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Corbett v. Chambers

Supreme Court of California
Sep 25, 1895
109 Cal. 178 (Cal. 1895)


         Department One

         Appeal from a judgment of the Superior Court of San Diego County and from an order refusing a new trial. E. S. Torrance, Judge.


         J. W. Goodwin, and Henry J. Stevens, for Appellants.

          F. W. Ewing, and Zach. Montgomery & Son, for Respondents.

         JUDGES: Harrison, J. Garoutte, J., and Van Fleet, J., concurred.


          HARRISON, Judge

          [41 P. 874] Action for the foreclosure of four mechanics' liens upon certain property in the county of San Diego. When the notices of lien were offered in evidence the defendants objected to their sufficiency, and they were excluded by the court and judgment rendered in favor of the defendants. Plaintiffs have appealed.

         The complaint alleges that from about the first day of January, 1892, to about the first day of May, 1892, W. D. Chambers was the owner of the real property hereinafter described; that, as these plaintiffs are informed and believed, ever since about the first day of May, 1892, said property has stood in the name of F. W. Ewing, and that said F. W. Ewing has been the owner thereof." The notices of lien are substantially in the same form, and contain the following statements:

         " That F. W. Ewing is the name of the owner or reputed owner of said premises.

         " That W. D. Chambers is the name of the person by whom this claimant was employed to work on said premises."

         One of the objections which the defendants made to the introduction of these notices, and the one which has been chiefly argued in their brief, is that the notices should state the name of the owner at the time the claimant made his contract with Chambers, and should also state that the person for whom the labor was performed had some contractual relation with the person named in the notice as the owner of the building, whereas the notices herein merely state the name of the owner at the time of filing the claim of lien, and do not purport to state the name of the owner at the time the contract was made, and that they fail to show any contractual or other relation between the owner and Chambers.

         The steps which are requisite to the enforcement of a mechanic's lien are entirely of statutory creation, and the same rule which makes it essential that all statutory requirements be complied with in order to perfect the lien renders it unnecessary to take any other step than is thus required. In order, therefore, to determine whether a notice of lien is sufficient, it is only necessary to compare its terms with the terms of the statute which provide for the notice. Section 1187 of the Code of Civil Procedure requires the claimant to file for record with the county recorder "a claim containing a statement of his demand, after deducting all just credits and offsets, with the name of the owner or reputed owner, if known, and also the name of the person by whom he was employed, or to whom he furnished the materials." The requirements that are made by the statutes in many other states differ from those required in this state, and, as it is only necessary to consider the requirements of the above section, it is unprofitable to consider what decisions may have been made under different statutes.

         In the absence of any qualifying term, a statute must be interpreted according to the natural import of its language. There is no limitation upon the term "owner," as used in the above section of the code, nor does it refer to the owner with whom the contract for the improvement was made, or to the owner at any other time than at the date of filing the claim. To hold that the notice must state the name of the "owner" who originally entered into the contract under which the work was done would be to require something of the claimant which the statute has not required; and to hold that a statement of the name of the owner at the time of filing his claim is insufficient would be to deprive him of a lien when he has fully complied with the requirements of the statute. The object of requiring the claim to be filed in order to perfect the lien is to give notice of the lien to those interested in the property upon which it is claimed, and, as the owner at the time of filing the claim is the party to be affected thereby, rather than one who has parted with the property subsequent to the making of the original contract, it is reasonable to suppose that the legislature intended the name of the owner at the time the claim is filed, rather than that of any previous owner.

         The present mechanic's lien law is an evolution from prior statutes upon the same subject, resulting from the desire of the legislature to adjust the respective rights of lien claimants with those of the owners of property improved by their labor and material. An examination of these statutes confirms the conclusion that the "owner" whose name is to be given in the claim of lien is the owner at the time of filing the claim. The act of 1850, section 2 (Stats. 1850, p. 212), required the claimant to give a notice in writing to the "owner" of the building on which his labor or materials had been expended. By the act of 1855, section 3 (Stats. 1855, p. 157), the claimant was required to file his claim in the recorder's office, and within five days thereafter serve a copy thereof on the owner of the building, or his agent in case the owner resided out of the county; and, if he had no agent, to post it on the building charged with the lien. In 1858 (Stats. 1858, p. 225) this act was amended by authorizing the copy of the notice to be left at the residence of the owner, or deposited in the postoffice, directed to him, instead of being posted upon the building. In the act of 1862, section 5 (Stats. 1862, p. 385), the claimant was required to give a notice of the nature and extent of his claim to the "employer" of the original contractor.

