IT’S GOOD TO BE KING
The Idaho Tort Claims Act (ITCA) is an important Idaho state statute that many lawyers are familiar with but most non-lawyers have never heard of. Because all claims against cities, including claims for non-payment, are barred unless the city is provided proper notice, persons and entities entering into contracts with cities need to be aware of these notice requirements. This includes construction contractors and material suppliers who enter into contracts with municipalities on public works construction projects.
The ITCA sets forth the terms on which governmental entities within the State of Idaho can be sued for wrongful acts that result in injury to a person, property or reputation. The ITCA is the result of a centuries-old doctrine known as “sovereign immunity.” One of the many reasons that it is good to be the King is that the people ruled by the King cannot sue the King unless he lets them. This doctrine has also been incorporated into the American legal system. However, since the American people have long rejected the idea of having a King, our doctrine has been modified slightly. In the United States, including the state of Idaho, “You can’t sue the government unless the government lets you sue it.”
The ITCA is the State of Idaho’s way of “letting” itself be sued for certain wrongful acts specified within the statute. Because the right to sue the State is determined by statute, there are special limitations and requirements that do not exist when a non-government entity is being sued. This agreement to be sued has been extended to all city and county governmental entities within the State.
The ITCA does not bar claims for breach of contract for non-payment against State governmental entities. However, all claims for damages against a city, including claims for breach of contract, must be filed in accordance with the requirements of the ITCA. One such requirement is that a written notice of claim must be filed with the city within 180 days from the date “the claim arose or reasonably should have been discovered.” Thus, if a construction contractor fails to notify a city of its claim for non-payment within 180 days of the date the city refuses to pay or the date that the contractor should have known that the city refused to pay, whichever comes first, then the construction contractor will lose its right to sue the city to recover the amounts it is owed for this work.
All contractors that do business with city governments must remember not to drag their feet if they believe they have a claim for monetary damages. The King will let you sue him for these amounts, but you’d better be quick about it. If you are uncertain whether your time to file a claim against a city government has expired, immediately contact your construction attorney to help you with this determination.
Richard Stacey is an attorney with the law firm McConnell Wagner Sykes + Stacey PLLC practicing in the areas of complex business litigation and construction law. He is a member of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, and he serves on the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors of the Boise State Alumni Association.