Lyon v. Dunn

Decision Date08 June 1979
Citation402 A.2d 461
PartiesArvah L. LYON v. Lawrence DUNN.
CourtMaine Supreme Court

Lipman, Parks, Livingston & Lipman, P. A. by John M. Parks (orally), Bruce R. Livingston, Augusta, for plaintiff.

Smith & Stein by Gordon E. Stein (orally), Hallowell, for defendant.

Before McKUSICK, C. J., and POMEROY, WERNICK, ARCHIBALD, GODFREY and NICHOLS, JJ.

POMEROY, Justice.

A Superior Court Justice ruled, erroneously as we shall see, that the plaintiff was entitled to enforce a lien on the property of defendant, and ordered the property sold and the proceeds applied in satisfaction of any unpaid portion of the amount for which the lien is claimed. The defendant seasonably appealed.

We sustain the appeal.

The case was submitted to a Superior Court Justice sitting without a jury, upon stipulated facts.

The stipulation establishes, among other things, that the plaintiff began work on the project on October 19, 1974. The last services were performed on July 30, 1975. For some time prior to October 19, 1974 and until December 6, 1974, defendant Dunn was the sole owner of the premises. On December 6, the premises were conveyed by Dunn to Patrick J. Kimball, Inc. (Kimball). It is agreed that although Dunn, the owner of the property, was aware the work was being done by Lyon and consented thereto, the work was actually performed as a result of an oral contract entered into between the plaintiff and an agent of Patrick J. Kimball, Inc.

Simultaneously with the conveyance by Dunn, on December 6, 1974, of title to the premises to Kimball, Kimball executed and delivered to Dunn a purchase money mortgage covering said premises. Some time after the conveyance of December 6, 1974, Kimball was adjudicated a bankrupt.

On July 9, 1976, the bankruptcy trustee, with leave of the bankruptcy Court, disclaimed any interest in the real estate of the corporation which it had acquired from Dunn. Thereafter on July 28, 1976, Kimball executed and delivered a quit-claim deed to Dunn of all its title in the property acquired from Dunn. Notwithstanding that conveyance, defendant has neither foreclosed nor discharged the outstanding mortgage.

Apparently due to Kimball's financial condition, the debt owed plaintiff for his services went unpaid. An action was therefore filed in the Superior Court, Kennebec County, pursuant to 10 M.R.S.A. § 3255, seeking to enforce plaintiff's lien on the property. Plaintiff concedes, however, that no notice was ever filed pursuant to 10 M.R.S.A. § 3253. Defendant now claims that such a failure precludes plaintiff from asserting a lien on the property.

We agree.

It is well established in this jurisdiction that a mechanic's lien, wholly statutory in origin, arises from the moment the first materials or services are furnished. See Pineland Lumber Co. v. Robinson, Me., 382 A.2d 33, 36 (1978); Withan v. Wing, 108 Me. 364, 373, 81 A. 100, 104 (1911). At that point, however, the lien is merely inchoate in nature, and will not ripen absent further action by the materialman. In those situations where the services are provided pursuant to a contract With the owner of the property, the lien ripens through the commencement of an action as provided by 10 M.R.S.A. § 3255. Where, however, services are furnished not as a result of a contract with the owner, but rather merely with his Consent, the lien will not ripen, "But 'shall be dissolved,' Unless the materialman records his lien-claim statement (as) Provided by 10 M.R.S.A. § 3253 . . . Within the time fixed therein And unless he brings his action to enforce his lien within the time fixed by 10 M.R.S.A. § 3255." (emphasis added.) Pineland Lumber Co. v. Robinson, supra 382 A.2d at 36.

In determining that plaintiff's failure to file any notice pursuant to § 3253 was not fatal to his action, the Superior Court Justice reasoned as follows:

The first issue is whether failure to file a lien certificate preserving the line (sic) Under 10 M.R.S.A. § 3253 is fatal to the Plaintiff's cause of action. Such a certificate must be filed within ninety days of the completion of the work, but is not required if the work is performed pursuant to a contract with the owner. Ninety days after completion of the work, Kimball was the owner of the property. Therefore, a certificate was not required because Kimball had contracted to have the work done. (Emphasis added).

Such reasoning erroneously assumes that "Ownership ", for purposes of § 3253, is determined as of the expiration of the filing period, rather than when the lien first arises.

As noted above, a mechanic's lien has its onset from the moment labor or materials are first provided. The lien, however, can only attach to that interest the contracting party has in the property to which the services relate. 10 M.R.S.A. § 3251. If that party has no interest in the land or its improvements, or has failed to procure the owner's consent, the lien has nothing to attach to and becomes a nullity. See 10 Thompson on Real Property, § 5192 (1957); See also, Society Linnea v. Wilbois, 253 Iowa 953, 113 N.W.2d 603, 603 (1962). It is, therefore, incumbent upon a materialman seeking to establish a lien, to determine the extent of the contracting party's interest in the land.

