Tennessee Legislature overreacted when they repealed Tenn. Code Ann. § 66-21-108.

If you’ve spent any time on this blog, you’ve know all about Tennessee’s wrongful lien statute, Tenn. Code Ann. § 66-21-108.

It’s a fairly new statute, enacted on May 21, 2018, and I’ve called it the scariest statute I’ve seen. That’s because the statute imposes broad (and automatic) penalties on lien claimants who lose a lien challenge, with the penalties being so harsh that it could have a chilling effect on lien claims.

So, having said that, I was glad to see that the Tennessee Legislature was going to walk back some of those automatic penalties with some proposed amendments to the statute for 2019. Specially, the changes to 66-21-108 would impose a “malice” requirement and would change the “shall recover” language to “may recover.” These changes would protect the mechanic’s liens with justifiable claims, but would preserve claims against those creditors who are looking for undue (and illegal) advantage.

In the end, I was glad to see some correction to the statute, but, candidly, I also thought that the changes took basically all the teeth out of the statute. From my time fighting in Bankruptcy Court, I know that “malice” isn’t an easy concept to prove.

I also know that some creditors’ philosophy is “when in doubt, why not file a lien”? Under the old statute, if those creditors weren’t careful, they would definitely get hit with damages. I’ve seen a lot of bad liens in my time, and this statute provided a remedy that homeowners legitimately needed.

So, it was with a lot of disappointment that I’ve discovered that, rather than amending the statute, the 2019 Legislature just repealed the entire statute.

The statute was designed to solve a very real problem. As it stands right now, there are no real remedies for a property owner to recover costs and expenses when challenging a wrongful lien on their property. As a result, there’s no real disincentive to keep a creditor from recording a questionable lien.

At some point, the cost, expense, and hassle of fighting over an invalid lien isn’t worth the fight. Lien creditors know that they get incredible leverage when they record a lien, and, under now existing law, there’s not much risk to them.

Honestly, I’d rather have the original version of the statute (which made lien claimants really evaluate their claims and think twice before encumbering a person’s property) than no statute at all.

Construction Lawyers Rejoice! Tennessee Legislature Proposes Amendment to Fix the “Invalid” Lien Law

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Tenn. Code Ann. § 66-21-108, a fairly new statute that I called the scariest statute I’ve seen in long time.

This statute imposes strict liability and double / triple / quadruple penalties upon lien claimants who lose a lien challenge. As enacted, the statute didn’t draw any distinctions between good faith lien claims and fraudulent claims.

In short, if you lose any lien challenge, you lose big.

My concern was that this would have a chilling effect on Tennessee lien claims. Honestly, I was going to be nervous every time I filed a future mechanic’s lien, no matter how good my factual and legal basis was. You just never know what can happen in Court.

So, it was no surprise when I saw that House Judiciary Committee Chair Rep. Michael Curcio, R-Dickson, and Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, introduced a bill this week that was drafted by the Tennessee Bar Association’s Construction Law Section to fix this.

This proposed legislation HB875/SB682 adds a “malice” requirement when imposing penalties. Specifically, the big change comes in subpart (a), which provides:

“…a real property owner who prevails in an action challenging the validity of a lien, and establishes, by clear and convincing evidence, that the person claiming the lien has acted with malice, including in a libel of title proceeding, may recover: …”

I’m disappointed that I wasn’t able to use this statute on somebody, but it’s a small price to pay in order to avoid somebody using it on me.

Tenn. Code Ann. § 66-21-108 is the Scariest Statute I’ve Seen in a While (and I can’t wait to use it)

On May 21, 2018, the Legislature enacted a law related to real property lien disputes with some real teeth. (When I say “teeth,” I’m picturing the movie poster for Jaws.)

That statute is Tenn. Code Ann. § 66-21-108.

The law provides that, if a real property owner prevails in challenging a lien, the owner “shall recover” all of the following:

  1. The owner’s reasonable attorney’s fees; AND
  2. Reasonable costs incurred by the owner to challenge the validity of the lien; AND
  3. Liquidated damages in an amount equal to ten percent (10%) of the fair market value of the property not to exceed one hundred thousand dollars ($100,000); AND
  4. Any actual damages incurred by the owner.

What’s significant about this statute is all the punishments it awards a party losing a lien dispute. It creates a statutory basis for attorneys fees (remember, Tennessee is an “American Rule” state) and also creates a statutory basis for pretty hefty liquidated damages (remember, Tennessee courts don’t favor liquidated damages provisions).

And, in case that’s not enough, don’t overlook that this statute imposes these double penalties on a “strict liability” basis, meaning that there needs to be no showing of bad faith. Instead, all that the property owner needs to do is: (1) prevail; and (2) ask for all these damages.

So, if you’re the property owner, you’ll love this statute. If you’re a contractor or represent lien claimants, I suspect you’re going to think twice (and maybe more) about this statute every time you file a lien claim.