This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Aspen Builders and Remodelers, Inc.,
a Minnesota corporation,
Abbas S. Mehdi, a single person,
AMEK Construction, Inc., a Minnesota
corporation, Northwest Mortgage Co.,
a Minnesota corporation, Corporation XYZ,
John Doe and Mary Roe,
Filed April 5, 2005
Hennepin County District Court
File No. 02-7991
Michael L. Brutlag, Brutlag, Hartmann & Okoneski, P.A., 1100 Pillsbury Center, 200 South Sixth Street, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for respondent)
Bradley C. Thorsen, 600 Nicollet Mall, Suite 390A, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Lansing, Presiding Judge; Willis, Judge; and Stoneburner, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
Appellant challenges an order granting foreclosure of respondent’s mechanic’s lien against appellant’s house, arguing that the district court (1) clearly erred by finding that respondent gave the pre-lien notice required by statute; (2) clearly erred by finding that respondent’s mechanic’s lien was not void because the lien statement overstated the amount due; and (3) abused its discretion by failing to grant a new trial. Because we find no error or abuse of discretion, we affirm.
In the spring of 2001, appellant Abbas Mehdi hired respondent Aspen Builders and Remodelers, Inc. (Aspen) to do remodeling work on Mehdi’s house. Aspen presented Mehdi with several written proposals, the latest of which was dated June 13, 2001, and was accepted in writing by Mehdi.
On November 12, 2001, after several weeks of reduced or delayed payments from Mehdi and after a dispute between the parties regarding payment had reached the point that Aspen believed that it was no longer permitted on Mehdi’s property, Aspen sent Mehdi an invoice for $64,337.47. Mehdi did not respond. On December 17, 2001, Aspen sent Mehdi an amended invoice for $79,576.48. The amended invoice consisted of 61 items, including 29 add-ons. Again, Mehdi did not respond. On December 21, 2001, Aspen filed a mechanic’s-lien statement in the amount of $79,576.48 against Mehdi’s house.
In May 2002, Aspen sued Mehdi for breach of contract and for foreclosure on Aspen’s mechanic’s lien against Mehdi’s house. Throughout a three-day trial, the district court periodically restricted both attorneys’ time in examining witnesses because, it stated, it was not finding certain testimony useful or productive. At the end of the third day, the district court asked both attorneys to give the court the “best seven minutes each on credibility on the main issues in the case.” The district court then orally ruled that the June 13 proposal was the written contract between the parties, that Aspen timely gave Mehdi the required pre-lien notice, and that Aspen did not intentionally overstate the amount of its mechanic’s lien. The district court ordered the attorneys to return in a month for arguments regarding “the individual finish items . . . in controversy.” On that day, the district court also permitted Mehdi’s counsel to argue for reconsideration of the district court’s earlier oral rulings.
The district court’s written order, filed January 16, 2004, concludes that the June 13 proposal was the written contract between the parties and was subject to later oral revisions and amendments agreed to by both parties; that Aspen timely gave Mehdi the pre-lien notice required under Minn. Stat. § 514.011 (2002); that Aspen did not intentionally overstate the amount of its mechanic’s lien; and that the total principal amount due to Aspen as damages for breach of contract was $71,217.48, plus interest, after deducting credits for Mehdi’s direct payments to subcontractors and for work that Aspen did not perform or performed inadequately. The order also granted Aspen’s request to be allowed to foreclose on its mechanic’s lien. Mehdi moved for amended findings of fact or, in the alternative, a new trial. The district court denied the motion, and this appeal followed.
D E C I S I O N
“Findings of fact, whether based on oral or documentary evidence, shall not be set aside unless clearly erroneous, and due regard shall be given to the opportunity of the trial court to judge the credibility of the witnesses.” Minn. R. Civ. P. 52.01. It is well settled that judging the credibility of witnesses and the weight given to their testimony rests within the province of the finder of fact. Novack v. Northwest Airlines, Inc., 525 N.W.2d 592, 598 (Minn. App. 1995). This court “view[s] the record in the light most favorable to the judgment of the district court.” Rogers v. Moore, 603 N.W.2d 650, 656 (Minn. 1999). We will not reverse a district court’s decision simply because we might view the evidence differently. Id. “If there is reasonable evidence to support the district court’s findings, we will not disturb them.” Id.
Mehdi claims that the evidence does not support the district court’s finding that Aspen gave Mehdi the pre-lien notice required by statute in a timely manner. Mehdi argues that (1) Aspen’s president, Jorj Ayaz, testified that Aspen included pre-lien notices with the June 13 proposal as well as the two preceding proposals; (2) the evidence shows that the first two proposals were not accompanied by pre-lien notices; and (3) therefore, “[i]t is demonstrably false that every one of the contracts signed by [Aspen] had the notice attached” and this should “lead [this] court inexorably to the conclusion that the notice was never given.”
The district court found that Aspen furnished Mehdi with labor and materials “pursuant to a written contract dated June 13, 2001,” and “provided Mehdi with the notice described in Minnesota Statutes Section 514.011 in a timely manner.”
The statute requiring contractors to give pre-lien notice provides that every person
who enters into a contract with the owner for the improvement of real property and who has contracted or will contract with any subcontractors or material suppliers to provide labor, skill or materials for the improvement shall include in any written contract with the owner the notice required in this subdivision.
