Mechanics’ Lien Claim Defeated Where Contractor Fails to Provide Proper Contractor Affidavit

Pyramid Development, LLC v. DuKane Precast, 2014 IL App (2d) 131131, vividly illustrates the importance of diligent record-keeping practices on construction projects and the dire financial consequences that can flow from a failure to do so.  It emphasizes how crucial it is for a contractor to comply with Section 5 of the mechanic’s lien act – 770 ILCS 60/5 (the “Act”) – the section that requires a contractor to give the owner a sworn statement that lists all persons providing labor and materials on a project.

The plaintiff contractor sued to foreclose a mechanics lien on several townhomes it was hired to build and also sued a subcontractor for defective concrete work supplied to the project.  After a bench trial, the court nullified the lien because it was negated by damage to the property.  Plaintiff appealed.

Result: Plaintiff’s lien is defeated because it didn’t comply with Section  5.

Reasons:

The purpose of the Section 5 affidavit is to put the owner on notice of subcontractor claims;

– An owner has the right to rely and act upon a contractor’s section 5 affidavit unless the owner has reason to suspect the notice is false or knows that it’s false;

– An owner is protected from subcontractor claims where they’re not listed on the contractor’s affidavit unless the owner knows of the subcontractor omissions or has colluded with the contractor to exclude the subcontractors;

– Section 5 provides that it’s the owner’s duty to ask for and the contractor’s obligation to supply a sworn statement listing all parties furnishing lienable work on the property and the amounts owed to them;

– Where an owner doesn’t request a Section 5 affidavit, the contractor isn’t required to provide one;

– An owner’s previous acceptance of a flawed Section 5 affidavit doesn’t waive the contractor’s compliance with that section. (i.e., Just because an owner has accepted deficient affidavits in the past, doesn’t mean the contractor doesn’t have to comply with Section 5, e.g.)

(¶¶ 26-29).

Here, the property owner had a pattern of accepting faulty Section 5 affidavits. The plaintiff’s principal admitted that the names and amounts on the affidavits were often wrong and the amounts inflated.  Plaintiff also conceded that it routinely named itself as a subcontractor when it didn’t actually do any of the work on the townhomes.

The court held that since the plaintiff’s section 5 affidavits were facially erroneous, the lien claim was properly defeated.

The court also affirmed judgment against the plaintiff on its breach of contract claim. In a breach of contract suit involving construction services, a contractor is held to the “substantial performance” standard: he must perform in a workmanlike manner and a failure to do so is a breach of contract. (¶ 35).

A breach of contract plaintiff must also prove money damages.  And while he doesn’t have to do so with mathematical certainty, he still must offer some basis from which the court can compute the damage with reasonable probability. (¶ 37).

Here, the plaintiff didn’t meet his burden of proving damages.  Its record-keeping was scatter-shot and rife with discrepancies.  The plaintiff’s numbers didn’t match up and it couldn’t explain myriad invoice errors at trial.  This failure to carry its burden of proving damages doomed the plaintiff’s breach of contract claim.

Take-aways:

Accurate record-keeping is essential; especially on high dollar projects with multiple contractors;

Where an owner requests a section 5 affidavit, the contractor must supply one;

An Owner’s past acceptance of a faulty affidavit won’t excuse contractors duty to strictly adhere to section 5.

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PaulP

Litigation attorney at Fisher Kanaris, P.C. representing businesses and individuals in all types of commercial disputes.