Boyle v. Clyde Snow & Sessions PC

Decision Date26 May 2016
Docket NumberNo. 20140820–CA,20140820–CA
Citation378 P.3d 98,2016 UT App 114
PartiesThomas D. Boyle, Appellant, v. Clyde Snow & Sessions PC, Appellee.
CourtUtah Court of Appeals

Thomas D. Boyle, Appellant Pro Se.

Jeffery S. Williams, Salt Lake City, Attorney for Appellee.

Judge Kate A. Toomey authored this Opinion, in which Judges Stephen L. Roth and Michele M. Christiansen concurred.


TOOMEY, Judge:

¶ 1 Thomas D. Boyle represented Dawn Woodson in a wrongful death action while he was employed by the law firm Clyde Snow & Sessions PC (Clyde Snow) and then later by Prince Yeates & Geldzahler (Prince Yeates). After six years of litigation the parties reached a settlement. Clyde Snow asserted a lien on a portion of the settlement funds for attorney fees. Prince Yeates interpleaded a portion of the settlement, and the district court awarded those funds to Clyde Snow. Boyle appeals the district court's order awarding the money to Clyde Snow. Because we determine Clyde Snow did not properly intervene, we conclude the district court lacked jurisdiction to award it attorney fees. We therefore reverse.


¶ 2 In 2007, fifteen-year-old Caleb Jensen died while participating in a wilderness therapy program. His mother, Dawn Woodson, retained Clyde Snow to represent her in a wrongful death action. Boyle was lead counsel on the case. Woodson signed a contingency-fee agreement specifying that Clyde Snow would retain forty percent of any recovery. The agreement stated: [Y]ou agree that [Clyde Snow] shall have a lien on any claim, suit or recovery for fees, costs and expenses arising out of or related to this Agreement and to the claims to which this Agreement relates.” The agreement further provided that if Woodson discharged the firm, [Clyde Snow] shall be compensated for the reasonable value of the Firm's services.”

¶ 3 In June 2010, three years after the case began, Boyle left Clyde Snow and joined Prince Yeates, and Woodson opted to have her case follow him there. Clyde Snow then filed a notice of its attorney lien. While he was with Prince Yeates, Boyle continued to represent Woodson until the case settled.

¶ 4 On May 30, 2013, the parties to the wrongful death suit informed the district court that they had reached a settlement agreement and successfully moved to vacate the trial dates. In early June, the defendants moved to dismiss the plaintiffs' claims with prejudice. But in late June, before the court made a decision regarding the defendants' motion to dismiss, Clyde Snow filed a restated notice of its attorney lien and “object[ed] to the dismissal of [the underlying action] until the issues raised by the Attorney's Lien ha[d] been resolved.”

¶ 5 The court held a telephonic hearing regarding the defendants' motion to dismiss in July 2013, and addressed Clyde Snow's objection to dismissal. During the hearing, Blake S. Atkin, on behalf of Boyle and Prince Yeates, expressed their intent to object to Clyde Snow's attorney lien. The defendants expressed concerns about keeping the case open, explaining that there was a confidentiality agreement in the settlement and that they were “concerned that an ongoing dispute between two ... well known law firms in this valley [was] likely to attract some attention.” The defendants also pointed out that Utah Code section 38–2–7(4) “provides that an attorney can enforce a lien either by intervening in a pending action, which [Clyde Snow] has not ... done yet, or by filing a separate legal action.” They ultimately expressed that they thought it would “be a lot fairer to the defendants to dismiss this action,” “to close out this case,” and to have Clyde Snow file a separate suit against Prince Yeates or Boyle. Clyde Snow responded that it should not have to forgo its option to intervene. The court ruled it would dismiss Woodson's claims and keep the case open for the limited purpose of resolving Clyde Snow's attorney lien, reasoning that it did not make “a whole lot of sense to initiate a new lawsuit.” The court further ordered Prince Yeates and Clyde Snow to file briefs regarding their positions on the attorney lien (Position Statements) and ordered them to undergo mediation. It added that no other briefing would be allowed.

¶ 6 Woodson later filed a motion to “ify” Clyde Snow's lien, arguing that Clyde Snow failed to follow the statutory requirements for perfecting a lien.1 She also argued Clyde Snow had not properly intervened as a party in the action and thus had not invoked the court's jurisdiction to enforce the lien. This motion was never submitted for decision, and the court therefore did not address it. Woodson did not participate further in the case.

¶ 7 After the court dismissed the underlying action, Clyde Snow, Prince Yeates, and Boyle engaged extensively with each other over the disputed attorney fees. Prince Yeates filed its Position Statement explaining that the dispute involved Clyde Snow, Boyle, and another attorney who worked on the case, but not Prince Yeates. Prince Yeates disclaimed any interest in the funds and informed the court that it had set aside funds in trust as security for any interest Clyde Snow might have.

