The first words of the California Court of Appeals written opinion in Ball v. Steadfast-BLK are: “What’s in a name?”  That’s because the case involves a challenge to a mechanics lien, arguing that a California mechanics lien is invalid and unenforceable because it was filed by David E. Ball dab “Clark Air Conditioning & Heating,” when the actual dba name registered by Mr. Ball with the Contractors State License Board (CSLB) is “Clark Heating and Air Conditioning.”

Let me break it out for you, because the name is so close it tricks your mind.

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Lien filed as:  Clark Air Conditioning & Heating
Official Name:  Clark Heating and Air Conditioning

This may seem like a trivial difference, but the California trial court actually invalidated the mechanics lien filed with the wrong dba listed.  Luckily for the plaintiff Mr. Ball, the appeals court reversed.  However, its reasons for reversal is not comforting to lien claimants.

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The appeals court determined the lien was valid because the lien claimant himself was Mr. Ball, and the “dba” is simply a trade name. While Mr. Ball may be subject to disciplinary action with the CSLB for acting as a contractor with an unregistered trade name, his lien was given the green light because it was ultimately filed by Mr. Ball (the lien claimant), and that name was accurately indicated on the mechanics lien.

It’s an interesting thought experiment to consider what the court would have done if Mr. Ball was not a sole proprietor with a dba name, but was instead an LLC.  And had filed the lien as Clark Air Conditioning & Heating LLC, when it was really Clark Heating and Air Conditioning, LLC.  The defendants arguments would have been tougher to sidestep under these circumstances.

Fortunately for Mr. Ball, he need not concern himself with that hypothetical.  But for lien claimants everywhere, it’s important to be very careful when preparing a mechanic’s lien.  Even those errors that seem trivial can have unintended consequences, and can leave you without a lien claim.

Thanks to an article published on JDSupra by Wendel, Rosen, Black & Dean, LLP for the heads up on this case.