Nationwide: (800) 482-1822    
Arrange No Cost Consultation

Surveyors Statute Trumps Construction Defect Claim in Tennessee

June 19, 2012 — CDJ Staff

The Tennessee Court of Appeals has issued an opinion in the case of Dale v. B&J Enters. (Tenn. App., 2012), affirming the ruling of the Chancery Court for Knox County. The homeowners purchased properties in Knoxville, Tennessee in 2007 and 2008. Subsequently, according to the complaint, they found “significant sink holes and depressions throughout the subdivision.” The plaintiffs determined that a previous developer in 2004 had been aware of the sink holes. The Knox County Metropolitan Planning Commission, upon giving approval, made requirements that included that sink holes, even if they were filled, had to be designated on the site plans. The developer did not indicate these locations on the final plans. The plaintiffs made claims of “failure to disclose, misrepresentation, misrepresentation by concealment, and violation of the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act.” They filed their suit in June 2009.

The defendants in the initial case, argued that they did not create the final plat, the site plan indicating the features and lot lines. This had been the work of the previous developer. In September, 2009, the plaintiffs amended their complaint to include the previous developer and its engineering firm. The engineering firm disavowed any responsibility. The developer noted that the surveyor, Benchmark Associates, had “failed to properly include the sink holes and/or depressions on the final plat.” In June, 2010, the plaintiffs added Benchmark.

Benchmark argued that the plaintiffs’ claims should be dismissed, as Tennessee has a four-year statute of limitations on claims against surveyors. The final plat was recorded on May 19, 2006, and the plaintiff filed their claims against Benchmark on June 16, 2010, slightly less than a month over four years. The plaintiffs argued that “the real issue [was] the tortious misrepresentation by Benchmark.” The Chancery Court found for Benchmark.

On appeal, the plaintiffs raised three issues. They argued that the trial court applied the wrong section of the law, and should have applied the section applying to construction and not surveyors. They also argued that the timeliness of the claim should be based on when the defects were discovered. The also raised the question of whether the laws concerning surveyors bar claims for misrepresentation. The appeals court upheld the decision of the Chancery Court.

For the plaintiff’s first claim, although the statute addressing deficiencies in construction mentions surveying, an earlier court ruling found that the legislature had removed a reference to surveyors in one part of the statute, but failed to do so in the second part. The earlier court had concluded that the “obvious intent of the legislature was to place all limits on actions against surveyors into the new statute.” As the applicable statute states that “any such action not instituted within this four (4) year period shall be forever barred,” the court held that the plaintiffs’ claims must be time barred. Further, as the intent of the legislature was determined to “place all limits on actions against surveyors into one statute,” the court felt that it could not apply the Consumer Protection Act.

Read the court’s decision…

Surveyors Statute Trumps Construction Defect Claim in Tennessee