Foster v. Bryanlgh Medical Center East

Citation272 Neb. 918,725 N.W.2d 839
Decision Date12 January 2007
Docket NumberNo. S-06-258.,S-06-258.
PartiesVictoria M. FOSTER, formerly known as Victoria M. Collins, appellant v. BRYANLGH MEDICAL CENTER EAST, a Nebraska corporation, appellee.
CourtSupreme Court of Nebraska

Rolf Edward Shasteen, of Shasteen & Scholz, P.C., for appellant.

Jeffrey A. Silver also filing briefs and arguing on behalf of Victoria M. Foster.

No appearance for appellee.

HEAVICAN, C.J., WRIGHT, CONNOLLY, GERRARD, STEPHAN, McCORMACK, and MILLER-LERMAN, JJ.

NATURE OF CASE

GERRARD, J.

Before going to trial in her workers' compensation case, Victoria M. Foster, formerly known as Victoria M. Collins, discharged her attorney, Rolf Shasteen, and hired a new attorney. Shasteen perfected an attorney's lien in the Workers' Compensation Court pursuant to Neb.Rev.Stat. § 48-108 (Reissue 2004). Represented by a new attorney, Foster tried her case to a single judge of the Workers' Compensation Court. The single judge determined that Foster was entitled to certain benefits and, later, approved a lump-sum settlement.

Shasteen filed a motion with the compensation court to establish the amount of his attorney's lien. The single judge determined that Shasteen had been paid all he was entitled to and declined to award him further attorney fees or costs. Shasteen ultimately appealed to the Nebraska Court of Appeals, which dismissed the appeal, concluding that the Workers' Compensation Court did not have jurisdiction to decide the fee dispute. See Foster v. BryanLGH Med. Ctr. East, 14 Neb.App. ____ (No. A-06-258, May 1, 2006). The issue before this court, on further review, is whether the Workers' Compensation Court has jurisdiction to determine a fee dispute arising out of an attorney's lien perfected under § 48-108. Because we conclude that it does, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remand this cause with directions.

BACKGROUND

Foster retained Shasteen and his law firm to represent her with regard to a workers' compensation claim. Foster signed a fee agreement which provided in pertinent part that Shasteen would receive a one-third contingency fee and reimbursement for costs advanced. While Shasteen was counsel for Foster, he was paid a total of $5,419.37 for attorney fees and costs.

During Shasteen's representation of Foster, Foster was scheduled to have her deposition taken. Foster appeared at the deposition, and the defendant offered $15,000 to settle the case. Foster initially said she would accept the settlement offer, without having her deposition taken. Approximately 2 months later, Foster discharged the Shasteen firm and rejected the $15,000 proposed settlement. The Shasteen firm then filed a motion to withdraw as counsel and establish an attorney's lien. The single judge of the compensation court entered an order granting the motion to withdraw and allowing the attorney's lien.

Foster hired a second lawyer to replace Shasteen as her attorney. With her new attorney, Foster's case was tried to the single judge. The single judge determined that Foster was entitled to certain indemnity benefits and subsequently approved a lump-sum settlement of $18,000.

Following the single judge's approval of the lump-sum settlement, Shasteen filed a motion to establish the amount of his attorney's lien. The single judge determined that Shasteen had been paid all he was entitled to under his agreement with Foster and declined to award him further attorney fees or costs. Shasteen appealed this decision to the review panel. The review panel reversed, and remanded with directions to the single judge to enter an order of dismissal, concluding that, pursuant to Wells v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., 14 Neb.App. 384, 707 N.W.2d 438 (2005), the Workers' Compensation Court did not have jurisdiction to determine a fee dispute between present and former counsel. Shasteen appealed to the Court of Appeals.

The Court of Appeals, citing Wells, supra, dismissed Shasteen's appeal for lack of jurisdiction. Shasteen petitioned this court for further review, which was granted.

ASSIGNMENTS OF ERROR

Shasteen assigns, consolidated and restated, that the Court of Appeals erred in (1) determining that the Workers' Compensation Court lacked jurisdiction to determine the allocation of an attorney fee between a claimant's former attorney and a claimant's attorney at the time of the hearing and (2) failing to award a lien for additional attorney fees and costs.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

An appellate court is obligated in workers' compensation cases to make its own determination as to questions of law. Veatch v. American Tool, 267 Neb. 711, 676 N.W.2d 730 (2004).

