Nullum Tempus Occurrit Regi — No Time Runs Against the King.
Relying on ancient legal doctrine, The Connecticut Supreme Court allowed the state to go ahead with a lawsuit overriding state statutes of limitations and repose in State of Connecticut v. Lombardo Brothers Mason Contractors, Inc., Supreme Court of Connecticut (2012). The lawsuit concerned issues from the 1990 construction of the Connecticut law school library. From its inception the project was beset with water intrusion. After incurring more than $15 million in repairs and a nearly 30 year lapse in time the state sued. The chosen defendants included the construction manager, design firms, contractors, and others as defendants.
The trial court agreed with the defendants that the applicable statutes of limitations and repose had all lapsed. The state argued that it didn’t matter Nullum Tempus Occurrit Regi applied and the case should proceed. The contractors were dumb founded, the contracts themselves cited the statutes of repose as applying. The court agreed and dismissed the case.
On appeal the Connecticut Supreme court really dug into the origins of nullum tempus occurrit regie. English law held that because kings bore the weighty burdens of governing, it was unfair to deprive him the right to pursue claims due to his official’s errors. This gave rise to the sword of nullum tempus occurrit regi. Basically a corollary to the rule of governmental immunity. The Connecticut court held that the American states and the federal government inherited these rights from the English upon gaining their independence and may vindicate public rights and protect the public purse.
Connecticut reached a similar result in 1888 using nullum tempus to sustain a government claim. The policy appears on the rise as more recent decisions from appellate courts around the United States are using this doctrine. Connecticut has declared that the common law in this country includes “the ancient unwritten law of England.” They suggest that only the legislature may waive fundamental government rights, not a contracting officer.
This case discloses yet another risk in government contracting.