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West Virginia Steel Corp. v. Sparta Steel Corporation

356 N.J. Super. 398, 812 A.2d 1134 (App. Div. 2003)

CONSTRUCTION LIENS—It doesn’t matter how complex a material supplier’s claim may be and how many counties may be involved, each lien claim must be followed by an action brought in each county where an underlying construction project is located, not just where the contractor is located.

A fabricator of structural steel products for use in construction projects sold some to a distributor who resold them to various property owners. When the distributor did not pay the fabricator, the fabricator filed a claim against the distributor in Bergen County and against nineteen project owners with projects in nine New Jersey counties and one county in New York. None of the projects were located in Bergen County. Lien claims were also asserted against the various owners. Those lien claims were dismissed with prejudice and the fabricator appealed. Under the Construction Lien Law, “[a] claimant filing a lien shall forfeit all rights to enforce the lien, and shall immediately discharge the lien of record, if the claimant fails to bring an action in the Superior Court, in the county in which the real property is situated, to establish the lien claim” within one year of the date of the last provision of work. Without doubt, the action to enforce the lien claims was not brought in the proper county. Nonetheless, the fabricator argued that this was a “complex multi-party” case and that the “venue provision in the statute should [have been] relaxed in the interests of judicial economy.” The Appellate Division disagreed, holding that there was “no provision in the Construction Lien Law authorizing relaxation of venue for a plaintiff’s convenience.” Even more significantly, the fabricator did not have a written agreement. “In order for a contractor, subcontractor or supplier to be entitled to a lien, any work or services performed, or material ... provided, must have been done ‘pursuant to a contract.’ ‘Contract is expressly defined in the act as ‘an agreement, or amendment thereto in writing, evidencing the respective responsibilities of the contracting parties… .’” Consequently, even if the complaints had been timely filed in the proper counties, there was no ground upon which the fabricator could enforce the liens.

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