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Precision Framing Systems Inc. v. Luzuriaga

California Court of Appeals, Fourth District, Second Division

August 29, 2019

PRECISION FRAMING SYSTEMS INC., Plaintiff and Appellant,
v.
HENRY LUZURIAGA et al., Defendants and Appellants.

         CERTIFIED FOR PARTIAL PUBLICATION[*]

          APPEAL from the Superior Court of Riverside County No. MCC1400466. Gloria Trask and Angel M. Bermudez, Judges. [†] Affirmed.

          Tyler & Bursch, Jennifer L. Bursch, James A. Long, and Nada N. Higuera for Plaintiff and Appellant.

          Law Offices of Jonathan C. Stevens and Jonathan C. Stevens for Defendants and Appellants.

          OPINION

          RAMIREZ P. J.

         Henry and Deborah Luzuriaga contracted with a general contractor for the construction of a commercial building. The general contractor, in turn, contracted with Precision Framing Systems, Inc. (Precision) for the framing, including the necessary trusses. And Precision contracted with Inland Empire Truss, Inc. (Inland) for the fabrication of the trusses. Precision never received full payment. Accordingly, it recorded a mechanic's lien claim.

         Meanwhile, there was a problem with some of the trusses. There was much finger-pointing as to who was to blame. After Precision had already recorded its mechanic's lien claim, Precision and/or Inland came back to the site and repaired the trusses.

         Precision filed this action to foreclose its mechanic's lien. Ms. Luzuriaga filed a cross-complaint. The trial court granted summary judgment against Precision on its complaint. It ruled that the mechanic's lien claim was filed prematurely - i.e., before Precision had “cease[d] to provide work.” (Civ. Code, § 8414, subd. (a).)

         Precision appeals. Its primary contention is that there was a triable issue of fact as to whether it had ceased to provide work, because (1) “ceas[ing], ” within the meaning of the statute, can be a gradual process, (2) the repair of the trusses was not part of Precision's “work, ” (3) there was evidence that Precision completed all of its work before it recorded its mechanic's lien claim, and (4) there was evidence that the repairs were done by Inland. Henry Luzuriaga and the Luzuriagas' bonding company cross-appeal.[1]

         We will affirm. We agree with the trial court: The evidence showed, beyond a triable issue of fact, that Precision had not yet “cease[d]... work” when it recorded its mechanic's lien claim. This moots the cross-appeal.

         I

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         The following facts are taken from the evidence introduced in connection with the motion for summary judgment.

         The Luzuriagas undertook the construction of a veterinary hospital on a piece of property that they owned in Wildomar. They hired an architect and a general contractor. The general contractor, in turn, hired Precision as the framing subcontractor. Precision's contract stated that that the contact price was “for labor, lumber, trusses, and hardware necessary to complete the... project.” (Capitalization altered.)

         George Mears is the president of Precision. He testified that Precision was supposed to “supply and install[]” the trusses. In its interrogatory responses, Precision stated that its scope of work consisted of framing, including “procurement of materials (lumber[, ] hardware and trusses).”

         Precision selected Inland to design and manufacture the trusses. As Mears put it, “Precision used Inland” for the trusses. Inland contracted solely with Precision and invoiced Precision, although Inland was paid directly by the construction lender.

         Inland designed the trusses, based on the plans and specifications, and built them. However, the architect had to approve the truss design, incorporate it into his plans, and make sure they matched (redesigning his own plans if necessary). Thus, as the general contractor testified, the “truss details” were “ultimately[] the architect's responsibility.”[2]

         On July 24, 2013, Precision started work on the framing. On July 29, 2013, Inland delivered the trusses to the site. On August 2, 2013, Precision began installing the trusses.

         On August 7, 2013, the city issued a correction notice relating to the trusses. It stated: “Truss bearing points are not as per plan....” In the architect's opinion, this was because the trusses were not fabricated in accordance with the plan. On August 14, 2013, Precision notified Inland that the trusses were defective. Later in August 2013, Inland carried out some repairs to the trusses.

