Attorney fee lien invalid if filed before judgment entered

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An attorney who filed a lien for attorney fees prior to judgment being entered in a dissolution proceeding lost his case before the Court of Appeals after it determined Indiana statute requires the lien be filed after a judgment in the case is entered.

Paul Watts represented a woman in her dissolution proceeding for 14 months until she discharged him. In September 2012, he filed a notice of attorney fee lien in the court where he sought to hold a lien on all money and property awarded to the woman in order to collect $5,649.48.

Judgment was entered in the dissolution proceeding in September 2013. Richard Clem, who represented the husband in the matter, did not distribute any of the funds awarded to the wife from the husband to Watts to cover the lien. Watts then filed a complaint against Clem and the wife for the lien amount.

Both attorneys filed for summary judgment, with the trial court granting Watts’ motion.

In Richard A. Clem v. Paul J. Watts, 60A05-1406-PL-297, Clem argued, and the appeals court agreed, that the statute does not allow for an attorney to file the lien prior to judgment being entered.

Watts argued that a 2004 amended version of the statute allows him to do so because the language changed from “within 60 days from the time such judgment shall have been rendered” to “not later than 60 days after the judgment is rendered.”

The judges rejected his argument, citing the legislative intent and the courts’ construction of the mechanic’s lien statutes, where a person who seeks a lien must file notice of his or her intent in the recorder’s office not later than 60 days after performing labor or furnishing materials. That 60-day period begins when a subcontractor “finishes task for which it was hired.”

“Similarly, the sixty-day period for filing a notice of intention to file an attorney fee lien commences when the judgment is entered,” Senior Judge John Sharpnack wrote.


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