City's Pre-Suit Claim Filing Ordinance Not Applicable to GC's Contract Claim

This case (Matia Contractors, Inc. v. City of Bellingham, Court of Appeals, Div I) addressed the question of whether a general contractor who is filing a lawsuit against a public entity for breach of contract is required to give notice to the public entity prior to filing its lawsuit.  Matia was the general contractor on the Joe Martin Field project, Bellingham’s municipal baseball stadium.  Bellingham terminated Matia’s contract and Matia sued. 

Bellingham argued that Matia’s lawsuit was barred because Matia did not notify the City before it filed its lawsuit as required by a City ordinance and state statute.  Cities can enact ordinances providing for claim filing requirements but they cannot be more restrictive than the authorizing state statute.  The authorizing state statute, RCW 4.96.010, provides that the pre-lawsuit claim filing requirements apply only to tort claims (i.e. personal injury, negligence, etc.).  Therefore, because Matia’s claim was for breach of contract, and not tort, it was not required to comply with the pre-lawsuit claim filing requirements of the City and the state statute. 

Although the Division One Court of Appeals’ ruling in this case may seem self apparent, the Division Three Court of Appeals reached the opposite result in a case decided in 2004. 

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