In January 2012, the Pennsylvania Superior Court, sitting en banc, issued a decision holding that Section 1928(c) of the Pennsylvania Statutory Constructions Act (1 Pa.C.S.A. §1928(c)), requires that the Mechanics’ Lien Law of 1963 (the “Mechanics’ Lien Law”), 49 P.S. §1101 et seq., “must be ‘liberally construed to effect [its] objects and to promote justice’”. Bricklayers of Western Pennsylvania Combined Funds, Inc. v. Scott’s Development Company et al., 41 A.3d 16, 25 (Pa. Super. 2012). This is a significant holding that changes the landscape for interpretation of the Mechanics’ Lien Law because prior to 2012, prevailing jurisprudence in Pennsylvania held that because mechanics’ liens were purely statutory in nature and origin and thus were in derogation of common law, lien claims were reviewed with strict construction of the statute that created it.

In Bricklayers, the Court examined the cases espousing the rule of strict construction and concluded that the precedent upon which they rested dated back to the case of Sampson-Miller Associated Cos. v. Landmark Realty Co., 303 A.2d 43 (Pa. Super. 1973) which relied upon the Pennsylvania Supreme Court case, Brann & Stuart Co. v. Con. Sun Ray, Inc., 253 A.2d 105, 106 (Pa. 1969) that interpreted the Mechanics’ Lien Law of 1901 (which was subsequently repealed in 1963 to make way for the present Mechanics’ Lien Law).

The Superior Court reasoned that Sections 1928(a) and (c) of the Statutory Construction Act require that statutes, like the Mechanics’ Lien Law of 1963, enacted after 1937 “shall be liberally construed to effect their objects and to promote justice.” Bricklayers, 41 A.3d at 25. As such, the Court further opined that “the Mechanics’ Lien Law of 1963 cannot be strictly construed on the basis that it is in derogation of the common law.” Id. The Court went on to point out that the genesis of the strict construction rule, Sampson-Miller, “erroneously rested on case law construing the Mechanics’ Lien Law of 1901 and inaccurately transposed it to the successor statute, the Mechanics’ Lien Law of 1963.” Id.

Lastly, the Bricklayers Court concluded that the strict construction rule was not saved by Section 1962 of the Statutory Construction Act that provides “[w]henever a statute is repealed and its provisions are at the same time reenacted in the same or substantially the same terms by the repealing statute, the earlier statute shall be construed as continued in active operation.” Id, 41 A.3d at 25. The Court reached this conclusion finding that the Mechanics’ Lien Law of 1963 was not a complete reenactment of the prior Mechanics’ Lien Law of 1901, noting that many provisions of the current Mechanics’ Lien Law were substantially revised, and it contains new provisions not previously contained in the Mechanics’ Lien Law of 1901, including the overarching provision at issue in Bricklayers, Section 1303(a).

The Bricklayers precedent paves the way for Courts to apply the Mechanics’ Lien Law of 1963 more liberally with the object to promote its remedial nature to assist contractors and subcontractors in obtaining compensation owed them for the provision of labor and/or materials in connection with improvements to land. Trial courts may rely upon this precedent to avoid forfeitures of lien claims where lien claimants fail to comply with some technical aspect of the statutory requirements of the Mechanics’ Lien Law, but have otherwise substantially complied with the overall statutory requirements of the Mechanics’ Lien Law. Stated differently, owners may find it more difficult to have lien claims stricken or dismissed based upon minor non-compliance of statutory requirements that do not result in significant prejudice to the owner.