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SAMPSON-MILLER ASSOCIATED COMPANIES v. LANDMARK REALTY COMPANY (03/27/73)

decided: March 27, 1973.

SAMPSON-MILLER ASSOCIATED COMPANIES, INC., APPELLANT,
v.
LANDMARK REALTY COMPANY



Appeal from order of Court of Common Pleas, Civil Division, of Allegheny County, April T., 1972, No. 273, in case of Sampson-Miller Associated Companies, Inc. v. Landmark Realty Company.

COUNSEL

Dale Cleland, with him Cleland, Hurtt and Witt, for appellant.

Marvin J. Apple, with him Edgar J. Cooke, and Apple and Bernstein, for appellee.

Wright, P. J., Jacobs, Hoffman, Spaulding, Cercone, and Packel, JJ. (Watkins, J., absent.) Opinion by Spaulding, J.

Author: Spaulding

[ 224 Pa. Super. Page 26]

Appellant Sampson-Miller Associated Companies filed a mechanics' lien in 1971 for work performed on vacant land in Allegheny County owned by appellee Landmark Realty Company. The work which furnished the basis of this asserted lien consisted of the following: clearing, grubbing, excavating and grading the land; installation of storm sewers, sanitary sewers, paving and curbing; and seeding. No buildings or other permanent structures were built on these parcels of land. The trial court dismissed appellant's complaint and struck the mechanics' lien, holding that "a mechanics' lien cannot attach to land; there must be a building or part of a building or some type of structure upon which a lien may attach. . . ." This appeal requires a determination of whether a proper construction of the Mechanics' Lien Law of 1963,*fn1 will support a mechanics' lien filed for work on land on which no buildings have been constructed.

Mechanics' liens were non-existent at common law, being purely of statutory origin. As they are in derogation of the common law and since they effectively represent a special remedy in favor of a unique class of

[ 224 Pa. Super. Page 27]

    creditors, our courts have generally reviewed such claims with a strict construction of the statute which created them. Brann & Stuart Co. v. Con. Sun Ray, Inc., 433 Pa. 574, 253 A.2d 105 (1969); McCarthy v. Reese, 419 Pa. 489, 215 A.2d 257 (1965); see Act of May 28, 1937, P. L. 1019, art. IV, § 58, 46 P.S. § 558.*fn2

The first mechanics' lien law, enacted in the Commonwealth in 1803, provided, that "Every dwelling house or other building hereafter constructed and erected within the City and County of Philadelphia . . . shall be subject to the payment of the debts contracted for. . . ."*fn3 By the passage of the Act of 1836,*fn4 the lien was extended to all counties of the Commonwealth. That Act stated, inter alia, "that every building erected . . . shall be subject to a lien. . . ." Subsequently, numerous amendments to the 1836 Act were adopted, extending the lien to cover various services rendered in conjunction with building construction. These culminated in the passage of the Act of 1901, which repealed the 1836 Act and most of the amendments. That statute provided: "Every structure or other improvement and the curtilage appurtenant thereto, shall be subject to a lien for the payment of all debts due to the contractor or subcontractor, in the erection and construction or removal thereof . . . and all sidewalks, yards, fences, walls or other enclosure belonging to said structure or other improvement, and in the fitting up or equipment of the same, for the purpose for which the improvement is made."*fn5

[ 224 Pa. Super. Page 28]

Prior to this, however, Article III, § 7, of the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1874 had prohibited the General Assembly from passing "any local or special law authorizing the creation, extension, or impairing of liens . . . or providing or changing methods for the collection of debts. . . ." The foregoing legislative attempt to broaden the right to lien was thereafter declared unconstitutional and unenforceable insofar as it extended the right to lien beyond that which existed at the time of the adoption of the 1874 Constitution. Parkhill v. Hendricks, 53 Pa. Superior Ct. 9 (1913); Kinsinger v. Keasbey & Mattison Co., 193 Pa. Superior Ct. 383, 165 A.2d 107 (1960).

The most recent change in this remedy was the 1963 Act which provides the statutory basis for the instant claim. Essentially it recodified the 1901 Act and existing decisional law, without abridging or enlarging the right to lien.*fn6 In 1967, the existing constitutional limitation on legislative power to affect such liens in Article III, § 7, was repealed. Appellee contends that our interpretation of the scope of the lien provisions of the 1963 Act is nevertheless limited by the constitutional prohibition which existed at the time of its enactment, in spite of the subsequent repeal of ...


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