In this week's Alabama Law Weekly Update, we present for your consideration a decision from the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals. In the case, the court considered whether a contractor's performance of subsequent corrective constituted the “last item” of performed work under an Alabama statute that deems a materialman's lien to be lost if a statement of lien is not filed within six months of performance of the last item of work or furnishing of materials.
Massey Asphalt Paving, Inc. v. Lee Land Development, Inc., No. 2140680 (Ala. Civ. App. Mar. 4, 2016) (holding that a contractor did not hold a valid materialman's lien on certain properties because the contractor failed to file a statement of a materialman's lien within six months of performing the last item of work for the job)
Massey Asphalt Paving, Inc. (“Massey”) entered into an agreement with Lee Land Development, Inc. (“Lee Development”) pursuant to which Massey would provide materials and perform paving work on two tracts of land owned by Lee Development. Massey first performed work and provided materials under the agreement in December 2007, which was invoiced to, and fully-paid by, Lee Development. In April 2008, Massey provided additional materials and performed additional work under the agreement. This time, however, Lee Development paid only half of the invoiced amount due to a dispute over the amount of materials. Massey agreed to delay the payment date in order to measure the paved area. In October 2008, measurements revealed that Massey provided more materials than the amount for which it invoiced Lee Development. Lee Development would not (or could not) pay the invoiced amount. Following the October 2008 measurements, Massey performed additional work for Lee Development in order to correct problems that arose after the paving work was completed in April 2008. Massey performed this corrective work under a warranty that it provided to Lee Development; Massey did not invoice Lee Development for this work. Later, on November 12, 2008, Massey filed a statement of a materialman's lien in the probate court of St. Clair County.
Massey sued Lee Development, seeking payment for the work in April 2008 and to enforce the materialman's lien. The trial court awarded Massey damages of $35,000 for the work performed but also found that Massey did not hold a valid lien on the property because Massey failed to file a statement of lien within six months of performance of the last item of work or furnishing of the last item of materials, as required by Alabama law (Ala. Code § 35-11-215). Massey appealed.
On appeal, Massey argued that it held a valid lien because it timely filed the statement of materialman's lien within six months of performing the last item of work (i.e., the corrective work under the warranty in October/November 2008). The Alabama Court of Appeals found that the statute was ambiguous as to whether a “last item” of work or material could extend to the completion of corrective work (as opposed to the initial, agreed upon work). Applying cannons of statutory interpretation, the court looked to the purpose of the statute. On this question, the court determined that one of the purposes of the legislature in enacting the statute was to give notice to potential purchasers that the land may be encumbered. The court noted that this purpose would be defeated by allowing a contractor to file a lien more than six months after completing the work for which it was hired, based on the performance of subsequent corrective work. As such, the court held that the trial court did not err in concluding that Massey performed the “last item” of work in April 2008, which was more than six months prior to the filing of the statement of lien.