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In re Marriage of Dixon

Court of Appeals of Colorado, Seventh Division

July 16, 2015

In re the Marriage of Kristy Marie Dixon, n/k/a Kristy Casagranda, Petitioner,
v.
Samuel J. Stoorman & Associates PC, Attorney-Appellant. and Brian Todd Dixon, Appellee,

Jefferson County District Court No. 08DR1219 Honorable Randall C. Arp, Judge.

Jody Brammer-Hoelter, LLC, Johanna L. Brammer-Hoelter, Lafayette, Colorado, for Appellee.

Samuel J. Stoorman & Associates PC, Samuel J. Stoorman, Nicole R. Hanson, Denver, Colorado, for Attorney-Appellant.

OPINION

NAVARRO, JUDGE.

¶ 1 Samuel J. Stoorman & Associates PC (law firm), the lien claimant in this marital dissolution action, appeals from the trial court's order denying its motion for entry of judgment against Brian Todd Dixon (husband) and awarding him reasonable attorney fees and costs. The law firm sought to enforce its lien against the maintenance payments that husband was obligated to pay to the law firm's former client, Kristy Marie Dixon, now known as Kristy Casagranda (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. We agree with that conclusion and, thus, affirm the order denying the law firm's motion for judgment against husband. We reverse, however, the award of attorney fees and costs to husband.

I. Background

¶ 2 The law firm represented wife in her February 2009 divorce from husband. The permanent orders entered as part of the dissolution decree required husband to pay wife monthly maintenance of $1500 for seventy-two months, or until February 2015.

¶ 3 In June 2008, before the permanent orders hearing, the law firm filed notice of its claim of an attorney's lien pursuant to section 12-5-119, C.R.S. 2014. On May 18, 2009, the law firm amended its notice and moved to foreclose and enforce its lien against wife, and for entry of judgment against her in the amount of $13, 744.68. On June 26, 2009, the trial court granted the motion and entered judgment, finding that the law firm had a "valid and enforceable lien in the amount of $13, 268.06 as of April 9, 2009 upon all the monies, properties, choses in action, claims and demands in suit, and upon any property awarded to" wife in the dissolution action, including "any money due [wife] in the hands of [husband]."

¶ 4 In October 2012, the law firm notified husband by letter that its lien had attached to "maintenance (alimony) payments" that husband owed wife. The letter noted that husband had been served with the law firm's May 18, 2009, amended notice of lien as well as the court's judgment enforcing the lien against wife. The letter requested that husband forward to the law firm all payments payable to wife after May 18, 2009, "as your failure to have done so (or to continue to do so in the future) may expose you to multiple liability pursuant to Colorado law." The law firm claims that husband ignored its notice and continued to make spousal maintenance payments directly to wife.

¶ 5 In January 2014, the law firm moved for a judgment against husband in the amount of $31, 126.85, consisting of the full amount of its judgment against wife plus interest. The trial court denied the law firm's motion for judgment against husband and entered an order awarding him the attorney fees and costs he had incurred in defending against it.

¶ 6 The trial court noted that the law firm's lien notification put husband in a difficult position. Complying with the notification possibly could have led to his being held in contempt for failing to pay court-ordered maintenance, while ignoring the notification exposed him to the risk of having to pay maintenance to both wife and the law firm. Ultimately, the trial court determined that (1) an attorney's lien requires some form of "execution" to be effective against third parties such as husband and (2) husband's maintenance obligation to wife was exempt from the reach of the attorney's lien under section 13-54-102(1)(u), C.R.S. 2014. That statute exempts from levy and sale under writ of attachment or writ of execution "[a]ny court-ordered domestic support obligation or payment, including a maintenance obligation or payment or a child support obligation or payment [complying with section 13-54-102.5, C.R.S. 2014]." The trial court further found that enforcing an attorney's lien against maintenance payments or obligations would violate public policy.

¶ 7 In awarding attorney fees and costs to husband, the trial court found that the law firm lacked any basis for its attempt to obtain judgment against him.

II. Was the Attorney's Lien Enforceable Against Husband's Maintenance Obligations?

ΒΆ 8 The law firm contends that the trial court erred in finding that the law firm's attorney's lien could not be enforced against husband's ...


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