The Illinois Supreme Court recently issued a decision in Gillespie Community Unit School District No. 7 v. Wight & Company that upholds the dismissal of the District’s claim of fraudulent misrepresentation against its architect because the lawsuit was filed too late. Limits on how many years a plaintiff has to file a lawsuit, which are known as statutes of limitations, vary based on the type of claim a plaintiff advances. In its decision, the Court addresses whether any statute of limitations applies to claims of fraudulent misrepresentation against an architect. The Court concluded that a five-year statute of limitations applies. The Court went on, however, to specifically state that it was not ruling on whether parties may change the time when the statute of limitations would normally begin to run through the provisions of their contract.

In preparation for building a new elementary school, the District and the architect entered into an owner-architect contract under which the architect agreed to perform a “site mine investigation,” among other architectural services. At the conclusion of the site mine investigation, the architect sent an assessment letter to the District. In that letter, the architect omitted vital information that revealed a high level risk of subsidence. Relying on the recommendations, the District went forward with construction of the school building. Seven years later, however, the mine subsided beneath the school building causing severe damage that resulted in the Illinois State Board of Education condemning the building.

The District filed suit against the architect for professional negligence, breach of implied warranty, and fraudulent misrepresentation by concealment of material facts. With respect to the fraudulent misrepresentation claim, the trial court granted the architect’s motion for summary judgment based on the five-year statute of limitations in Section 13-205 of the Code of Civil Procedure, which applies to “all civil actions not otherwise provided for.” On appeal, the District argued that no statute of limitations applied to its fraudulent misrepresentation claim because Section 13-214(e) of the Code of Civil Procedure, which deals specifically with construction projects, states that the four-year limitation on construction-based claims does “not apply to causes of action arising out of fraudulent misrepresentations or to fraudulent concealment of causes of action.”

The Supreme Court rejected this argument and held that the five-year statute of limitations located in Section 13-205 was applicable and barred the District’s claim. The Court reasoned that while Section 13-214 plainly excludes fraud-based construction claims, it does so because Section 13-205 governs those claims.

Before concluding, the Court noted that it was specifically not ruling on whether parties to a contract could change the point in time when a statute of limitations begins to run. Normally, a statute of limitations begins to run when a plaintiff “knew or should have known of the defendant’s error.” In this case, however, the parties contractually agreed that the statute of limitations would begin to run at the time of substantial completion of the construction project. Because the Court did not rule on whether this contract provision was acceptable, an open question remains as to whether the statute of limitations began to run when the project was completed or when the District discovered that architect’s actions.

Jamel Greer