By Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. of Hanlon Niemann & Wright, a Freehold, NJ Construction and Materials Lien Attorney
Construction liens are seldom discussed. So, before we dive into the details of Groesbeck v. Linden in order to illustrate some of the legal quandaries one might find themselves in when dealing with a construction lien, we will talk about some of the basics of The Construction Lien Law, N.J. Stat. Ann. 2A:44. There are many different provisions and articles of the law, but we will discuss only the most important parts. In general, the law affords a contractor who supplies work, services, or materials the right to file a lien to get paid. It’s a right however subject to the interests of the owner of the real property to question the validity of the lien. A lien claim cannot be filed more than 90 days after the last work was done or services completed. Another important aspect of the law to keep in mind is that a lien claimant (i.e. the construction company or contractor who has not been paid and is still seeking payment) must bring an action within one year to establish and enforce the lien claim.
In the case at cited above, the plaintiff was a contractor and the defendant was the homeowner. They entered into a contract to do work on the defendant’s home. When the contractor had finished over three quarters of the work, the homeowner refused to make the payment that was due. The contractor filed a lien claim under the Construction Lien Law. However, the contractor withdrew his lien claim before the final judgment, since he was unable to post a bond. Ultimately, the court found that even if a contractor withdraws a lien claim, he can still pursue other remedies at law to get his money back. These other remedies are not precluded by the fact that the contractor tried the matter in court before. This has to do with an issue in civil procedure known as claim preclusion. If one tried a matter in court and a final judgment is reached, he cannot try that matter again in court if it arises from the same common nucleus of facts.
The court notes that a contractor does not lose his ability to pursue a traditional common law contract remedy for unpaid services, if he initially pursues a lien claim. In short, the court recognizes that getting people to pay for contractor services that they were unhappy with or felt like they shouldn’t pay is already a difficult enough task. In this case and similar cases – that take place all of the time – so the court felt like if it did not allow contractors to pursue both a lien claim and a standard breach of contract claim, then it would set a bad precedent for contractors. Contractors would be discouraged from engaging in businesses if they knew they didn’t have different avenues to recover money they are legitimately owed if a customer chooses not to pay.
In N.J. there are many different routes that contractors can take in order to get paid for all the time, materials, and effort spent on a project that a client chooses not to pay for. With that being said, it is wise to call a lawyer that is experienced and knowledgeable about the Construction Lien Law, so that he can investigate all of the legal avenues to help you collect a debt from a non-paying client.
To discuss your NJ Construction and Material Lien matter, please contact Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. toll-free at (855) 376-5291 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please ask us about our video conferencing consultations if you are unable to come to our office.