Wayne Tp. Bd. of Ed. v. Strand Century, Inc.

Decision Date21 February 1980
Citation411 A.2d 1161,172 N.J.Super. 296
PartiesWAYNE TOWNSHIP BOARD OF EDUCATION, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. STRAND CENTURY, INC., et al., Defendants, and Walter Kidde & Co., Inc., Defendant-Respondent. STRAND CENTURY, INC., Defendant and Third-Party Plaintiff, v. STANDARD TIME CO., INC., et al., Third-Party Defendants.
CourtNew Jersey Superior Court — Appellate Division

Mark L. Antin, East Orange, for plaintiff-appellant (Gennet & Kallmann, attorneys; Samuel A. Gennet, East Orange, of counsel).

There was no brief submitted on behalf of defendant-respondent, Walter Kidde & Co., Inc.

Before Judges CRANE, MILMED and KING.

The opinion of the court was delivered by

KING, J. A. D.

On December 16, 1975 a fire occurred in the auditorium of Wayne Hills High School, a facility operated by plaintiff-appellant Board of Education of Wayne Township. Property damage in the alleged amount of $985,230.46 resulted. This suit was filed on May 23, 1978 seeking damages against various parties who allegedly contributed to the loss by their negligence or defective workmanship during the design, manufacture or construction stages relevant to the installation of the dimmer panel for the auditorium stage completed in 1966.

This appeal is taken from a summary judgment in favor of Walter J. Kidde & Co., Inc. (Kidde), defendant-respondent. The claim of liability against Kidde was premised on its alleged ownership and control of a subsidiary, Century Lighting, Inc. (Century), which allegedly participated in the design and manufacture of the dimmer panel and its electrical components. Plaintiff's purported expert, electrical engineer R. W. Persons, had submitted reports implicating both the design of the dimmer panel and the method of manufacture as causative of the fire.

For the purpose of the summary judgment only, Kidde stipulated that it "designed, manufactured and sold the dimmer panel" involved in the fire. The trial judge concluded that the dimmer panel, a unit approximately 2' X 7' X 13', weighing between 6,000 and 8,000 pounds and wired to operate the diverse stage systems and the projection room of the new auditorium, was an "improvement to real estate" within the applicable statute of repose, N.J.S.A. 2A:14-1.1. 1 The trial judge was correct in this ruling. The dimmer panel was an integral part of the permanent electrical system of the auditorium and was "required for the structure to actually function as intended." Brown v. Jersey Central Power & Light Co., 163 N.J.Super. 179, 195, 394 A.2d 397, 405 (App.Div.1978), certif. den. 79 N.J. 489, 401 A.2d 244 (1979).

Alternately, plaintiff contends that Kidde was a manufacturer only and did not participate in the design stage. N.J.S.A. 2A:14-1.1 affords the ten-year time-bar from date of completion of performance or furnishing of services to any persons "performing or furnishing the design, planning, supervision of construction or construction of such improvement to real property." The history and purpose of N.J.S.A. 2A:14-1.1 was explored carefully by Justice Mountain in Rosenberg v. North Bergen Tp., 61 N.J. 190, 293 A.2d 662 (1972), a case in which the statute was held applicable to a road-paving contractor. The statute was clearly a legislative response to the judicial adoption of the so-called "discovery" rule and abrogation of the so-called "completed and accepted" rule to tort claims arising from construction of improvements to real estate. Id. at 196-197, 293 A.2d 662. With respect to the scope of the statutorily protected class the Supreme Court commented:

Viewed in this context the statute should be given a broader sweep than was accorded to it by the Appellate Division. If the condition to which the Legislature addressed itself was this extension of potential liability, then there seems no reason not to include within the favor of the statute all to whom this condition may adhere whether they be planners and builders of structures, roads, playing fields or aught else that by broad definition can be deemed "an improvement to real property." We prefer to read the statute, consonant with what we thus judge to have been the legislative intent, as applying to all who can, by a sensible reading of the words of the act, be brought within its ambit. We therefore conclude that the statute does apply to the facts of this case. (Id. at 198, 293 A.2d at 666)

