United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma
STEPHEN P. FRIOT UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
earlier stage, the court held that attorney Rex Travis is
entitled to an equitable lien on state-court settlement
proceeds which are payable to state-court plaintiffs or to
the state-court plaintiffs' attorneys, by which lien
Travis may recover a fee for services he rendered in this
federal action to his clients, Good to Go, LLC d/b/a Vista
Medical Center, and Patrick Reynolds. Doc. no. 172. (Good To
Go and Reynolds are Travis's clients in this federal
action only. Travis did not represent these parties in any of
the underlying state-court tort actions brought by
state-court plaintiffs against Good to Go and Reynolds.) The
court resolved the equitable lien issues in favor of Travis,
having found (among other things) that the legal services
Travis rendered in this federal action benefitted the
state-court plaintiffs and their state-court attorneys in
achieving settlements of the state-court actions.
Id. at p. 7, ¶3 (“Travis's work
benefitted the state-court plaintiffs and their state-court
motions are now before the court. The motions are filed by
state-court plaintiffs, each of whom is also a party in this
federal action. The motions are doc. nos. 176 (Pretzer and
Martin), 183 (Adams, Carista, Curnett, Green,
Johnson, Broadbooks) and 187 (Livsey, DeGiusti). Travis
responded in a consolidated brief, objecting to relief. Doc.
no. 191. Movants filed reply briefs. Doc. nos. 192, 193, 194.
Although the motions use different formats, they seek the
same result --extinguishment (or a bar) of Travis's
equitable lien on the state-court settlement proceeds.
motions will be denied for the reasons stated below.
three motions set out factual and legal propositions in
support of dispositive relief (extinguishment of Travis's
equitable lien), based on a document entitled
“Settlement Agreement and Release of All Claims.”
One of the motions is entitled a motion for summary judgment.
The other two motions ask the court to enforce a settlement
agreement. In these circumstances it is appropriate to treat
all three of the motions as summary judgment motions, and the
court will do so.
Rule 56, Fed. R. Civ. P., summary judgment shall be granted
if the movant shows there is no genuine dispute as to any
material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a
matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S.
317, 325 (1986). A genuine issue of material fact exists when
“there is sufficient evidence favoring the non-moving
party for a jury to return a verdict for that party.”
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249
(1986). In determining whether a genuine issue of a material
fact exists, the evidence is to be taken in the light most
favorable to the non-moving party. Adickes v. S.H. Kress
& Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157 (1970). All reasonable
inferences to be drawn from the undisputed facts are to be
determined in a light most favorable to the non-movant.
United States v. Agri Services, Inc., 81 F.3d 1002,
1005 (10th Cir. 1996). Once the moving party has
met its burden, the opposing party must come forward with
specific evidence, not mere allegations or denials,
demonstrating that there is a genuine issue for trial.
Posey v. Skyline Corp., 702 F.2d 102, 105 (7th Cir.
already stated, movants argue that Travis's equitable
lien is extinguished by a provision found in a document
entitled “Settlement Agreement and Release of All
Claims” (hereafter, the agreement). Each of the moving
parties has submitted a copy of this document, signed by the
movant. The terms of these agreements are essentially the
same. Accordingly, the court will refer to “the
agreement, ” in the singular.
provision relied on by the movants states as follows
(footnotes added by the court).
RELEASORS  AND RELEASED PARTIES shall bear
their own attorneys' fees and costs incurred in the
litigation and through the execution of this AGREEMENT.
See, e.g., doc. no. 176-1, p. 6 of 8
(agreement signed by Pretzer). Movants argue that by this
provision, Good to Go and Reynolds and their representatives,
as released parties, gave up any claim which Travis, as their
representative in this federal action, might otherwise have
to an equitable lien on the state-court settlement proceeds.
The court rejects this argument.
in their effort to bind Travis, movants rely on specific,
written, contractual language purportedly agreed to by Good
to Go and Reynolds. Yet movants present no evidence which
shows that Good to Go and Reynolds signed the agreement or
otherwise agreed to its terms or to the specific provision in
question. Travis has not raised this issue and the court does
not make too much of this missing link in the chain of
evidence, nor does the court deny the motions on this ground.
The court simply notes that if it were inclined to grant the
motions (which it is not, for the reasons set out below), the
court would be required to infer, based on other undisputed
matters,  that Good to Go and Reynolds did, in
fact, agree to the provision relied on by the
the relied-upon language may be ambiguous with respect to
whether it covers fees for services rendered to Good to Go
and Reynolds in this federal litigation (as opposed to fees
for services rendered to these parties in the state-court
agreement states that the released parties “shall bear
their own attorneys' fees and costs incurred in the
litigation ….” But “the litigation”
is not a defined term. If Travis had raised this issue (he
did not), movants presumably would have responded that the
agreement was drafted by counsel for Good to Go and Reynolds
in the state-court action, so that “fees …
incurred in the litigation” should be construed against
the drafters, to include fees for services rendered by Travis
on behalf of Good to Go and Reynolds in this federal
litigation. The rule that ambiguous terms are
construed against the drafter is, however, based on a
presumption that the drafter had the opportunity to choose
the terms used in the contract. Here, it is undisputed
that Travis had no involvement in drafting the agreement or
in any aspect of the ...