MINELLI CONSTRUCTION CO INC v. New York State Thruway Authority, defendant.

Reset A A Font size: Print

Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Second Department, New York.

MINELLI CONSTRUCTION CO., INC., respondent, v. ARBEN CORPORATION, et al., appellants, New York State Thruway Authority, defendant.

Decided: November 24, 2003

NANCY E. SMITH, J.P., SANDRA L. TOWNES, BARRY A. COZIER and WILLIAM F. MASTRO, JJ. Rivelis, Pawa & Blum, LLP, New York, NY, (Shannon P. Gallagher and Arthur J. Semetis of counsel), for appellants. Melvin J. Kalish, Mineola, NY, (Ralph J. Reissman of counsel), for respondent.

In an action, inter alia, to foreclose a mechanic's lien, the defendants Arben Corporation and United States Fidelity and Guaranty Company appeal from so much of an order of the Supreme Court, Westchester County (Rudolph, J.), entered June 12, 2002, as denied their cross motion for summary judgment discharging the lien as a willful exaggeration pursuant to Lien Law §§ 39 and 39-a, and on their counterclaim alleging breach of contract and as granted that branch of the plaintiff's motion which was for summary judgment dismissing Arben Corporation's counterclaims to recover damages for maintenance and protection of traffic.

ORDERED that the order is modified, by deleting the provision thereof granting that branch of the plaintiff's motion which was to dismiss Arben Corporation's counterclaims to recover damages for maintenance and protection of traffic and substituting therefor a provision denying that branch of the motion;  as so modified, the order is affirmed insofar as appealed from, without costs or disbursements.

The Supreme Court properly held that the appellants failed to demonstrate, as a matter of law, that the plaintiff Minelli Construction Co., Inc. (hereinafter Minelli), willfully exaggerated the subject lien (see East Hills Metro v. Dennis Constr. Corp., 277 A.D.2d 348, 717 N.Y.S.2d 202;  Fidelity N.Y. v. Kensington-Johnson Corp., 234 A.D.2d 263, 651 N.Y.S.2d 86).   The fact that a lien may contain improper charges does not, in and of itself, establish that a plaintiff willfully exaggerated a lien (see Goodman v. Del-Sa-Co Foods, 15 N.Y.2d 191, 257 N.Y.S.2d 142, 205 N.E.2d 288;  Fidelity N.Y. v Kensington-Johnson Corp., supra).   This is particularly true in light of the requirement that Lien Law § 39 a must be strictly construed in favor of the party against whom the penalty is sought to be imposed (see Goodman v. Del-Sa-Co Foods, supra;  Pyramid Champlain Co. v. Brosseau & Co., 267 A.D.2d 539, 699 N.Y.S.2d 516;  Guzman v. Estate of Fluker, 226 A.D.2d 676, 641 N.Y.S.2d 721).

The appellants' argument that sections 3.2 and 3.6 of the subcontract can be construed as a so-called “time for payment” clause is unavailing.   Since the “pay-when-paid” provision contains express language which imposes a condition on the legal responsibility of Arben Corporation (hereinafter Arben) to pay Minelli, it cannot be construed as a time for payment clause (see West-Fair Elec. Contrs. v. Aetna Cas. & Sur. Co., 87 N.Y.2d 148, 638 N.Y.S.2d 394, 661 N.E.2d 967).

Since the Supreme Court's determination that the defendant New York State Thruway Authority acknowledged responsibility for Arben's claims to recover damages for maintenance and protection of traffic is not supported by the record, the matter is remitted to the Supreme Court for a determination as to whether Minelli was responsible for Arben's claims (see Passantino v. Consolidated Edison Co. of N.Y., 54 N.Y.2d 840, 842, 444 N.Y.S.2d 59, 428 N.E.2d 391;  CBM Equip. Corp. v. Markwardt, 77 A.D.2d 815, 816, 430 N.Y.S.2d 769).

The appellants' remaining contentions are without merit (see West-Fair Elec. Contrs. v. Aetna Cas. & Sur. Co., supra at 158, 638 N.Y.S.2d 394, 661 N.E.2d 967).

Copied to clipboard