Courts in America look at mechanics lien claims in one of two ways, either:  (i) They create of statute in derogation of law that must be strictly construed; or (ii) They are designed to project subcontractors and suppliers and should be liberally construed to achieve those ends. This liberal v. strict construction dichotomy plays out in courts and legislatures year after year…

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court addressed the construction of mechanics lien claims in the state in Bricklayers of Western Pennsylvania Combined Funds, Inc. v. Scott’s Development Company et al., 41 A.3d 16, 25 (Pa. Super. 2012).  Although the state had previously (for more than 40 years!) strictly construed lien claims, the Supreme Court reversed course and moved the state into the category of those that liberally construe the lien laws.

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[pullquote style=”right” quote=”dark”] The court dismissed as wrong decades of jurisprudence affording mechanics lien claims with strict construction saying these claims “must be ‘liberally construed to effect [its] objects and to promote justice’”[/pullquote] At the start of this year, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court considered this issue head-on in Bricklayers of Western Pennsylvania Combined Funds, Inc. v. Scott’s Development Company et al.  After a lenghly and important discussion about the rights of trustees of employment benefit funds to file a mechanics lien, the court addressed and dismissed as wrong decades of jurisprudence in the state affording mechanics lien claims with strict construction saying these claims “must be ‘liberally construed to effect [its] objects and to promote justice.’”

What does this mean?  Simply put, it will be easier for claimants to file mechanic liens and have them upheld in court, and it will be more difficult for those who are liened to get liens removed by courts and declared invalid.

We saw a similar event in Washington last fall in the controversial Williams v Athletic’s Field case.

In that case, the Washington Supreme Court looked at mechanics lien case law that developed over the past few decades and ruled the lower courts were getting it all wrong.

It seems that courts all across the country suffer from the “derogation of law” problem. Mechanics lien laws have been in place in this country for over 200 years and were designed to protect subcontractors and suppliers – this is true of every state. A true historian of the laws would conclude that the laws must be liberally construed everywhere, but somewhere along the way courts began to strictly construe these laws, and these strict construction justifications stuck.

It’s nice to see Supreme Courts in at least two states take a look at the jurisprudence and call it out for what it is:  wrong.