LW Wolfe Enterprises, Inc. v. Maryland National Golf, LP

Decision Date03 November 2005
Docket NumberNo. 01858,01858
Citation885 A.2d 826,165 Md. App. 339
CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland

885 A.2d 826
165 Md.
App. 339


No. 01858, September Term, 2004.

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland.

November 3, 2005.

885 A.2d 827
Jeffrey S. Rosenfeld (Adam C. Harrison, on brief), Towson, for appellant

Scott D. Miller, on brief, Frederick, for appellee.

Panel HOLLANDER, SHARER, PAUL E. ALPERT (Retired, Specially Assigned) JJ.


This is an appeal from a judgment of the Circuit Court for Frederick County (Adams, J.) denying a petition for mechanic's lien for work performed on a cart path of a golf course.

In 2000, appellee Maryland National Golf, L.P. sought to begin development of what would become the Maryland National Golf Club. It signed a contract with Furness Golf for the construction of the course itself, and other contracts for other aspects of the club's construction, such as the buildings thereon. Included in the Furness contract was the construction of an asphalt path along the course for use by golf carts. Furness subcontracted the construction of that path to Craig Sealing. Craig began work, but was dismissed shortly before the club's grand opening in June 2002. Some time after the club opened, excessive wear on the path was noticed by club personnel. An engineering survey was done by Triad Engineering, which found that although drainage issues caused part of the wear problem, the majority of the problem was due to that fact that most of the path was not built to specification. To remedy that fault, in April 2003, Furness contracted with Appellant L.W. Wolfe Enterprises, Inc. ("Wolfe") to re-lay the path. Wolfe began the work in April, and was finished with the majority of it by July 2003. When it did not receive what it regarded as due and timely payment, Appellant filed notice of intent to seek a mechanic's lien against the entire golf course.

885 A.2d 828
In November 2003, Appellant Wolfe, a contractor, filed a complaint against Furness Golf and Maryland National Golf, L.P., relating to work Wolfe had performed on the Maryland National Golf Club. On January 21, 2004, after a show cause hearing, Appellant was granted an order establishing an interlocutory lien against Maryland National Golf's property. Furness failed to respond and both Wolfe and Maryland National were granted default judgments against Furness

On September 1-2, 2004, the remaining parties tried Appellant's remaining claim seeking a mechanic's lien against Maryland National's real property. After a two-day bench trial, the court ruled that Appellant was not entitled to a mechanic's lien on Maryland National's real property and terminated the interlocutory order to that effect. Appellant timely filed notice of this appeal.

Questions Presented

I. Did the trial court err in determining that the work done on the Maryland National Golf Club cart path by Wolfe was repair, rebuilding, or improvement rather than new construction for purposes of § 9-102(a) of the Maryland Mechanics' Lien Law?

II. Did the trial court err in determining that the "... 15 percent of its value..." requirement in § 9-102(a) should be determined with reference to the entire golf course, not just the value of the cart path?

We answer in the negative and affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Standard of Review

Because the trial below was a non-jury trial, our standard of review is governed by Maryland Rule 8-131. Boyd v. State, 22 Md.App. 539, 323 A.2d 684, cert. denied, 272 Md. 738 (1974). That rule provides that this Court "will not set aside the judgment of the trial court on the evidence unless clearly erroneous, and will give due regard to the opportunity of the trial court to judge the credibility of the witnesses." Md. Rule 8-131(c). "If there is any competent and material evidence to support the factual findings of the trial court, those findings cannot be held to be clearly erroneous." Yivo Institute For Jewish Research v. Zaleski, 386 Md. 654, 663, 874 A.2d 411 (2005).

Moreover, "[u]nder the clearly erroneous standard, this Court does not sit as a second trial court, reviewing all the facts to determine whether an appellant has proven his case." Lemley v. Lemley, 109 Md.App. 620, 628, 675 A.2d 596 (1996). Our task is limited to deciding whether the circuit court's factual findings were supported by substantial evidence in the record: "The appellate court must consider evidence produced at the trial in a light most favorable to the prevailing party and if substantial evidence was presented to support the trial court's determination, it is not clearly erroneous and cannot be disturbed." GMC v. Schmitz, 362 Md. 229, 234, 764 A.2d 838 (2001) (quoting Ryan v. Thurston, 276 Md. 390, 392, 347 A.2d 834 (1975)).

Although the factual determinations of the circuit court are afforded significant deference on review, its legal determinations are not. "`[T]he clearly erroneous standard for appellate review in [Maryland Rule 8-131] section (c) ... does not apply to a trial court's determinations of legal questions or conclusions of law based on findings of fact.'" Ins. Co. of N. Am. v. Miller, 362 Md. 361, 372, 765 A.2d 587 (2001) (quoting Heat & Power Corp. v. Air Prods. & Chem. Inc., 320 Md. 584, 591, 578 A.2d 1202 (1990)). Instead, "... where the order involves

885 A.2d 829
an interpretation and application of Maryland statutory and case law, our Court must determine whether the lower court's conclusions are `legally correct' under a de novo standard of review." Walter v. Gunter, 367 Md. 386, 392, 788 A.2d 609 (2002)

Appellant contends that the question of repair versus new construction was in fact a conclusion of law based on findings of fact, not simply a question of fact. Therefore, Appellant argues that it should be reviewed under a stricter de novo standard for legal correctness, rather than using the "clearly erroneous" standard applied to findings of fact. We do not agree. Appellant cites Helinski v. Harford Memorial Hospital, Inc. 376 Md. 606, 831 A.2d 40 (2003), to support this claim. A reading of the text of Helinski, however, indicates that the Court there was making an independent determination of a disputed matter of law previously decided by the lower court: at what point in the process of serving a lien does that lien sever the unity necessary for a joint tenancy. The lower court had found that it occurred when the notice of lien was given to the sheriff for service on the property; the Court of Appeals determined after its de novo review that the law dictated that the severance occurred when the sheriff served the notice.

Having reached a different conclusion of law, the Court of Appeals then applied to that result the same factual determination from the lower court of when the various steps in the lien process were carried out. Thus, its resolution of the disputed point of law determined which facts were dispositive. Here, the lower court made no such determination of law. To use the language from Helinski quoted by Appellant, there were no "determinations of legal questions or conclusions of law based on findings of fact." Id. at 614, 831 A.2d 40. Here, there was simply a finding of fact. The lower court's determination of whether Wolfe's work was repair or new construction was purely based on the facts presented to it.

Neither the transcript of the September 24 proceedings in which the judge made her determination, nor the subsequent written order, contain any reference to determining any points of law regarding repair vs. new construction. On the contrary, at the hearing, Judge Adams referred exclusively to the contents of exhibits and testimony when discussing her finding that the work was repair, in contrast to her discussion of whether paving work was lienable, in which she did discuss precedent. The lower court therefore applied the law in this matter—it did not interpret it. As such, the "clearly erroneous" standard is indeed the correct one and we will use it here. The second question—what to measure the value of repairs against—is, on the other hand, clearly one of legal interpretation, and we will therefore...

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