The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Byerly v. Bank of Colorado on Thursday, March 14, 2013.
Excessive Mechanic’s Lien—CRS § 38-22-101(3).
Defendants Bank of Colorado and Delta Properties II, LLC (collectively, Bank) appealed the trial court’s judgment in favor of Daniel Byerly (Contractor). The judgment was reversed and the case was remanded with directions.
In 2006, Widwing Development, LLC (Developer) hired Contractor to help develop a residential subdivision in Timnath. It was a four-phase project with an extensive contract, including a compensation scheme that involved both cash payments and “Lot Compensation.” By late 2009, Developer had sold only half of the thirty-two villa home lots (valued at $110,000 each) and four of the seventy-six single family home lots (valued between $294,500 and $350,000). It had not paid Contractor’s monthly fee for several months. The Bank, which had issued construction loans to Developer, declared a default. Though Developer was in no position to do so, it sent Contractor a letter stating that as of January 5, 2010, Contractor had “earned” Lot Compensation for the first phase. The Bank later foreclosed and acquired the unsold land parcels. Neither Developer nor the Bank ever tendered Lot Compensation to Contractor.
In March 2010, shortly before the Bank’s foreclosure, Contractor recorded a mechanic’s lien on one of the parcels of land for $824,000 (later amended to $641,000) and filed a complaint in foreclosure, naming the Bank as an interested party. The amended lien included $84,000 of unpaid monthly fees and $557,000 in Lot Compensation. At trial, Contractor admitted that the conditions precedent to Developer’s duty to pay the Earned Cash Value portion of the Lot Compensation had not been met. Contractor also asserted a breach of contract claim against Developer and was awarded a default judgment based on eighteen months of unpaid monthly fees ($126,000), plus interest and costs.
Following a bench trial, the trial court made findings regarding the value of Contractor’s lien and concluded that the “full and accurate value” of Contractor’s services totaled $346,000, to which 12% interest was added, for a total of $417,095. The trial court also made findings regarding whether Contractor had knowingly filed an excessive lien under CRS § 38-22-128, and concluded he did not. The court found in favor of Contractor on his mechanic’s lien claim and ruled that Contractor’s lien was prior to the Bank’s lien.
On appeal, the Bank argued that the trial court erred in determining that Contractor’s lien was measured by the “value” of his services, rather than by the contract terms, and that it was unlawful to file a lien that exceeded the contract price. The trial court interpreted CRS § 38-22-101(3) to mean that when a contract is not recorded, a contractor may file a mechanic’s lien for the “value” of his or her services. The Court of Appeals found that interpretation to disregard the plain language of subsection 3 when read in the context of the entire subsection. Subsection 3 applies only to subcontractors and material providers, not to the direct contractor. Subcontractors are the only ones who would have occasion to do work that must be “deemed” to have been done for the owner, given that the direct contractor already has a contract with the owner. Thus, where a direct contractor performs services, the value of which is alleged to have exceeded the contract price, the contract price is the maximum amount for which a lien can be filed. Accordingly, it was error to find that subsection 3 allowed Contractor to file a lien in excess of the contract price.
The Bank also argued that it was error to determine that Contractor did not violate CRS § 38-22-128 by filing an excessive lien. The trial court found that Contractor could have reasonably anticipated receiving Lot Compensation after Developer informed him that he had “earned” it and, from Contractor’s perspective, it was not obvious that the conditions precedent for Lot Compensation could not occur and would never occur. The Court rejected these findings because there was no evidence in the record to support them. The judgment was reversed and the case was remanded for entry of judgment in favor of defendants.
Summary and full case available here.