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Fredianelli v. Price

Supreme Court of Nevada

October 5, 2017

KRISTI RAE FREDIANELLI, Appellant,
v.
FINE CARMAN PRICE, Respondent.

         Appeal from a district court order adjudicating an attorneys lien and entering judgment for attorney fees. Eighth Judicial District Court, Family Court Division, Clark County; T. Arthur Ritchie, Jr., Judge.

          Patricia A. Marr, Henderson, for Appellant.

          Fine Carman Price and Corinne M. Price and Frances-Ann Fine, Henderson, for Respondent. [1]

          BEFORE THE COURT EN BANC.

          OPINION

          CHERRY, C.J.

         NRS 18.015 provides for the enforcement of liens for attorney fees. In this appeal, we clarify that NRS 18.015, as amended in 2013, provides for the enforcement of a retaining lien for attorney fees. Because respondent met the statutory requirements for the enforcement of a retaining lien, we affirm the district court's order adjudicating an attorney's lien and entering judgment for attorney fees.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Fine Carman Price (Fine) represented Kristi Rae Fredianelli in a paternity action. After the district court issued its final order in the paternity action, Fine filed a notice of withdrawal as attorney of record. Fine subsequently filed and served a notice of a retaining lien against Fredianelli for $13, 701.82, of unpaid legal fees.

         Fine moved the district court to adjudicate the rights of counsel, for enforcement of attorney's lien, and for a judgment for attorney fees. Fredianelli opposed the motion. Fredianelli did not dispute the amount of the attorney fees but argued that Fine was asserting a charging lien, not a retaining lien. Reiving solely on Leventhal v. Black & LoBello, 129 Nev. 472, 305 P.3d 907 (2013), Fredianelli claimed that the purported charging lien failed as a matter of law. The district court granted Fine's motion and awarded Fine $13, 701.82, plus interest and post-judgment costs.

         DISCUSSION

         The district court did not err by enforcing Fine's retaining lien against Fredianelli under NRS 18.015

         On appeal, Fredianelli concedes that the lien at issue is a retaining lien, not a charging lien. She nevertheless argues that the district court erred by enforcing Fine's lien because, under NRS 18.015 and our caselaw interpreting it: (1) a retaining lien is a passive lien that cannot be enforced by an attorney, (2) there was no affirmative recovery in the paternity action to which a lien could attach, and (3) a retaining lien cannot be reduced to a monetary judgment. We disagree.

         NRS 18.015 governs attorney liens, and the parties' arguments require us to interpret the Legislature's 2013 amendments to NRS 18.015.[2] "This court reviews a district court's interpretation of a statute . . . de novo." Marquis & Aurbach v. Eighth Judicial Dist. Court, 122 Nev. 1147, 1156, 146 P.3d 1130, 1136 (2006). "When interpreting a statutory provision, this court looks first to the plain language of the statute." Clay v. Eighth Judicial Dist. Court, 129 Nev. 445, 451, 305 P.3d 898, 902 (2013). If the statute is unambiguous, this court does not "look beyond the statute itself when determining its meaning." Westpark Owners' Ass'n v. Eighth Judicial Dist. Court, 123 Nev. 349, 357, 167 P.3d 421, 427 (2007).

         Prior to 2013, NRS 18.015 only provided rules regarding enforcement of "charging lien[s], " or liens "against the client's claim or recovery." See Leventhal, 129 Nev. at 475, 305 P.3d at 909. Retaining liens were solely "established at common law" and "allow[ed] a discharged attorney to withhold the client's file and other property until the court. . . adjudicate[d] the client's rights and obligations with respect to the lien." Argentena Consol. Mining Co. v. Jolley Urga Wirth Woodbury & Standish, 125 Nev. 527, 532, 216 P.3d 779, 782 (2009). Retaining liens were considered a "passive lien, " meaning that they could not "be actively enforced by the attorney in judicial proceedings." Id. at 533, 216 P.3d at 783.

         Since 2013, however, amendments made to NRS 18.015 provide a method for attorneys to actively enforce retaining liens "[i]n any civil action, upon any file or other property properly left in the possession of the attorney by a client." NRS 18.015(1)(b). The amount of attorney fees subject to the retaining lien must be the fee "agreed upon, " or "[i]n the absence of an agreement... a reasonable fee for the services ... rendered." NRS 18.015(2). The lien must be "perfect[ed], " which means that the attorney "serv[ed] notice in writing, in person or by certified mail, return receipt requested, upon his or her client[, ] . . . [and] claim[ed] the lien and stat[ed] the amount of the lien." NRS 18.015(3). NRS 18.015(4)(b) provides for the timing with which the lien "attaches" to the property: a retaining lien "attaches to any file or other property properly left in the possession of the attorney by his or her client, . . . from the time of service of the notices required by this section."

         If the above requirements are met, NRS 18.015 then requires the attorney to file a motion for ...


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