Appeal from the Circuit Court of Tucker County
Honorable Andrew N. Frye, Jr., Judge
Civil Action No. 03-P-14
AFFIRMED, IN PART, REVERSED, IN PART, AND REMANDED
Submitted: April 6, 2005
Filed: June10, 2005
2. Where a particular construction of a statute would result in an absurdity, some other reasonable construction, which will not produce such absurdity, will be made. Syllabus Point 2, Newhart v. Pennybacker, 120 W.Va. 774, 200 S.E. 350 (1938).
3. With respect to mechanics' liens, there is a requirement of continuity, and in order for a mechanic's lien to relate back to the commencement of work for which the lien is claimed, the work must be of such nature that it is reasonably apparent that both the prior and current work are directly connected and are all part of the same project.
This case is before this Court upon appeal of a final order of the Circuit Court of Tucker County entered on February 4, 2004. In that order, the circuit court refused a Petition to Discharge a Mechanic's Lien filed by the appellants and petitioners below, Steven W. Richards, Cortland Properties, Inc., Northpoint Residential Construction, Inc., and Mid- Lake Properties, II, Inc. (hereinafter appellants). The appellee and respondent below, Robert June Harman d/b/a Harman Equipment Sales (hereinafter appellee) filed the mechanic's lien on October 22, 2003, seeking payment in the amount of $221,901.75, which included $3,000.00 for work performed on August 17, 2003, and almost $219,000.00 for work performed in the late 1980s.
In this appeal, the appellants contend that the circuit court erred by finding that the appellee has a valid mechanic's lien in the amount of $219,000.00 for the work he performed in the 1980s. This Court has before it the petition for appeal, the entire record, and the briefs and argument of counsel. For the reasons set forth below, the final order is affirmed, in part, and reversed, in part, and this case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
the purposes of this article, all materials furnished, all work done, and all
services provided by any one person, firm or corporation, upon any one building
or the improvements appurtenant thereto, or upon the real property whereon the
same stands, or to which it may have been removed, shall be deemed and considered
one contract, whether or not all of such material was bought at one time, or
under one general agreement or otherwise, and whether or not all of such work,
labor or services provided, was contracted for at one time or otherwise.
The appellee contends that in accordance with this statute, the work he performed in the late 1980s and the work he performed in 2003 must be deemed and considered one contract, and, therefore, he has a mechanic's lien for all of the work.
In support of his argument, the appellee relies upon Carolina Lumber Co. v. Cunningham, 156 W.Va. 272, 278, 192 S.E.2d 722, 726 (1972), a case in which this Court declared that
Section 16 is clear and unambiguous. It provides that all materials furnished and all work performed by any one person, firm or corporation upon a building shall be considered one contract regardless of the time the materials were furnished or the work was done on the building.
In Carolina Lumber, this Court considered the meaning and application of W.Va. Code § 38- 2-16, as well as W.Va. Code §§ 38-2-17 and 38-2-18, in determining the priority of perfected mechanics' liens in relation to other liens recorded against the property. This Court concluded that,
the provisions of the mechanics' liens statutes of this state all perfected mechanics'
liens attach at the time the initial mechanic's lien comes into existence after
the construction of the building or structure begins and they take priority over
all other liens created by deeds of trust, or otherwise, that are not recorded
before the initial mechanic's lien comes into existence.
Syllabus Point 3, Carolina Lumber.
In reaching that conclusion, this Court observed that the relevant statutes had to be read in pari materia and any ambiguous provisions in the statutes should be interpreted in such a manner as to avoid conflict and give effect to all of the provisions of the related sections of the statutes. Syllabus Point 1, in part, Carolina Lumber. We must do the same in this case. See also Syllabus Point 5, Fruehauf Corp. v. Huntington Moving & Storage Co., 159 W.Va. 14, 217 S.E.2d 907 (1975) (Statutes which relate to the same persons or things, or to the same class of persons or things, or statutes which have a common purpose will be regarded in pari materia to assure recognition and implementation of the legislative intent. Accordingly, a court should not limit its consideration to any single part, provision, section, sentence, phrase or word, but rather review the act or statute in its entirety to ascertain legislative intent properly.).
Unlike Carolina Lumber, where this Court had to determine the priority of perfected liens, the issue in this case requires a determination of when a construction project is completed such that a contractor must act to preserve and perfect his lien. While W.Va. Code § 38-2-16 is relevant to that determination, W.Va. Code § 38-2-7 must also be considered. As noted above, W.Va. Code § 38-2-7 discharges the lien unless it is perfected and preserved within one hundred days of completion of the contract.
