United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin
Stadtmueller U.S. District Judge
action, Plaintiff, David Alan Novoselsky
(“Novoselsky”), seeks this Court's guidance
on who should be paid sanctions awards entered against him in
Illinois state court in favor of Defendants Jeanine L.
Stevens (“Stevens”) and F. John Cushing, III
(“Cushing”). He also raises a breach-of-contract
claim against Defendant Cristina Zvunca, in her capacity as
supervised administrator of the estate of her deceased
mother, Claudia Zvunca (the “Estate”). Because of
bedrock limitations on the jurisdiction of federal district
courts, the Court is without authority to address the merits
of either claim. Defendants have moved to dismiss the
complaint, and for the reasons stated below, their motions
will be granted.
morass of litigation that precedes the matter before the
Court is daunting but is largely irrelevant to the
disposition of this case. Stated briefly, Claudia Zvunca was
killed in 2002 when she was struck by a Greyhound bus.
Zvunca ex rel. Klein v. Greyhound Lines, Inc., 530
F. App'x 672, 672 (10th Cir. 2013). Her eight-year-old
daughter, Cristina, witnessed her death. Id.
onslaught of litigation, and litigation on that litigation,
followed Claudia's death. The Appellate Court of Illinois
summarized this legal quagmire, stating that “from the
tragic, but relatively straightforward, facts regarding
Claudia Zvunca's death, arose at least 13 lawsuits in
various state and federal courts. Among these were legal
malpractice suits and two wrongful death actions, proceeding
simultaneously in Illinois and Colorado.” Cushing
v. Greyhound Lines, Inc., 991 N.E.2d 28, 33 (Ill. Ct.
App. 2013). Given the plethora of simultaneously pending
actions and the number of parties involved, “the
question of ‘who represented whom' was an
issue” throughout all the proceedings. Cushing v.
Greyhound Lines, Inc., No. 1-10-3176, 2013 WL 2404044,
at *9 (Ill. Ct. App. May 30, 2013). Novoselsky was the
primary instigator of the chaos, often backed by Claudia
Zvunca's widow, Tiberiu Klein. See id.
purposes of this lawsuit, only one portion of the long
history of these proceedings is relevant. Cushing and
Stevens, both attorneys, represented Cristina and the Estate
in the wrongful death matter in Illinois. Novoselsky, looking
to usurp their position, filed a lawsuit against them in
Illinois state court alleging legal malpractice and fraud.
Eventually, Novoselsky succeeded in taking over the reins of
the wrongful death case, but his victory and the settlement
he secured were invalidated on appeal. See Cushing,
991 N.E.2d at 99.
and Stevens then filed motions for sanctions against
Novoselsky under Illinois Supreme Court Rule 137, the
Illinois equivalent to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11,
based on Novoselsky's allegations in the malpractice
case. Cristina and the Estate were not permitted to intervene
in the sanctions proceedings. The judge presiding over them,
Judge Lorna Propes, found that Novoselsky had repeatedly
violated Rule 137 through his filings in the malpractice
action, in which he manufactured false accusations against
Stevens and Cushing for the purpose of ousting them from the
wrongful death case. Judge Propes awarded sanctions to
Cushing and Stevens as follows:
A monetary sanction in the amount of $25, 000 is imposed on
Novoselsky in favor of John Cushing. A further sanction in
the amount of $75, 000 is imposed in favor of Jeanine
Stevens. The total of $100, 000 will be paid to the Estate of
Claudia Zvunca and held in an account for the estate, to be
opened and maintained by an attorney to be named under
separate order of this court. The funds will remain in the
account until the ultimate disposition of the wrongful death
case. At such time, should there be no recovery in the
wrongful death case, the funds plus interest, shall be
distributed to the movants in their proportionate share.
Should there be a recovery in the wrongful death case, the
funds plus interest, shall be applied to the movants'
claims of fees and costs only.
(Docket #1-1 at 20). The judge later modified her order to
require deposit of the sanctions amounts on a date certain
with the Clerk of Court instead of an attorney. Id.
appealed both of these orders. Before the appeals were
resolved, however, he filed for bankruptcy protection in this
District in In re Novoselsky, Case No.
14-bk-29136-GMH (Bankr. E.D. Wis.). Cushing and Stevens filed
proofs of claim in the bankruptcy relating to their sanctions
awards, but Novoselsky contested them, arguing that the
awards were payable only to the Estate, not to Cushing or
Stevens personally. Bankruptcy Judge Halfenger disagreed and
lifted the automatic stay to allow the sanctions proceedings,
including Novoselsky's appeal, to proceed in Illinois
state court. (Case No. 14-ap-2572-GMH (Bankr. E.D. Wis.),
Docket #18 at 2-3).
eventually dismissed his appeal of the sanctions order. He
then filed an adversary proceeding in his bankruptcy case,
seeking an order that the awards were due the Estate and that
the Estate was not entitled to payment because it had not
filed a proof of claim. That adversary proceeding remains
pending, and Judge Halfenger has also permitted litigation of
the sanctions issues in Illinois state court, where Judge
Propes was assigned to the case on remand. See (Case
No. 16-ap-2224-GMH (Bankr. E.D. Wis.), Docket #11 at 1).
filed the instant action in March 2017. In his complaint, he
alleges that although Judge Propes ordered him to pay $100,
000, she left the actual payee to be determined at a later
date during resolution of the wrongful death action. That
case was settled in early 2016, and Novoselsky now requests
several declarations of rights. First, he asks for a
declaration that he owes the sanctions awards to the Estate,
not Cushing or Stevens. Second, he requests a declaration
that the amount he owes has been satisfied and is no longer
due. He reasons that two separate actions, one federal and
one in Illinois state court, were filed by the Estate against
him, and in each the Estate sought to recover the $100, 000
total award resulting from Judge Propes' sanctions order.
He alleges that the actions were dismissed with prejudice and
therefore have extinguished his liability for the sanctions
Novoselsky joins a separate breach of contract claim against
the Estate for unpaid attorney's fees which were
allegedly awarded to him by an Illinois court for his work in
connection with the wrongful death action.