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Companies can’t recover attorney fees from general contractor

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The judgments awarded against the general contractor in the construction of a Portage movie theater are supported by the evidence, the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed Wednesday. But, the trial court should not have awarded the contractors who sued attorney fees under the mechanic’s lien statute.

Roncelli served as general contractor on the project, in which Goodrich leased property to construct the theatre. Roncelli hired as contractors Wilson Iron to provide the steel structure of the theater, Fostcorp to provide HVAC and Johnson Carpet to install carpet in the theater.

The roof framing plans did not use the industry standard symbol to depict that the joist girders would be modified to allow HVAC ductwork to pass through. Because the hourglass mark used on the plans was meaningless to Wilson Iron, it ignored it and created standard joist girders. Because of the joist issues, Fostcorp had to modify its plans to install the HVAC. There were also issues involving the ordering and installation of the carpet.

All of these issues led Wilson Iron, Fostcorp and Johnson Carpet to file mechanic’s liens for unpaid work. The trial court ultimately awarded more than half a million dollars to Fostcorp against Roncelli, plus nearly $100,000 in attorney fees; more than $400,000 to Wilson Iron against Roncelli, plus nearly $300,000 in attorney fees; and more than $55,000, plus pre-judgment interest in favor of Johnson Carpet against the general contractor.

Roncelli appealed, which the Court of Appeals affirmed, except with respect to the award of attorney fees. The purpose of the mechanic’s lien statutes is to make a property owner an involuntary guarantor of payments for the reasonable value of improvements made to real estate by labor or materials furnished by laborers or materialmen, Judge Margret Robb wrote in Goodrich Quality Theaters, Inc. and Roncelli, Inc. v. Fostcorp Heating and Cooling, Inc., Wilson Iron Works, Inc., Johnson Carpet, Inc., d/b/a Johnson Commercial Interiors, 64A03-1308-PL-318.

“As Roncelli is not the owner of the real estate or the structure, a mechanic’s lien cannot be enforced against it and subsequent attorney fees under that code provision are inapplicable,” she wrote. “Therefore, each award of attorney fees based on Indiana Code section 32-28-3-14 against Roncelli must (be) reversed.”
 

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