By Alex Barthet
Florida’s construction lien statute says the prevailing party in any action to enforce a lien is entitled to recover a reasonable fee for the services of his or her attorney. So what happens if a lien dispute between a contractor and his homeowner clients is resolved in the contractor‘s favor but through an arbitration proceeding versus a court of law? Would the contractor still be entitled to recover his attorney’s fees as the prevailing party?
One contractor surely thought so. He had won his case. But to his surprise a court didn’t see things his way. The lien statute requires that lien enforcement actions be brought in a court of competent jurisdiction, and the ordinary meaning of “court” does not include an arbitration proceeding. Because the construction lien statute must be strictly construed, because the contractor didn’t seek to enforce his lien in court, and because the arbitration agreement didn’t call for the award of attorney’s fees, this contractor was out of luck. He prevailed in his dispute but he lost on his claim to recover his attorney’s fees.