Legislation Proposed to Allow ERISA Trusts to Pursue Mechanics’ Liens

On April 17, 2014, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania issued a decision in Bricklayers of Western Pennsylvania Combined Funds, Inc. v. Scott’s Development Company, et al., that held that union workers (employees of the primary contractor) were not “subcontractors” as that term is defined in the Pennsylvania’s Mechanics’ Lien Law of 1963, and that trustees of the union’s employee benefits trust funds were not entitled to file mechanic’s lien claims on the employees’ behalf for unpaid contributions to the trust funds.

Following this ruling, Rep. William Keller, D-Philadelphia, introduced HB 2319 to the General Assembly which would amend the Mechanic’s Lien Law to classify union benefit fund trustees as subcontractors allowed to pursue claims for non-payment against employers and property owners under the Mechanic’s Lien Law.

Duane Morris will continue to monitor the progress of this legislation.

Bill that Includes Major Revisions to Pennsylvania’s Mechanic’s Lien Law Passes House and Moves to Senate

Prior to 2007, the Pennsylvania Mechanic’s Lien Law of 1963, 49 P.S. §1101-§1902 (the “Mechanic’s Lien Law”) operated for over 40 years in its original form, without any significant or substantive modifications. In 2007, however, amendments to the Mechanic’s Lien Law went into effect that significantly changed the statute. For example, the 2007 amendments changed, inter alia, the enforceability of upfront waivers and the definition of a “subcontractor.” In 2009, additional amendments to the Mechanic’s Lien Law went into effect which changed some of the 2007 amendments.

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Pennsylvania Superior Court Holds that Unions May File Mechanic’s Liens for Unpaid Contributions

Under Pennsylvania’s Mechanics’ Lien Law, only a “contractor” or “subcontractor” is permitted to file a lien claim against an owner of property, 49 P.S. § 1303(a), for the payment of debts due by the owner to the contractor or by the contractor to any of his subcontractors for labor or materials furnished during a project. 49 P.S. § 1301; see 49 P.S. § 1201(4), (5) (defining “contractor” and “subcontractor”).

On January 6, 2012, the Pennsylvania Superior Court held in Bricklayers of W. Pa. Combined Funds v. Scott’s Dev. Co., 2012 PA Super 4; 2012 Pa. Super. LEXIS 5 (2012) that a labor union is a “subcontractor” under the Mechanic’s Lien Law, and, therefore, trustees of a union benefit fund have standing to file a mechanic’s lien claim on behalf of its members.

As a result of the Superior Court’s ruling, labor unions will likely file more mechanics’ lien claims for unpaid and/or delinquent contributions. Thus, in order to ensure that no mechanic’s liens are filed on a project, owners should attempt to verify on a monthly basis that money is properly disbursed down the construction chain. Towards that end, an owner needs to obtain partial payment releases from its contractors and subcontractors on a monthly basis. In addition, an owner should consider making certain payments by joint check, if the owner suspects any problems.

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The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the author and are not to be construed as legal advice.

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