Ortman v. Thomas

Decision Date07 November 1996
Docket Number95-2306,Nos. 95-1975,s. 95-1975
Citation99 F.3d 807
PartiesWilliam A. ORTMAN, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Philip THOMAS, John Van Bolt, Michigan National Corp., Robert Mylod, David Vigna, Douglas Bernstein, Comerica Bank, Lynn Allen, Gerald Poisson, Donald Slavin, John Ronayne, III, Chester E. Kasiborski, Jr., Kasiborski, Ronayne and Flaska, Michigan Attorney Discipline Board, Michigan Attorney Grievance Commission, George E. Bushnell, Jr., David Breck, Frederick Harris, Anna Diggs Taylor, United States of America, Alan Falk, John Doe(s), individually, jointly and severally, Defendants-Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Sixth Circuit

William Andrew Ortman (briefed), Farmington Hills, MI, Pro Se.

Jane Shallal, Michigan Attorney Grievance Commission, Detroit, MI, for Philip Thomas.

Margaret A. Nelson (briefed), Office of the Attorney General, Tort Defense Division, Lansing, MI, for John F. Van Bolt.

Douglas C. Bernstein (briefed), Michigan National Corporation Legal Department, David J. Vigna (briefed), Farmington Hills, MI, for Michigan National Corporation.

Douglas C. Bernstein (briefed), Michigan National Corporation Legal Department, Farmington Hills, MI, for Robert J. Mylod, David Vigna, Douglas Bernstein.

Beth A. Mier (briefed), Michael D. Boutell, Kurt M. Carlson, Comerica Incorporated, Detroit, MI, for Comerica Bank.

Mary Massaron Ross (briefed), Plunkett & Cooney, Detroit, MI, for Lynn Allen.

John J. Ronayne, III (briefed), Kasiborski, Ronayne & Flaska, Detroit, MI, for John Ronayne, III.

William L. Woodard (briefed), Office of the U.S. Attorney, Detroit, MI, for U.S.

Barry H. Somlyo, Earl R. Jacobs, Maryann F. Connolly (briefed), Jacobs, James, Klarr & Somlyo, Southfield, MI, for Frederick Harris.

Richard L. Cunningham (briefed), Michigan Attorney Grievance Commission, Detroit, MI, for Michigan Attorney Grievance Commission.

Alan Falk (briefed), Okemos, MI, Pro Se.

Before: LIVELY, BOGGS and NORRIS, Circuit Judges.

LIVELY, Circuit Judge.

In appeal No. 95-1975, William A. Ortman, an attorney formerly licensed in Michigan, but now disbarred, appeals from summary judgment and dismissal of an action seeking damages for alleged unconstitutional actions of numerous defendants. In appeal No. 95-2306, Mr. Ortman appeals from a judgment imposing sanctions under FED.R.CIV.P. 11 for engaging in a pattern of vexatious litigation. The appellant is proceeding pro se in this court, and the appeals were submitted for judgment on the district court record and briefs of the parties, this panel having concluded unanimously that oral argument was not needed. FED.R.APP.P. 34(a). We affirm both judgments.

I.

This litigation has a long history, and we will summarize that history in some detail to explain the background and the nature of the claims made by the plaintiff.

A.

Mr. Ortman filed the original complaint in district court on December 19, 1994, alleging a right to relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He filed an amended complaint on March 29, 1995, ultimately naming 21 defendants, who can be divided into four broad categories.

One set of defendants is connected by their actions in relation to a 1978 lawsuit Mr. Ortman filed against Michigan National Corporation. A second group of defendants consists of persons involved in two attorney discipline complaints filed against Mr. Ortman. Two other defendants fit into their own categories: United States District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor, who dismissed a civil rights suit previously filed by Mr. Ortman and appeared before a panel hearing on an attorney discipline complaint against Mr. Ortman; and Alan Falk, who filed an ethics complaint against Mr. Ortman with the State Bar of Michigan in 1981.

