Klein v. Padgett

Decision Date19 January 2022
Docket Number2019AP2167
CourtWisconsin Court of Appeals
PartiesTiberiu Klein, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Jamie Louise Padgett, Winters Salzetta OBrien and Richardson, ISBA Mutual Insurance, David Alan Novoselsky, Unknown Insurance of David Novoselsky and Unknown Insurance of Jaime Padgett, Defendants-Respondents.

Not recommended for publication in the official reports.

APPEAL from an order of the circuit court for Milwaukee County No 2018CV4974: CARL ASHLEY, Judge.

Before Brash, C.J., Donald, P.J., and Dugan, J.

BRASH C.J.

¶1 Tiberiu Klein, pro se, appeals an order of the trial court dismissing with prejudice all of his claims against multiple defendants, as well as an order for sanctions which limits his ability to commence future litigation against the defendants in any Wisconsin court without first obtaining leave of the court to file the action.

¶2 For the reasons set forth herein, we affirm the trial court's order except with regard to the claims against defendant Jaime Louise Padgett, which we conclude should have been dismissed on the ground of lack of personal jurisdiction. We therefore reverse and remand that portion of this matter for further findings by the court, as explained in this opinion.

Background

¶3 The origins of this case date back to 2002 with the death of Klein's wife, Claudia Zvunca, who was struck and killed by a Greyhound bus in Colorado. There have been over a dozen lawsuits and numerous appeals filed in various state and federal courts relating to the accident, as well as disputes that arose among the interested parties. Those parties include the Estate of Claudia Zvunca; Cristina Zvunca Claudia's daughter; Klein; and several attorneys who represented those parties at various times. Although difficult to discern from the amended complaint, the basis for the case that underlies this appeal appears to be associated with several actions relating to the accident that were filed in Illinois with the Cook County Circuit Court.[1] These actions resulted in extensive litigation, including disputes between Klein and Cristina over the administration of the Estate.

¶4 The defendants in this case were involved in those Cook County actions-at least allegedly-in some manner:

David Alan Novoselsky, an attorney licensed in Illinois at the time, who was retained by Klein in 2008, but also represented Cristina and the Estate at various times;
• Padgett, an attorney licensed in Illinois, along with her former firm Winters Salzetta O'Brien and Richardson (WSOR), [2] who was hired by Cristina in June 2014 to represent the Estate after Klein was removed as the co-administrator of the Estate; and
• ISBA Mutual Insurance (which notes its correct entity name as Illinois State Bar Association Mutual Insurance Company), which asserts that Klein erroneously believes that it provided malpractice insurance to an unidentified defendant.

¶5 As relevant to this appeal, an action relating to Klein's wife's accident was filed in Cook County in 2007-which as noted by the trial court in this case, stemmed from an underlying action filed in 2004-seeking recovery on various claims, including wrongful death. Another related action was filed in Cook County in 2014, and named Greyhound, as well as "most of the attorneys and legal representatives" involved in the earlier litigation, including Novoselsky, as defendants.

¶6 However, Novoselsky, who is a resident of Wisconsin, filed bankruptcy in July 2014 in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. An automatic bankruptcy stay was applied to cases in which Novoselsky was named a defendant, including the 2014 Cook County case.

¶7 In his debtor's schedules of property for the bankruptcy, Novoselsky included several claims relating to the Cook County cases, including a claim for $300, 000 in unpaid legal fees against the Estate. As part of that proceeding, Klein filed a proof of claim in Novoselsky's bankruptcy in January 2016 for $6 million.

¶8 Sometime in February or early March 2016, Cristina moved to dismiss the 2014 Cook County case against all defendants, including Novoselsky, with prejudice. Furthermore, most of Novoselsky's claims relating to the Cook County cases were abandoned by the trustee in bankruptcy after determining that they had no value. Klein attempted to pursue those claims in a derivative action on behalf of the bankruptcy estate, but the bankruptcy court determined that he did not have standing to do so.

¶9 A multi-million dollar settlement for the wrongful death claim in the 2007 Cook County case was approved by an Illinois probate court in October 2016. Klein was a beneficiary to the settlement, but at that point was not a party to the action.[3] Klein challenged the settlement with numerous motions, including a motion to remove the matter to federal court. His motions were all denied.