         The statute was again revised in 1868, and the act of that year (Stats. 1868, p. 589) contains substantially the present provisions of the code on this subject. Instead of requiring the notice to be given to the "employer" of the original contractor, as was required by the act of 1862, this act brings the "owner" into connection [41 P. 875] with the claimant, as did the statutes prior to 1862, and, instead of requiring that the notice of claim be personally served upon him, authorizes it to be filed for record with the county recorder. By the act of 1862 the notice was to given to the "employer" of the original contractor irrespective of any interest he might then have in the property, and the restoration of the term "owner" in 1868 indicates that the legislature deemed that notice to the employer might not be sufficient, if such employer was not also the owner. As the main object of giving personal notice of the claim to the owner of the building is to affect him with notice of the lien and afford him an opportunity of protecting himself against the same in his dealings with the original contractor, it must be assumed that when the legislature substituted the recording of the claim, with the name of the owner therein, for the personal notice previously required to be given to him, it intended the owner of the property who would be affected by the lien, rather than a prior owner who had authorized the improvement, and who by an intervening sale had ceased to have any interest in the property or in any lien thereon. Another object of having the notice made a matter of public record is for the protection of those who may deal with the owner of the property. By the Political Code, section 4236, subdivision 16, the county recorder is required to keep "an index of notices of mechanics' liens, labeled 'mechanics' liens,' each page divided into three columns, headed respectively 'Parties Claiming Liens,' 'Against Whom Claimed,' 'Notices When and Where Recorded.'" The same provision is found in section 125 of the several county government acts that have been passed. It is by this index that a subsequent dealer with the property is to be guided in ascertaining whether there are any encumbrances upon the owner's title, and it is apparent that this index would afford no notice to subsequent purchasers or encumbrancers if the owner whose name is to be stated in the claim is one who at some previous time had been the owner, but who had long prior to filing the claim parted with all interest in the property.

         As the claim of lien which is to be filed with the county recorder is not the enforcement of the lien, or any step for its enforcement, but merely one of the acts to be performed in perfecting the lien, it is apparent that it is not essential that this notice shall contain a statement of all the facts essential to establishing the lien, or anything more than is required by the statute. The office of filing the statement is to give notice of the claim, and not to serve as evidence of the lien. The statute does not require the claimant to state in his notice that the person to whom he furnished the materials, or for whom he performed labor upon the building, had any contract with the owner, or with the person whose name is given as the owner. The only notice that the claimant is required to give is the name of the person with whom he dealt or contracted. He may not know the name of the owner, and if he is ignorant of his name he is not required to state it. (West Coast Lumber Co. v. Newkirk , 80 Cal. 275.) The person with whom he dealt may be unknown to the owner. He may be a subcontractor with whom the owner had no contractual relation, and the statute provides that the laborer may have a lien, irrespective of the existence of a contract on the part of the owner. In the action to enforce the lien, however, the claimant must state in his complaint all the facts essential to a recovery, and show that the person with whom he dealt had authority from the owner, either express or implied, to create a lien upon his property. If the owner who contracted for the improvement has in the mean time parted with all interest in the property, whether before or after filing the notice, the claimant cannot enforce his lien in an action against him alone, but must make as a defendant the owner at the time of bringing the suit.

         The statute is a remedial statute, adopted in obedience to the requirements of the constitution (art. XX, sec. 15), and is to be liberally construed in furtherance of the purposes for which it was authorized. The persons for whose benefit the statute is enacted are not presumed to be versed in the niceties of pleading, and the notices, which under its provisions they are authorized to give, have regard to substance rather than form. The terms of the section clearly indicate that it was not the intention of the legislature that in the claim of lien which he files for record the claimant shall state the name of the real owner, at the risk of losing his lien if it shall turn out that he was in error. The provision therein that the claimant shall give the "name of the owner or reputed owner, if known," implies that, if he does not know the name of the owner, he may state this fact, and perfect his lien without naming an owner (West Coast Lumber Co. v. Newkirk, supra ), and, also, that if, in good faith, he gives the name of a reputed owner, he shall not lose his lien if he shall afterward ascertain that some other person was the owner. (See Leiegne v. Schwarzler, 67 How. Pr. 130.) Under this view of the object of the section it must be held that the claimant does not fail in perfecting his lien if, as in the present case, he states the name of the owner or reputed owner in the alternative. As he is not required to ascertain at his peril the name of the true owner, and as it is sufficient if he gives the name of the reputed owner, the sufficiency of the notice is not impaired by the same person being designated as owner or reputed owner. In either case it is only the opinion of the claimant upon matters that are not presumptively within his knowledge, but which he has formed from external information; and in that respect the notice which he is to file differs from a pleading in which a fact essential to a recovery must be [41 P. 876] definitely averred. The object of this statement in his claim is, as we have seen, to designate the person against whom he seeks to establish the lien, as well as to protect others in their dealings with the property. The purpose of this designation is to point out the individual who is to be affected thereby, rather than the attribute of ownership; and, if the individual against whose property the lien is claimed is specified, he receives all the notice which is intended by the statute, irrespective of whether he is designated as owner or reputed owner. (See Reed v. Norton , 90 Cal. 596.)

         Many other objections were made by the respondents to the introduction of the notice, but they have not been presented in their brief. The court sustained the objections as a whole, without specifying those which it deemed valid. We have, however, examined the record with reference to all of the objections, but do not deem that any of them require further consideration. The objection that in the verification of one of the claims it is stated "that the facts stated therein are true," instead of stating that the claim is true, as well as the objection to another of the notices that it stated that Ewing was the owner of the "premises," instead of stating that he was the owner of the "building," are frivolous.

Summaries of

Corbett v. Chambers

Supreme Court of California
Sep 25, 1895
109 Cal. 178 (Cal. 1895)
Case details for

Corbett v. Chambers

Case Details

Full title:W. C. CORBETT et al., Appellants, v. W. D. CHAMBERS et al., Respondents

Court:Supreme Court of California

Date published: Sep 25, 1895


109 Cal. 178 (Cal. 1895)
41 P. 873

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