A construction lien foreclosure action is an action against the real property and MUST be brought in the county where the property is located. It is an action concerning subject matter jurisdiction (the jurisdiction of the court to hear the matter) and, thus, can be raised at any time in a proceeding. If you are looking to foreclose a construction lien, please make sure 1) the lien is recorded in the right jurisdiction and 2) the lien is foreclosed on in the right jurisdiction.
In a recent case, Prime Investors & Developers, LLC v. Meridien Companies, Inc., 2020 WL 355930 (4th DCA 2020), a dispute arose between a general contractor and subcontractor on a hotel project in Miami-Dade County. The general contractor filed suit against the subcontractor for untimely and defective installation in Broward County. The subcontractor counter-sued the general contractor for breach of contract and asserted a claim against the developer of the hotel to foreclose a construction lien. Remember, the property was located in Miami-Dade County but the lawsuit was in Broward County.
The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the subcontractor and against the developer and contractor. The trial court entered a money judgment against the contractor and the developer, but did not initiate any foreclosure proceedings.
The appellate court reversed the summary judgment because there were genuine issues of material fact. The subcontractor, in its motion for summary judgment, did not address the general contractor’s affirmative defenses. (“When a party raises affirmative defenses, a summary judgment should not be granted where there are issues of fact raised by the affirmative defenses which have not been effectively factually challenged and refuted. The movant must disprove the affirmative defenses or show they are legally insufficient.”). Prime Investors & Developers, LLC, 2020 WL at *4 (citation omitted).
The appellate court did address the construction lien foreclosure issue by reminding “that “[a] lien against property is in rem, affecting title to the property, and must be brought in the circuit with jurisdiction over the property.” Prime Investors & Developers, LLC, 2020 WL at *4 (citation omitted). In other words, the subcontractor filed the construction lien foreclosure lawsuit in the WRONG jurisdiction. Oops!
However, the appellate court did not seem to challenge the right of the subcontractor to obtain a monetary judgment, absent the foreclosure proceedings, against the developer. While the subcontractor cannot foreclose its construction lien, it may have a basis to obtain a monetary judgment that excludes foreclosure against the developer if it prevails at trial. This is certainly not the same leverage the subcontractor wanted when it recorded the lien and initiated a construction-lien foreclosure.
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