Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Genuine disputes, material facts, and Maryland Court’s standard for granting Summary Judgment.

 Flats 8300 Owner, LLC v. The Donohoe Companies, Inc, case no.: 482617V.

    Recently, the Circuit Court for Montgomery County denied a Motion for Summary Judgment because there was a genuine dispute regarding a material fact. The court was required to examine whether the statute of limitations had expired in a breach of contract claim regarding construction litigation.

    In 2013, Stonebridge Associates, Inc. (“Stonebridge”) contracted with The Donohoe Companies, Inc. (“Defendant”) to construct a residential apartment complex. Defendant subcontracted the responsibility for purchasing and installing the heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (“HVAC”) system to a third party. The HVAC was to be serviced by Havtech Solutions and Havtech, LLC. On March 31, 2016, Flats 8300 Owner, LLC (“Plaintiff”) purchased the residential apartment complex.

    On June 24, 2020, Plaintiff filed a Complaint against Defendant and others, alleging the Defendants breached its contract and breached express warranties. On July 1, 2021, Defendant filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, asserting that Plaintiff’s claims accrued on July 31, 2015, when Plaintiff was first put on notice of the defective HVAC system, thus Plaintiff’s claims were barred by the statute of limitations.

    Defendant’s argument was that Stonebridge was made aware of defects of the HVAC system in 2015, which was evidenced by the disapproval of Stonebridge regarding the installation of the HVAC system. In addition, Defendants pointed to its expert who concluded that had Plaintiff investigated the complaints from 2015, Plaintiff would have been made aware of the defective HVAC system.  

    The Circuit Court of Montgomery County was not persuaded by Defendant’s argument. The Court first reaffirmed the long standing holding that a Plaintiff’s claims begin to run when she knew or should have discovered the defect. Further, the Court held that in construction litigation cases, knowledge of a construction defect starts the statute of limitations.

    The Court also held that there was a genuine dispute regarding a material fact because Stonebridge asserted that it was not aware of any specific defect to the HVAC system. The HVAC was considered “defective” because of nitrogen brazing. Stonebridge alleged by affidavit that it had no knowledge of nitrogen blazing, but rather, general complaints regarding the process of the installation of the HVAC system. The Court relied heavily on Stonebridge’s affidavit and found there was a genuine dispute regarding whether Plaintiff had “notice” and if the statute of limitations had run.

    This Opinion is valuable because it should be a guide to practicing attorneys that Summary Judgment will typically only be granted when there is not a genuine dispute of material fact. This case illustrates what evidence Courts in Montgomery County, Maryland will rely upon when granting or denying summary judgment. A future litigator in this jurisdiction should only file a Motion for Summary Judgment when it is clear as day there is no genuine disputes regarding a material fact.

-Brandon James, Associate Attorney

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