Did you hear about the #Blackout? Yes, our dear city subjected themselves to a national embarrassment when the lights shut off in the Superdome. One of the biggest stories that came out of the spectacle was the increased activity on Twitter.
We couldn’t help ourselves:
— Scott Wolfe Jr (@scottwolfejr) February 4, 2013
While mostly a joke, it does lead me to one of my favorite conversations on this blog, all filed under the Scenarios tag. When a company is called in to fix the Superdome’s electrical problems, could they file a mechanics lien if unpaid? If so, what type of lien would be it be – public or private?
Since the Superdome is in Louisiana, we’ll discuss Louisiana law. Nevertheless, the same outcome would result just about anywhere.
Who Owns and Operates The Mercedes-Benz Superdome?
The Mercedes-Benz Superdome has a lot of characteristics to make one think that it is a state venue, and then, a lot of characteristics to make one think it’s a private venue. It’s very large (the largest dome structure in the world) and it is owned by the state of Louisiana. In fact, the Louisiana Stadium & Exposition District – a public board – lists its purpose to “plan, finance, construct, develop, maintain and operate” the Superdome.
Nevertheless, there are private characteristics as well.
The state leases the building to different tenants, including the New Orleans Saints. These tenants have certain rights (such as New Orleans’ rights to name the building), and they have different responsibilities (such as to make certain types of improvements).
The question about whether there are any lien rights here boils down to who is responsible for the electrical functions of the Superdome.
If this is something left to the tenants, then any construction work to fix the dome’s electrical problems would fall on those tenants, and the laws applicable to “Private Lease on Public Land” situations will apply. In the case of Louisiana, the lien claimant would likely have a right to file a claim against the tenant’s interest in the property. Otherwise, the state’s public works laws would apply.
While I don’t know the exact details of the owner and tenant responsibilities my best guess is that this egg falls on the state’s face, and that the LSED is responsible for fixing the electrical work.
To strengthen my thoughts that this would be a public project is a Nola.com article investigating recent electrical work at the Superdome, whereby the LSED made arrangements for “emergency” electrical work immediately before the Superbowl.
Electrical Repair Is Qualified For Mechanics Lien Protection
Okay, now we know which body of law applies since we’ve determined that any electrical fixes would be a Public Works Project. The next question is whether the work itself (electrical repairs) qualifies for lien protection.
The answer is clearly yes. Electrical work (whether it be for new construction or repair / restoration construction) is clearly a construction furnishing that qualifies for lien or bond claim protection. Just to completely exhaust the argument we can look to Louisiana’s Public Works Act’s definition of “Public Work:”
“Public work” means the erection, construction, alteration, improvement, or repair of any public facility or immovable property owned, used, or leased by a public entity.
It is worth noting that immediately before the Superbowl, the LSED “authorized and approved” a project related to the electrical services at the Superdome and classified the project as an “emergency” work. According to one Nola.com article, this emergency classification would have excluded the project from some public bid laws.
But…would it exclude the project from the ability to make a public claim?
The answer is likely no. While the state may be excused from working within the public bid laws, there are no emergency exceptions for the Public Works Act. Any project over a certain dollar threshold (for which the Superdome repairs would certainly qualify) would require a bond, and if a party was not paid, that party could file a lien claim against that bond.