In this case, the Coveys rented a home from the Andries. In exchange for reduced rent, the Coveys agreed to make some improvements to the home that were meant to increase its sale value. The Coveys hired outside labor, subcontractors, and provided materials. In September of 2003, the Coveys were informed by the Andries that a buyer for the house had been found. The Coveys filed a lien on the property. Pursuant to RCW 60.04.081, the Andries filed a Motion for an Order to Show Cause why the Coveys’ lien should not be declared frivolous. During the frivolous lien proceeding, the Court granted the Coveys’ Motion to Amend their response to include a counterclaim for money owed. Ultimately, the trial court found the lien was neither frivolous nor excessive.
In reversing the trial court, the Court of Appeals stated: RCW 60.04.081 “creates a summary proceeding in which a property owner may quickly obtain the release of a lien that is frivolous and made without reasonable cause or is clearly excessive.” The statutory procedure is “in the nature of a trial by affidavit.” We have ruled that “the Legislature intended to allow resolution of factual disputes in this summary proceeding.” But “the statute’s implicit requirement that the trial court make these factual determinations does not turn this summary proceeding into a substitute for a trial on the merits when the facts do not clearly indicate the lien is frivolous and without reasonable cause or is excessive.” Nowhere in the statute does the Legislature give the trial court authority to expand the summary proceeding into a suit to foreclose the lien or to recover on a contractual theory.” 113 P.3d at 484 [footnotes omitted]. The Court went on and concluded that:
[A]n RCW 60.04.081 proceeding is narrow and limited to the question of whether a lien is frivolous or excessive. To protect the summary nature of that proceeding, other claims should generally not be permitted. The Coveys do not present any facts that justify taking the exceptional step of altering the limited, summary nature of this proceeding. Instead, the Coveys may raise their counterclaims in some other, proper proceeding. 113 P.3d at 485.