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Court Refuses to Issue Advisory Opinion Regarding Statute of Repose (PA)

February 8, 2018

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In <em><a href="">Magnarelli v Vaughan and Sautter Builders</a>, </em>No. 1902 EDA 2017, Superior Court of Pennsylvania, the Superior Court denied appellants’ appeal and affirmed the lower court’s order dismissing the complaint because the action was barred by the Statute of Repose.
Appellants, who were the plaintiffs in the underlying action, were homeowners who brought a breach of contract action against a home builder and general contractor, for construction defects in their home.  The work on the plaintiffs’ home was completed in July of 2004, however they did not commence their underlying cause of action until September of 2016.  In Pennsylvania, the Statute of Repose, 42 Pa.C.S. § 5536, requires construction defect actions to be brought within twelve (12) years after the completion of construction.  In addition to the plaintiffs’ dilatory commencement of the underlying breach of contract action, they also named the incorrect defendants in the complaint.  Accordingly, defendants in the underlying action filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings, and the trial court dismissed the plaintiffs’ complaint with prejudice citing the plaintiffs’ mis-identification of the proper defendants as well as the fact that the cause of action was time-barred by the Statute of Repose.
Following the trial court’s order dismissing the complaint, the plaintiffs (now appellants) argued that, after learning that they named the incorrect defendants in their initial action, the plaintiffs filed a separate action naming the correct defendants responsible for the work on their home.  However, because the trial court did not specify its precise basis for dismissing their original compliant, appellants sought the Superior Court’s ruling on the Statute of Repose issue because they wanted guidance regarding whether their second action against the proper defendants would be similarly time-barred.
The Superior Court explained that appellants were essentially requesting an advisory opinion from the Superior Court regarding the Statute of Repose issue.  While affirming the trial court’s uncontested decision to dismiss the action involving the improperly-named defendants, the Superior Court declined to address the trial court’s alternative basis for dismissing the original complaint for violation of the Statute of Repose.  The Superior Court went on to explain that it is impermissible for courts to render “purely advisory opinions,” and therefore simply affirmed the trial court’s ruling granting the defendants’ motion for judgment on the pleadings in the underlying action.  The status of the appellant's newly filed claim remains to be seen.  Thank you to Greg Herrold for his contribution to this post.  Please email <a href="">Brian Gibbons</a> with any questions.


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