Can Laborers File and Enforce a Mechanic’s Lien in Washington?
Per a court of appeals decision…yes! In the case of Guillen v. Pearson, Wash: Court of Appeals, 2nd Div. 2016, the court of appeals affirmed that those providing labor to a construction project have the right to recovery via the mechanic’s lien process.
A Bit of Background
Milestone at Wynnstone, LLC (Milestone) hired a subcontractor, ABSI Builders, Inc. (ABSI), to provide services for the “construction of exterior and interior walls, floors and roofs, and installation of trusses, sheeting, windows, and sliding doors” of an apartment complex in Puyallup, Washington.
ABSI failed to pay its employees and, in turn, the employees filed a mechanic’s lien on the property.
Can ABSI’s Employees File a Mechanic’s Lien for Unpaid Wages?
Yes. According to the court of appeals, ABSI’s employees were entitled to mechanic’s lien rights based on statute interpretation.
Who is Entitled to a Mechanic’s Lien in Washington? What is a Person?
First, we will look to statute to determine who is entitled to a mechanic’s lien in Washington.
“any person furnishing labor, professional services, materials, or equipment for the improvement of real property shall have a lien upon the improvement for the contract price of labor, professional services, materials, or equipment furnished at the instance of the owner, or the agent or construction agent of the owner.” – RWC 60.04.021
To define “person,” we turn back to the court opinion, where the court defined the term “labor” as the “exertion of the powers of body or mind performed at the site for compensation” and the term “person” as “an individual human being.”
“Here, a plain reading of RCW 60.04.021 indicates that the laborers are ‘any person furnishing labor.’ The laborers are individual human beings who constructed the framing of the buildings in exchange for compensation from ABSI.
The statute does not define ‘person’ as a licensed contractor, nor does the statute indicate that ‘person’ excludes employees of a licensed contractor. And Milestone cites no authority supporting such a limitation. Milestone’s argument that the laborers are not entitled to a lien because they are unlicensed employees would require us to read into the statute requirements that do not exist in the plain language.
Accordingly, we hold that the laborers are persons who are entitled to a lien under RCW 60.04.021.”
The court reminding us, of course, that statute should be interpreted as plain language.
ABSI’s Employees are “Persons”
Now that we have cleared up the little matter of determining that these laborers are in fact people and are entitled to a mechanic’s lien, let’s see what the court of appeals decided.
“We hold that (1) RCW 60.04.021 entitles individual, unlicensed laborers to construction liens for their labor if their work was furnished at the instance of the owner or the owner’s agent or construction agent, (2) the laborers are entitled to a lien because their labor was furnished at the instance of ABSI, which as a subcontractor was Milestone’s construction agent, and (3) based on the laborers’ unchallenged argument, the laborers timely filed and timely served their lien action…”
In other words, ABSI’s employees were entitled to the mechanic’s lien they filed and the lien was filed timely. So this case heads back to trial court for further proceedings.
Don’t Count Me Out
Although this case is not officially over, it’s a good reminder that mechanic’s lien rights are designed to protect those providing materials and/or services to a construction project. Don’t automatically assume you can’t use the mechanic’s lien process to recover unpaid monies based on your place in the contractual chain. Take the time to review statute or seek a legal opinion