ANALYSIS

The issue presented in this appeal is whether the Workers' Compensation Court has jurisdiction to enforce an attorney's lien filed under § 48-108 when, at the time of the claimant's award, the attorney seeking enforcement of the lien no longer represents the claimant. We conclude that the Legislature intended the Workers' Compensation Court to have such jurisdiction pursuant to § 48-108.

As a statutorily created court, the compensation court is a tribunal of limited and special jurisdiction and has only such authority as has been conferred on it by statute. Hagelstein v. Swift-Eckrich, 257 Neb. 312, 597 N.W.2d 394 (1999). The Workers' Compensation Court can only resolve disputes that arise from provisions of the Nebraska Workers' Compensation Act. Dawes v. Wittrock Sandblasting & Painting, 266 Neb. 526, 667 N.W.2d 167 (2003), disapproved on other grounds, Kimminau v. Uribe Refuse Serv., 270 Neb. 682, 707 N.W.2d 229 (2005). The power of the Workers' Compensation Court to resolve attorney fee disputes is derived from § 48-108 which states:

No claim or agreement for legal services or disbursements in support of any demand made or suit brought under the Nebraska Workers' Compensation Act shall be an enforceable lien against the amounts to be paid as damages or compensation or be valid or binding in any other respect, unless the same be approved in writing by the judge presiding at the trial or, in case of settlement without trial, by a judge of the Nebraska Workers' Compensation Court. After such approval, if notice in writing be given the defendant of such claim or agreement for legal services and disbursements, the same shall be a lien against any amount thereafter to be paid as damages or compensation. When the employee's compensation is payable by the employer in periodical installments, the compensation court shall fix, at the time of approval, the proportion of each installment to be paid on account of legal services and disbursements.

In construing a statute, appellate courts are guided by the presumption that the Legislature intended a sensible rather than absurd result in enacting the statute. Spaghetti Ltd. Partnership v. Wolfe, 264 Neb. 365, 647 N.W.2d 615 (2002). An appellate court will place a...

To continue reading

Request your trial
11 cases
  • Risor v. Nebraska Boiler
    • United States
    • Nebraska Supreme Court
    • January 25, 2008
    ...Merz v. Seeba, 271 Neb. 117, 710 N.W.2d 91 (2006). 2. Newman v. Rehr, 263 Neb. 111, 638 N.W.2d 863 (2002). 3. Foster v. BryanLGH Med. Ctr. East, 272 Neb. 918, 725 N.W.2d 839 (2007). 4. Peek v. Ayers Auto Supply, 157 Neb. 363, 59 N.W.2d 564 (1953). 5. Neb.Rev.Stat. §§ 48-101 to 48-1, 117 (Re......
  • Zach v. Nebraska State Patrol, S-05-449.
    • United States
    • Nebraska Supreme Court
    • February 2, 2007
    ...of limited and special jurisdiction and has only such authority as has been conferred on it by statute. Foster v. BryanLGH Med. Ctr. East, 272 Neb. 918, 725 N.W.2d 839 (2007); Hagelstein v. 257 Neb. 312, 597 N.W.2d 394 (1999). In reviewing a judgment of that court, we are likewise constrain......
  • Holdsworth v. Cooperative
    • United States
    • Nebraska Supreme Court
    • June 14, 2013
    ...decision to grant Holdsworth's motion for penalties. 1.McBee v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., 255 Neb. 903, 908, 587 N.W.2d 687, 692 (1999). 2.Foster v. BryanLGH Med. Ctr. East, 272 Neb. 918, 725 N.W.2d 839 (2007). 3.Midwest PMS v. Olsen, 279 Neb. 492, 778 N.W.2d 727 (2010). 4.Id. 5. See Curr......
  • Concrete Industries, Inc. v. Ne Dept. of Revenue
    • United States
    • Nebraska Supreme Court
    • June 5, 2009
    ...Comm., 276 Neb. 988, 759 N.W.2d 75 (2009). 14. Burns v. Nielsen, 273 Neb. 724, 732 N.W.2d 640 (2007). 15. See Foster v. BryanLGH Med. Ctr. East, 272 Neb. 918, 725 N.W.2d 839 (2007). 16. Lackawanna Leather Co. v. Nebraska Dept. of Rev., 259 Neb. 100, 608 N.W.2d 177 (2000). 17. See id. 18. § ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT