There may be tension between the enforcement of statutory mechanic’s lien claims when a contractual dispute resolution provision calls for arbitration. Once the parties are in arbitration, it may not be clear whether the arbitrator has authority to make factual determinations regarding amount and validity of mechanic’s liens, and whether courts are bound by these determinations. This uncertainty stems from the fact that in most states a mechanic’s lien can only be enforced by a court of competent jurisdiction. Indeed, many mechanic’s liens statutes define foreclosure as a “judicial process,” and courts generally have exclusive jurisdiction to issue orders foreclosing on real property1.
The risk for contractors and owners is that they will spend time and money re-litigating factual issues related to proving elements of a mechanic’s lien claim, including the proper lien amount, timeliness and other prerequisites. Without a clear understanding of what issues and elements are arbitrable, the parties run the risk that an arbitrator will rule on certain elements only to find out during post-arbitration lien foreclosure proceedings that the arbitrator lacked authority to make determinations on those elements. Questions therefore arise whether a court will enforce the arbitrator’s determinations and whether the parties must relitigate mechanic’s lien issues creating a further risk of inconsistent rulings.
These risks can be minimized through arbitration provisions which address these issues, express requests in arbitration demands and by ensuring that arbitration awards contain explicit determinations of mechanic’s liens issues.
Reprinted courtesy of Robert G. Campbell & Trevor B. Potter, Construction Executive, a publication of Associated Builders and Contractors. All rights reserved.