Mechanic’s Lien on Owner’s Real Estate Not Precluded Where Contract is Made with Party Other than Owner, but with Owner’s Consent

Madigan v. Trace Constr., Inc., 878 N.E.2d 568 (Mass. App. Ct. 2007)

In this case, the Appeals Court dismissed an action seeking discharge of several mechanics’ liens encumbering plaintiff’s real estate.  The plaintiff, who was the owner of the encumbered property, claimed that because the general contractors entered into contracts with a tenant of the plaintiff, not the plaintiff, it was inappropriate to encumber plaintiff’s real property with a mechanic’s lien.  The Appeals Court affirmed the Superior Court dismissal, holding that summary discharge of a mechanic’s lien by the court was inappropriate and that defendants were entitled to discovery. 

The liens arose out of work performed by two general contractors and several subcontractors on behalf of a tenant of the plaintiff.  The tenant failed to pay for the work and the contractors brought actions to enforce the liens.  The court found that M.G.L. c. 254 § 2 does not preclude a lien when a contract is made with someone other than the owner if the contract is made with the consent of the owner.  The defendants therefore were entitled to discovery on the issues of agency and consent so the court determined dismissal of the action was inappropriate at that time.

The court also held that there were factual questions as to the tenant’s leasehold interest which would determine whether liens were proper so defendants were entitled to further discovery.  Because defects in the liens were not readily ascertainable by reference to undisputed documents, summary discharge was inappropriate.  In conclusion, the court found that the plaintiff could not have the liens discharged without defendants being afforded the opportunity for discovery.

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