In a case that modernizes the Massachusetts mechanics’ lien statute, M.G.L. c. 254 et seq., Bennett & Belfort Attorney Eric LeBlanc successfully argued that electronic signatures satisfy the mechanics’ lien statute’s “written contract” requirement. In the recent Massachusetts Superior Court decision Clean Properties, Inc. v. Riselli, the Middlesex Superior Court decided that “[n]othing in the mechanics’ lien statute requires a physical signature…on a piece of paper rather than an acceptance of written contract terms by an electronic signature that is conveyed by email.” (C.A. No. 2014-04742) (Salinger, J.)
In Clean Properties, it is alleged that Defendant, Carol Riselli, was provided with a written proposed contract by Clean Properties, Inc., an environmental services company, to perform environmental cleanup work on an emergency basis at Riselli’s property. Riselli apparently responded via email, stating that she agreed to the terms of the contract. After Clean Properties performed substantial work on the property, it is claimed Riselli failed to make a single payment. Clean Properties placed a mechanics’ lien on Riselli’s property, and initiated litigation to recover payment for its services. Riselli attempted to dissolve the mechanics’ lien, claiming that because there was no signed, written agreement, the “written contract” requirement of the mechanics’ lien statute was not satisfied. The Court disagreed.
Defendant unsuccessfully argued that “no written contract was ever formed because neither party affixed a handwritten signature to a paper form of the contract.” However, the Court appears to have been persuaded by the plain meaning of the Massachusetts Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (“MUETA”), M.G.L. 110G et seq., which provides that an electronic record or acceptance by email results in a binding contract, and satisfies the statutory requirements of a “written contract.” The MUETA defines an electronic record as, “a record created, generated, sent, communicated, received or stored by electronic means,” and does not require a physical signature for it to be enforced.
Superior Court Judge Kenneth W. Salinger agreed and found on these facts that the email Riselli sent to Clean Properties, Inc., which contained her name in the signature block, and expressed her assent to be bound by the deal, formed a binding electronic record under the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act.
The Clean Properties, Inc. v. Riselli decision is further evidence that the law is evolving to meet the pervasive use of new technology in business and society at large. In light of today’s wide use of electronic communications, this precedent adds clarity that both businesses and individuals can rely upon. The decision underscores that even in our rapidly evolving world of tweets, face book and electronic mail, the old adage coined by William Penn still holds true: “Rarely promise, but, if lawful, constantly perform.”