Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Statute of repose bars construction claims brought too late; disclosure rule does not apply when claimant should have discovered the defect

KAYE LOCKWOOD v. RONALD G. HUGHES, ET AL. (Tenn. Ct. App. April 29, 2009).

Buyer of home filed complaint against Sellers for, among other things, violation of the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”). The trial court granted summary judgment to Sellers on the TCPA claim on the ground that it was barred by the statute of repose. Buyer filed a Motion to Alter or Amend the Judgment, raising a new argument, which the trial court denied. On appeal, Buyer challenges: (1) the trial court’s grant of summary judgment, asserting that material facts were in dispute regarding Buyer’s allegation that Sellers fraudulently concealed defects in the home and that the fraudulent concealment tolled the statute of repose and (2) the trial court’s failure to consider the new argument raised in Buyer’s Motion to Alter or Amend. Finding the trial court’s actions to be proper in all respects, we affirm the decision.

Opinion may be found at the TBA website:

“The trial court found that the home was substantially completed on August 1, 1997, and, consequently, the negligent construction and substandard workmanship claim was barred by the statute of limitations since it was brought more than 5 years after the date of substantial completion.” Id.

“To toll the application of the statute of repose based on an allegation of fraudulent concealment, a plaintiff is required to prove the following: (1) that the defendant took affirmative action to conceal the cause of action or remained silent and failed to disclose material facts despite a duty to do so; (2) the plaintiff could not have discovered the cause of action despite exercising reasonable care and diligence; (3) knowledge on the part of the defendant of the facts giving rise to the cause of action; and (4) concealment of material information from the plaintiff. Shadrick v. Coker, 963 S.W.2d 726, 735 (Tenn. 1998). “The tolling doctrine of fraudulent concealment does not apply to cases where the court finds a plaintiff was aware or should have been aware of facts sufficient to put the plaintiff on notice that a specific injury has been sustained as a result of another’s negligent or wrongful conduct.” Id.

“Ms. Lockwood did not have the home inspected prior to closing; that she was aware of a water leak in the home’s basement in 1999; and that she contacted the Hughes when the water leak first appeared but did not inform them during the next three years of the continuing problem. These materials were sufficient to negate an essential element of Ms. Lockwood’s fraudulent concealment claim, viz., that she could not have discovered the cause of action despite exercising reasonable care and diligence.” Id.