Statutory conversion; Dunn v. Bennett; “Personal property”; People v. Fox (After Remand); Stewart v. Young; Garras v. Bekiares; Warren Tool Co. v. Stephenson; In re Stollman (Bankr ED MI); Effect of a written attorney fee agreement; Burnett v. King; Wistrand v. Bese; Enforcing contracts as written; Rory v. Continental Ins. Co.; Treble damages; MCL 600.2919a(1); “Actual damages”; Alken-Ziegler, Inc. v. Hague; Appropriate amount of interest for breach of contract; Miller-Davis Co. v. Ahrens Constr., Inc.
The court held that plaintiff’s conversion claims were properly brought, and that the trial court did not miscalculate the treble damages under MCL 600.2919a(1). However, the trial court erred in summarily disposing the issue of the appropriate amount of interest for plaintiff’s breach-of-contract claim. The case arose out of a failure to pay attorney fees. Defendant Nicole Blume appealed the trial court’s $367,482.21judgment for plaintiff and other equitable relief. She argued that plaintiff’s conversion claims were not properly brought under applicable Michigan law, first asserting that plaintiff’s lien was not personal property. While Warren Tool did “not directly address an attorney lien on real property, its correlation with the present case is obvious. Nicole voluntarily granted plaintiff a lien on the Escanaba property, like the defendants in Warren Tool who granted the plaintiff a security interest in the payment from the third party. Despite voluntarily doing so, Nicole then sold the Escanaba property without notifying plaintiff and used the proceeds for the payment of other bills. Similarly, in Warren Tool, the defendants liquidated the collateral and used it for other purposes.” As the court stated in Warren Tool, “Nicole committed conversion when she ‘deliberately obliterated’ plaintiff’s interest in the collateral. Further,” this analysis was supported in a more recent opinion, Dunn, where the court “indicated that the same logic used in Warren Tool would apply to an established attorney-charging lien.” In addition, the federal bankruptcy court case on which plaintiff and the trial court relied, Stollman, determined “that an attorney-charging lien is a property interest that can be converted.” Thus, the court had “support to follow the uncontroverted logic of those cases and affirm the trial court’s conclusion that Nicole’s sale of the Escanaba property and use of the proceeds to pay other bills constituted both common-law and statutory conversion.” It also concluded that, in light of plaintiff’s uncontroverted evidence, the trial court appropriately granted plaintiff summary disposition “on the breach-of-contract claim without first holding an evidentiary hearing regarding plaintiff’s hours billed and work performed.” Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.
Full Text Opinion
State Bar of Michigan
306 Townsend St
Lansing, MI 48933-2012