Inability to Determine Whether Owner Owed General Contractor when Subcontractor filed Lien Precludes Summary Judgment

In Nitro Dynamics v. Petruzzi Bros., Inc., 2008 WL 4635884 (Mass. Super. Ct. Sept. 26, 2008)

In this case, a subcontractor sued three defendants – the owner, the general contractor, and a surety – asserting claims for breach of contract, quantum meruit, and for recovery on a mechanic’s lien dissolution bond.  The Superior Court granted the owner’s motion for judicial notice of a stipulation of dismissal in a related action, but denied the owner’s motion for summary judgment.

The owner hired the general contractor to manage site excavation on a project, and the general contractor subcontracted with the plaintiff to perform drilling and blasting work.  The plaintiff subcontractor alleged that the general contractor failed to pay for its work on the project. 

The owner requested that the court take judicial notice of a stipulation of dismissal with prejudice in a related suit by the general contractor against the owner.  The court held that because that action was based, in part, on the same master contract between two defendants in the instant case, the court was entitled to take judicial notice not only of the stipulation of dismissal, but of any other parts of the record in that action that were necessary to address the owner’s summary judgment motion.  Although all claims in the pending action against the general contractor were stayed because of a declaration of bankruptcy, the court found that the stay did not affect the other two co-defendants, and thus did not prevent consideration of the owner’s summary judgment motion.

The owner argued it was entitled to summary judgment because the stipulation of dismissal established that it owed the general contractor no money, and therefore, the subcontractor’s mechanic’s lien was unenforceable.  The court held that the stipulation did not distinguish between various construction projects at issue in the related case, nor did it provide whether any set-offs or payments were involved in obtaining the stipulation of dismissal.  Thus, the court concluded that it could not be determined on the basis of the stipulation whether any money was owed by the owner to the general contractor on this particular project at the time the subcontractor filed its lien.  Accordingly, the owner’s motion for summary judgment was denied.

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