. The school district appeals and the Supreme Court affirms.
Reasoning: (1) The statute of repose defines “completion” as “that degree of completion at which the owner can utilize the improvement for the purpose for which it was intended or when a completion certificate is executed, whichever is earlier.” § 27-2-208(4)(a), MCA. It is undisputed that the high school was in full use by April 1998. The district court correctly held that the 10-year statute of repose bars the school district’s claims.
(2) The Court has previously held that the statute of repose is an absolute bar to claims of construction-related damage more than 10 years after construction is completed. This is true even if the school district did not discover, or Anderson and Springer concealed, relevant facts. The district court correctly held that the period of repose could not be tolled.
(3) The Springer-school district contract awards attorney’s fees to the prevailing party in any litigation related to the contract, The district court properly awarded fees to Springer.