QUICK NOTE: REMEMBER TO TIMELY FORECLOSE LIEN AGAINST LIEN TRANSFER BOND

When a construction lien is transferred to a lien transfer bond pursuant to Florida Statute s. 713.24, instead of foreclosing the lien against the real property, you are foreclosing the lien against the lien transfer bond.  This is not a bad deal and, oftentimes, is probably ideal.   Remember, however, just because a construction lien was transferred to a lien transfer bond (pre-lawsuit) does not mean you get more time to file your lien foreclosure lawsuit.  A lawsuit must still be filed within one year (short of that period being specifically shortened under operation of the law).  The only exception is that if the lawsuit is filed and the lien transfer bond is then recorded (post-lawsuit), the lienor has one year to amend its lawsuit to sue the lien transfer bond.

 

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

 

 

PAROL EVIDENCE CAN BE USED TO DEFEAT FRAUDULENT LIEN

shutterstock_162610553Parol or extrinsic evidence can be used to defeat an argument that a lien is a fraudulent lien.  And, just because a lien amount exceeds the total contract amount does not presumptively mean the lien is willfully exaggerated or recorded in bad faith.  Finally, a ruling invalidating a construction lien can create the irreparable harm required to support a petition for writ of certiorari.  All of these issues are important when dealing with and defending against a fraudulent lien and are explained in a recent case involving a dispute between an electrical subcontractor and its supplier.

 

In Farrey’s Wholesale Hardware Co., Inc. v. Coltin Electrical Services, LLC, 44 Fla.L.Weekly D130a (Fla. 2d DCA 2019), there were various revisions to the supplier’s  initial purchase order, both from a qualitative and quantitative perspective, and a ninth-revised purchaser order was issued and accepted.  The electrical subcontractor claimed that deliveries were late, unassembled, and did not include the required marking (likely the UL marking), to pass building inspections.  As a result, the subcontractor withheld money from the supplier and the supplier recorded a lien in the amount of $853,773.16 and filed a foreclosure lawsuit.

 

The subcontractor moved for a motion for partial summary judgment that the lien should be deemed a fraudulent lien and invalid because it was overstated by approximately $32,000.  The subcontractor argued that taking the amount of the ninth-revised purchase order and deducting the undisputed amount paid to the supplier would result in a lien amount of $825,417.06, approximately $32,000 less than the supplier’s lien amount.  The supplier, through an affidavit, argued this delta is nothing more than a good faith dispute and can be explained because the total cost of materials furnished to the job site was based on its initial purchase order and its revised purchase order.  The subcontractor countered that the affidavit is  parol evidence and should be disregarded because the parties agreed on the total amount of the supplies through the ninth-revised purchase order and the supplier was trying to create a new contract through the affidavit.  The trial court agreed and found the lien fraudulent, and issued a partial summary judgment invalidating the supplier’s lien.  The subcontractor moved for a petition of writ of certiorari.

 

Parol Evidence Rule

 

“[T]he parol evidence rule prevents the terms of a valid written contract or instrument from being varied ‘by a verbal agreement or other extrinsic evidence where such agreement was made before or at the time of the instrument in question.’” Farrey’s Wholesale, supra(citation omitted). The parol evidence rule, however, is not applied to exclude evidence of subsequent agreements modifying the original agreement, or of fraud, accident, or mistake.  Id.  

 

The appellate court, reversing the trial court, found that the parol evidence rule “does not bar extrinsic evidence offered for the purpose of showing whether the filing of a construction lien was made in good or bath faith.  This is a separate and distinct inquiry that does not trigger the parol evidence rule.”   Hence, the appellate court maintained there were disputed issues of material fact as to whether the lien was fraudulent.

 

The appellate court further found that the trial court erred in finding the lien fraudulent in that just because the lien amount exceeded the ninth-revised purchase order does not mean it was willfully exaggerated.  In other words, even if the ninth-revised purchase order was the complete agreement, the lien, in of itself, is not willfully exaggerated just because the lien exceeded the total amount of the contract. 

