Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Indiana Law: New Mechanic's Lien Case

Give the Indiana Court of Appeals' WOODWARD v. HERITAGE CONSTRUCTION COMPANY, INC. (June 6, 2008, PDF format) a look for the following:

  1. The kind of facts regarding the timing for a mechanic's lien that will support a valid mechanic's lien.
    Here, the trial court specially found that Heritage “continued to render valuable services on a sporadic basis up until July 22, 2005.” Appellant’s App. at 9. That finding is supported by the time sheets of Heritage’s employees, which were submitted to the trial court. And it is not disputed that Heritage filed the notice of its intent to hold a lien against Woodward’s property on August 9, 2005, eighteen days after Heritage last rendered services to Woodward.
  2. A discussion about whether substandard work acts as a defense to the lien.
    footnote 4: Woodward’s argument that Heritage’s work between June 9, 2005, and July 22, 2005, was so substandard as to not qualify for services rendered under Indiana Code Section 32-28-3-3(b)(2) is contrary to the court’s finding that Heritage rendered “valuable services.” See Appellant’s App. at 9. As such, that argument is merely a request for this court to reweigh the evidence, which we will not do. See Bank of Am., 879 N.E.2d at 669.
  3. When the holder of the mechanic's lien can get attorney fees.
    As Heritage rightfully informed the trial court, “if a mechanic’s lienholder recover[s] judgment ‘in any sum’ he [is] entitled [by statute] to recover reasonable attorney’s fees.” See Clark v. Hunter, 861 N.E.2d 1202, 1210 (Ind. Ct. App. 2007) (quoting Clark’s Pork Farms v. Sand Livestock Sys., Inc., 563 N.E.2d 1292, 1300 (Ind. Ct. App. 1990)). Thus, permitting Heritage to proceed with evidence of its attorney’s fees enabled the court to do justice on the merits of Heritage’s claim against Woodward. And by ordering a separate, later hearing on the issue of attorney’s fees, the court mitigated any surprise or disruption that may have resulted from Heritage’s request.
  4. What supports getting prejudgment interest for a mechanic's lien.
    Here, Heritage asserts that it was a matter of simple calculation for the trial court to determine prejudgment interest. We cannot agree. The parties’ claims required the trial court to exercise its discretion in determining the value of the services rendered by Heritage and not paid by Woodward. Indeed, in declining Heritage’s request for prejudgment interest at the August 22 Hearing, the trial court expressly acknowledged legitimate areas of dispute between the parties’ contractual obligations and having “to decide [those disputes] based on credibility and weighing the evidence.” Appellant’s App. at 250. Accordingly, the court did not abuse its discretion in denying Heritage’s request for prejudgment interest. See INS Investigations Bureau, Inc. v. Lee, 784 N.E.2d 566, 578 (Ind. Ct. App. 2003) (“The award [of prejudgment interest] is considered proper when the trier of fact need not exercise its judgment to assess the amount of damages.”), trans. denied.