This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).






In re the Marriage of:

Susanne Marie Beaudet,






David Roy Beaudet,





Nancy L. Ponto,



Filed June 14, 2005

Reversed and remanded; motions denied
Klaphake, Judge


Ramsey County District Court

File No. F8-02-1529


Sharon H. Ysebaert, Eastlund, Solstad, Cade & Hutchinson, 4200 County Road 42 West, Savage, MN 55378 (for respondents)


Deno W. Berndt, Berndt Law Offices, PLLC, 300 Union Plaza, 333 Washington Avenue South, Minneapolis MN 55401 (for appellant)


            Considered and decided by Klaphake, Presiding Judge, Schumacher, Judge, and Crippen, Judge.*

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N


            Appellant Nancy Ponto brought this attorney lien action against her former client, respondent Susanne Marie Beaudet, who is a party to a dismissed dissolution proceeding, and against respondent David Roy Beaudet.  On appeal, she argues that (1) she has a right to an attorney lien on the property of her former client under Minn. Stat. § 481.13 (2004); and (2) the district court’s denial of her request for a lien deprived her of the right to a hearing to determine the appropriate amount of attorney fees.  Because the district court misapplied the law and because the evidence does not support the district court’s findings, we reverse and remand.


            Attorney Lien

            Appellant argues that the district court erred in refusing to grant her an attorney lien on her former client’s property for past-due attorney fees.  Resolution of this case involves consideration of whether the district court properly applied the attorney-lien statute, Minn. Stat. § 481.13 (2004).  A reviewing court need not defer to the district court’s application of the law when, as here, the material facts are not in dispute.  See Hubred v. Control Data Corp., 442 N.W.2d 308, 310 (Minn. 1989).

            Minn. Stat. § 481.13 provides for two types of liens:  liens on causes of action and liens on judgments.  Williams v. Dow Chem. Co., 415 N.W.2d 20, 25 (Minn. App. 1987).  The two types of liens are not mutually exclusive and both sections may apply.  Williams, 415 N.W.2d at 25.  Generally, a cause-of-action lien arises upon the commencement of the action.  Id.  Once formed, such a lien will exist until it is satisfied and is not extinguished by entry of judgment on the cause of action.  Id at 26. 

            In this case, appellant suggests that the lien should attach to respondents’ interest in the marital property.  Appellant asserts that because each party “shall be deemed to have a common ownership in marital property that vests not later than the time of the entry of the decree in a proceeding for dissolution,” this constitutes the “property involved in or affected by [the] action” in which the attorney was employed.  See Minn. Stat. §§ 481.13, subd. 1(a)(2) (providing for cause-of-action attorney liens); 518.54, subd. 5 (2004) (defining marital property).  Essentially, appellant argues that because her client had an interest in the property that would have been involved in the judgment had there been one, her lien could attach to that property.     

            Former precedent provided that a dissolution proceeding was not susceptible to a cause-of-action lien.  Akers v. Akers, 233 Minn. 133, 142, 46 N.W.2d 87, 92 (1951).  In Akers, the court reasoned that because “no property comes into the picture unless a divorce, is granted,” no lien could be established.  Id. Appellant challenges the continuing viability of Akers, arguing that a 1955 amendment to Minn. Stat. § 518.14 (2004) overruled the court’s interpretation of the lien statute in Akers.  We agree.  Minn. Stat. § 518.14 was substantially amended in 1955 to specifically allow a district court to award attorney fees after a dissolution proceeding has been dismissed or abandoned.  1955 Minn. Laws ch. 687, § 1.  The Akers decision was based on the premise that when “a divorce action is dismissed the court’s authority to grant attorney’s fees or expenses in the divorce action is at an end.”  Id., 233 Minn. at 142, 46 N.W.2d at 92.  The current version of Minn. Stat. § 518.14, subd. 1, specifically allows for an award of attorney fees even if the proceeding is dismissed or abandoned. 

