This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

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






Steven M. Maus,





George J. Galic,



William Lewis,



Chestnut & Cambronne, PA,



Filed May 1, 2007


Lansing, Judge


Hennepin County District Court

File No. CT-99-5673


John G. Westrick, Kirk M. Anderson, Westrick & McDowall-Nix, P.L.L.P., 450 Degree of Honor Building, 325 Cedar Street, St. Paul, MN 55101 (for appellant)


Brian N. Toder, Chestnut & Cambronne, P.A., 3700 Campbell Mithun Tower, 222 South Ninth Street, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for respondent Chestnut & Cambronne, PA)


Marcy L. Wallace, 676A Butler Square, 100 North Sixth Street, Minneapolis, MN 55403 (for respondent George J. Galic)


William Lewis, 457 Rivercreek Court, Chula Vista, CA 91914 (pro se respondent)


            Considered and decided by Toussaint, Chief Judge; Lansing, Judge; and Peterson, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N


            Steven Maus appeals the district court’s decision granting the Chestnut & Cambronne law firm’s motion for an attorney’s lien on Maus’s partnership-dissolution trust account.  Maus argues that the district court, which approved a special master’s order, failed to properly consider his claims that Chestnut & Cambronne violated the state usury law, the federal Truth in Lending Act, and rule 1.8 of the Minnesota Rules of Professional Conduct.  Because proceedings to establish and enforce an attorney’s lien are summary in nature and cannot properly address Maus’s legal defenses, we affirm.


            Between 2001 and 2005, the Chestnut & Cambronne law firm represented Steven Maus in a lengthy dissolution of a business partnership.  The details of the lawsuit, which are not directly relevant to this appeal, are described fully in Maus v. Galic, 669 N.W.2d 38 (Minn. App. 2003).

            After Maus discharged Chestnut & Cambronne, Maus had an outstanding account with the law firm of more than $80,000 in attorneys’ fees.  In December 2005 Chestnut & Cambronne brought a motion to establish and enforce an attorney’s lien on Maus’s partnership-dissolution trust account.  In opposition to the motion, Maus argued that Chestnut & Cambronne had illegally charged him interest in violation of the state usury statute, the federal Truth in Lending Act, and rule 1.8 of the Minnesota Rules of Professional Conduct.

            A special master granted Chestnut & Cambronne’s motion for an attorney’s lien without making specific findings on the alleged violations of the usury statute, the Truth in Lending Act, or the rules of professional conduct.  The district court approved the special master’s decision.  Maus now appeals the district court’s decision granting the attorney’s lien.


            On appeal, we independently review the application of the attorney’s lien statute.  Thomas A. Foster & Assocs., Ltd. v. Paulson, 699 N.W.2d 1, 4 (Minn. App. 2005).  We defer to the district court on questions of fact, which include the amount of time the attorney spent on the case.  Ashford v. Interstate Trucking Corp. of Am., 524 N.W.2d 500, 502 (Minn. App. 1994).

            The attorney’s lien statute provides that a lien “may be established, and the amount of the lien may be determined, summarily by the court . . . on the application of the lien claimant.”  Minn. Stat. § 481.13, subd. 1(c) (2006) (emphasis added).  Before the legislature amended section 481.13 in 2002, the statute distinguished between a proceeding to establish a lien and a proceeding to enforce a lien.  Minn. Stat. § 481.13(3) (2000); 2002 Minn. Laws ch. 403, § 2, at 1707.  The amendment to section 481.13 eliminated the distinction between establishment and enforcement and provided that a lien may be established and its amount summarily determined by the court.  Minn. Stat. § 481.13, subd. 1(c) (2002); Paulson, 699 N.W.2d at 6.  The statute thus requires the district court to hold a summary proceeding rather than a full trial.  Paulson, 699 N.W.2d at 6. 

            In the summary proceeding, “clients must be given an adequate opportunity to contest the facts regarding the attorney’s fees.”  Boline v. Doty, 345 N.W.2d 285, 289 (Minn. App. 1984).  This ability to contest the facts relating to the fees includes the opportunity to cross-examine an attorney about the amount of time spent on the case and the validity of the charges.  Gaughan v. Gaughan, 450 N.W.2d 338, 343 (Minn. App. 1990).

            Although a client may challenge facts in the summary proceeding, legal defenses are limited.  In Paulson, this court held that legal malpractice could not be raised as a defense to a motion for an attorney’s lien.  699 N.W.2d at 8.  Permitting a malpractice defense would “impermissibly transform a summary-lien proceeding into a lengthy malpractice trial.”  Id. Instead, a client’s malpractice claims must be raised in a separate action.  Id.

            At least one of Maus’s defenses in this action, unlike the malpractice claims in Paulson, could potentially affect the validity of the fee agreement.  But in presenting his defenses, Maus has not challenged the existence of a fee agreement.  His challenge is grounded in legal, not factual questions.  Consequently, we conclude that Maus’s defenses are similarly inappropriate for resolution in a summary proceeding.               This result is consistent with the purpose of the attorney’s lien statute.  The rationale is that “a successful party should not be permitted the fruits of the judgment secured by the attorney’s services without paying for those services.”  Boline, 345 N.W.2d at 288.  Although the attorney’s lien statute does not create an agreement to pay attorneys’ fees, it provides a method to enforce a client’s agreement to pay fees. 

            Each of Maus’s defenses will require the court to consider issues unrelated to establishing the value of the attorney’s services and the validity of the written fee agreement.  Therefore, the defenses cannot be considered in the summary proceeding and the lack of specific findings or conclusions on some of the defenses is not prejudicial.  Because the defenses cannot be raised, Maus is not barred from bringing a separate action for usury, Truth in Lending Act violations, or breach of fiduciary duty.