20th-Century Construction Fiasco Turns On 13th-Century Law

Thursday, January 12, 2012

In a case with wide implications for contractors, the construction industry Tuesday asked Connecticut's Supreme Court to block the state from invoking a 13th-century English legal doctrine that the state claims allows it to wait decades or longer before suing for defective work on public works projects.

The dispute over whether the state should be required, as are individuals and businesses, to sue for construction deficiencies within what is generally agreed to be a six-year period grew from one of the more celebrated construction fiascos in recent state history โ€” multimillion-dollar leaks at the University of Connecticut's showcase law library.

Former Attorney General Richard Blumenthal waited until 2008 to sue for the cost of repairs โ€” 12 years after the $24 million, five-story building was complete and the school moved in its books. The state claims it can sue whenever it wants under the ancient English doctrine known as "nullum tempus occurrit regi," which means, literally, that "no time runs against the king."

There is little on which the state and the 25 builders, architects, engineers and suppliers it eventually sued agree โ€” including whether nullum tempus was even adopted by post-colonial Connecticut from the English common law.

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