The “question presented” is “What inquiry must the claimant’s lawyer undertake with respect to potential competing liens or claims of which the lawyer is unaware?”
The opinion summarizes and concludes that:
“A lawyer holding property in which both the client and a third person have an “interest” must account for the property, pay undisputed sums to the proper party, and abide resolution of any disputes. Arizona Rules of Professional Conduct (“ERs” 1.15(d), (e). ER 1.15(d) requires a lawyer with knowledge of claims against the client to protect those with an “interest” in funds in the lawyer’s control. An “interest” is a matured legal or equitable claim. The ethical rule do not require a claimant’s lawyer to search public records or other sources for medical liens or claims in order to acquire knowledge of an “interest.” ”
“Only matured legal or equitable claims of which the lawyer has actual knowledge are protected by ER 1.15(d). There is no requirement under ER 1.15 or any other provision of the ethics rules that a lawyer investigate the possibility of claims of which the lawyer has no actual knowledge, including medical liens. We express no opinion, however, on whether a lawyer may have such a duty under applicable substantive law.”
This opinion states that “A creditor’s right to payment may be created by statute.” Then the opinion states as an example the “statutory subrogation claims’ under the Federal Employees Health Benefits Act (FEHBA), addressed by Ethics Opinion 97-02 [keep in mind that the U.S. Supreme Court, in EmpireHealthchoice Assurance, Inc. v. McVeigh,547 U.S. 677 (2006), held that there was no federal subject matter jurisdiction and no federal preemption of any state anti-subrogation law in the case of a FEHBA lien claim], and the Federal Medical Care Recovery Act.
Keep in mind that other examples of “A creditor’s right to payment (that) may be created by statute”, not mentioned in this ethics opinion, include but are not limited to A.R.S. § 33-931 healthcare provider & hospital liens; A.R.S. § 12-962 state or political subdivision liens; A.R.S. § 12-962 and /or A.R.S. § 36-2915 AHCCCS and federal Medicaid liens; A.R.S. § 20-259.01 Medical Payments liens; A.R.S. § 23-1023 Worker’s Compensation liens; and federal Medicare liens. My understanding is that the inquiring attorney specifically asked about his ER 1.15 responsibility to search for child support or tax liens, but this wasn’t even mentioned in this ethics opinion.