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Hopkins v. Fox & Lazo Realtors

Decided: June 29, 1990.

EMILY S. HOPKINS, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
FOX & LAZO REALTORS, JACK BURKE REAL ESTATE INC., STEVE FIELDS, PAT GUERRY, JOHN GARVER AND SUSAN GARVER, HIS WIFE, U.S. HOMES, MORGAN M. DAVIS, DOUGLAS M. SONIER AND BARBARA A. SONIER, HIS WIFE, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS



On appeal from the Superior Court, Law Division, Mercer County.

King, Shebell and Keefe. The opinion of the court was delivered by King, P.J.A.D.

King

We must decide whether N.J.S.A. 2A:14-1.1 provides architects with repose from liability claims ten years after their design work, their only service, is completed or not until ten years after construction is completed. This tort action arises out of injuries sustained by plaintiff Emily Hopkins from a fall in a private home. Hopkins claims the negligent performance of architectural services by defendant Morgan Davis, a licensed professional architect, contributed to her fall. In this case the architect performed design work only. He performed no supervision of the construction. We hold, in the circumstances of this case, that where an architect performs design services only and no supervision of the project, the period of repose provided by N.J.S.A. 2A:14-1.1 begins ten years and one day after the architect's plans are delivered to and accepted by the developer-contractor.

There is no dispute about the relevant facts. Defendant Davis was commissioned by defendant U.S. Homes to prepare plans for a prototype house. U.S. Homes intended to use the plans in the construction of a residential development in Plainsboro. Davis completed the plans for U.S. Homes on January 12, 1977 and performed no further work or supervision on the house or the development. U.S. Homes used Davis' plans in its construction of the home at 118 Parker Road South in Plainsboro where plaintiff ultimately fell and was injured on April 26, 1987. Building permits for this house were obtained from the Plainsboro Building Department on June 2, 1978. Construction of the home was completed in November 1978, a certificate of occupancy issuing on November 28, 1978. On November 29, 1978 the home was sold and deeded to defendants Douglas and

Barbara Sonier, the original buyers. In 1984 the home was sold and transferred to defendants John and Susan Garver.

On April 26, 1987 defendant Fox & Lazo held a realtors' "open house" at the Garver's home. While visiting the "open house," the plaintiff Hopkins fell and suffered "serious personal injuries." As a result of her accident, Hopkins filed this lawsuit. On September 16, 1988 Hopkins filed an amended complaint alleging, among other things, the negligent design of the home in which she fell by a certain as yet unknown architect, John Doe. On April 28, 1989 Hopkins filed a second amended complaint specifically identifying the architect as defendant Morgan Davis.

In November 1989 defendant Davis filed a motion for summary judgment seeking dismissal of the complaint and crossclaim against him. Davis claimed that he was entitled to the repose afforded by N.J.S.A. 2A:14-1.1 which provides, in relevant part, that

[n]o action whether in contract, in tort, or otherwise to recover damages for any deficiency in the design, planning, supervision or construction of an improvement to real property, or for any injury to property, real or personal, or for an injury to the person, or for bodily injury or wrongful death, arising out of the defective and unsafe condition of an improvement to real property, nor any action for contribution or indemnity for damages sustained on account of such injury, shall be brought against any person performing or furnishing the design, planning, supervision of construction or construction of such improvement to real property, more than 10 years after the performance or furnishing of such services and construction. [Emphasis supplied.]

Davis stresses that he completed his design work with respect to the 118 Parker Road South home on January 12, 1977. Because Hopkins' accident did not occur until more than ten years later, on April 26, 1987, any claims which she might assert against him should be time-barred under N.J.S.A. 2A:14-1.1; L. 1967, c. 59 ยง 1.

Hopkins contests Davis' reading of N.J.S.A. 2A:14-1.1. She urges that the ten-year period provided by the statute should not begin to run until construction of the 118 Parker Road South house was complete, in November 1978. Hopkins began her action within ten years of this date. The Law Division

judge adopted Hopkins' position and denied Davis' motion for summary judgment. We granted Davis ...


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