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People Ex Rel. Skinner v. Hellmuth





Appeal from the Appellate Court for the Second District; heard in that court on appeal from the Circuit Court of Lake County, the Hon. John L. Hughes, Judge, presiding.


Rehearing denied December 1, 1986.

Plaintiff, as chairman of the Capital Development Board (CDB), filed this action in the circuit court of Lake County against various defendants, alleging breach of an express contract, breach of an implied warranty of habitability, and negligence arising out of the allegedly faulty construction of a building at the College of Lake County (the college). Defendant Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum, Inc. (Hellmuth), is an architectural and engineering firm which designed and supervised construction of the building in question. Defendant Miller-Davis Company (Miller) was the general contractor on the project while defendant Thorleif Larsen & Son, Inc. (Larsen), was the masonry subcontractor. Defendant United States Fidelity & Guaranty Company (USF&G) was Miller's construction surety. Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint as barred by the applicable statute of limitations. The trial court granted defendants' motion. The appellate court reversed, holding the statute in question, section 13-214(a) of the Code of Civil Procedure (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 110, par. 13-214(a)), invalid as constituting special legislation. (135 Ill. App.3d 765.) Because a statute was ruled unconstitutional for the first time in the appellate court, we granted defendants' petitions for appeal as a matter of right. See Ill. Const. 1970, art. VI, sec. 4(c); 87 Ill.2d R. 317.

Defendants raise two issues for review: (1) Is section 13-214(a) constitutional, and (2) if section 13-214(a) is constitutional, does its limitations period apply to construction sureties?

The building in question was designed by defendant Hellmuth pursuant to an agreement, executed in 1968, with the college's board of trustees. The agreement also obligated Hellmuth to supervise the building's construction. The CDB succeeded to the rights of the college's board of trustees under the agreement by virtue of section 10.04 of the Capital Development Board Act of 1972, which entrusts the CDB with the responsibility to "construct and repair, or contract for and supervise the construction and repair of, buildings under the control of or for the use of any State agency." (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1973, ch. 127, par. 780.04.) Count I of plaintiff's complaint alleges that Hellmuth failed to meet its contractual obligations regarding the design of the building and supervision of construction, while count II alleges that Hellmuth was negligent in design and supervision.

Defendant Miller was the general contractor, pursuant to a construction contract entered into in May of 1972 between Miller and the Illinois Building Authority. The building authority assigned the contract to the CDB in September of 1972. Count III of the complaint alleges that Miller breached this contract by failing to conform to the contractual specifications. Count IV alleges that Miller negligently constructed the building.

Defendant Larsen was the masonry subcontractor on the project, pursuant to a contract with Miller. Count V of the complaint alleges that the CDB was an intended third-party beneficiary of the contract between Larsen and Miller, and that Larsen breached this contract by improperly constructing the masonry. Count VI alleges that plaintiff was damaged by the negligent construction of the masonry.

Defendant USF&G, in May 1972, issued a bond guaranteeing Miller's performance under Miller's contract with the Illinois Building Authority (as noted above, this contract was assigned to the CDB). Count VII of the complaint alleges that, due to Miller's breach, USF&G is obligated to CDB under the performance bond.

Finally, counts VIII and IX allege that Hellmuth and Miller, respectively, breached an implied warranty of habitability with regard to the building in question.

The record reveals that a certificate of substantial completion for the project was issued on July 25, 1974. By July of 1975 the college began having problems with water leaking into the building. On July 11, 1975 the college's director of buildings and grounds wrote to Miller complaining of damage caused by the leaks. Several more complaints ensued. On February 11, 1977, the college's director of campus development wrote to Hellmuth specifically asking that Hellmuth assist the college in determining which of the defendants was at fault so that the college could be reimbursed for its damages. On March 23, 1977, the college's dean of business services wrote to Miller detailing the college's belief that the damage was the result of faulty construction. Based upon these letters the trial court found that the plaintiff "knew of its injury by March 1977, at the latest," and also found that the plaintiff knew at that time that its damages were wrongfully caused. Because plaintiff did not file suit until 1983 the trial court ruled that plaintiff's claims were barred by section 13-214(a).

Plaintiff does not challenge the trial court's finding as to the date the injuries were discovered. Plaintiff instead argues that the limitations in section 13-214(a) violate the special legislation provision of article IV, section 13, of the Illinois Constitution (Ill. Const. 1970, art. IV, sec. 13).

In general the standards used to evaluate special legislation under the Illinois Constitution are the same standards applicable to equal protection claims. (Jenkins v. Wu (1984), 102 Ill.2d 468, 477-78; Illinois Housing Development Authority v. Van Meter (1980), 82 Ill.2d 116, 124.) Under this analysis legislative classification is permissible so long as there is a reasonable basis for the classification. (People ex rel. DiFanis v. Barr (1980), 83 Ill.2d 191, 204; Anderson v. Wagner (1979), 79 Ill.2d 295, 315.) As this court stated in Delaney v. Badame (1971), 49 Ill.2d 168, 171, the rule is "that there is always a presumption that the General Assembly acted conscientiously, that the court will not interfere with ...

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