Bellemare v. Gateway Builders, Inc – Case Brief Summary (North Dakota)

In Bellemare v. Gateway Builders, Inc., 420 N.W.2d 733 (N.D. 1988), the Court concluded the statute of repose under N.D.C.C. § 28-01-44, limiting personal injury actions arising out of deficient improvements to real property, did not violate N.D. Const. art. I, § 21.

In reaching that conclusion, this Court recognized a crucial distinction between the classification of potential defendants protected under N.D.C.C. § 28-01-44, who are involved in the planning, design, and construction of improvements to real property, and the classification of potential defendants protected under N.D.C.C. § 28-01.3-08, who are the manufacturers and suppliers of products:

Bellemare also contends that § 28-01-44, N.D.C.C., unconstitutionally classifies potential defendants by extending protection to persons who furnish the design, planning, supervision or construction of an improvement and failing to extend protection to owners or material suppliers. . . . Differences exist between the different classes of potential defendants:

. . . "Architects, contractors, engineers, and inspectors . . . in most cases do not have continuing control over or involvement with the maintenance of the improvement after its initial construction.

. . . "Materialmen are in a position distinct from the architect, contractor, engineer, or inspector in that the materialman provides manufactured goods and should be held accountable under the general tort rules governing liability for defects in those products. . . .

"'Suppliers and manufacturers, who typically supply and produce components in large quantities, make standard goods and develop standard processes. They can thus maintain high quality control standards in the controlled environment of the factory. On the other hand, the architect or contractor can pre-test and standardize construction designs and plans only in a limited fashion.'"

(Bellemare, 420 N.W.2d at 738.)