Willcox Boiler Co. v. Messier

Decision Date28 November 1941
Docket NumberNo. 32969.,32969.
Citation1 N.W.2d 130,211 Minn. 304
CourtMinnesota Supreme Court

Appeal from District Court, Martin County; Julius E. Haycraft, Judge.

Suit to foreclose lien by Willcox Boiler Company against Emmy M. Messier, doing business as Northwest Greenhouse Manufacturing Company, and others. From a judgment for the defendants, plaintiff appeals.

Reversed with directions.

Harroun, Anderson & Poseley, of Minneapolis, for appellant.

Cox & Kuhlman, of Minneapolis, and Ellis L. Ballou, of Fairmont, for respondents.

STONE, Justice.

Plaintiff claims a lien (denied below) under the statute, 2 Mason's Minn.St. 1927, § 8490, for the value of a boiler furnished by it to defendant Messier as contractor for the defendants McCullough and promptly installed in their greenhouse as auxiliary heat generator. Notwithstanding admission by answer that Messier "installed" the boiler "and base upon said premises," the lien was denied for supposed failure of proof. That was error.

1. Decision below was that "It is not shown how the boiler was installed. It is not shown that it was set in concrete, screwed to the floor, fastened to the wall, connected to pipes or to any other part of the building, or in any manner so that it became a part of the building or constituted an alteration, construction, repair, or improvement."

True, there is no evidence concerning the nature of the base upon which the boiler was placed. But it was a comparatively large boiler, 9 feet long, 6 feet high, and 3½ feet wide. It weighed 6,000 pounds.

The admission by answer that it was "installed" did not require anything by way of testimony to demonstrate that in the legal sense it had become a part of the real estate. This admission made a prima facie case for plaintiff which remains unopposed by evidence. The boiler was used as required after its installation. Judicial knowledge is not so limited that the conclusion is not compelled, by the answer and facts, that the boiler was efficiently connected with a smokestack and also, through necessary fittings, with the steam or hot-water heating system already in and part of the building.

Fact and implication compel our holding that, as matter of law, the boiler was lienable. As part of the heating equipment it was a permanent improvement to the greenhouse. Northwestern Lbr. & W. Co. v. Parker, 125 Minn. 107 145 N.W. 964; Pond & Hasey Co. v. O'Connor, 70 Minn. 266, 73 N.W. 159, 248. There is no explicit proof of the intention of defendants McCullough. But the fact that it was installed at their instance as part of the common heating plant of the greenhouse implies necessarily that it became a part thereof.1 Capehart v. Foster, 61 Minn. 132, 63 N.W. 257, 52 Am.St.Rep. 582.

The lien of mechanic or materialman is not defeated by the fact that the product of his work or the material he has furnished can be detached from the realty without undue injury to what remains. Constructive attachment is sometimes enough. Pond Machine Tool Co. v. Robinson, 38 Minn. 272, 37 N.W. 99; Shepard v. Blossom, 66 Minn. 421, 69 N.W. 221, 61 Am.St.Rep. 431. Easily removable accessories may become fixtures and so lienable. Sandberg v. Burns, 198 Minn. 472, 270 N.W. 575; Lundell v. Ahlman, 53 Minn. 57, 54 N.W. 936. It is of no consequence that after this boiler was furnished its use may have been discontinued because of alterations increasing efficiency of the main and larger boiler. Howes v. Reliance Wire-Works Co., 46 Minn. 44, 48 N.W. 448; Stravs v. Steckbauer, 136 Minn. 69, 161 N.W. 259.

2. All through, the position of the McCulloughs has been "that said boiler and base constitute a trade fixture and are not attached to the realty so as to become a part thereof." Their position ignores the limited application of the trade fixture concept.

On the general law of fixtures an exception has been "ingrafted * * * due to the growing necessities of trade, that certain articles ordinarily fixtures, attached by a tenant for trade purposes, may be removed during the tenancy. Such articles are known as `trade fixtures.'" Northwestern Lbr. & W. Co. v. Parker, 125 Minn. 107, 111, 145 N.W. 964, 965. The reason of this exception goes to the important consideration of intention. It is "based upon the rule that the law implies an agreement that it [the fixture] shall remain personal property from the fact that the lessor contributes nothing thereto and should not be enriched at the expense of his tenant when it was placed upon the real estate of the landlord with his consent." 22 Am.Jur., Fixtures, § 61, quoting from Cameron v. Oakland County G. & O. Co., 277 Mich. 442, 452, 269 N.W. 227, 107 A.L.R. 1142. So, where a...

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