Last month, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued a decision which clarified a procedural loop hole which has, in some instances, dismissed mechanics’ liens simply because the proper procedure was not followed.
A mechanics’ lien becomes a lien on the property with the filing of a mechanics’ lien claim with the Court in which the property is located. While an encumbrance of the property, the lien can not be collected upon until reduced to a judgment. To enforce the lien, the statue requires that an action shall be “commenced” by filing with the prothonotary a complaint, which sets forth the court and number of the filing of the claim. Therein lies the problem. In a case the Supreme Court recently decided, a demolition company filed mechanics’ liens against the property when it was not paid by the owner. Thereafter, the demolition company’s attorney filed a complaint to enforce the mechanics’ lien under the same docket number as the lien. In response, the property owner sought to have the complaint dismissed because it was not properly filed, alleging that to properly commence an action the complaint should be filed at a new docket number. In other words, filing the complaint at the same docket number as the mechanics’ lien was not a commencement but a continuation.
Both the trial court and the Superior Courts agreed with the property owner and dismissed the complaint, essentially putting the demolition contractor out of court on its mechanics’ lien claim. The Supreme Court determined that the applicable statutes simply do not mandate that such filing of a complaint bear a separate docket number and/or be physically separate when filed and, consequently, there is no express prohibition to the filing of a complaint at the same docket number as the lien claim.
While this decision may be considered to be splitting hairs, it is this fine line that many times makes the difference between having a mechanics’ lien claim and not having one.
For more information on Mechanics’ Lien Procedures contact David Raves at [email protected] or 412.242.4400.