¶10 Klein then filed the action underlying this appeal in June 2018.[4] He alleged numerous tort claims such as fraud and conspiracy against the various defendants, apparently on the belief that the 2014 Cook County case had actually been settled through the efforts of Padgett and Novoselsky, instead of being dismissed. The defendants responded by either filing answers or motions to dismiss. The trial court ultimately dismissed all the claims against all of the defendants on the merits.

¶11 Additionally, the trial court determined that Klein's "egregious conduct," consisting of his excessive filings and disregard of court orders, warranted the dismissal of the action with prejudice. Furthermore, the court issued an order restricting Klein from filing any further actions in any circuit court in Wisconsin against the defendants in this action without first obtaining leave to file from the court.[5] This appeal follows.

Discussion

¶12 As noted above, the allegations in Klein's complaints in this action are very difficult to ascertain and understand. His briefs on appeal are equally convoluted. He generally does not present any cogent arguments; rather, his briefs are rife with conspiracy theories based on conjecture and speculation, and his legal theories are "supported" by citations that either are taken out of context or generally do not have any recognizable relevance.

¶13 Although we liberally construe filings by pro se litigants, see binRilla v. Israel, 113 Wis.2d 514, 520, 335 N.W.2d 384 (1983), "[a] party must do more than simply toss a bunch of concepts into the air with the hope that either the trial court or the opposing party will arrange them into viable and fact-supported legal theories," see State v. Jackson, 229 Wis.2d 328, 337, 600 N.W.2d 39 (Ct. App. 1999). Thus, to the extent that we address the merits of this appeal, we rely on our review of the record, including the trial court's analysis of the issues.

Claims against Padgett

¶14 We first address the claims against Padgett, with our analysis focusing on the issue of personal jurisdiction. Padgett argues that Wisconsin courts have no personal jurisdiction over her in this matter. In fact, Padgett raised this issue to the trial court in her motions to dismiss both the complaint and the amended complaint, but the court did not address it. Furthermore, the first issue Klein presents on appeal is that the trial court erred by not granting his motion to voluntarily dismiss the claims against Padgett-as well as ISBA-for lack of personal jurisdiction.

¶15 Padgett's personal jurisdiction argument is based on the provisions of Wis.Stat. § 801.05 (2019-20) [6] the long-arm statute for non-resident defendants. The long-arm statute grants the courts personal jurisdiction [i]n any action whether arising within or without this state, against a defendant who when the action is commenced:

(a) Is a natural person present within this state when served; or
(b) Is a natural person domiciled within this state; or
(c) Is a domestic corporation or limited liability company; or (d) Is engaged in substantial and not isolated activities within this state, whether such activities are wholly interstate, intrastate, or otherwise.

Sec. 801.05(1). "Whether there is personal jurisdiction under Wisconsin's long-arm statute is a question of law that we review independently." Rasmussen v. General Motors Corp., 2011 WI 52, ¶14, 335 Wis.2d 1, 803 N.W.2d 623. The burden is on the plaintiff to establish jurisdiction under the long-arm statute. FL Hunts, LLC v. Wheeler, 2010 WI.App. 10, ¶7, 322 Wis.2d 738, 780 N.W.2d 529.

¶16 Padgett asserts that none of the means for establishing jurisdiction under the long-arm statute are applicable to her, and the record supports that assertion. In fact, as noted above, Klein essentially concedes that there is no personal jurisdiction over Padgett in this action.

¶17 Because this issue was not addressed by the trial court, there are no factual findings relating to this issue for us to review. "Ordinarily the court of appeals is not authorized to make findings of fact." Pavlic v. Woodrum, 169 Wis.2d 585, 592, 486 N.W.2d 533 (Ct. App. 1992). However, "where there is no conflicting evidence or only one reasonable inference can be drawn from the evidence, the drawing of that inference is a question of law." Id. We conclude here that the only reasonable inference that can be drawn from the evidence in the record is that the trial court had no personal jurisdiction over Padgett in this matter. See id.

¶18 "Wisconsin Stat. § 801.05(1)(d) plainly requires the [trial] court to analyze a defendant's contacts at the time the action is commenced." FL Hunts LLC, 322 Wis.2d 738, ¶11. In failing to do that here, the trial court erred. Not only did the trial court fail to consider personal jurisdiction over Padgett when she raised the issue in...

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