Faced with the manner in which a lien arises and the extent of the interest to which it attaches, as well as the fact that the lien is an encumbrance on the alienability of such interest, Cf., Pineland Lumber Co. v. Robinson, supra, 382 A.2d at 37, it is only logical to conclude that " Ownership ", within the meaning of § 3253, refers to ownership at The time services are first provided, not at the time notice must be given, a point long after the viability of the lien has been determined.

Our conclusion is supported by the presence of § 3252 in the statutory scheme encompassing mechanics' liens. That section allows a consenting owner to nonetheless disavow any responsibility for the lien by providing the materialman with notice to that effect in advance of the work being done. By the very terms of the statute, "Owner " must relate to ownership at the Time work giving rise to the lien is commenced. Cf., E. Corey Co. v. H. P. Cummings Construction Co., 118 Me. 34, 105 A. 405 (1919). We see no reason, in light of § 3253's specific reference to § 3252, to attribute any other meaning to the same term as it appears in § 3253.

We hold, as have other jurisdictions, See e. g., Staley v. Woodruff, 257 Ala. 571, 60 So.2d 384 (1952), that for the purposes of determining when § 3253 notice must be given, "Ownership " means ownership at the time the services giving rise to the lien are first rendered.

A review of the development of the statutory lien law leads us to conclude that although it is clear the various notice provisions found in the statutes have had as their purpose to provide owners and prospective purchasers with notice of the lien, we have difficulty in seeing how the notice provision completely fulfills its function.

The last sentence of 10 M.R.S.A. § 3253 reads as follows:

This section shall not apply where the labor, materials or services are furnished by a contract with the owner of the property affected.

This sentence was first introduced into the statutory scheme encompassing mechanics' liens by P.L. 1899, c. 84, amending R.S. 1883, c. 91, § 32. The Legislative Record of that session of the Legislature is silent as to the purpose underlying the amendment or the construction to be given its various terms.

Maine's mechanics' lien law finds its roots in the laws of Massachusetts. It first appeared in the Maine statutes in 1821, and required a written contract with the proprietor, which was to be recorded in the local registry of deeds. The lien itself was only valid for six months from the date the last installment fell due.

The public laws of 1837, I. e. P.L. 1837, c. 273, § 1 Et seq., dramatically altered the requirements for the creation and preservation of a mechanic's lien. Unlike the 1821 version, the 1837 statute dropped the specific requirement that the contract be made with the land's proprietor. It added the requirement, however, that the contract be recorded within ten days of the date of the contract. Finally, the period in which the lien continued was reduced from six months to 90 days, and attachment was required within that period.

The fluctuations continued with the revised statutes of 1841 (R.S. 1841, c. 125, § 37). The requirement that the contract be with the owner, or one who had contracted with the owner, was added, reflecting the 1821 provision that the contract be with the proprietor. Dropped, however, was the entire recording section of the 1837 version. The 90-day requirements were left intact.

The revised statutes of 1857 (R.S. 1857, c. 91, § 16) virtually mirrored the 1841 version, with the sole exception being the disappearance of the requirement that attachment be within 90 days of the date payment was due.

The status quo, however, was short lived. The public laws of 1868 (P.L. 1868, c. 207),...

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6 cases
  • Chicago Title Ins. Co. v. SHERRED VILLAGE ASSOC., Civ. No. 76-56 P.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Maine
    • June 14, 1982
    ...as subcontractor before the mortgage was given and timely filed its lien claim and complaint. 10 M.R.S.A. §§ 3251 et seq.; Lyon v. Dunn, 402 A.2d 461, 463 (Me.1979). Prior to any resolution of Hercoform's state court suit, however, the Bank and Chicago Title brought the present action in th......
  • Twin Island Development Corp. v. Winchester
    • United States
    • Maine Supreme Court
    • July 3, 1986
    ...of a sworn lien claim, Pineland Lumber Co. v. Robinson, 382 A.2d 33 (Me.1978), or the timely filing of any lien claim at all, Lyon v. Dunn, 402 A.2d 461 (Me.1979). We do not find any shortcoming in the allegations of Twin Island's complaint of such seriousness as to require us to vacate the......
  • In Re Triple A Sugar Corp.
    • United States
    • U.S. Bankruptcy Court — District of Maine
    • September 11, 1981
    ...MSI had in the tanks and in the land, viz., the leasehold, "from the moment labor or materials were first provided." Lyon v. Dunn, 402 A.2d 461, 463 (Me.1979). We turn next to a determination of the status of these tanks as fixtures. The tanks constitute fixtures if it appears from proven f......
  • Grinnell v. Bedford Falls Associates, LLC
    • United States
    • Maine Superior Court
    • June 1, 2009
    ...Lyon v. Dunn, a materialman was precluded from enforcing a mechanic's lien when he failed to file the statutorily required notice. 402 A.2d 461, 466 (Me. 1979); But Winchester, 512 A.2d at 323 (holding that the 120 day requirement for filing the complaint need not be explicitly pled, but th......
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