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Rankin v. South Street Downtown Holdings, Inc.

Supreme Court of New Hampshire, Grafton

August 6, 2019

JOHN C. RANKIN & a.
v.
SOUTH STREET DOWNTOWN HOLDINGS, INC. SOUTH STREET DOWNTOWN HOLDINGS, INC.
v.
TRUEXCULLINS AND PARTNERS ARCHITECTS & a.

          Argued: June 4, 2019

          Shaheen & Gordon, P.A., of Dover, for the plaintiffs, John C. Rankin and MaryAnne Rankin, filed no brief.

          Devine, Millimet & Branch, Professional Association, of Manchester (Andrew D. Dunn and Tavish M. Brown on the brief, and Mr. Dunn orally), for the defendant/third-party plaintiff, South Street Downtown Holdings, Inc.

          Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith LLP, of Boston, Massachusetts (Kenneth B. Walton and Elena M. Brander on the brief, and Mr. Walton orally), for third-party defendant TruexCullins and Partners Architects.

          Morrison Mahoney LLP, of Manchester (William A. Staar and Nicholas Meunier on the brief, and Mr. Staar orally), for third-party defendant Wagner Hodgson, Inc.

          HICKS, J.

         This case is before us on an interlocutory transfer without ruling from the Superior Court (MacLeod, J.). See Sup. Ct. R. 9. The trial court transferred the following question:

Does RSA 508:4-b ("the statute of repose") as amended in 1990 apply to and bar third party actions by a property owner defendant (in a premises liability action) for indemnity and/or contribution against architects involved in the design of the improvement to real property which the injured plaintiff alleges was dangerous and did not meet applicable building codes?

         We conclude that it does.

         We accept the facts as presented in the interlocutory transfer statement. See In re C.M., 163 N.H. 768, 770 (2012). We recite additional facts, for background only, as alleged in the complaint brought by John C. Rankin (Rankin) and his wife MaryAnne (collectively, the underlying plaintiffs) and in South Street Downtown Holdings, Inc.'s (South Street) third-party complaint. In March 2015, Rankin fell while leaving a business located at 70 South Main Street in Hanover (the property). The property is owned by South Street. In March 2017, the underlying plaintiffs sued South Street for negligence and loss of consortium, alleging that Rankin fell on an "inadequate and dangerous ramp or partial stair" that "did not meet applicable building codes."

         South Street, in turn, filed a third-party complaint against the third-party defendants, project architect TruexCullins and Partners Architects (TruexCullins) and landscape architect Wagner Hodgson, Inc. (Wagner Hodgson), seeking indemnity and/or contribution. South Street had hired the third-party defendants to serve as design professionals for renovations to the property that took place between 2002 and 2009, and were substantially completed by January 2009. South Street alleged that both third-party defendants were involved in designing the area in which Rankin allegedly fell. On appeal, South Street concedes that its "third-party action[] was brought more than 8 years after the date of substantial completion."

          Wagner Hodgson moved to dismiss on grounds that the claims against it are barred by the statute of repose, RSA 508:4-b (2010). The trial court found that "a substantial basis exists for a difference of opinion as to whether the current version of [RSA 508:4-b] applies to indemnity and/or contribution claims arising out of a deficiency in the creation of an improvement to real property," and transferred the question now before us.

         To answer the transferred question, we must engage in statutory interpretation.

The interpretation of a statute is a question of law, which we review de novo. In matters of statutory interpretation, we are the final arbiters of the legislature's intent as expressed in the words of the statute considered as a whole. In construing its meaning, we first examine the language found in the statute, and when possible, we ascribe the plain and ordinary meanings to the words used. We interpret legislative intent from the statute as written and will not consider what the legislature might have said or add language that the legislature did not see fit to include. We interpret statutory provisions in the context of the overall statutory scheme. Absent an ambiguity, we will not look beyond the language of the statute to discern legislative intent.

Bank of N.Y. Mellon v. Dowgiert, 169 N.H. 200, 204 (2016) (citations omitted).

         The statute at issue, RSA 508:4-b, currently provides, in relevant part:

Except as otherwise provided in this section, all actions to recover damages for injury to property, injury to the person, wrongful death or economic loss arising out of any deficiency in the creation of an improvement to real property, including without limitation the design, labor, materials, engineering, planning, surveying, construction, observation, supervision or inspection of that improvement, shall be ...

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