Martinez v. MintzAnnotate this Case
Plaintiff’s initial attorneys were discharged for cause and replaced by successor counsel. Initial counsel had been hired on a contingency basis. When discharged, they asserted a lien against any settlement or judgment entered in the underlying action and in favor of the plaintiff. The underlying action was subsequently settled, and successor counsel filed a motion to void the lien. Initial counsel responded by moving to strike successor counsel’s motion and to compel arbitration, based on an arbitration clause contained in initial counsel’s contingent fee agreement with the plaintiff. The district court ultimately concluded that this dispute was between the lawyers, and thus, the arbitration clause contained in initial counsel’s contingent fee agreement with the plaintiff did not apply. The court then determined that initial counsel was not entitled to fees because it had been discharged for cause, and under the express terms of the contingent fee agreement, it had forfeited the right to those fees. Initial counsel appealed, and a division of the court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court reversed, concluding that successor counsel’s motion to void the lien at issue was properly filed in the underlying action and that the underlying action was a “proper civil action.” In light of this determination, the Supreme court further concluded that the lien dispute was between initial and successor counsel and that therefore, the matter: (1) was not subject to arbitration pursuant to the arbitration clause in initial counsel’s contingent fee agreement with the plaintiff; and (2) was properly before the district court.