June 26, 2019

Colorado Supreme Court: Attorney’s Lien Void When he was Terminated for Cause

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Martinez v. Mintz Law Firm on Tuesday, May 31, 2016.

Contingent Fees—Charging Liens—Proper Civil Action.

In this dispute regarding an attorney’s charging lien, a contingent fee plaintiff’s former attorneys asserted a lien against any settlement or judgment entered in the underlying action and in favor of plaintiff. After the underlying action was settled, successor counsel moved to void the lien, and initial counsel moved to strike successor counsel’s motion and to compel arbitration, based on an arbitration clause contained in initial counsel’s contingent fee agreement with plaintiff. The Supreme Court concluded that successor counsel’s motion to void the lien at issue was properly filed in the underlying action and that the underlying action was a “proper civil action” within the meaning of C.R.S. § 12-5-119. As a result, the Court further concluded that the lien dispute was between initial and successor counsel. Therefore, the matter (1) was not subject to arbitration pursuant to the arbitration clause in initial counsel’s contingent fee agreement with the plaintiff and (2) was properly before the district court. Finally, the Court concluded that the record supported the district court’s finding that initial counsel was not entitled to recover the fees that it was seeking. Accordingly, the Court reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: First in Time Charging Order Issued in Colorado Takes Priority

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in McClure v. JP Morgan Chase Bank, NA on Thursday, August 13, 2015.

Charging Order Priority.

In July 2013, JP Morgan Chase Bank NA (Chase) obtained an Arizona judgment of roughly $20 million against Reginald D. Fowler and Spiral, an Arizona corporation. In November 2013, the Arizona court issued charging orders in favor of Chase, charging Fowler’s membership interests in three Colorado LLCs. In December 2013, the Chase charging orders were served on the LLCs, and the Denver District Court entered an order domesticating Chase’s Arizona judgment. In March 2014, the McClures obtained a $1.5 million judgment in Arizona against Fowler and Spiral. In April 2014, the McClures domesticated their Arizona judgment in Colorado by filing it in the Arapahoe County District Court. During May through June 2014, the Arapahoe Court issued charging orders in favor of the McClures, charging Fowler’s and Spiral’s membership interests in the same Colorado LLCs as those charged in the Chase charging orders, and the McClures served the orders on the LLCs. In August 2014, the Denver District Court entered an order domesticating Chase’s Arizona charging orders.

The LLCs paid Fowler’s distributions into the Arapahoe County District Court registry. The McClures filed a motion for release of the funds and Chase intervened in opposition. The district court ruled that because the McClures’ charging orders were issued by a Colorado court, they “were the first enforceable charging orders served on the [LLCs] and, hence, they have priority over [Chase’s] Arizona charging orders.”

On appeal, Chase argued it was error to rule that its Arizona charging orders were unenforceable in Colorado until they had been domesticated. The Court disagreed, holding that until it had domesticated the charging orders, they were unenforceable in Colorado.

Chase also argued that its first-in-time but (not yet) domesticated charging orders took priority over the McClure’s later-in-time but Colorado-issued charging orders. The Court held the priority of charging orders issued against Colorado LLCs is determined by first-in-time service of charging orders enforceable in Colorado. The order was affirmed.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Maintenance Awards Exempt from Attorney Charging Liens

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in In re Marriage of Dixon v. Samuel J. Stoorman & Associates PC on Thursday, July 16, 2015.

Charging Lien—Maintenance—Attorney Fees.

Samuel J. Stoorman & Associates PC (law firm) sought to enforce its lien against the maintenance payments that husband was obligated to pay to the law firm’s former client (wife). The law firm had represented wife in the dissolution action giving rise to husband’s maintenance obligation. The trial court determined that the maintenance payments were exempt from enforcement of the attorney’s lien.

On appeal, the law firm contended that the trial court erred in finding that the law firm’s attorney’s lien could not be enforced against husband’s spousal maintenance obligations. A charging lien automatically attaches to the fruits of the attorney’s representation of the client, to the extent of the attorney’s reasonable fees remaining due and unpaid. An attorney may immediately enforce the lien against the client once judgment in favor of the client is entered. Maintenance payments and obligations are exempt from enforcement of the charging lien. Accordingly, an attorney’s charging lien may not be enforced against a court-ordered spousal maintenance obligation or payment. The trial court’s denial of the law firm’s motion to enforce the lien against husband’s maintenance obligations to wife was affirmed. Nevertheless, the law firm’s position did not lack substantial justification because the question whether a charging lien may be enforced against spousal maintenance payments or obligations had not been decided at the time of the law firm’s motion. Consequently, the award of attorney fees and costs to husband was reversed and husband’s request for an award of attorney fees and costs incurred on appeal was denied.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.