The Supreme Judicial Court ruled today that rules it issued in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic to temporarily halt statutory time limits on court actions are of no help to a contractor that kept suing the wrong corporate entities for payment for work it did to build North Station movie theaters - because the suit it also filed was largely based on the "mechanic's lien" it filed in the Suffolk County Registry of Deeds, which is not a court.
Although the court did not completely toss Graycor Construction Co.'s suit over work it did to build the 15-screen ArcLight Cinemas in the Hub on Causeway - which opened in December, 2019, then closed when the pandemic hit just three months later and never re-opened - it did dismiss the company's $3.5 million lien on the property.
The cinemas - which opened with a screening of an Adam Sandler movie, are part of Hub on Causeway, a joint project of Bruins and Garden owner Delaware North and developer Boston Properties. The two set up three different legal entities to oversee development and leasing of the complex, which includes an office tower, hotel, supermarket, bars and a food court, as well as the movie theaters.
According to the court's summary of the case, in the early days of the pandemic, Graycor filed a mechanic's lien on the land housing the theaters and named what it thought was the correct legal entity that owned that land- and then sued to enforce the lien and get paid. But it named the wrong corporate entities. It filed a new lien, got the names wrong again and then, finally, on the third try, filed a lien with the correct name and a suit against that entity and the theater operator.
Only problem: By the time Graycor got the names right, the 90-day limit on filing a mechanic's lien had lapsed.
Delaware North and Boston Properties, through their subsidiaries, then sued to dismiss the lien and much of Graycor's suit.
A Suffolk Superior Court judge agreed with Graycor that the SJC's order in March to "toll" - or exclude from statutory time limits - any actions brought after the start of the pandemic until at least September, 2020 covered the case.
But in its ruling today, the court said it made clear in its order the halting of time only applied to matters directly before state courts. Because the Registry of Deeds is a part of the executive branch of state government, rather than the judicial, the "tolling" language in its order didn't apply to registry time limits on filing mechanic's liens, the SJC said.
The SJC sent the case back to Superior Court, ordering the judge to dismiss the lien and the parts of Graycor's suit directly related to it.