The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear a challenge by Jacobs Engineering Group to Minnesota’s attempt to collect millions of dollars from the company to fund payouts made to victims of the 2007 I-35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis.
The case, Jacobs Engineering Group v. Minnesota, was one of more than 150 on the high court's May 29 "order list" that it decided not to hear. As is the court's custom, it did not give a reason for denying the request from Jacobs—or from the plaintiffs in the dozens of other matters it declined to take up.
The bridge was designed in the 1960s by Sverdrup & Parcel & Associates, an engineering firm that Jacobs acquired in 1999. The collapse of the span killed 13 and injured 145.
The American Society of Civil Engineers and the Associated General Contractors filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of Jacobs’ request for a hearing. The briefs note the importance of statutes of limitations and repose in preventing lawsuits against construction industry companies years after projects have been completed.
For Jacobs, the court's decision not to hear the case could lead to a ruling that requires the firm to pay out tens of millions of dollars.
A Jacobs spokesperson declined to comment.
Minnesota, like most states, has statutes of repose and limitation that set time limits on when engineers and construction companies can be sued over property improvements or construction.
When the bridge collapsed in August 2007, all the companies that had worked on it were swept into the legal claims. URS Corp. had inspected the bridge beginning in 2003, and PCI Corp. had performed maintenance on the span, starting in 2007.
Minnesota agreed to pay 179 survivor claims totaling about $40 million, but state lawmakers passed a bill allowing the state to seek reimbursement from third parties deemed to have contributed to the collapse.
The legal entanglements became more complex as individual plaintiffs sued URS and PCI. The district court packaged the claims for pretrial purposes, and URS and PCI sued Jacobs contending that Sverdrup had misdesigned the bridge. The state sued Jacobs to try to collect money that it had paid out to individuals.
According to Jacobs, Minnesota lawmakers violated the company’s constitutional rights when they permitted the state to seek damages from the firm related to the collapse.
Jacobs had lost at all lower-court levels in its attempts to have Minnesota's claims against it thrown out.
In explaining AGC’s brief in favor of Supreme Court review, AGC of Minnesota CEO David C. Semerad wrote that the decision, if allowed to stand, will “cast great doubt” on the statutes of repose that 48 states and the District of Columbia have on the books.
Semerad said that design and construction companies should not have to defend themselves unfairly “long after key documents and witnesses have disappeared.” And, he added, “the insurance industry has no way to price the risk of a retroactive change in a statute of repose.”
Updated May 29