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Greenberg Traurig, P.A. v. Starling

Florida Court of Appeals, Second District

January 5, 2018

GREENBERG TRAURIG, P.A., Appellant/Cross-Appellee,
v.
JEFFREY B. STARLING, Appellee/Cross-Appellant, and FLORIDA UROLOGY PARTNERS, LLP, a Florida limited liability partnership; FUP IV, P.L., a Florida professional limited liability company; FRANK D. MASTANDREA; DAVID A. HOCHBERG; RUDOLPH ACOSTA, JR.; and OSVALDO PADRON, Appellees.

         NOT FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE REHEARING MOTION AND, IF FILED, DETERMINED

         Appeal from the Circuit Court for Hillsborough County; Steven Scott Stephens, Judge.

          Christopher Torres and John A. Wirthlin of Greenberg Traurig, P.A., Tampa, for Appellant/Cross-Appellee.

          Michael C. Addison of Addison & Associates, P.A., Tampa, for Appellee/ Cross-Appellant Jeffrey B. Starling.

         No appearance for remaining Appellees.

          LaROSE, Chief Judge.

         Greenberg Traurig, P.A. ("Greenberg") appeals the trial court's final order granting Dr. Jeffrey B. Starling's motion to strike Greenberg's charging lien for lack of jurisdiction. Dr. Starling cross-appeals the same order, challenging the trial court's finding that Greenberg's charging lien was valid. We have jurisdiction. See Fla. R. App. P. 9.030(b)(1)(A); 9.110(g). We remand for the trial court to strike from its order the finding that the charging lien was valid. We affirm the order in all other respects.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         In 2012, Dr. Starling hired Greenberg to represent him in a lawsuit against his former medical partners. During the representation, Dr. Starling and Greenberg began arguing over Greenberg's invoices for legal services. After accruing over $300, 000 in unpaid attorneys' fees and costs, Greenberg withdrew as Dr. Starling's counsel in late September 2015. Greenberg transferred its files to Dr. Starling's new counsel, Addison & Howard, P.A. ("Addison").

         Thereafter, Dr. Starling and the defendants in the original lawsuit settled the case at mediation. On January 8, 2016, the parties filed a joint stipulation for dismissal with prejudice. They did not notify Greenberg of the mediation, settlement, or dismissal.

         Before the dismissal of the original action, Greenberg sent Dr. Starling and Addison several letters. Each letter advised Dr. Starling that Greenberg reserved its right to file and enforce a notice of charging lien. Dr. Starling and Addison received and read the letters; neither responded.

         Almost two weeks after the dismissal of the original action, Greenberg filed its notice of charging lien in the original action.[1] Dr. Starling moved to strike the charging lien. In response, Greenberg moved to reopen the underlying case so as to enforce its charging lien. The trial court granted Greenberg's motion, and scheduled an evidentiary hearing to determine whether it had jurisdiction to enforce the charging lien after the voluntary dismissal.

         At the hearing, Greenberg argued that the trial court should enforce the charging lien because it had met the requirements for a valid lien. Dr. Starling, however, contended that the trial court lost jurisdiction to enforce the charging lien once the parties voluntarily dismissed the case with prejudice, with no reservation of jurisdiction for the trial court to consider the notice, settlement, or attorneys' fees. When the trial court asked whether it had jurisdiction, Greenberg argued that Dr. Starling committed a fraud when he dismissed the original action without notice to Greenberg.

         The trial court entered a written order granting Dr. Starling's motion to strike the charging lien. Yet, the trial court also found that Greenberg had a valid charging lien. The trial court held that it lacked jurisdiction to enforce the notice of charging lien because Greenberg filed its lien after the filing of the joint ...


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