Minn. Stat. § 514.011, subd. 1 (2004). The pre-lien notice must state, among other things, that “[a]ny person or company supplying labor or materials for this improvement . . . may file a lien against [the owner’s] property if that person or company is not paid for the contributions.” Id. And any “person who fails to provide the notice shall not have the lien and remedy provided by this chapter.” Id.
The record supports the district court’s findings. Ayaz testified that Aspen included the pre-lien notice with the June 13 proposal; Mehdi admits in his brief on appeal that the June 13 proposal “had the notice required by statute with it”; and a pre-lien notice, dated June 13, 2001, was presented at trial.
Because we defer to the district court on issues of witness credibility and because the record supports the district court’s findings, we conclude that the district court did not clearly err by finding that Aspen timely gave Mehdi the required pre-lien notice.
Mehdi claims that the amount he owes Aspen for improvements on his home is $64,337.47, as shown on the November 12 invoice, rather than the $79,576.48 shown on the December 17 amended invoice on which Aspen based its mechanic’s-lien statement. Mehdi claims that “out of anger” Aspen amended the original invoice with “$15,000 worth of extras” and that Aspen’s records supporting these extras are insufficient. Mehdi claims that Aspen intentionally overstated the lien amount and, therefore, is not entitled to the benefit of the mechanic’s-lien statute.
Minn. Stat. § 514.74 (2004) provides that “[i]n no case shall a lien exist for a greater amount than the sum claimed in the lien statement, nor for any amount, if it be made to appear that the claimant has knowingly demanded in the statement more than is justly due.” Generally, courts have interpreted this statute to mean that a mechanic’s lien is void only upon a “showing of fraud, bad faith, or an intentional demand for an amount in excess of that due.” Bierlein v. Gagnon, 255 Minn. 143, 148, 96 N.W.2d 573, 578 (1959) (quotation omitted).
A mechanic’s-lien statement that overstates the amount due does not void the lien if the overstatement was the result of an honest mistake. Cox v. First Nat’l Bank, 415 N.W.2d 385, 388 (Minn. App. 1987) (noting in addition that “determination of motive is a factual finding reserved to the trial court”), review denied (Minn. Jan. 20, 1988). Aspen prepared for trial purposes a memorandum explaining each of the add-ons included in the December 17 amended invoice, and Ayaz testified in detail regarding the items on the invoice and in the explanatory memorandum, stating that the add-ons were “not just made up” but correspond either to regular hourly charges or to invoices from subcontractors.
The district court found that the amount of Aspen’s claimed mechanic’s lien was excessive but that Aspen made its calculations “in good faith” and did not intentionally overstate the amount. Because we defer to the district court on issues of witness credibility and because the record supports the district court’s findings, we conclude that the district court did not clearly err by finding that Aspen’s mechanic’s-lien statement did not intentionally overstate the amount owed by Mehdi and that Aspen’s lien is not, therefore, void.
Mehdi argues that the district court abused its discretion by denying his motion for a new trial, claiming that he is entitled to a new trial “on the ground of unfairness pursuant to Rule 59 of the Minnesota Rules of Civil Procedure.” He argues that the district court abused its discretion by frequently “setting time limits and hurrying the case along” and by giving “the parties only seven minutes each at the conclusion of testimony to make a final argument.”
Because the district court has the discretion to grant or deny a party’s motion for a new trial, we will not disturb the district court’s decision absent a clear abuse of that discretion. Halla Nursery, Inc. v. Baumann-Furrie & Co., 454 N.W.2d 905, 910 (Minn. 1990). A new trial may be granted when “[i]rregularity in the proceedings of the court, referee, jury, or prevailing party, or any order or abuse of discretion,” deprived the moving party of a fair trial. Minn. R. Civ. P. 59.01(a). But it is well settled that “[t]he mode, manner, and method of receiving testimony is a matter resting almost wholly in the discretion of the trial court.” Manion v. Tweedy, 257 Minn. 59, 67-68, 100 N.W.2d 124, 130 (1959). Mehdi concedes that “the limitation of time is within the sound discretion of the court.”
The record shows that the district court restricted the attorneys’ time because the district court at certain points during the trial was not finding certain testimony useful or productive and that the district court limited the parties to “seven minutes each on credibility on the main issues in the case” because it had “already gained a lot of impressions about those questions.” The record also shows that on the day set for arguments on “individual finish items,” a month after the trial, the district court permitted Mehdi’s counsel to argue for reconsideration of the district court’s oral rulings at the close of trial. The district court encouraged Mehdi’s counsel to limit his argument to 45 minutes but stated, “I won’t limit you. If you’re able to do it in 45 minutes, so much the better.”
Mehdi cites Butler v. United States, for the proposition that “[a] reversal may be required where counsel is restricted within unreasonable bounds so that he is unable to fully and fairly present his case.” 317 F.2d 249, 257 (8th Cir. 1963). But in that case, the Eighth Circuit found no abuse of discretion because the trial court “carefully evaluated the time requirements from its vantage point, discussed the various possibilities of time allocation with the trial attorneys, [and] obtained approval of a time allocation schedule from the majority of them.” Id.
Here, the record shows that the district court evaluated the use of trial time from its vantage point, that the district court discussed with the parties’ counsel ways to use their time productively, and that the district court took into consideration Mehdi’s counsel’s suggestions and repeatedly obtained his approval of the allocation of trial time.
Because the mode, manner, and method of receiving testimony is within the district court’s discretion, we conclude that the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying Mehdi’s motion for a new trial on the ground of unfairness.