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Mulroy v. Morgan Pierce, PLLP

Supreme Court of Montana

January 10, 2017

JOSEPH S. MULROY, Petitioner and Appellee,
v.
MORGAN PIERCE, PLLP, Respondent and Appellant.

          Submitted on Briefs: November 30, 2016

         APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Nineteenth Judicial District, In and For the County of Lincoln, Cause No. DV 15-149 Honorable James B. Wheelis, Presiding Judge COUNSEL OF RECORD:

          For Appellant: Elizabeth A. Brennan, Brennan Law & Mediation, PLLC, Missoula, Montana.

          For Appellee: Amy N. Guth, Attorney at Law, Libby, Montana.

          JAMES JEREMIAH SHEA Justice.

         ¶1 Morgan Pierce, PLLP, appeals a Nineteenth Judicial District Court, Lincoln County, order granting Joseph S. Mulroy's motion for summary judgment that an attorney's lien recorded by Morgan Pierce against real property Mulroy purchased from Morgan Pierce's client, Sheri Lee, is invalid. We address the following dispositive issue:

         Whether the District Court erred in holding that the signed fee agreement between Morgan Pierce and Lee did not create a lien by consent.

         ¶2 We reverse.

         PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         ¶3 In December 2014, Lee hired Morgan Pierce, a Missoula-based law firm, to represent her in a bankruptcy proceeding. Lee and Morgan Pierce entered into a fee agreement, which provided, in relevant part:

If Client has any legal interest in any real estate when the bankruptcy petition is filed, Client agrees and understands that Attorney's post-petition services will benefit that real estate. Therefore, Client acknowledges and consents to Attorney's Lien on such property, and consents to the post-petition filing of a Notice of Attorney's Lien against any and all real property owned at the time the case is filed.

         On May 26, 2015, Morgan Pierce filed a notice of an attorney's lien against five pieces of Lee's real property. The lien notice provided, in relevant part:

This lien is claimed for legal services rendered by Morgan Pierce, PLLP in 2014-15 pursuant to a Representation and Legal Services Agreement dated December 6, 2014 for legal services and costs advanced in Ms. Lee's Chapter 13 bankruptcy proceedings and related matters . . . . The reasonable value of the services is up to $25, 000.

         ¶4 On May 28, 2015, Mulroy and Lee entered into an amended buy-sell agreement for two of the pieces of property against which Morgan Pierce's lien was recorded. As part of the buy-sell agreement, Mulroy agreed to pay debts owed by Lee to the Whitefish Credit Union and to Attorney William Hileman, Jr. The buy-sell agreement is silent regarding ...


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