As previously discussed in Part I, the case of Charles Ebinger, et ux. v. Venus Construction Corporation, et al. focuses on the time period in which a claim for damages can be brought against a contractor and the time period in which a contractor may bring an indemnifying action against a subcontractor. This Part, however, focuses on the Louisiana Supreme Court’s reasoning as to how it interpreted the applicable statute of limitations.
The Ebingers moved into their newly built home in April of 1997. On October 9, 2003, the Ebingers filed suit against Venus Construction alleging defects in the home’s foundation had caused cracks in the drywall, tile, brick walls, and floor. Venus Construction filed its indemnity claim on September 22, 2006 against the engineer and subcontractor that supplied the foundation.
First the Court determined when the cause of action arose. The Court determined that “regardless of the length of the peremptive period, it [the peremptive period] began when the owners took possession of the house or filed an acceptance of the work.” In this case, a certificate of occupancy issued on April 22, 1997, and therefore, that is when the peremptive period began. At the time the Ebingers moved into their home, the original statute was in place and thus the Ebingers would have ten (10) years to file a claim.
Second, the Louisiana Supreme Court looked at the language of the statutes to determine whether the superseding statutes were written to act retroactively or have prospective application. Though the peremptive period was ten years at the time the statute of limitations began to run, the legislature amended the governing statute in 1999, substituting ‘seven’ for ‘ten’ years as the peremptive period. Further, this Act stated “the provisions of this Act shall have prospective application only and shall apply to contracts entered into on or after the effective date of this Act.” Thus, at this time, the Ebingers would still have a valid claim through the original ten year peremptive period because the amended statute had only prospective applicability, not retroactive applicability, as specifically written in the Act by the legislature. Next, the Court looked at the second revision of the Act in 2003 which substitute ‘five’ for ‘seven’ years and did not maintain the ‘prospective application’ language. The Court states that the legislature’s actions in drafting a law are knowing and intentional, and thus, if the legislature meant for the ‘prospective application’ language to continue, then the legislature would have included it in the Act. However, because the legislature did not, the Court’s interpretation is that the 2003 Amendment supersedes the original statute and makes the peremptive period five years, even for those causes of action that arose back when the ten and seven year periods were applicable.
Third, the Court examines Constitutional rights to Due Process and determines that the statute of limitations is a procedural law and as long as it does not disturb a vested legal right, a right that at the moment may be expressed, then the statute of limitations (peremptive period) may be applied retroactively. In the end, the Ebingers’ claim is not perempted even though it was filed two months after the 2003 Amendment because the Ebingers’ right to sue had vested the moment they attained the certificate of occupancy. However, as for Venus Construction, “the mere expectancy of a future benefit,” for Venus Construction in this case the right to file a claim for indemnification, “does not constitute a vested right.” Therefore, Venus Construction’s right to file a claim for indemnification did not vest until a judgment was entered against Venus Construction, and thus the peremptive period has run for Venus Construction to file a claim for indemnification against the subcontractor.
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