In Christopher B. Burke Engineering, Ltd. v. Heritage Bank of Central Illinois, 2015 Ill. App. (3d) 140064 (January 27, 2015), the issue presented to the Illinois Appellate Court was whether certain engineering work on a construction site qualified for a mechanic’s lien claim under the Illinois Mechanic’s Lien Act (the “Act”). The Court ruled that it did not.
The facts of the case are as follows. Burke was hired by Glen W. Harkins and Carol A. Harkins (collectively, the “Harkins”) to perform engineering work on real estate the Harkins proposed to purchase and subdivide for residential development. The Harkins did, in fact, purchase the property and retained Burke to prepare the final plat of subdivision. The record indicated Burke had performed “lot work” for the one house built in the subdivision as well as engineering work for the planning of sewers and roads on the property. Heritage Bank had a mortgage on the subject premises and became a defendant when Burke sought to foreclose on its claim of a mechanic’s lien. See Christopher B. Burke Engineering, Ltd. v. Harkins, 2011 Ill. App. (3rd) 100949-U (December 29, 2011).
On the issue of whether Burke’s engineering work could be the basis of a mechanic’s lien claim, the Court noted that Section 1(a) of the Act, 770 ILCS 60/1(a), calls for the contracting party claiming a lien to demonstrate that his services improved the property. The Court said that since mechanic’s lien claims were not recognized at common law, they were to be strictly construed and, “[i]n determining whether a mechanic’s lien is valid, a court focuses on whether the work performed actually enhanced the value of land”. Continuing, the Court stated that Burke had not produced a single case “. . . in which the recording of a final plat as the result of an engineering company’s work was found to enhance the value of land and we have likewise found no such case”. Christopher B. Burke Engineering, Ltd., 2015 Ill. App. (3d) 140064, ¶18.
The Court held that “the services provided by [Burke] for the Harkins defendants in fact did not constitute an improvement to the property under the Act.” See Id.
A dissenting opinion stated that the majority had erred because the issue was whether Burke’s services were provided for the purpose of improving the subject property. The same dissenting opinion also noted that preliminary engineering work “was performed for the purpose of improving property”. See Id. at ¶39.
On May 27, 2015, the Supreme Court of Illinois granted the Burke’s petition for leave to appeal. Therefore, until the Supreme Court of Illinois holds to the contrary, although the Mechanic’s Lien Act has, since 1951, included professional engineers and land surveyors, such claimants must still prove their efforts enhanced the value of the land in order to have a mechanic’s lien claim.
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