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Boyce v. Blenheim at Bay Pointe, LLC

Superior Court of Delaware, New Castle

December 30, 2014

HENRY BOYCE and ANGELIQUE BOYCE, Plaintiffs,
v.
BLENHEIM AT BAY POINTE, LLC., BLENHEIM HOMES, INC., BLENHEIM HOMES, L.P., SUDLER CONSTRUCTION LTD., THE LESSARD ARCHITECTURAL GROUP INC., JOHN F. MCLAURIN, JAMES A REEVES INC., CUSTOM SIDING OF DELAWARE LLC, DELMARVA ROOFING AND COATING INC., CARFARO INC., and BLENHEIM BROWN LLC, Defendants.

Submitted: October 29, 2014

Upon Defendants Blenheim at Bay Pointe, LLC, Blenheim Hones, Inc., and Blenheim Homes, L.P.'s, Motion to Dismiss.

Blake A. Bennett, Esquire, and Christopher H. Lee, Esquire, Cooch & Taylor P.A., Attorneys for Plaintiffs.

Jeffrey M. Weiner, Esquire, Attorney for Defendants Blenheim at Bay Pointe, LCC., Blenheim Homes Inc., and Blenheim Homes, L.P.

Joel H. Fredricks, Esquire, Casarino Christman Shalk Ransom & Doss P.A., Attorney for Defendant Suder Construction Ltd.

Paul Cottrell, Esquire, Tighe & Cottrell, P.A., Attorney for Defendants The Lessard Architectural Group, Inc., and John F. McLaurin.

Charles Gruver, III, Esquire, Charles Gruver III, P.A., Attorney for Defendant Custom Siding of Delaware LCC.

Joseph Scott Shannon, Esquire, and Art C. Aranilla, Esquire, Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin, Attorneys for Defendant Carfaro Inc.

OPINION

JURDEN, J.

I. INTRODUCTION

Before the Court is Defendants' Blenheim at Bay Point LCC., Blenheim Homes Inc., and Blenheim Homes L.P.'s (collectively "Blenheim") Motion to Dismiss. This case involves negligence claims by the owners of a single family home in the Bay Pointe residential community against the builders and designers of that home. After experiencing reoccurring water leaks and severe damage in their home, Plaintiffs filed suit against Blenheim, Sudler Construction Ltd ("Sudler"), The Lessard Architectural Group Inc. ("Lessard"), John F. McLaurin ("McLaurin"), James A Reeves Inc. ("Reeves"), Custom Siding of Delaware LLC ("Custom Siding"), Delmarva Roofing and Coating Inc. (Delmarva Roofing"), Carfaro Inc. ("Carfaro"), and Blenheim Brown LLC ("Blenheim Brown") ("collectively Defendants"), alleging negligent construction and negligent design.

Blenheim filed this Motion to Dismiss arguing that the Plaintiffs' Complaint is time-barred and fails to state a claim against Defendants Blenheim Homes, Inc. and Blenheim Homes L.P.

Defendants Sudler, Lessard, McLaurin, Custom Siding, and Carfaro, have joined Blenheim's Motion to Dismiss. For the reasons explained below, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss is DENIED.

II. FACTS

On August 31, 2011, Henry and Angelique Boyce ("Plaintiffs") purchased a single family home from its original owners.[1] The original owners purchased the property directly from Blenheim in 2005.[2]

In 2013, Plaintiffs began to experience isolated water leaks in their garage ceiling and walls.[3] In June 2014, when the leaks worsened, Plaintiffs hired a home inspection expert who specializes in water infiltration.[4] The expert found evidence of extensive water infiltration and concluded that the windows, doors, balcony, and stone veneer were not properly installed and needed repair.[5]

Plaintiffs filed their initial Complaint on June 25, 2014.[6] Plaintiffs assert claims of negligent construction (Count I) against Blenheim, Blenheim Brown, Sudler, Reeves, Custom Siding, Delmarva Roofing, and Carfaro; and negligent design (Count II) against Lessard and McLaurin.[7]

According to Plaintiffs, Defendants' negligent construction and design of their home resulted "in severe water and moisture penetration, deterioration, unattractiveness, loss in marketability and market value, structural and physical instability, and other dangerous conditions."[8]

III. PARTIES' CONTENTIONS

Blenheim argues that the Complaint must be dismissed under Superior Court Civil Rule 12(b)(6) because it is time-barred.[9] According to Blenheim, Plaintiffs had constructive notice of the alleged defects in their home because more than three years prior to the Complaint other Bay Pointe homeowners filed similar lawsuits alleging negligent design and negligent construction.[10] Blenheim asserts that Plaintiffs should have known of the defects in their home because "the public record is replete with allegations of defects and deficient construction in connection with 5 houses constructed in Bay Pointe more than 3 years old prior to . . . filing their complaint on June 25, 2014."[11]