         On December 9, 2013, the city issued a second correction notice relating to the trusses.

         On December 23, 2013, the general contractor and Precision's superintendent “walked the [p]roject” together. The general contractor found that Precision's work was complete and fully in compliance with the plans and specifications. At that point, according to both Mears and the general contractor, Precision had completed its scope of work. The city approved Precision's framing work.

         Precision, however, never received full payment. Ms. Luzuriaga told Mears “she was not interested in paying Precision and told [him] to sue her.” Accordingly, on January 2, 2014, Precision recorded its mechanic's lien claim for $53, 268.16.

         Sometime between January 2 and 29, 2014, the Luzuriagas changed the locks of the building, locking out all contractors.

         Sometime between January 20 and 29, 2014, Mears met with the architect and the building inspector. At this meeting, he later testified, he first became aware of the correction notices.[3]

         On January 29, 2014, Ms. Luzuriaga took the position that Precision's mechanic's lien claim was “premature” because it had not yet completed its scope of work, and in particular because the correction notices were still outstanding. She asked, “Does Precision... intend to return to the job and correct the issues that are pending?” Mears responded, “We intend on completing any work pursuant to our contract... [W]e are willing to meet and discuss any remaining scope....”

         On February 4, 2014, Precision told Ms. Luzuriaga that it could not determine whether the issues in the correction notice were within its scope of work because it was locked out.

         On February 12, 2014, Ms. Luzuriaga told Mears that she would be at the site the following day. She continued, “If you would like to visit the project with respect to the City's correction notice..., you can come by then.” Mears responded that he would and added, “The truss company will also be in attendance to make sure that the repairs were made. If they are not they will complete them then.”

         Meanwhile, Inland had prepared repair designs and had done the related structural calculations. On February 12 or 13, 2014, Inland carried out the repairs. Mears was present to “accompany” Inland, and he “helped coordinate the repairs.”[4] The repairs themselves took two or three hours

         II

         PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         In 2014, Old Republic Surety Company (Old Republic) filed a complaint (Case No. SWC1400869) against Ms. Luzuriaga, Precision, and others.

         Ms. Luzuriaga filed a cross-complaint against Precision and a host of other defendants. Her operative (first amended) cross-complaint alleged that, at all relevant times, Precision lacked a contractor's license. It also alleged that Precision's mechanic's lien claim had been filed prematurely.

         Meanwhile, also in 2014, Precision filed a separate complaint (Case No. fMCC1400466) against the Luzuriagas, American Contractors Indemnity Company (American), and others.[5] The operative (second amended) complaint asserted a single cause of action for foreclosure of mechanic's lien. The Luzuriagas asserted various affirmative defenses, including that Precision “was an unlicensed contractor....”

         The trial court consolidated the two cases.

         In 2015, Precision filed a motion for summary adjudication of the Luzuriagas' defenses. The trial court granted summary adjudication in favor of Precision on the unlicensed contractor defense.

         In 2017, the Luzuriagas moved for summary judgment on Precision's complaint, on the ground that Precision had filed its mechanic's lien prematurely. The trial court granted the motion and entered judgment accordingly.

         Precision filed a timely notice of appeal. The Luzuriagas filed a timely notice of cross-appeal. However, we dismissed Ms. Luzuriaga as both an appellant and a respondent, because her cross-complaint against Precision (and others) was still pending.

         III

         CONSIDERATION OF THE MEARS DECLARATION

         Precision contends that the trial court erred by taking judicial notice of Mears' declaration.[6] Because this goes to whether we can consider evidence from the declaration, we resolve it as a preliminary matter.

         A. Additional Factual and Procedural Background.

         In support of their motion for summary judgment, the Luzuriagas asked the trial court to take judicial notice of declarations by Mears and by Roy Ryan, the general ...


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