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Samuel J. Stoorman & Associates, P.C. v. Dixon

Supreme Court of Colorado, En Banc

May 15, 2017

Samuel J. Stoorman & Associates, P.C., Petitioner
v.
Brian Todd Dixon, Respondent

         Certiorari to the Colorado Court of Appeals Court of Appeals Case No. 14CA716

          Attorneys for Petitioner: Samuel J. Stoorman & Associates, P.C. Samuel J. Stoorman Nicole Hanson Denver, Colorado

          Attorneys for Respondent: Jody Brammer-Hoelter, LLC Jody Brammer-Hoelter Louisville, Colorado

          Attorneys for Amicus Curiae Colorado Chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers: Colorado Chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers David M. Johnson Colorado Springs, Colorado

          Sherman & Howard L.L.C. Jordan M. Fox Kara L. Chrobak Denver, Colorado

          JUSTICE BOATRIGHT delivered the Opinion of the Court. JUSTICE GABRIEL does not participate.

          BOATRIGHT JUSTICE

         ¶1 Samuel J. Stoorman & Associates, P.C. ("the Firm"), represented Kristy Casagranda ("Wife") during dissolution proceedings against her then-husband Brian Todd Dixon ("Husband"). The Firm asserted a charging lien for its fees under Colorado's attorney's lien statute against assets the court awarded to Wife during the divorce and obtained a court order recognizing that lien. The firm later filed a motion for an entry of judgment enforcing its charging lien against maintenance payments Husband owed to Wife, seeking to have Husband redirect those payments to the Firm. The trial court denied the motion, concluding that an attorney's charging lien cannot attach to a maintenance award. The court of appeals affirmed. In re Marriage of Dixon, 2015 COA 99, __ P.3d __. Because the attorney's lien statute's plain language provides that a charging lien attaches to any judgment that an attorney helps a client obtain, we reverse. We hold that an attorney's charging lien may attach to an award of spousal maintenance. Hence, we remand the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         ¶2 Husband and Wife divorced in 2009. The Firm represented Wife during the dissolution proceedings. As part of the dissolution decree, the trial court entered permanent orders directing Husband to pay Wife monthly maintenance for seventy-two months. Shortly after the entry of permanent orders, the Firm sought recognition of its charging lien for the fees Wife owed it. The trial court entered a judgment against Wife for the unpaid fees. Wife did not pay the Firm, and in 2012 the Firm sent a letter to Husband advising him that its charging lien for Wife's fees had attached to her maintenance payments, and so Husband should redirect payments to the Firm. Husband continued to make maintenance payments to Wife. Then, in 2014, the Firm filed a motion seeking an entry of judgment against Husband on the theory that it had an interest in maintenance payments that Husband owed to Wife. The trial court denied the motion, concluding that an attorney's charging lien cannot be enforced against a maintenance award, and it awarded Husband attorney fees for costs he incurred defending against the Firm's motion. The Firm appealed, and the court of appeals affirmed. We granted certiorari.[1]

         II. Standard of Review

         ¶3 This court reviews questions of statutory interpretation de novo. People ex rel. O.C., 2013 CO 56, ¶ 13, 308 P.3d 1218, 1221.

         III. Analysis

         ¶4 We begin by analyzing the plain language of Colorado's attorney's lien statute, section 12-5-119, C.R.S. (2016), and we hold that the statute's plain language applies to maintenance awards. Then, we consider Husband's argument that this court should look beyond the plain language of the statute and exempt maintenance awards from attorney's ...


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