The appellee argues that any work he has performed at Northpoint must be considered part of the original contract pursuant to W.Va. Code § 38-2-16. However, the appellee's interpretation of the statute produces an absurd result in light of W.Va. Code § 38- 2-7. That is to say, if a contractor could return to a project years later and do additional work such that he could then seek a lien upon nonpayment for any of the work he has ever performed on the project for which he was never paid, then there could never be a definitive discharge of an unperfected mechanic's lien as provided for in W.Va. Code § 38-2-7. In other words, the requirement of W.Va. Code § 38-2-7 that a lien must be perfected one hundred days from the completion of the contract would be meaningless if a contractor could revive the lien by merely undertaking additional work at some undetermined date in
the future. Clearly, that was not the intention of the Legislature when it enacted the mechanics' lien statutes.
It is always presumed that the legislature will not enact a meaningless or useless statute. Syllabus Point 4, State ex rel. Hardesty v. Aracoma-Chief Logan No. 4523, Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, Inc., 147 W.Va. 645, 129 S.E.2d 921 (1963). Moreover, this Court has long held that, Where a particular construction of a statute would result in an absurdity, some other reasonable construction, which will not produce such absurdity, will be made. Syllabus Point 2, Newhart v. Pennybacker, 120 W.Va. 774, 200 S.E. 350 (1938). It is clear that in enacting the mechanics' lien statutes, in particular, W.Va. Code § 38-2-16, the Legislature sought to protect any person who increases the value of another person's real property by furnishing labor or materials. Syllabus Point 2, in part, Carolina Lumber. However, it is also clear that in enacting W.Va. Code § 38-2-7, the Legislature contemplated a limited time period for preserving and perfecting mechanics' liens. Accordingly, we find that there is a requirement of continuity with respect to a contractor's work in order for a lien to relate back to the commencement of the construction. Other courts have reached the same conclusion.
For instance, in Nu-Trend Electric, Inc. v. Deseret Federal Savings and Loan Association, Inc., 786 P.2d 1369, 1371 (Utah Ct. App. 1990), the Court stated:
the priority of a mechanic's lien to relate back to the beginning of the work
for which the lien is claimed, the work must all be part of the same project;
in other words, the work must have a continuity of purpose such that a reasonable
observer of the site would be on notice that work was underway for which a lien
could be claimed.
Likewise, in Syllabus Point 1 of Fryman v. McGhee, 108 Ohio App. 501, 163 N.E.2d 63 (1958), the Court held that, The beginning of the 'construction' referred to in Section 1311.13, Revised Code, providing for the attaching, continuance and priority of liens, must be the beginning of the same improvement for which the liens are claimed; and such 'construction' must be of such a nature as to be reasonably apparent upon inspection. See also 53 Am.Jur.2d Mechanics' Liens § 254 (1996) (stating that [i]n order for liens to be effective from the commencement of the construction or improvement, the improvement so commenced must be the same improvement for which the liens are claimed and observing that there is a requirement of continuity such that when work on a building is interrupted for too long a period, a mechanic's lien accrues only from the recommencement of the work).
Accordingly, we now hold that with respect to mechanics' liens, there is a requirement of continuity, and in order for a mechanic's lien to relate back to the commencement of work for which the lien is claimed, the work must be of such nature that it is reasonably apparent that both the prior and current work are directly connected and are all part of the same project. In the instant case, the appellee is unable to satisfy the continuity requirement.
in this case shows that the appellee completed the infrastructure work for the
appellants in the late 1980s. During the fifteen-year period that followed, the
appellee returned to Northpoint only sporadically to perform maintenance and
repair work. There is no evidence that the work the appellee performed during
that time period including the work that he completed in August 2003 was all
part of the same project. Therefore, the appellee does not have a valid mechanic's
lien for the work that he performed in the 1980s as he did not act in accordance
with the time requirements of W.Va. Code § 38-2-7 to perfect and preserve
the same. (See footnote 4)
While the appellants do not dispute that the appellee timely filed a mechanic's lien for the work he completed in August 2003, the appellants do maintain that the lien was attached to lots that were not affected by the appellee's work. In light of our decision that the appellee does not have a lien for the work he completed in the 1980s and given the sparse record presented to this Court, we are unable to determine which lots should be subject to the $3,000.00 lien. Therefore, we remand this case to the circuit court to make that determination.
Affirmed, in part, Reversed, in part, and Remanded.