Plaintiffs argue that they "were neither aware nor should they have been aware of any construction defects in other homes in the Bay Pointe neighborhood or any litigation regarding those homes when they purchased the property."[12] Plaintiffs assert that their claims are tolled by the Time of Discovery rule and therefore timely because the Complaint was filed within one month of Plaintiffs learning of the construction defects from their home inspection expert.[13] Plaintiffs contend that "[g]iven their lack of expertise and the limited and isolated nature of the leaks at issue, the statute of limitations did not even begin to run until June 2014."[14]

Blenheim also argues that the Complaint fails to allege any specific facts supporting a claim against Defendants Blenheim Homes, Inc. and Blenheim Homes L.P. because Plaintiffs' deed explicitly states that the land premises were conveyed to the original owners from Blenheim Brown, LLC and Blenheim at Bay Point, LCC.[15]

IV. STANDARD OF REVIEW

The Court will dismiss a complaint only if it appears "with reasonable certainty that, under any set of facts that could be proven to support the claims asserted, the plaintiff would not be entitled to relief."[16] The Court only considers "the well-pleaded allegations in the complaint."[17] "[A] motion to dismiss shall be treated as a motion for summary judgment under Rule 56 if matters outside the pleading are presented to and not excluded by the Court."[18]

Through its Motion to Dismiss, Blenhiem has submitted documents not relied upon by the Plaintiffs in their Complaint.[19] Blenhiem asks the Court to consider three "judicial proceedings" that contain "allegations of defects and deficient construction in connection with five houses constructed in Bay Pointe."[20]Because the Court has considered these proceedings, it is treating Blenhiem's motion as one for summary judgment.

On a motion for summary judgment, the Court views all facts in a light most favorable to the non-moving party, and determines whether a genuine issue of material fact exists.[21] The Court will grant summary judgment only if no genuine issue of material fact exists, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.[22] If the record reveals that material facts are in dispute, or if the factual record has not been developed thoroughly enough to allow the Court to apply the law to the facts of the case, then summary judgment must be denied.[23]

V. DISCUSSION

Generally, negligence claims are governed by 10 Del. C. §8106, which requires that a plaintiff bring an action to recover damages within three years of the "accruing of the cause of action."[24] The statute of limitations may be tolled, however, under the Time of Discovery rule.[25] "The Time of Discovery rule provides that, in certain cases, a cause of action does not accrue until a party has reason to know that he or she has a cause of action."[26]

Under this rule, for the limitations period to be tolled, the cause of action must be inherently unknowable and the plaintiff must be blamelessly ignorant of the cause of action.[27] The statute of limitations "will begin to run only upon the discovery of facts constituting the basis of the cause of action or the existence of facts sufficient to put a person of ordinary intelligence and prudence on inquiry which, if pursued, would lead to the discovery of such facts."[28] Thus, a plaintiff may not rely on the Time of Discovery rule to toll a limitations period "if objective or observable factors exist to put the plaintiff on constructive notice that a wrong has been committed."[29]

Here, the parties disagree as to when the statute of limitations began to accrue. Blenheim points to lawsuits filed by other Bay Pointe homeowners alleging negligent design and negligent construction and maintains that because these suits are a matter of public record, Plaintiffs have not demonstrated that their cause of action "was inherently unknowable and that they were blamelessly ignorant."[30]

Relying on In re Petition of Delaware Department of Transportation, [31]Blenheim argues that "[a] person is charged with constructive notice of information that could have been acquired by examining public records, including judicial proceedings."[32] However, as explained below, the constructive notice at issue in Petition of Delaware Department of Transportation is distinguishable from the constructive notice in this case.

In Petition of Delaware Department of Transportation, the Delaware Court of Chancery denied a petition to vacate a portion of a road, in part, because the Court of Chancery had previously held that the road was a "public road and common highway."[33] The Court noted that because the road was a public road, the landowners had constructive notice of it when they bought their property.[34]Although the constructive notice in Petition of Delaware Department of Transportation related to a previous judicial proceeding, the Court of Chancery did not hold that the prior judicial proceeding alone constituted constructive notice of a road. And the present case is further distinguishable because the "judicial proceedings" Blenheim relies upon relate to other Bay Pointe homes, not Plaintiffs' home.

Viewing the facts in a light most favorable to Plaintiffs, a genuine issue of material fact exists as to when the statute of limitations began to accrue, and if the statute of limitations is tolled by the Time of Discovery rule.

VI. CONCLUSION

For the foregoing reasons, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss is DENIED.

IT IS SO ORDERED.


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