This opinion will
be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2006).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
City of East Bethel,
Bethel Properties, Inc.,
The First National Bank of Waconia, et al.,
Leland J. Frankman,
Richard H. Speeter,
January 16, 2007
Anoka County District
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
Andrew D. Parker, Daniel N. Rosen, Parker Rosen, L.L.C., 133
First Avenue North, Minneapolis, MN 55401 (for respondents Frankman and
and decided by Halbrooks,
Presiding Judge; Randall,
Judge; and Stoneburner,
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.
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 Bethel. Bethel
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
E C I S I O N
“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
argued that it was entitled to an evidentiary hearing on the reasonableness of Frankman’s
attorney fees. At oral argument on
counsel rephrased the issue, stating that it sought an evidentiary hearing to
determine whether the SAC proceeding is part of the condemnation proceeding.
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
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.