Hurst v. V & M of Virginia, Inc., 112

CourtCourt of Appeals of Maryland
Citation293 Md. 575,446 A.2d 55
Docket NumberNo. 112,112
PartiesGary Eugene HURST v. V & M OF VIRGINIA, INC. et al.
Decision Date08 June 1982

Page 575

293 Md. 575
446 A.2d 55
Gary Eugene HURST
V & M OF VIRGINIA, INC. et al.
No. 112.
Court of Appeals of Maryland.
June 8, 1982.

[446 A.2d 56]

Page 576

Terrell N. Roberts, III, Langley Park, for appellant.


SMITH, Judge.

The question presented in this case is whether the interest of tenants for years in a basement area in the Bethesda

Page 577

Square Shopping Mall, in which a restaurant and "disco" were constructed, is a "building" within the meaning of Code (1974, 1981 Repl. Vol.) § 9-102(a), Real Property Article. That statute provides in pertinent part, "Every building ... repaired, rebuilt, or improved to the extent of 25 percent of its value is subject to establishment of a lien ... for the payment of all debts, without regard to the amount, contracted for work done for or about the building and for materials furnished for or about the building ...." Relative to tenants, § 9-103(c)(2) provides in relevant part:

"If a building is erected ... or improved to the extent of 25 percent of its value, by a tenant for ... years ..., any lien established in accordance with this subtitle applies only to the extent of the tenant's interest." (Emphasis added.)

Since we conclude that the leasehold interest which was improved is not a building within the purview of either statute, we shall affirm the decision of the Court of Special Appeals in Hurst v. V & M of Virginia, 49 Md.App. 571, 433 A.2d 1231 (1981).

Hurst sought a lien against the space which appellees occupied as tenants for years. He contracted with these tenants in September 1979 to improve that area. He completed the job at a total cost in excess of $160,000. Hurst filed a petition to establish and enforce a mechanics' lien after he was not paid in full. He asserted not that he improved the building, but that he "improved Respondents' Property" in an amount "which is greater than 25 percent of its value."

The trial judge (Cahoon, J.) in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County concluded "that to establish a lien on this property [Hurst would] have ... to establish that the building wherein the work was done was subject to improvement to the extent of 25 percent of the value of the entire building." Therefore, he sustained a demurrer without leave to amend because the petition did not allege

Page 578

such improvement. The appeal to the Court of Special Appeals followed. It affirmed. Judge Moore pointed out for the Court of Special Appeals, "The word 'building' in § 9-102(a) and § 9-103(c)(2) is nowhere qualified by appropriate language so as to include a part of a building, e.g., a store in a shopping mall or one or more floors in an office building." 49 Md.App. at 575, 433 A.2d 1231. The court concluded:

"If the General Assembly intended to include a part of a building in the lien law, the words, 'building or any part thereof,' could have been employed. They were not.

"Nor can we read into § 9-103(c)(2) an interpretation of the word 'building' which is at variance with its plain and common usage in § 9-102(a). Although § 9-103(c)(2) states that, 'any lien established in accordance with this subtitle applies only to the extent of the tenant's interest' (emphasis added), the application of that section is subject to a condition precedent (also found in § 9-102(a)), viz., that a building be repaired, rebuilt or improved to the extent of 25 percent of its value." Id. at 576, 433 A.2d 1231. (emphasis in original).

We then granted the writ of certiorari in order that we might address the important public question here before the Court.

This Court has stated many times the canons of statutory construction applicable to this case. The cardinal rule of statutory construction is to ascertain and carry out the real legislative intent. In determining that intent, the Court considers the language of an enactment in its natural and ordinary signification. A corollary to this rule is that if no ambiguity or obscurity appears in the language of a statute, there [446 A.2d 57] usually is no need to look elsewhere to ascertain the General Assembly's intent. A court may not insert or omit words to make a statute express an intention not evidenced in its original form. Absent a clear indication to the contrary and if reasonably possible, a statute is to be read so that no word, clause, sentence, or phrase is rendered surplusage, superfluous, meaningless, or nugatory. See Police Comm'r v.

Page 579

Dowling, 281 Md. 412, 418-19, 379 A.2d 1007 (1977), and cases there cited. See also Balto. Bldg. & Constr. Trades v. Barnes, 290 Md. 9, 15, 427 A.2d 979 (1981); Dep't of St. Planning v. Hagerstown, 288 Md. 9, 14-15, 415 A.2d 296 (1980); and Equitable Tr. Co. v. State Comm'n, 287 Md. 80, 86, 88, 411 A.2d 86 (1980).

