NW AR Conservation Authority v. Crossland Heavy Contractors, No. 21-2498 (8th Cir. 2022)Annotate this Case
The Northwest Arkansas Conservation Authority is a public corporation created to handle wastewater treatment for municipalities in northwest Arkansas. After a series of pipeline failures, the Authority sued the pipeline contractor and its surety, alleging deficient construction. The Authority sued outside the time periods specified in the relevant statutes of limitations and repose, but asserted that the time did not run against its claims, because the Authority was suing as a public entity seeking to vindicate public rights. The district court concluded that the rights the Authority sought to enforce were merely proprietary and that its claims were therefore time-barred.
The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that the relevant proprietary interests are not transformed into public rights just because the Authority spent public money to repair the pipeline. Every action by a public entity impacts the public fisc to some degree. But if financial implications alone were enough to invoke nullum tempus, then the public-rights exception would swallow the general rule that statutes of limitations and repose run against municipal entities. Here, the damages sought would replenish the public entity’s coffers, but the relief would not vindicate a distinct public right. The Authority therefore cannot invoke nullum tempus to avoid the statutes of limitations or repose.
Court Description: [Colloton, Author, with Melloy and Gruender, Circuit Judges] Civil case. The water authority brought this action for breach of contract, negligence, breach of express and implied warranties and products liability after experiencing failures in the sewer pipes defendant Crossland installed; defendants moved to dismiss on statute of limitations grounds, and the authority argued the doctrine of nullum tempus should be applied to avoid the statutes of limitations; the district court did not err in determining that the rights the Authority seeks to enforce are private, rather than public rights, and the Authority could not invoke the doctrine of nullum tempus to avoid the statutes of limitations or repose.