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SJC interprets ability of a subcontractor to enforce its mechanic’s lien

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The SJC recently issued a decision liberally interpreting the ability of a subcontractor to enforce its mechanic’s lien.

In NES Rentals v. Maine Drilling & Blasting, Inc., et al., SJC-11266, July 15, 2013, the SJC considered whether a subcontractor’s amendment of its original complaint to enforce a mechanic’s lien constituted timely commencement of its action to enforce a bond pursuant to G.L. c. 254, §14. A subcontractor filed an action to enforce a mechanic’s lien for money owed under a contract for rental equipment. More than a year after the original complaint was filed, but within ninety (90) days of receiving notice of a surety bond to dissolve the mechanic’s lien described in its complaint (which named the subcontractor as obligee, the general contractor as principal debtor, and a third party as surety), the subcontractor served a motion to amend its complaint. The subcontractor, however, did not file its amended complaint within ninety (90) days of receipt of notice of the bond. The subcontractor sought to include the general contractor and third-party surety as defendants in the complaint and to add a claim to enforce the bond against them.

The SJC affirmed the Superior Court’s denial of the defendant’s motion to dismiss, but on different grounds, concluding that the requirement in G.L. c. 254, §14 for the subcontractor to commence an enforcement action “within ninety (90) days after the later of the filing of the statement required by [§] 8 or receipt of notice of recording of the bond” was satisfied because the amended complaint related back to the date on which the subcontractor filed its original complaint. The SJC noted that the purpose of mechanic’s liens is to provide security to contractors, subcontractors, laborers, and suppliers for the value of their goods and services. The SJC held that the ordinary relation back provisions of Massachusetts Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 15(c) apply to G.L. c. 254, §14 bond enforcement actions and that a claimant may amend a complaint to add a claim to enforce a lien dissolution bond against the bond holder after the ninety (90) day period set forth in §14.

This case demonstrates that Massachusetts courts are willing to apply the mechanic’s lien law rather broadly in favor of contractors, subcontractors, and other parties that the mechanic’s lien statute is intended to protect.

This advisory was prepared by Beth H. Mitchell and Jessica M. Alfano of the Commercial Finance practice group at Nutter McClennen & Fish LLP. For more information, please contact Beth or your Nutter attorney at 617.439.2000.

This update is for information purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any specific facts or circumstances. Under the rules of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, this material may be considered as advertising.

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