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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.