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Desai v. A. R. Design Group, Inc.

Supreme Court of Virginia

June 1, 2017

ULKA DESAI, EXECUTRIX OF THE ESTATE OF LAKSHMI DESAI, AND AS THE SUCCESSOR TRUSTEE OF THE REVOCABLE TRUST AGREEMENT OF LAKSHMI DESAI AS AMENDED
v.
A. R. DESIGN GROUP, INC.

         FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF FAIRFAX COUNTY Robert J. Smith, Judge

          PRESENT: Lemons, C.J., Goodwyn, McClanahan, Powell, Kelsey, and McCullough, JJ., and Millette, S.J.

          OPINION

          STEPHEN R. McCULLOUGH, JUSTICE

         Ulka Desai challenges the validity of a mechanic's lien filed by A.R. Design Group. The trial court upheld the lien. We conclude that the memorandum for mechanic's lien either complied with the statute outright or was substantially compliant and, therefore, we affirm the judgment of the circuit court.

         BACKGROUND

         A.R. Design Group recorded a mechanic's lien for work done on two properties. The properties are both located in McLean, Virginia: one is on Towlston Road, and the other is on Woodside Drive. Both properties have been placed in a trust. Lakshmi Desai originally served as trustee. Following Lakshmi's death, Lakshmi's niece Ulka was named as trustee and she became trustee before the filing of the memorandum of mechanic's lien.

         A.R. Design employed a form from the Virginia judiciary's website, Form CC-1512, for its memoranda. The memorandum for the Woodside Drive property identifies "Ulka D. Desai & Ulka D. Desai as executor of Estate of Lakshmi Desai" as the owner. It does not specifically state that Ulka Desai is the trustee. The memoranda for both the Woodside Drive and the Towlston Road liens were both signed by "Abbas Rouhani VP." Rouhani filled in the blank space provided for the "claimant." A line is drawn through the blank space provided for the "agent" to sign. Rouhani completed the affidavit as follows:

         (Image Omitted)

         Neither memorandum indicates a date from which interest is claimed or specifically states when payment is due. The memoranda state that the "owner is justly indebted to the claimant in the sum of $39, 332.00 for work on the Woodside Drive property and $183, 609.05 for work on the Towlston Road property "for the consideration stated in the foregoing memorandum, and that the same is payable as therein stated."

         Desai filed a petition challenging the validity of the liens. Desai argues that the memoranda are defective for the following reasons:

(1) For the Woodside Drive property, the failure to specifically name Desai as "trustee" constituted a fatal omission because, as a consequence, the memorandum never listed the owner of the property.
(2) For both properties, the memoranda improperly identify Rouhani, who is an agent, as the claimant.
(3) For both properties, the memoranda fail to list either a date from which interest is claimed or a date on which the debt is due.

         The trial court sustained the validity of the liens. This appeal followed.

         ANALYSIS

         Mechanic's liens are creatures of statute. Wallace v. Brumback, 177 Va. 36, 39, 12 S.E.2d 801, 802 (1941) (citing Cain v. Rea, 159 Va. 446, 452, 166 S.E. 478, 480 (1932)). We review de novo the trial court's construction of the statutes at issue. Eberhardt v. Fairfax Cnty. Emps. Ret. Sys., 283 Va. 190, 194, 721 S.E.2d 524, 526 (2012).

         Code § 43-3(A) provides in relevant part that

[a]ll persons performing labor or furnishing materials of the value of $150 or more . . . for the construction, removal, repair or improvement of any building or structure permanently annexed to the freehold . . . shall ...

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