For convenience we have referred to the beneficiaries of this legislation as architects and building contractors. But the favored class is much larger. It includes "any person performing or furnishing the design, planning, supervision of construction or construction of such improvement to real property." We do not attempt at this time to enumerate all of the classes of persons coming within this statutory group. These might include, as examples only, the designer of a sewage plant for a development complex, a landscape gardener or a well driller. We can find here no such exclusion from the class as to justify a determination that this is a special law coming within the prohibition of our state Constitution. (Id. at 201, 293 A.2d at 668)

See, also, O'Connor v. Altus, 67 N.J. 106, 121, 335 A.2d 545 (1975).

In the present complaint plaintiff alleged that Kidde "engaged in the business of designing, manufacturing and selling stage lighting and dimmer panels" and that Kidde "designed, manufactured and sold to plaintiff" the stage lighting and dimmer panel which caused the fire. On the successful motion to dismiss because of the time-bar by the other defendants, which constituted the record for the appeal before us, the judge considered an affidavit filed by Century Lighting, Inc., respondent's alleged subsidiary and the conduit for its liability, which states that the "dimmer panel was designed, planned and constructed by Century Lighting, Inc., according to specifications by Barnickel Engineering Corp. (the electrical engineer engaged by plaintiff's architect) and modifications by Knight Electric Co., Inc. (the prime electrical contractor)." An affidavit filed by Barnickel's principal alleged that the electrical engineer designed the electrical system for the auditorium, including the dimmer panel component pursuant to assignment from Flatt and Pool, architects.

The problem as we perceive it is the ambiguity lurking in the word "design" in this context. Clearly, the language and history of N.J.S.A. 2A:14-1.1 manifests a legislative intent to extend the ten-year time-bar to those engaged in the design, planning and construction of improvements to real estate only. The statute was not intended to benefit manufacturers and sellers of products who were uninvolved in the design, planning and construction of improvements to real estate. Product-design alone is not enough to trigger the applicability of N.J.S.A. 2A:14-1.1. See Ramirez v. Amsted Industries, 171 N.J.Super. 261, 277 n. 2, 408 A.2d 818 (App.Div....

To continue reading

Request your trial
17 cases
  • Blaske v. Smith & Entzeroth, Inc., Nos. 73588
    • United States
    • Missouri Supreme Court
    • 17 décembre 1991
    ...used in the ceilings of schools, the New Jersey court relied upon quotations from Wayne Township Board of Education v. Strand Century, Inc., 172 N.J.Super. 296, 302, 411 A.2d 1161, 1164 (1980), where it was pointed out that "the statute 'was not intended to benefit manufacturers and sellers......
  • Ball v. Harnischfeger Corp., 81292
    • United States
    • Oklahoma Supreme Court
    • 14 juin 1994
    ...manufacturer was protected. The New Jersey Superior Court has further refined this idea. In Wayne Township Board of Educ. v. Strand Century, Inc., 172 N.J.Super. 296, 411 A.2d 1161, 1164 (1980), the court was faced with the question of whether the manufacturer of a dimmer panel in an audito......
  • Cinnaminson Tp. Bd. of Educ. v. US Gypsum Co.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of New Jersey
    • 16 décembre 1982
    ...and accepted" rule to tort claims arising from construction of improvements to real estate. Wayne Twp. Bd. of Educ. v. Strand Century, Inc., 172 N.J.Super. 296, 300-01, 411 A.2d 1161 (App.Div.1980), citing Rosenberg v. North Bergen Twp., 61 N.J. 190, 196-97, 293 A.2d 662 In Wayne Twp., the ......
  • Hall v. Luby Corp.
    • United States
    • New Jersey Superior Court
    • 31 janvier 1989
    ...never intended to apply to the manufacturer of "stock" items, such as an elevator, relying upon Wayne Tp. Bd. of Ed. v. Strand Century, Inc., 172 N.J.Super. 296, 411 A.2d 1161 (App.Div.1980), in which the court stated: Clearly, the language and history of N.J.S.A. 2A:14-1.1 manifests a legi......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT