Mechanic’s Lien Statutes are to be Liberally Construed: New Tennessee Court of Appeals Opinion Allows Valid Lien Claim in the Face of “Non-Prejudicial” Defects

Once upon a time, a mechanic’s and materialmen’s lien lawsuit was akin to walking a tight-rope. In order to have a valid lien claim, you had to comply with each and every deadline, notice, and other requirement of the statute. Just one mistake rendered the lien claim ineffective.

The Tennessee lien statutes (Tenn. Code Ann. § 66-11-101 et. seq.) were revised in 2007. A notable change was that, under Tenn. Code Ann. § 66-11-148, the statutes were to be “liberally construed” in the lien claimant’s favor and that “[s]ubstantial compliance” with the lien laws is “sufficient for the validity” of lien claims.

The recent case of Tri Am Construction, Inc. v. J & V Development, Inc. (Aug. 30, 2011) is the first case to discuss this new statute on liberal construction. In that case, the claimant: failed to file its Complaint under oath; didn’t add claims against the Deed of Trust trustee; didn’t have an attachment issued; and used a defective notary acknowledgment.  All of these would have been fatal errors under the old statutes.

Under the new statute, however, the Court overlooked all of these defects, finding that the errors were “nonprejudicial” and fell within the scope of the liberal construction of the statutes.

I ask the obvious question: If a court is to overlook these defects, exactly what defects would be considered “prejudicial” and would prevent a valid lien claim?

I don’t know. Here, the exceptions appear to eliminate the rule. Surely, a court would dismiss a late-filed lien claim. Right?

Foreclosure Auction Sales: Buyer Beware

In my post from last week about ways to avoid disaster when buying real property at a foreclosure sale, one of the “nightmare” scenarios I noted is when “the house is still subject to prior liens or taxes.”

Well, that exact nightmare came true for these California foreclosure auction bidders, who bought their dream house for half of what it was worth…only to learn that they bought it subject to an existing $500,000 mortgage.

They paid nearly $100,000 for a house they thought was worth $200,000 (great deal so far)…but, under the foreclosure laws, they purchased the house still subject to a pre-existing $500,000 lien (not a great deal anymore).

This is the perfect example of my earlier advice: don’t bid at a foreclosure sale unless you do your homework in advance or consult with someone who will do your homework for you.

As a general rule, foreclosure sales wipe out liens behind the foreclosing instrument, but they are subject to any senior liens (liens recorded before the lien being foreclosed). The foreclosing lender didn’t do anything wrong here, and this isn’t that out-of-the-ordinary. Sometimes, the buyer mistakenly bids so much money above a junior mortgage that the lender is forced to pay that money to the defaulted borrowers–not upstream to those senior liens.

Over the next few years, we’re going to hear a lot about people who made a lot of money in foreclosure sales…just like we’re going to see stories like this one.

Hat-Tip: Calculated Risk Blog.