Michigan Supreme Court Addresses Limitations Issues

Michigan Supreme Court Addresses Limitations Issues

An architectural malpractice case provided a setting for Michigan’s Supreme Court to review the state’s statutes of limitations and repose in professional negligence cases. Ostroth v. Warren Regency, GP, LLC (Doc. No. 126859), was decided February 1, 2006. The lower Court’s opinion was reported at 263 MichApp 1 (2004).

The Court had to decide whether Michigan MCL § 600.5839 is only a statute of repose, supplying a shorter limitation period, or both a statute of repose and a statute of limitations. Like the Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court adopted the latter position.

Architects provided work on a renovation project. The plaintiff claimed exposure to environmental hazards during the renovation and alleged personal injuries. She filed suit approximately one hundred six (106) weeks after work on the project commenced, but within two (2) years of the time it concluded.

The trial court held the two-year limitations period for malpractice claims at MCL § 600.5805(6) applied. The Court of Appeals affirmed in part, and reversed in part initially, holding the six-year limitation period of MCL § 600.5839(1) also applied.

The Michigan Supreme Court granted leave for the parties to appeal and reviewed the legal issue de novo. The Michigan Supreme Court noted MCL § 600.5805(1) provides:

A person shall not bring or maintain an action to recover damages for injuries to person or property unless, after the claim first accrued to the plaintiff or to someone through whom the plaintiff claims, the action is commenced within the periods of time prescribed by this section.

Limitations periods for several kinds of action follow: § 600.5805(6) provides a two-year limitation for malpractice; § 600.5805(10) provides a three-year limitation period for general negligence actions; and § 600.5805 (14) addresses the period of limitations for an action for damages involving a state-licensed architect and improvement to property. The parties disputed which portion of the statute applied.

The special provision concerning architects incorporated a second Michigan statute, § 600.5839(1) which contains a six-year period of limitation against architects that begins to run “after the time of occupancy of the completed improvement, use, or acceptance of the improvement….”

The Supreme Court concluded the six-year limitation period was applicable and held plaintiff’s claims were viable for this reason. The Court noted the legislature has “undoubted” authority “to determine the conditions under which a right may accrue and the period within which a right may be asserted....” The Court concluded § 600.5839(1), therefore, operates as both a statute of limitations and a statute of repose, and, therefore, plaintiff’s claim was timely.

February, 2006
David A. Domina

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