In Caron v Cranbrook Educational Community, the Court of Appeals found that a “permanent room partition” (PRP) used in an art classroom was an improvement to real property. Therefore, the plaintiff’s claim was barred by a six-year statute of limitations under Michigan law for injury from improvements to real property.
The defendants were involved in the design of PRPs and an art classroom addition to Cranbrook Educational Community that incorporated the PRPs. Seven years after the addition was completed, the plaintiff employee was injured when a PRP fell on her. Under Michigan law, a person cannot bring an action for injury resulting from an “improvement to real property” against the architect or engineer of that improvement unless the action is brought within six years of the improvement’s completion. The trial court granted summary disposition in favor of the defendants, finding that the PRPs were improvements to real property and therefore the plaintiff’s suit was time-barred.
The Court of Appeals identified four factors relevant to whether the PRPs were improvements to real property: (1) the general nature of the PRPs, (2) whether the PRPs were integral components of the addition, (3) whether the PRPs required expenditure of resources and added value to the addition, and (4) the permanence of the PRPs. While no one factor was dispositive, all weighed in favor of finding that the PRPs were improvements to real property.
The Court noted that the PRPs were part of the original designs for the addition and were placed as part of the construction project. The PRPs were essential to the addition because they served as walls that allowed the area to be used for separate, simultaneous activities. It was uncontested that the PRPs required expenditure of money and labor. The Court of Appeals rejected the plaintiff’s contention that there had been insufficient discovery to indicate whether the PRPs added value to the addition, finding that it was reasonable to infer that the PRPs increased the addition’s capital value. Lastly, the PRPs had sufficient permanence, despite their portability, because their use was longstanding and they were custom designed for the addition. Therefore, the Court of Appeals found that the PRPs were improvements to real property and summary disposition in favor of the defendants was proper, based on the six-year statute of limitations.