 

Appeal of Lien

 

On another important point in this case, because the appeal was based on a writ of certiorari (versus a final appeal of a final dispositive judgment), there had to be irreparable harm to justify the basis of the appeal.  The appellate court held there would be irreparable harm if the supplier had to wait until the end of the litigation to appeal because its judgment would then be unsecured (it would be without a remedy to pursue its lien which had been transferred to a lien transfer bond).  See Farrey’s Construction Wholesale, supra  (“This means that on remand [back to the trial court], all matters pertaining to Farrey’s construction lien, which includes the status of the lien transfer bond, will be returned to their prejudgment postures.”). 

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

TERMINATING NOTICE OF COMMENCEMENT WITHOUT CONTRACTOR’S FINAL PAYMENT AFFIDAVIT

shutterstock_399902515Prior to construction work being performed on your property, a Notice of Commencement should be recorded.  Among other things, construction liens will relate back in time to an effective Notice of Commencement (meaning it has not expired).  For this reason, lenders or others will want the Notice of Commencement to be terminated when the job is complete by recording in the official records a Notice of Termination of the Notice of Commencement.  There is a statutory procedure to terminate a Notice of Commencement pursuant to Florida Statute 713.132.  

 

Frequently, a clerk will want the Notice of Termination of the Notice of Commencement to be accompanied with a Contractor’s Final Payment Affidavit because 713.132 says, in material part:

 

(2) An owner has the right to rely on a contractor’s affidavit given under s. 713.06(3)(d), except with respect to lienors who have already given notice, in connection with the execution, swearing to, and recording of a notice of termination. However, the notice of termination must be accompanied by the contractor’s affidavit.

 

Notwithstanding, the Fifth District in Lasalle Bank National Ass’n v. Blackton, Inc., 59 So.3d 329, 331 (Fla. 5th DCA 2011) in interpreting this subsection stated:

 

We interpret this subsection to grant an owner the right to rely on the a contractor’s affidavit as an alternative to giving a sworn statement in its notice of termination that “all tenors have been paid in full.”  Here, the contractor’s affidavit attached to the notice of termination was superfluous because Independence, as owner, had already averred in the notice of termination that all tenors had been fully paid. 

 

 

It is always beneficial for an owner to obtain and rely on the Contractor’s Final Payment Affidavit since the contractor would be the one to hire the subcontractors  and know whether all lienors (including itself) have been fully paid and, if not, those that are still owed money.  However, there are times an owner may not be able to get that affidavit for a host of reasons (for example, if the job never actually commenced or the contractor is uncooperative in this regard).   In these circumstances, the owner should be able to record the Notice of Termination of the Notice of Commencement absent the Contractor’s Final Payment Affidavit by averring in the Notice of Termination that all lienors have been paid.

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

PRE-SUIT SETTLEMENT OFFERS AND CONSTRUCTION LIEN ACTIONS

shutterstock_127849640It is unfortunate, but in certain matters, a construction lien foreclosure action is not actually driven by the principal amount in dispute.  Oh no.  Rather, it is driven by attorney’s fees.  That’s right.  Attorney’s fees. This is true even though Florida applies the significant issues test to determine the prevailing party for purposes of attorney’s fees.  However, oftentimes  the prospect of attorney’s fees is enough for parties to fear that exposure. 

 

There is a 1985 Florida Supreme Court case that I like to cite if applicable, C.U. Associates, Inc. v. R.B. Grove, Inc., 472 So.2d 1177, 1179 (Fla. 1985), that finds, “in order to be a prevailing party entitled to the award of attorney’s fees pursuant to section 713.29 [a construction lien claim], a litigant must have recovered an amount exceeding that which was earlier offered in settlement of the claim.”  Accord Sullivan v. Galske, 917 So.2d 412 (Fla. 2d DCA 2006) (explaining that although contractor is receiving a judgment in his favor, he may not be the prevailing party if the homeowner offered to settle prior to the lawsuit for an amount equal to or greater  than the award in the judgment).

 

If there is a pre-suit settlement offer on the table, and it is a good faith offer (which presumably it is), than that offer can very well come into play to determine whether the party that will the action should be deemed the prevailing party for purposes of attorney’s fees.  This is still good law.  Therefore, before readily dismissing a pre-suit offer, consider the potential ramifications if you are unable to beat this offer at trial. Banking on attorney’s fees may not be prudent if there is a pre-suit offer that is within striking distance from where you need to be or can very well be a likely outcome based on a reasonable argument raised by the opposing party.

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.