One of the questions routinely asked by mechanics lien claimants is whether or not attorneys fees (or other fees) can be added to the amount listed on the lien document. This is a reasonable request, getting a lien filed can occasionally be an expensive endeavor, and nobody wants to be required to pay for the ‘opportunity’ to get what they already earned. While it is not unusual for a mechanics lien claimant to be entitled to attorneys’ fees in a successful lien enforcement action, the ability to list attorneys’ fees on the face of the lien document itself is not generally accepted. In a recent case, the Utah Supreme Court provided some clarity as to what is acceptable in that state.
The Recent Case: Don’t Include Attorneys’ Fees on the Mechanics Lien Itself
“The amount of the lien itself should be limited to the “value of service rendered, labor performed, or materials or equipment furnished”. In 2 Ton Plumbing, L.L.C. v. Thorgaard, the court examined a case in which attorneys’ fees were added to the face of the lien claim. 2 Ton Plumbing, a subcontractor, filed a lien for $7,470 for work performed but for which they remained unpaid. Based on statutorily granted ability to recover attorneys’ fees, 2 Ton amended its lien a couple of times to include the attorney fees, and ended up with a lien totaling $38,714.
While the owners stipulated that the $7,470 was owed to 2 Ton (the GC didn’t pay), they argued that the trial court’s award of what finally ended up as $44,857 in attorneys’ fees was too much, especially given the original amount owed (and sought).
The Utah Supreme Court decided that even though Utah’s mechanics lien statute allows for the recovery of attorneys’ fees, those fees are distinct from the amounts properly included on a mechanics lien itself. The attorneys’ fees, if awarded, are to be awarded by the court in a successful enforcement action, not added to the face of the lien claim. The court noted that the amount of the lien itself should be limited to the “value of service rendered, labor performed, or materials or equipment furnished”.
This decision is in line with the generally accepted standard in most cases in which attorneys’ fees are allowed in mechanics lien cases. Generally, when attorneys’ fees are allowed, they are awarded by the court pursuant to a successful enforcement action, and should not be included on the face of the lien document itself.