¶ 8 Clyde Snow's Position Statement argued that the underlying case originated with Clyde Snow through a contingency fee agreement with Woodson and that it was entitled to receive the reasonable value for the services it provided. It also disputed Woodson's motion to ify, arguing the motion was based on “the false assumption that Clyde Snow's representation ... was terminated for cause.”

¶ 9 In January 2014, Clyde Snow filed another restated notice of its lien, and Boyle requested an evidentiary hearing. Prince Yeates filed a motion asking to “interplead” the disputed funds into a court account. Clyde Snow consented, and Boyle responded by disputing the amount to be interpleaded. The court granted Prince Yeates's motion. After the funds were interpleaded, Clyde Snow filed a document, titled “First Amended Complaint Regarding Entitlement to Interpled Funds and Response to Any Crossclaim,” asserting its claim to the settlement funds. Boyle answered Clyde Snow's purported complaint, arguing the firm should not receive any of the funds because it had mismanaged the case.2 Boyle also gave an account of the troubled history he had with Clyde Snow during his employment with, and exit from, that firm.

¶ 10 In April 2014, Boyle moved to dismiss Clyde Snow's purported complaint because it failed to intervene as required by rule 24 of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure. The district court denied Boyle's motion, concluding that Clyde Snow was a “proper interpleader party and any procedural objection regarding the requirement to file a formal motion to intervene “had been resolved by prior court orders” and “the establishment of an interpleader” account. It further explained that Clyde Snow had “substantially complied” with the requirement to intervene, and any objection Boyle might have had was waived “based on the substantial process and other events that ha[d] occurred” since the dismissal of the underlying case. The court ultimately awarded all of the interpleaded funds to Clyde Snow.

¶ 11 Boyle appeals.


¶ 12 Boyle presents this case as an appeal taken as a matter of right under Utah Code section 78A–3–102(3)(j), and both parties to the appeal focus their arguments on the merits of the district court's decisions. But we see more fundamental jurisdictional and procedural problems with this appeal. Neither Boyle nor Clyde Snow formally intervened in the action below and, aside from their interest in being paid for representing Woodson, neither has a stake in the subject matter of the underlying action. Utah appellate courts have held “that persons or entities that are not parties to a proceeding are not entitled to an appeal of right.” See Utah Down Syndrome Found., Inc. v. Utah Down Syndrome Ass'n , 2012 UT 86, ¶ 9, 293 P.3d 241. Our courts have also held that a district court's order ‘in favor of a person who is not a party to the action or proceeding is void because the court has no jurisdiction to make it.’ See Ostler v. Buhler , 1999 UT 99, ¶ 7, 989 P.2d 1073–74 (quoting Openshaw v. Openshaw , 80 Utah 9, 12 P.2d 364, 365 (1932) ). Subject matter jurisdiction is not a matter of the court's discretion, see Crump v. Crump , 821 P.2d 1172, 1173–74 (Utah Ct. App. 1991), and [a] lack of jurisdiction can be raised at any time by either party or by the court,” see Utah Down Syndrome Found. , 2012 UT 86, ¶ 7, 293 P.3d 241 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Accordingly, as a threshold matter, we must determine whether Clyde Snow properly intervened in the underlying action to enforce its attorney lien. If it did not, the district court had no jurisdiction and any order based on motions made by and for the interests of the non-parties are void. See Ostler , 1999 UT 99, ¶ 7, 989 P.2d 1073. Whether Clyde Snow properly intervened in the underlying action or whether the parties waived any objection to Clyde Snow's participation in the case present questions of law, which are reviewed for correctness. Id. ¶ 5.

I. Intervention

¶ 13 An attorney seeking to enforce an attorney lien must do so either “by filing a separate legal action” or “by moving to intervene in a pending legal action.” Utah Code Ann. § 38–2–7(4)(a) (LexisNexis 2014). This section does not confer an unconditional right to intervene. See Bishop v. Quintana , 2005 UT App 509U, para. 5. Instead, a person desiring to intervene must submit a “timely application” and “shall serve a motion to intervene upon the parties as provided in Rule 5.” Utah R. Civ. P. 24(a)-(c) ; see also Ostler , 1999 UT 99, ¶ 7, 989 P.2d 1073 (explaining that the use of the term “shall” means “that, absent waiver by the parties, non-parties must adhere to the procedural requirements of Rule 24(c) in order to intervene in an action”).

¶ 14 Generally, a motion to intervene is timely only “if it is filed before the final settlement of all...

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