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If you’ve ever looked at Levelset’s state-by-state resource page, you’ll see that each state has deadlines that must be complied with.  One deadline common to every state is the time in which a party must sue to foreclose on a mechanic’s lien.  Connecticut is fairly generous in this regard; a party has up to one year after the perfection of a mechanics lien to enforce it.  But are there any exceptions to this one year deadline?

Mechanics Lien Law in Connecticut

The mechanics lien law pertaining to deadlines for filing suits are fairly straightforward in Connecticut.  So long as the party has also filed notice, the law states that:

A mechanic’s lien shall not continue in force for a longer period than one year after the lien has been perfected, unless the party claiming the lien commences an action to foreclose it

Translation: Either file a lawsuit to foreclose on the lien within one year of filing it or lose the right to do so forever.

In many states, deadlines such as these are the end of the story.  Courts generally don’t like to play fast and loose with clear-cut statutes, so if those deadlines aren’t strictly obeyed, courts will not be lenient due to extenuating circumstances.

Connecticut, however, has a law which extends the deadline if a state marshal is assigned with a task such as providing service of notice to a party:

a cause or right of action shall not be lost because of the passage of the time limited by law within which the action may be brought, if the process to be served is personally delivered to a state marshal, constable or other proper officer within such time and the process is served, as provided by law, within thirty days of the delivery

Translation: If service is due within a certain time period but a state marshal is completing the service as opposed to the party itself, then so long as service is given to the state marshal within the allowed time period and that marshal then serves the proper party within 30 days of receiving the notice, then the service of notice is still valid.

Let’s use a practical example.  In a suit to foreclose on a mechanic’s lien, the unpaid subcontractor must service notice of the lawsuit upon the defendant within one year of recording a mechanic’s lien.  Instead of serving the defendant himself, the subcontractor hires a state marshal to complete the service.  The subcontractor then gives the notice to the marshal 364 days after filing the mechanic’s lien.

Under the law common in most states, the marshal must serve the defendant with notice the very next day.  However, in Connecticut, the marshal has another 30 days to complete service.  Thus, even if notice of the lawsuit gets to the defendant one year after the lien was recorded, the lawsuit is still valid due to the 30- day exception statute described above.

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The Service Law in Action

A recent case heard by a Connecticut Superior Court exemplifies this mechanics lien law extension.

In that case, Frank Lill & Son, Inc. v. O&G Indus., the lien claimant, Frank Lill, claimed that it was owed more than $12 million dollars for work it completed on an energy project.  Lill filed a lien for the exact amount it alleged it was owed on June 20, 2011.  The property owner than “bonded-off” the lien and obtained a bond for more than $18 million.

Lill then hired a state marshal, Anthony LaRosa, to deliver notice to the defendants.  Lill gave LaRosa the complaint to give to the defendants on June 18, 2012.  LaRosa completed service to the surety on June 26, 2012 and to the project owner, O & G, on June 27, 2012.

The twist in this case is that because O & G had bonded-off the lien, the lawsuit was to recover on a payment bond, not on a mechanics lien.  The law surrounding deadlines on payment bonds is similar to the deadline for a mechanics lien enforcement suit:

Whenever a bond has been substituted for any lien, pursuant to this section, unless an action is brought to recover upon the bond within one year from the date of recording the certificate of lien, the bond shall be void

Although it’s widely accepted that the “30 day state marshal extension” applies to enforcement suits on mechanics liens, in Lill, the defendants argued that the extension did not apply to suits to foreclose on bonds.

In a short but well-written opinion, the court disagreed and sided with the plaintiff.  As the court reasoned, the 30-day extension applies to any cause of action, including suits to foreclose on a payment bond, and not just to suits to foreclose on a mechanics lien.  Therefore, since Lill gave LaRosa the complaint within 365 days and LaRosa served the defendants within the 30-day extension that he had under law, the service was valid and the suit could proceed.

A Word of Warning about Lill

As another blog post on the Lill case notes, subcontractors and attorneys alike should be warned about relying on Lill in practice.

First, since Lill was decided by a Superior Court, the lowest court in the state of Connecticut, it’s holding is at best persuasive authority.  Second, the holding only addressed a very narrow area of law – whether the exception statute applied to suits to foreclose on a payment bond.  Third, the opinion did not address another crucial area of law, which is whether the plaintiff properly filed notice of lis pendens.

Moving forward, while it’s good to know that this case does exist, it’s probably best just to comply with the one year notice deadline, or any other deadline provided by law, if such compliance is possible.