            In this case, the district court determined that appellant’s request to establish an attorney lien failed because “no property had been or will be awarded to either party in the proceeding as a result of the dismissal of the dissolution.”  While the district court appears to have applied a judgment-lien theory to appellant’s motion, the facts of this case more appropriately support the establishment of a cause-of-action lien:  (1) appellant was retained by respondent-wife from September 2002 through November 2003; (2) the dissolution proceeding was commenced on October 16, 2002; (3) appellant filed her notice of attorney lien on January 8, 2004; and (4) respondents reconciled and stipulated to dismiss the proceeding on May 26, 2004.  Thus, appellant filed her notice of attorney lien before the proceeding was dismissed.  Because a cause-of-action lien arises upon commencement of the proceedings, exists until it is satisfied, and is not extinguished by entry of judgment, we conclude that the district court erred in denying appellant’s request to establish an attorney lien in this case. 

            Evidentiary Hearing

            Appellant also argues that the district court erred when it refused to grant her an evidentiary hearing to determine the appropriate amount of attorney fees.  Initially, appellant argues that she should be allowed an evidentiary hearing on the attorney lien issue because of a general due process right.  An attorney lien is a property right.  Boline v. Doty, 345 N.W.2d 285, 288 (Minn. App. 1984).  When deprivation of property is at issue, minimal due process requires that a party receive a meaningful opportunity to be heard. 289.    

            The district court here denied appellant’s attorney lien request after the parties dismissed the dissolution proceedings.  Appellant requested an evidentiary hearing to determine the appropriate amount of attorney fees.  Although the district court denied appellant’s motion for a lien, it allowed her an opportunity to submit affidavits in support of her request for fees under Minn. Stat. § 518.14.

            Appellant submitted affidavits in support of her fees, but argues that she was unable to clearly convey to the court the difficulty of this particular representation.  In particular, appellant claims that respondent-wife was an exceptionally needy client, who suffered from a multiple personality disorder and was occasionally incapacitated with fibromyalgia.  In addition, due to respondent-wife’s issues, appellant took over respondent-wife’s finances, including paying most of her monthly bills.  Finally, at one point in the dissolution process, the district court determined that respondent-wife required the appointment of a conservator and a guardian ad litem. 

            The district court questions a number of the services appellant submitted compensation for, including for example, the four-and-one-half hours appellant spent listening to voicemails from respondent-wife, times involved to obtain respondent-wife a conservator, and time spent to organize and pay respondent-wife’s bills.  While not strictly within the scope of the dissolution representation for which respondent-wife hired appellant, these services were necessary to stabilize respondent-wife’s environment so that she could effectively contribute to her case.  We therefore conclude that the district court’s finding that appellant’s requested fees were “unconscionable” is clearly erroneous and unsupported by the evidence.  Although we decline to direct the district court to hold an evidentiary hearing on remand, we direct the court to reconsider appellant’s requested fees in light of what is reasonable under the unique circumstances of this case.

            Respondents’ Motions

            In their brief, respondents make numerous motions to this court, including a motion to strike portions of appellant’s appendix, a motion for “costs incurred due to appellant’s failure to comply with the rules,” and a motion for “attorney’s fees to deter such future misconduct.” 

            Respondents move to strike portions of appellant’s appendix, claiming that they were not part of the district court record.  See Minn. R. Civ. App. P. 110.01 (record shall consist of papers filed in trial court, exhibits, and transcript of proceedings).  The documents challenged by respondents, however, were filed with the district court and are part of the record.   We therefore deny respondents’ motion to strike. 

            Respondents request an award for “costs incurred due to appellant’s failure to comply with the rules.”  This court has inherent authority to impose sanctions for the violation of its rules.  If that conduct unreasonably delayed proceedings on a judgment, single or double costs may be awarded under Minn. R. Civ. App. P. 138.  While this rule does not require that a separate motion be made, it presumes that the party seeking sanctions prevailed on the merits.  Because respondents have not prevailed, their request for sanctions is denied.   

            Finally, respondents request attorney fees on appeal.  A motion for attorney fees must be made in a separate motion to this court.  See Minn. R. Civ. App. P. 127, 139.06, subd. 1.  Here, because no motion was filed, respondents’ request for fees on appeal is not properly before us.

            Reversed and remanded; motions denied.

* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.