In a recent decision by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, the Court held that a mechanic’s lien filed by an unpaid supplier against a construction project, after the contractor through whom the materials were furnished filed for bankruptcy, was voidable. In re Linear Electric Co., No. 16-1477 (3rd Cir. March 30, 2017). Specifically, the Court held that once the contractor filed for bankruptcy, the automatic stay barred the filing of a mechanic’s lien. While the supplier argued that the lien only encumbered property of the owner of the construction project, rather than property of the contract, the Court rejected that argument. The Court held that because the lien permitted recovery of money owed by the owner to the contractor, the lien acted to seize a portion of the contractor’s accounts receivable, which was now an asset of the bankruptcy estate.
Interestingly, the Court noted that the result might have been different if another state’s law governed. The Court acknowledged that in another case, In re Yobe Electric, Inc., 728 F.2d 207 (3rd Cir. 1984), the filing of a mechanic’s lien by a subcontractor did not violate the automatic stay provision because, under Pennsylvania law, the date of filing the mechanic’s lien related back to “the date of visible commencement upon the ground of the work of erecting or constructing the improvement.” In In re Linear, the Court applied New Jersey law, which contained no such relate back provision and, therefore, the mechanic’s lien was effective only as of the date of filing.
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