A complaint to enforce a mechanics’ lien need not be entered at a separate docket and maintained in a file separate from the underlying mechanics’ lien claim, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held in Terra Technical Services, LLC v. River Station Land, L.P., __ A.3d __ (Nos. 86-102 MAP 2014, filed Sept. 29, 2015) (opinion announcing judgment of the Court).
Terra Technical contracted with River Station Development to perform demolition work on River Station’s property. On March 3, 2010, Terra Technical filed 17 identical mechanics’ lien claims in the Chester County Court of Common Pleas to Docket Numbers 2010-02332 through 2010-02350. Two years later, Terra Technical filed 17 complaints to obtain judgments on each lien at the same docket numbers. The trial court sustained River Station’s preliminary objections, holding that under the Mechanics’ Lien Law and the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure, an action to obtain judgment upon a mechanics’ lien cannot be “maintained” as part of the mechanics’ lien claim itself. The trial court relied upon Superior Court precedent expressing that documents relating to each of the two stages of mechanics’ lien proceedings are entered in separate dockets and kept in separate files. On appeal, the Superior Court unanimously affirmed the dismissal of Terra Technical’s complaints in an unpublished memorandum opinion.
The Supreme Court allowed Terra Technical’s appeal, reversed the Superior Court’s order and remanded for reinstatement of Terra Technical’s complaints. Justice Stevens authored the opinion announcing the judgment of the divided Court. Justice Stevens analyzed the relevant provisions of the Mechanics’ Lien Law, 49 P.S. §§1101-1902, and Rules of Civil Procedure governing mechanics’ lien actions, Pa. R.C.P. 1651-1661, which make clear that a mechanics’ lien claim is a necessary precursor to an action for judgment thereon. Justice Stevens found no ambiguity in the rules regarding the issue on appeal; there is no requirement that mechanics’ lien claims and subsequent actions to obtain judgment on them bear separate docket numbers or be physically separated. Thus, the lower courts erred by expanding the scope of the rules beyond their plain terms by inserting such a requirement.
In a concurring opinion joined by Justice Todd, Chief Justice Saylor opined that the rules governing the filing of mechanics’ liens are ambiguous. On the one hand they contemplate that a complaint will commence a “new action,” but they also do not affirmatively prohibit using the same docket number assigned to the original lien claim. Relying on the principle of liberal construction of the rules articulated in Pa. R.C.P. 126, Chief Justice Saylor would favor the permissibility of using the same docket numbers. In a separate concurring opinion, Justice Eakin opined that because Terra Technical’s use of the same docket numbers violated no law or rule, the proper inquiry was whether River Station was prejudiced. Justice Eakin concluded there was no prejudice because the complaints were valid and both the claims and complaints were discoverable by searching the docket.