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Epstein v. Abrams (1997) 57 Cal. App. 4th 1159 [67 Cal. Rptr. 2d 555]

Case Conclusion Date: 09.23.1997

Practice Area: Contracts and agreements

Outcome: "The challenged orders approving the settlement and denying appellant's motion for reconsideration are reversed.   Appellant is to recover costs on appeal."

Description: Mr. Vargas filed an appeal on behalf of a lawyer ("appellant") who had represented the owner of a veterinary clinic and the veterinary business in an action for breach of a noncompetition agreement. During the litigation, appellant had filed a motion for summary judgment on behalf of his clients in the noncompetition action, which was granted. Attorney fees were awarded to appellant in connection with the hearing on the motion for summary judgment. Thereafter, appellant filed and served his notice of lien. Notwithstanding, appellant’s former clients, without appellant's knowledge or consent, agreed to a settlement that dispensed with the attorney fees that had been awarded to appellant pursuant to the hearing on the motion for summary judgment. Appellant then filed a separate action against his former clients seeking to enforce his attorney fee lien. In response, Appellant’s former clients filed a motion requesting a court order approving the settlement, which sought to defeat appellant's attorney fee lien, The motion was granted. Appellant subsequently proceeded with an ex parte application seeking reconsideration of the court's order approving the settlement, which was denied. Mr. Vargas thus filed an appeal of the court’s orders on behalf of appellant. The court reversed. The court held that “the validity and possible enforcement of appellant's attorney's lien or alternatively his attachment lien remain to be determined in the independent action. In reversing the challenged order of the trial court purporting to approve the settlement, we emphasize that appellant is entitled to attempt, by way of his independent action, to establish the existence of an attorney's lien and/or the validity of his attachment lien.   Enforcement of any lien found to exist must also take place in that forum.   The present attempt by respondents and the defendants to defeat appellant's lien must fail.”

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