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Indiana’s “Lender Exception” Applicable To Leasehold Mortgage In Priority Dispute With Mechanic’s Lien

Lesson. A leasehold mortgage constitutes a valid mortgage lien and can be senior to a mechanic’s lien, if the facts otherwise meet the so-called “Lender Exception.”

Case cite. Kellam Excavating v. Community State Bank, 82 N.E.3d 928 (Ind. Ct. App. 2017)

Legal issue. Whether a leasehold mortgage or mechanic’s lien had priority in title.

Vital facts. A lessee of real estate and a contractor entered into a construction contract on 7/30/13 to build a fertilizer plant. Construction began on 10/25/13. Lessee later needed additional financing for the construction. On 5/16/14, the lessee granted a bank a leasehold mortgage as collateral for some financing the bank offered through a series of master leases between the bank and the lessee. The bank recorded its mortgage on 6/24/14. Following the lessee’s failure to pay the contractor in full, the contractor recorded a mechanic’s lien on 3/6/15. Collection and foreclosure litigation subsequently commenced against the lessee that included a lien priority dispute between the bank and the contractor.

Procedural history. The bank filed a motion for summary judgment claiming that its mortgage should receive priority over the contractor’s mechanic’s lien. The trial court granted the motion, and the contractor appealed.

Key rules.

    Three statutes: There are three Indiana statutes that govern priority between a mortgage and a mechanic’s lien: Indiana Code Sections 32-21-4-1(b), 32-28-3-2 and 32-28-3-5(d).

    Lender Exception: The Court in Kellam incorporated its prior decision in Harold McComb v. JP Morgan Chase that “discussed the interplay between the three relevant statutes and the question of mortgage lien priority versus a later-recorded mechanic’s lien as to improvements provided on commercial property.” That holding “is commonly referred to as the Lender Exception,” and I wrote about the McComb opinion on 9/6/08. In short, the Lender Exception provides:

With regard to commercial property, where the funds from the loan secured by the mortgage are for the specific project that gave rise to the mechanic’s lien, the mortgage lien has priority over the mechanic’s lien recorded after the mortgage.

    Mortgage defined: The definition of a mortgage is a “conveyance of title to property that is given as security for the payment of a debt or the performance of a duty and that will become void upon payment or performance according to the stipulated terms” and as a “lien against property that is granted to secure an obligation (such as a debt) and that is extinguished upon payment or performance according to stipulated terms.”

Holding. The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s summary judgment in favor of the bank/mortgagee. The Indiana Supreme Court denied transfer.

Policy/rationale. The heart of the Kellam dispute surrounded the nature of the financing. The contractor argued, among other things, that the lessee did not execute a promissory note and that the security agreement was not a qualifying mortgage because the document’s title was a “leasehold” mortgage. The Court, however, found that the agreement operated like a typical mortgage by granting a lien on the lessee’s property rights and by obligating the lessee to repay the bank for funds the bank expended. Moreover, there was no authority for the proposition that a promissory note is required for a valid mortgage.

In the final analysis, despite the unconventional (my term) nature of the financing arrangement, the Court in Kellam was convinced that the lessee sought a loan from the bank for construction of the facility and that the bank’s funds were used for that purpose. Since the Lender Exception applied, the bank’s mortgage was superior to the contractor’s mechanic’s lien.

Related posts. The Mechanic's Liens category to your right contains all of my posts about these kinds of priority disputes.
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I represent lenders, as well as their mortgage loan servicers, entangled in lien priority disputes and contested foreclosures. If you need assistance with a similar matter, please call me at 317-639-6151 or email me at john.waller@woodenlawyers.com. Also, don’t forget that you can follow me on Twitter @JohnDWaller or on LinkedIn, or you can subscribe to posts via RSS or email as noted on my home page.

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