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Superior Court Finds that Non-owner Party to Construction Contract Not Indispensable to Mechanic's Lien Action

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Recently, the Pennsylvania Superior Court held that a trial court's rationale for concluding that the wife of the property owner and a co-party to a construction contract is an indispensable party to a mechanics' lien claim was in error. The Superior Court held that the statute does not require that the mechanics' lien claimant name all parties to the contract to satisfy the requirements set forth in the mechanics' lien statute; it requires only that the claimant name the owner or reputed owner of the property.

In Schell v. Murphy, 2016 Pa. Super 302 (Pa. Superior, Dec. 2016), the Pennsylvania Superior Court reversed the finding of the Bedford County Court of Common Pleas, which held that the wife of property owner Mr. Murphy, who was not an owner of record of the property but was a co-party to a construction contract for improvements to the property, was an indispensable party to the contractor's mechanics lien action. The trial court held that, despite the clear language of the statute requiring only that the mechanics' lien name the owner of the property, Wife was an indispensable party in this mechanics' lien action. The trial court offered the following.

[Wife] absolutely has a right and interest in [Schell's] claim. Moreover, [Wife's] interest is vital in nature and is undoubtedly essential to a full and fair resolution of [Schell's] claim. And, we think it obvious that resolution to [Schell's] claim could not be afforded without violating the due process rights of [Wife]. For example, should litigation continue in her absence, and there be a legal determination that the contract was breached, [Wife's] right to defend - or bring a counter claim - would conceivably [be] lost forever, without her ever being given legal notice or an opportunity to participate. We therefore believe [Wife] is clearly an indispensable party to [Schell's] claim.


Trial Court Opinion, 7/21/2016, at 2-3.

Justice Strassburger, on behalf of the Court disagreed and stated: "The statute does not require that the mechanics' lien claimant name all parties to the contract to satisfy the requirements set forth in the mechanics' lien statute; it requires only that the claimant name the owner or reputed owner of the property. Here, there is no dispute that Murphy is the only owner of the property. Thus, Wife cannot be an indispensable party in this mechanics' lien claim. To hold otherwise would make it impossible for a claimant to file a mechanics' lien claim on a property where he or she entered into a contract with anyone other than, or in addition to, the owner of the property. That clearly was not the intention of the legislature in promulgating the Mechanics' Lien Law.

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