Hurst, of course, mightily disputes the interpretations placed upon the statute by the Court of Special Appeals and the trial court. He argues that the mechanics' lien law "is remedial and under the decisions of this Court is to be construed in the most liberal and comprehensive manner in favor of mechanics and materialmen"; that we should strive in our interpretation of the statute "to reach a construction ... which will carry out the purpose of the statute" since the purpose of the act, as the Court expressed in Riley v. Abrams, 287 Md. 348, 357, 412 A.2d 996 (1980), is "to protect those who furnish labor and materials in construction"; that the word " 'building' is capable of being construed broadly so as to refer to a distinct unit in a shopping mall, such as Appellees' restaurant and disco"; and that the General Assembly "could not possibly have meant that 'building' could refer only to an entire shopping mall in determining a mechanic's eligibility for a lien when he furnishes labor or material to a tenant for the construction of his unit in the mall" because "[t]he normal practice is that owners of shopping malls lease empty shells to tenants, who hire electricians, carpenters, plumbers, mechanics and the like to complete their offices, shops, stores, etc."

Hurst regards as significant the fact that Code (1974, 1981 Repl. Vol.) § 11-118(a), Real Property Article, provides relative to condominiums that "[a]ny mechanics' lien or materialmen's lien arising as a result of repairs to or improvements of a unit by a unit owner shall be a lien only against the unit." This is precisely the language used when the condominium statute was revised by Ch. 641 of the Acts of 1974, the quoted language then being § 11-115(A). Hurst apparently has overlooked the committee note to the former § 11-115, which note points out that § 11-106(a) already provided, "Each unit in a condominium has all of the

Page 580

incidents of real property." For that reason, "the Committee concluded that the substantive and procedural requirements of Title 9 of the Real Property Article are generally sufficient to cover the matter of mechanics' liens and, therefore, unnecessary and ambiguous verbiage has been eliminated from the [former] section [11-124]." Code (1974) § 11-124(a), Real Property Article, provided, among other things, "The lien of mechanics and materialmen as now provided by law shall apply to property constituted into the horizontal property regime provided that repair or improvement liens of a single condominium unit shall subject only such unit to a lien." Thus, Hurst's argument based on § 11-118(a) is without merit.

The statute does specifically provide in § 9-112 that it "is remedial and shall be so construed to give effect to its purpose." As a general proposition, the statute's provisions are to be construed in favor of those for whom it was enacted. Caton Ridge v. Bonnett, 245 Md. 268, 272, 225 A.2d 853 (1967). However, this same case is authority for the fact that no lien arises for anything that does not fall within the purview of the statutory provision. We have said that the courts may not extend the scope of the mechanics' lien law, Giles v. First National Realty, 238 Md. 203, 205, 208 A.2d 582 (1965), beyond the obvious designs and plain requirements of the statute, Freeform Pools v. Strawbridge, 228 Md. 297, 301, 179 A.2d 683 (1962).

As indicated by the Court of Special Appeals, the Maryland statute contains no definition of the word "building." Our law appears to be unique since counsel, the Court of Special Appeals, and this Court have been unable to find another statute with language similar to ours relative to improvement to the extent of 25% of a building's value. Thus, it is within the context of the basic principles we have set forth that the term "building" must be [446 A.2d 58] construed. Black's Law Dictionary (5th ed. 1979) defines the term as:

"Structure designed for habitation, shelter, storage, trade, manufacture, religion, business, education, and the like. A structure or edifice

Page 581

inclosing a space within its walls, and usually, but not necessarily, covered with a roof. Netter v. Scholtz, 282 Ky. 493, 138 S.W.2d 951, 953." Id. at 176.

In Netter v. Scholtz, Mayor, 282 Ky. 493, 138 S.W.2d 951 (1940), an ordinance defined an established dealer "as one who occupies as owner or tenant, a regularly established building, store, or warehouse, for the purpose of wholesale merchandising ...." The appellants contended that they were occupants of a building since they leased stalls and occupied space at the Hay Market, which Hay Market the court said "consist[ed] of several acres with concrete floors, driveways, and stalls or booths ... covered by a metal roof supported by steel posts or columns and by steel girders or framework but ... not enclosed by walls nor supplied with heating or refrigerating plants." 282 Ky. at 495, 138 S.W.2d 951. The court concluded that it was "quite manifest that the word building was used in the ... ordinance in its most restricted sense and was not intended to include stalls and open booths." Id. at 496, 138...

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