How Much Money Does it Take to Make a Mechanic’s Lien Excessive in Nevada?
How much money makes a mechanic’s lien claim excessive or frivolous? According to one Nevada court, $1,371,187.44. In this case, the subcontractor filed a lien for $2,117,602.78, which was contested by the general contractor. The court deemed the subcontractor’s mechanic’s lien excessive and ordered the claim to be reduced to $746,415.34. Let’s review mechanic’s lien rights in Nevada and the case at hand.
Securing a Mechanic’s Lien in Nevada
For private commercial projects in Nevada, would-be lien claimants should serve a preliminary notice upon the owner and prime contractor after first furnishing materials or services, but within 31 days from first furnishing materials or services. In the event of non-payment, the lien should be filed within 90 days from last furnishing or 90 days from project completion, whichever is later. Suit to enforce the mechanic’s lien should be filed after 30 days from filing the lien, but within 6 months from filing the lien.
In 2015, Edgewood Companies (Edgewood) hired SMC Construction Co. (SMC) to build a hotel in Lake Tahoe. SMC then hired subcontractor, Rex Moore Group, Inc. (Rex), to provide “the electrical system and electrical fixtures for the project.” The original subcontract was for $5,464,364, included terms for 10% retainage and stated only written change orders would be accepted. The subcontract also included verbiage that Rex “…would not be entitled to any monetary damages or other compensation or damages resulting from delays to the project.”
The court makes mention of the damage clause because, as you’d imagine, the story takes a turn. In the winter of 2016/2017, significant project delays prompted SMC to tell Rex to put in the time & resources to speed up the project. The delays and subsequent “hurry up!” resulted in 20 change orders. These change orders increased the subcontract from $5.4M to a little over $6.1M.
In early spring 2017, Rex submitted a claim for damages due to, among several items, delays on the project. The additional claim was for $927,000, and, based on the subcontract, SMC denied Rex’s claim. In turn, Rex filed a lien for $2,117,602.78. Here’s how Rex arrived at that claim amount:
“Rex Moore calculated its lien as follows: $5,464,364 under the original contract plus $1,941,710.74 in additional work (including approved change orders up to that time) and damages for breach of contract minus $5,288,471.93 for payments received for a lien of $2,117,602.78.”
Here’s the court’s review of Rex’s math:
“Here, it is undisputed that there is a subcontract and twenty written change orders between the parties which sets forth an agreed upon price of $6,184,183.00 for Rex Moore’s work on the project. SMC contends that Rex Moore has been paid $5,470,580.63 on the project leaving an amount due of $713,602.37.”
Now, there is apparently an extraneous change order floating about, and the parties further agree that Rex’s claim amount is no more than $746,415.34.
Continuing our math lesson, Rex’s lien was filed for nearly 3 times the amount of its actual claim. SMC argued Rex’s claim is “frivolous and made in bad faith.” Rex, of course, argues its lien is not frivolous and Rex has email communication to back up its claim.
In the email, Rex asks SMC if it should track its costs (during the delays and “hurry ups”): “[SMC] responded to [Rex]’s e-mail about tracking costs and possible delay issues by telling [Rex] that “tracking [Rex] costs is a good idea” and to have “[SMC’s construction supervisors] sign off tickets as the work is happening so we know they are valid if/when we need to talk about money.” Id.”
Rex considers this email exchange a waiver of the damage’s clause in the subcontract.
“Rex contends that this e-mail establishes that SMC agreed to pay Rex for delay related costs and damages and waived the subcontract requirement of written change orders for all changes in compensation… Rex argues that once SMC agreed to allow Rex track its additional expenses, this additional compensation became part of the agreed upon contract price even if it was not specifically identified by any change order and thus, the additional compensation is lienable under Nevada’s mechanic’s lien statute.”
Except… in its original lien filing, Rex claimed some amounts were owed due to breach of contract. And, as the court points out, damages resulting from breach of contract are not lienable under Nevada statute. “Thus, Rex’s own lien statement establishes that the lien requests compensation for aspects of the project outside the scope of the subcontract and which are not lienable under the mechanic’s lien statute. As such, Rex’s recorded lien is excessive as a matter of law.”
OK, but what about the email? Well, the court didn’t agree with this single email being a waiver of the damage clause, because the email didn’t actually say it was a waiver. The court furthered that if this email did constitute as a valid waiver, it still wouldn’t matter, because Rex’s claim was outside the strict limitations of Nevada’s mechanic’s lien statute.
On the upside, Rex’s lien was not entirely expunged. The court kindly reduced Rex’s lien claim amount to the $746,415.34 owed, because the court did not believe or have enough evidence to prove that Rex filed its excessive claim in bad faith.
Documentation, yet once again, proves to be vital in supporting a lien claim. Review contracts carefully, execute change orders properly and never ever assume anything!