BAR-TIL, INC. APPELLANT/CROSS-APPELLEE
SUPERIOR ASPHALT, INC. AND PULL-A-PART OF JACKSON, LLC, MMC MATERIALS, INC., AND H & E EQUIPMENT SERVICES, INC. APPELLEES/CROSS-APPELLANTS
OF JUDGMENT: 09/17/2015
COUNTY CHANCERY COURT FIRST JUDICIAL DISTRICT, HON. J.
DEWAYNE THOMAS, TRIAL JUDGE
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: CHUCK MCRAE, SETH CLAYTON LITTLE,
CHRISTOPHER ANTHONY BAMBACH
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEES: JOSEPH LEE ADAMS, LINDSAY THOMAS
DOWDLE DONALD ALAN WINDHAM CRANE D. KIPP PATRICK VANCE DALY
CORY LOUIS RADICIONI
GRIFFIS, P.J., ISHEE AND GREENLEE, JJ.
This case requires this Court to decide whether a plaintiff
attorney's charging lien has attached and has priority
over third-party garnishors when the monies satisfying a
final judgment obtained by the attorney's efforts are
interpled by the garnishee into the registry of the court
rather than delivered to the attorney's actual
possession. With no statutory directive here, we apply
common-law principles to hold that the charging lien has
attached and does have priority.
AND PROCEEDINGS BELOW
In 2007, Bar-Til Inc. entered into a contract with Superior
Asphalt Inc. to perform work related to clearing acreage and
stripping topsoil. Superior Asphalt failed to pay Bar-Til for
all of the work completed. Represented by the McRae Law Firm
on a contingency-fee basis, Bar-Til sued Superior Asphalt for
breach of contract in 2009.
As a result of Superior Asphalt's failure to pay Bar-Til,
Bar-Til failed to pay H&E Equipment Services Inc. H&E
Equipment obtained a default judgment against Bar-Til in
2009, and in 2010 was granted permission to intervene in
Bar-Til's suit against Superior Asphalt. H&E
Equipment properly served a writ of garnishment against
Superior Asphalt in 2012.
In 2012, after McRae Law Firm expended more than $16, 000 in
expenses, Bar-Til won a judgment against Superior Asphalt
(including interest) in the amount of $205, 839.65. Superior
Asphalt did not appeal the judgment, but instead filed a
motion to interplead $205, 839.65 into the registry of the
court under that same cause number. Bar-Til appealed the
chancellor's denial of punitive damages. While the appeal
was pending in this Court, the chancellor granted Superior
Asphalt's renewed motion to interplead the funds, and
issued an order declaring the judgment satisfied in full.
In 2014, this Court issued an opinion affirming the
chancellor's denial of Bar-Til's request for punitive
damages. Counsel for another Bar-Til creditor, MMC Materials
Inc., noticed our opinion while browsing this Court's
weekly hand-down list. MMC Materials had obtained a judgment
against Bar-Til in 2008 unrelated to the contract dispute
between Bar-Til and Superior Asphalt. Newly aware that
Bar-Til had funds available to pay its creditors, MMC
Materials filed a motion to intervene and claim a portion of
the interpled funds. Also around this time, MMC Materials
properly served Superior Asphalt with a writ of garnishment,
which Superior Asphalt answered acknowledging its debt to
Bar-Til and referencing the interpled funds.
The McRae Law Firm also filed a motion asserting priority
over the interpled funds and requesting permission to
withdraw an amount representing its forty-percent contingency
fee and reimbursement for expenses.
The interpled funds were insufficient to cover the claims of
all parties. Rather than determine the respective priority of
the parties, the chancery court doled out a portion of the
funds to each party-including to the law firm, H&E
Equipment, MMC Materials, and another individual creditor who
had a judgment against Bar-Til but who had not obtained a
writ of garnishment. The court awarded H&E Equipment $74,
230, MMC Materials $23, 626.08, the law firm $72, 348.20, and
the other nongarnishor creditor $35, 634.81. The ...