CASE NOTE: New Jersey v Perini Corp. - New Jersey's Statute of Repose as Applied to Phased Construction

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By Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman

On March 30, 2012, New Jersey's Appellate Division issued a ruling in the case of New Jersey v Perini Corp. which explains how New Jersey's 10 year statute of repose applies to projects using phased construction.

New Jersey's statute of repose essentially provides that no action may be brought to recover damages for any deficiency in the "design, planning, surveying, supervision or construction" of a project "more than 10 years after the performance or furnishing of such services and construction." Earlier cases have already established that the statute of repose runs from the date that one's services for the project are substantially complete. So, the statute of repose will prohibit a claim against an early trade subcontractor once 10 years has elapsed after that subcontractor completed its work on the project even though the entire project may not yet be substantially complete for more than 10 years. However, the general contractor will remain on the hook until 10 years has elapsed from the date of substantial completion for the entire project.

The Perini case required the court to apply these concepts to phased construction. The state sued the general contractor, designer and pipe supplier for problems that developed with the underground hot water piping at a new state prison. The suit was filed on April 28, 2008. By contract, the prison was constructed in three separate phases - each with its own contractual substantial completion date. By April 27, 1998, 10 years before the state filed suit, the state had issued substantial completion certificates for the entirety of the first two phases of the project and for all but two buildings included in the third phase - a garage and a housing unit located outside the main perimeter. However, no certificate of substantial completion was issued specifically for the hot water system.

The court held that "multiple phases of a construction project that are clearly identified and documented can trigger separate periods of repose, even for the general contractor and other contractors that continue to work on the entire project." However, the court rejected the notion that there can be "separate trigger dates of repose for components of a project, whether multi-phase or not, that are not clearly identified in the documentary record as distinguishable improvements." In this case, the court found that the hot water system was not a clearly distinguishable component of the construction and was not substantially complete by April 27, 1998. As such, the state's claim was not untimely under the statute of repose.