(1)

The events underlying this action began when Petre and Georgetta Teodorescu wrote a check to Mr. Ortman on a Michigan National Bank account for $1500 in attorney fees. They subsequently requested that Michigan National stop payment on the check. Michigan National complied with the stop payment request, and on September 26, 1978, Mr. Ortman brought suit in the 47th District Court of Michigan against Michigan National Corporation and Mr. and Mrs. Teodorescu alleging a conspiracy to deprive him of his attorney fees. After several delays and the entry of two default judgments, on July 21, 1989, 47th District Judge Frederick Harris granted Michigan National's motion to set aside one of the default judgments, and scheduled the case for trial. Thereafter, Mr. Ortman failed to appear at his deposition and informed the trial court that he would not submit to deposition. As a consequence, Judge Harris dismissed the lawsuit with prejudice on October 3, 1989.

Mr. Ortman then appealed to the Oakland County Circuit Court and filed a second action against Michigan National in the Oakland County Circuit Court, attempting to renew the default judgment. On July 11, 1990, Oakland County Circuit Judge David Breck affirmed Judge Harris's dismissal and granted Michigan National's motion for summary disposition in the second action that sought to renew the default judgment. After Judge Breck's subsequent denial of his motion for rehearing, Mr. Ortman appealed to the Michigan Court of Appeals. Finding Mr. Ortman's conduct vexatious and harassing, the Court of Appeals affirmed and remanded for a sanctions hearing. Because its in-house counsel, Douglas Bernstein and David Vigna, were potential witnesses, Michigan National was represented by John Ronayne, III at the sanctions hearing. Mr. Ortman did not appear at the hearing, and Judge Breck awarded Michigan National costs and attorney fees in the amount of $26,539.26.

Thereafter, Michigan National's in-house counsel, Mr. Bernstein, filed a writ of garnishment based on the award of sanctions. Oakland County Circuit Court Clerk Lynn Allen and two of his employees, Gerald Poisson and Donald Slavin, prepared and served the writ on Comerica Bank, enabling Michigan National to recoup $1,412 of the sanctions and a $45 fee for the garnishment from Mr. Ortman's account. Mr. Ortman claims that the issuance of the writ by the Oakland County Circuit Clerk's office effectively ratified the wrongful acts committed by those acting on behalf of Michigan National and the fraudulent judgments entered by the Oakland County Circuit Court. Thus, in the present litigation, Mr. Ortman sued Comerica, Lynn Allen, Gerald Poisson, Donald Slavin, Michigan National Corporation, Michigan National's Chairman of the Board Robert Mylod, John Ronayne, Douglas Bernstein, David Vigna, and Judges Harris and Breck on a multitude of theories for their activities in relation to the 1978 Michigan National litigation.

(2)

The defendants in the second group are related by two complaints filed in 1993 by the Administrator of the Michigan Attorney Grievance Commission (AGC), Phillip Thomas, against Mr. Ortman. One complaint filed with the Michigan Attorney Discipline Board (ADB or the Board) encompassed allegations made by Mr. and Mrs. Teodorescu that Mr. Ortman refused to disgorge escrow funds to them, and the second included allegations of vexatious litigation in the Michigan National case. As Executive Director of the ADB, John Van Bolt appointed two separate panels to hear the disciplinary complaints against Mr. Ortman. He originally appointed Chester Kasiborski, Jr., to serve on one of the hearing panels, but Mr. Kasiborski recused himself upon learning that one of his law partners, John Ronayne, was representing Michigan National in related litigation.

A hearing panel of the ADB found that Mr. Ortman had violated the Michigan ethical rules and set a hearing date of May 3, 1995, for determination of the proper discipline. Mr. Ortman elected not to attend that hearing, and on May 26, 1995, the panel ordered revocation of Mr. Ortman's license to practice law. Mr. Ortman petitioned for review to the full Board and submitted a brief arguing, inter alia, that the entire Michigan attorney disciplinary system is unconstitutional. On December 4, 1995, the ADB reduced the disbarment to a three year suspension. The second hearing panel found the Michigan National litigation vexatious and tantamount to professional misconduct. On August 18, 1995, that panel entered an order of revocation. Mr. Ortman subsequently filed a petition for review by the Board. The ADB rejected the petition as untimely, indicating that Mr. Ortman could file a delayed petition for review.

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