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Eischen Cabinet Co. v. Hildebrandt

July 29, 2004

EISCHEN CABINET COMPANY, APPELLANT,
v.
JOHN O. HILDEBRANDT, ET AL., RESPONDENTS, HAMPTON BANK, N/K/A MERCHANTS BANK, N.A., DEFENDANT, AMERIQUEST MORTGAGE COMPANY, RESPONDENT.



Heard, considered and decided by the court en banc.

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

Service by certified mail of a mechanics' lien claim statement, as permitted by Minn. Stat. § 514.08, subd. 1(2) (2002), is effective upon mailing.

Reversed.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Anderson, Russell A., Justice.

OPINION

A mechanics' lien ceases 120 days after the last work is completed unless the mechanic files a claim statement with the county recorder's office and serves upon the property owner, either personally or by certified mail, a copy of the claim statement. Minn. Stat. § 514.08, subd. 1 (2002). In this case, we are asked whether service by certified mail of a copy of a mechanics' lien claim statement upon the property owner, as permitted by Minn. Stat. §514.08, subd. 1(2) (2002), is effective upon mailing or upon receipt and we hold that service is effective upon mailing.

On May 4, 2000, John and Marlene Hildebrandt ("Hildebrandts") contracted with Eischen Cabinet Company ("Eischen") to provide custom-made cabinets for their home in Hastings, Minnesota. Eischen completed the work on January 25, 2002.*fn1 The sum of $30,631.72 was due Eischen under the contract and Hildebrandts paid all but $3,131.72. On Friday, May 24, 2002, Eischen mailed a mechanics' lien claim statement to the Dakota County Recorder for filing and also sent a copy of the claim statement by certified mail to Hildebrandts' home address, where the work was done. Eischen did not know that Hildebrants received their mail at a Hastings post office box, and not at their home. The county recorder's office, and also the Hastings post office where Hildebrandts received their mail, were closed on Monday, May 27, for Memorial Day. The lien statement was filed and recorded by the county recorder on May 28. The certified letter with Eischen's claim statement was received by the Hastings post office on May 28 and Hildebrandts picked up the letter at their Hasting post office box on May 30, 2002.

Eischen commenced an action to enforce its mechanics' lien and Hildebrandts filed a counterclaim alleging that it would cost $3,000 to complete and correct the cabinet installation. Hildebrandts brought a motion for partial summary judgment which the district court granted, dismissing that portion of Eischen's complaint seeking to enforce its mechanics' lien and also discharging the claim statement - the notice of lis pendens - filed with the county recorder. The court concluded that service did not occur until Hildebrandts received the copy of the claim statement on May 30, 2002, and since May 30 was beyond the 120-day statutory time limit for service, Eischen's mechanics' lien was untimely.*fn2

The court of appeals affirmed, concluding that timeliness of service is an essential requirement of the mechanics' lien statute, and that service by certified mail is effective upon receipt of certified mail, not upon its mailing. Eischen Cabinet Co. v. Hildebrandt, 671 N.W.2d 609, 611 (Minn. App. 2003). We granted review and now reverse.

We review summary judgment to determine whether there are any genuine issues of material fact and whether either party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Jorgensen v. Knutson, 662 N.W.2d 893, 897 (Minn. 2003). Our review of the law, which includes the construction of statutes, is de novo. Ryan Contracting, Inc. v. JAG Investments, Inc., 634 N.W.2d 176, 181 (Minn. 2001).

We construe a statute to effect its essential purpose but we do not disregard the clear language of a statute - the letter of the law - to pursue the spirit of the law. Amaral v. Saint Cloud Hosp., 598 N.W.2d 379, 384 (Minn. 1999). Our objective in all interpretation and construction of statutes is to ascertain and effectuate the intention of the legislature. Olson v. Ford Motor Co., 558 N.W.2d 491, 494 (Minn. 1997). See also Minn. Stat. § 645.16 (2002).

In this case, there are no genuine issues of material fact and the legal issue is when service by certified mail is effective under section 514.08. The statute provides, in relevant part, that a mechanics' lien ceases at the end of 120 days after doing the last of the work, or furnishing the last item of skill, material, or machinery, unless within this period:

a statement of the claim is filed for record with the county recorder or * * * the registrar of titles * * *; and a copy of the statement is served personally or by certified mail on the owner or the owner's authorized agent or ...


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