University of Miami Law Review


Establishing (e.g., perfecting) and enforcing a lien presents technical pitfalls and practical problems with which practitioners and courts are often unfamiliar or uncomfortable. After all, the law of liens requires an understanding of many different areas of the law, including the law of contract, bailment, unjust enrichment, and customary law. But among the most fraught with uncertainty are mechanic’s liens, which establish a right in favor of persons—“artisans”—performing or furnishing labor, services, fuel, or material upon personal property. Florida’s mechanic’s lien statute raises particularly challenging legal issues as applied to aircraft.
In Florida, the perfection and enforcement of a mechanic’s lien as against an aircraft is rarely plain or intuitive. To get from lien perfection to lien foreclosure, aviation and commercial law practitioners must travel from Florida’s general mechanic’s lien statute through a mosaic of other state statutes, including a standalone chapter related to aviation. Along the way, equitable considerations, like the need for injunctive relief and the law of replevin and tort (e.g., conversion), likely come into play. Finally, lienors must satisfy an exacting federal statutory recording scheme and navigate a corresponding body of decisional law that raises thorny issues of federalism, priority, and preemption.
The final tally: Perfection and enforcement of a mechanic’s lien in Florida requires the command of a minimum of four different Florida statutory chapters that rarely (and rarely clearly) cross-reference each other, several federal statutes that frequently have no obvious relationship to state lien law, and scattered decisional law rendered at every level of the judiciary. This is to say nothing of the international law regime governing the registration of airplanes and airplane parts or the likelihood that an aircraft may already be encumbered by the lien or priority mechanisms of another state or states.
But the most problematic aspect of Florida’s statutory regime for mechanic’s liens, which is at the center of this Article, is the role possession plays in perfecting aircraft liens. Possession typically plays a decisive role in the area of lien law, animating the common law tenet that “possession is nine points of the law.” For more than a decade, however, Florida statutory law has presented an internally conflicted path toward lien perfection by also providing that possession is unnecessary. That is, under Florida law, a valid lien also could be created simply by recording a claim of lien. Recently, however, the Florida Legislature amended chapter 329, Florida Statutes, to clarify that possession is not required for lien perfection purposes; notice alone now suffices.
This Article discusses the possession versus notice problem inherent in the state’s statutory scheme and then analyzes the recent change to the law. In doing so, this Article evaluates the advantages and disadvantages of Florida’s “new” mechanism for the perfection and enforcement of mechanic’s lien on aircraft, and argues in favor a statutory scheme that once and for all takes aircraft outside of Florida’s general mechanic’s lien statute, situating the subject of aircraft liens in a legal scheme that comprehensively provides for the perfection and enforcement of aircraft-specific artisan liens. Finally, this Article provides a comprehensive empirical review of the mechanic’s lien laws of every state in order to broadly contextualize how legislatures and courts around the nation approach the issue of perfection and notice for lien perfection purposes. In all, this Article’s relevance is greatest for aviation practitioners and courts adjudicating aviation liens in Florida and elsewhere, but it may also hold interest for a wider audience seeking to achieve efficiencies in the interpretation and application of commercial and secured transactions concerning personal property and mobile assets in analogous situations.