This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2006).






City of East Bethel,
Petitioner Below,


Bethel Properties, Inc.,
The First National Bank of Waconia, et al.,
Respondents Below,
Leland J. Frankman,
Richard H. Speeter,


Filed January 16, 2007


Stoneburner, Judge


Anoka County District Court

File No. CX039691


Gerald M. Randall, Randall, Dehn & Goodrich, 2140 Fourth Avenue North, Anoka, MN 55303 (for petitioner City)


Michael L. Puklich, Neaton & Puklich, P.L.L.P., Suite 620, 601 Carlson Parkway, Minnetonka, MN 55305 (for appellant Bethel Properties)


Andrew D. Parker, Daniel N. Rosen, Parker Rosen, L.L.C., 133 First Avenue North, Minneapolis, MN 55401 (for respondents Frankman and Speeter)


            Considered and decided by Halbrooks, Presiding Judge; Randall, Judge; and Stoneburner, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D  O P I N I O N




            Appellant challenges a judgment enforcing respondents’ lien for attorney fees filed against appellant’s recovery in this eminent domain proceeding.  Appellant asserts that the district court erred by failing to conduct an evidentiary hearing on the reasonableness of the fees.  We affirm.



            There are no factual disputes in this matter.  Appellant, Bethel Properties, Inc. (Bethel) retained respondent, Leland J. Frankman,[1] to represent appellant in an eminent domain proceeding in which the City of East Bethel (the city) sought to acquire a wastewater treatment plant owned by BethelBethel and Frankman entered into a written, contingency-fee agreement.  The agreement provided, in relevant part, that the attorney fees would be 25% “of the gross amount recovered over the condemning authority’s direct purchase offer . . . .”

            Frankman represented Bethel in the eminent domain proceeding for 20 months, culminating in a trial before the court-appointed commissioners.  The commissioners’ award exceeded the prior purchase offer by $ 1,521,407.82.  The award was not appealed within the 40-day appeal period provided by statute and became final, due, and payable with interest in September 2005.  This concluded Frankman’s representation of Bethel.  Under the fee agreement, Frankman was entitled to attorney fees in the amount of $380,351.95.

            Shortly after the condemnation award became final, the city billed Bethel for “sewer availability charges” (SAC) in an amount that exceeded the amount of the commissioners’ award in the condemnation action.  Bethel has retained counsel (not Frankman) and is challenging the SAC in a proceeding in federal district court.  Bethel refused to pay attorney fees under the fee agreement, claiming that “the gross amount recovered” as used in the fee agreement cannot be determined until there is a resolution of the city’s SAC assessment.

            Because it was aware of the fee dispute, the city deposited the full amount of the condemnation award with the court administrator.  Frankman asserted a lien against the funds for $380,351.95 under Minn. Stat. § 481.13 (2004), and requested judgment on the lien.  Minn. Stat. § 481.13 subd. 1(c), provides that such liens “may be established, and the amount of the lien may be determined, summarily by the [district] court . . . .”

            The parties submitted affidavits and written arguments, were questioned by the district court on the record, and made oral arguments to the district court.  The district court entered detailed findings of fact.  The district court concluded, among other things, that (1) the attorney’s lien was properly served; (2) the fee agreement is valid and within the normal fees charged in the legal community; and (3) Frankman is entitled to judgment on the attorney’s lien for $380,351.95.  Judgment was entered and this appeal followed. 



            “Application of the attorney-lien statute is a question of law, which we review de novo.”  Thomas A. Foster & Assocs., Ltd. v. Paulson, 699 N.W.2d, 1, 4 (Minn. App. 2005).  We also review de novo whether the district court employed the proper method to calculate the amount of an attorney lien.  Id.  When a client fairly enters into a fee agreement, and there is no fraud by the attorney, that agreement is as valid and binding as other contracts.  Kittler & Hedelson v. Sheehan Properties, Inc., 295 Minn. 232, 235, 203 N.W.2d 835, 838 (1973).

            Bethel does not challenge the substance of any of the district court’s findings on appeal but argues that the findings are not supported by “evidence” because the district court failed to conduct an evidentiary hearing.  In briefing, Bethel argued that it was entitled to an evidentiary hearing on the reasonableness of Frankman’s attorney fees.  At oral argument on appeal, Bethel’s counsel rephrased the issue, stating that it sought an evidentiary hearing to determine whether the SAC proceeding is part of the condemnation proceeding. 

            Bethel asserts that the affidavit of Bethel’s president, Dennis Peterson, established a fact question that entitled Bethel to an evidentiary hearing.  Peterson’s affidavit explains his understanding of the fee agreement as providing that the attorney fees would be “a percentage of the amount by which [Bethel] was benefited by the attorneys’ services in connection with the [city’s] eminent domain taking . . .” and that such an amount cannot be determined until the SAC matter is resolved.  We find no merit in Peterson’s interpretation of the unambiguous-fee agreement or in Bethel’s argument that it presented a factual dispute requiring an evidentiary hearing.

            The district court properly determined the establishment and amount of Frankman’s lien summarily, as contemplated by Minn. Stat. § 481.13, and explained in the case law.  See Minn. Stat. § 481.13, subd. 1(c) (2006); see also Thomas A. Foster & Assocs.,699 N.W.2d at 6-7 (stating that “Minnesota caselaw has long characterized attorney-lien actions as summary proceedings” and noting that “due process requires that the procedure employed afford the parties a meaningful opportunity to be heard”).  The district court afforded all parties a meaningful opportunity to be heard. 

            The district court determined from questioning that Bethel’s only objection to the attorney fees is based on Peterson’s interpretation of the fee agreement.  Bethel failed to provide any authority that would require the district court to interpret the fee agreement as meaning anything other than what is unambiguously stated in the agreement.  See Danielson v. Danielson, 721 N.W.2d 335, 338 (Minn. App. 2006) (noting that when parties reduce their agreement to writing, extrinsic evidence is ordinarily inadmissible to vary, contradict, or alter the written agreement).  Bethel conceded to the district court that it has no authority to support treating the SAC proceeding as part of the eminent-domain proceeding.  The district court’s findings of fact are thorough and fully support its conclusion that Frankman is entitled to judgment on the attorney’s lien in the amount ordered.


[1] Later, at appellant’s request, Frankman associated with respondent Richard H. Speeter.  The association did not affect the fee agreement, and the respondents are referred to as Frankman in this opinion.