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Hampton Hall LLC v. Chapman Coyle Chapman & Associat Architects AIA Inc.

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Beaufort Division

December 27, 2017

Hampton Hall, LLC, Plaintiff,
Chapman Coyle Chapman & Associat Architects AIA, Inc., and Choate Construction Company, Defendants.



         This matter is before the Court on Defendants' motion for partial summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants the motion.

         I. Background

         Defendant Chapman Coyle Chapman & Associates Architects, AIA ("Chapman") was responsible for the design and oversight of the construction of the Hampton Hall Development amenity facilities, including a gold house, sports center, and community clubhouse. Defendant Choate Construction Company was the general contractor. Plaintiff alleges the construction of the community clubhouse was defective and asserts claims for breach of contract, breach of warranty, negligence, gross negligence, and breach of express and implied warranties.

         The community clubhouse was designed and constructed in 2006 and 2007. Plaintiff alleges there was a failure of the truss members in the community clubhouse mezzanine roof over an activity room with a vaulted ceiling and skylight. Plaintiff alleges the truss assemblies failed in March 2007-before completion of the community clubhouse-and again in 2009. Remedial work was performed in 2009 or 2010 but the truss members allegedly remained deficient.

         Plaintiff filed the present action on May 12, 2017. Defendants move for partial summary judgment, asserting that the applicable eight-year statute of repose, SC Code § 15-3-640, bars Plaintiffs claims, because the structure was substantially completed in 2007. Plaintiff responds that the building permit did not include a statutorily required notice of the statute of repose, that claims for gross negligence is not barred by the statute of repose, and that the statute of repose has not yet accrued because the structure is not yet substantially completed.

         II. Legal Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate if a party "shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact" and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). In other words, summary judgment should be granted "only when it is clear that there is no dispute concerning either the facts of the controversy or the inferences to be drawn from those facts." Pulliamlnv. Co. v. Cameo Props., 810F.2d 1282, 1286 (4th Cir. 1987). "In determining whether a genuine issue has been raised, the court must construe all inferences and ambiguities in favor of the nonmoving party." HealthSouth Rehab. Hosp. v. Am. Nat'l RedCross, 101 F.3d 1005, 1008 (4th Cir. 1996). The party seeking summary judgment shoulders the initial burden of demonstrating to the court that there is no genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323(1986).

         Once the moving party has made this threshold demonstration, the non-moving party, to survive the motion for summary judgment, may not rest on the allegations averred in his pleadings. Id. at 324. Rather, the non-moving party must demonstrate that specific, material facts exist that give rise to a genuine issue. Id. Under this standard, "[c]onclusory or speculative allegations do not suffice, nor does a 'mere scintilla of evidence'" in support of the non-moving party's case. Thompson v. Potomac Elec. Power Co., 312 F.3d 645, 649 (4th Cir. 2002) (quoting Phillips v. CSXTransp., Inc., 190 F.3d 285, 287 (4th Cir. 1999)).

         III. Discussion

         South Carolina Code § 15-3-640 provides that "[n]o actions to recover damages based upon or arising out of the defective or unsafe condition of an improvement to real property may be brought more than eight years after substantial completion of the improvement." The statute of repose is not subject to tolling. See Holly Woods Ass 'n of Residence Owners v. Hiller, 708 S.E.2d 787, 793 (S.C. Ct. App. 2011). The statute also provides that a certificate of occupancy "shall constitute proof of substantial completion" unless the parties agree in writing on a different date. S.C. Code § 15-3-640. The certificate of occupancy issued on September 13, 2007. (Dkt. No. 20-2.) Defendants argue the parties agreed on the earlier date of July 20, 2007, based on a certificate of substantial completion signed by all parties. (Dkt. No. 20-1.) In this case, however, the difference between July and September 2007 is immaterial to the statue of repose. This action was filed in May 2017, more than nine years after July or September 2007.

         Plaintiff argues the statute of repose does not bar its claims for four reasons. For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiffs arguments regarding the date of substantial completion, statutory notice requirements, and warranty claims fail. Plaintiffs gross negligence claims, however, are not barred by the statute of repose. .

         A. Date of substantial completion

         Plaintiff argues substantial completion has not yet occurred, and so the statute of repose has not accrued. That argument is without merit. Plaintiff does not dispute that its representative signed on behalf of Plaintiff, the statement, "The Owner [Hampton Hall] accepts the Work or designated portion as substantially complete and will assume full possession at 8:00 a.m. on July 20, 2017." (Dkt. No. 20-1.) Further, the statute provides that in the absence of a written agreement that establishes a different date, the date of the certificate of occupancy is proof of substantial completion. S.C. Code § 15-3-640. Plaintiff does ...

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