On March 5 2009 the Supreme Court of Washington issued a 6-3 decision in WA State Major League Baseball Stadium Public Facilities District v. Huber, Hunt & Nichols-Kiewit Construction, No. 81029-0, in which the court held that the 6-year the statute of limitations for breach of contract did not apply to a construction defect claim concerning the construction of Safeco Field due to the exemption in RCW 4.16.1 for actions brought “for the benefit of the State”.

The case arose after the Mariners discovered that the fire protection coating system to the stadium’s structural steel beams and columns failed, allegedly because the contractor applied a primer layer that was incompatible with the coating layer. The Public Facilities District and the Mariners (who are responsible for the maintenance of the stadium) filed suit more than seven years after the date of substantial completion of the stadium. The court of appeals granted summary judgment in favor of the contractor because the matter was not timely filed. In holding that the statute of limitations did not apply in this case, the Court stated that the State’s sovereign powers had been delegated to the Public Facilities District, the public municipality created to build the baseball stadium. The Court reasoned that the construction of Safeco Field was a manifestation of the State’s sovereign function of providing for public recreation, in much the same manner as the improvement of a city park or public library. The dissent disagreed that the action was for the benefit of the public, noting that the public had to pay a private for-profit entity for a ticket to gain admission to the stadium.

As a consequence of this decision, contractors should not assume that the statute of limitations will apply on projects involving a state-delegated entity, even where the improvement being constructed appears to be substantially or exclusively for private use. In such circumstances a reasonable limitation period for claims should be agreed and set out in the construction contract.