Phillips v. Bruzgul

Docket Number1-19-1980
Decision Date23 December 2021
Citation2021 IL App (1st) 191980,196 N.E.3d 644,458 Ill.Dec. 340
Parties Anthony PHILLIPS, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Joanne B. BRUZGUL, Bruzgul & Associates, Ltd., Paul Franciszkowicz, David Martin, Katrina Phillips, Wendy Capalletto, Cheryl D. Cesario, and Brian Holmes, Defendants-Appellees
CourtUnited States Appellate Court of Illinois

Anthony Phillips, of Chicago, appellant pro se.

Mark Szaflarski, of Mark Szaflarski, P.C., of Oak Park, for appellees Joanne Bruzgul and Bruzgul & Associates, Ltd.

David E. Schroeder, Jeremy N. Boeder, and Michael J. Meyer, of Tribler Orpett & Meyer, P.C., of Chicago, for appellee Paul Franciszkowicz.

No brief filed for other appellees.

JUSTICE CUNNINGHAM delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

¶ 1 On June 25, 2014, the plaintiff-appellant, Anthony Phillips, filed his initial complaint in case No. 14-L-006759 against Joanne B. Bruzgul and Bruzgul & Associates, Ltd. (Bruzgul & Associates). Subsequently, Mr. Phillips voluntarily dismissed his complaint on May 14, 2015. On February 27, 2017, Mr. Phillips filed a first amended complaint in case No. 16-L-004893 against the defendants-appellees, attorney Bruzgul, Bruzgul & Associates, Paul Franciszkowicz, David Martin, Katrina Phillips, Wendy Capalletto, Cheryl D. Cesario, and Brian Holmes. The trial court dismissed the first amended complaint for want of prosecution on December 13, 2017. On November 15, 2018, Mr. Phillips filed the same complaint essentially labeling it as a second amended complaint in case No. 18-L-12456 against the same defendants. On June 11, 2019, the trial court dismissed that complaint with prejudice. Mr. Phillips's motion to reconsider was denied, and he filed a timely notice of appeal on September 17, 2019. On appeal, Mr. Phillips argues, pro se , that the trial court erred by (1) dismissing his second amended complaint in case No. 18-L-12456 with prejudice and (2) dismissing the complaint as to guardian ad litem (GAL) Franciszkowicz on the basis of absolute immunity for GALs. We affirm the judgment of the circuit court of Cook County.

¶ 2 BACKGROUND

¶ 3 Around February 2011, Mr. Phillips filed for guardianship of his mother, Lorraine Phillips, since she was suffering from dementia. Attorney Bruzgul represented Mr. Phillips in the contested guardianship proceedings. Mr. Phillips's sister, Katrina Phillips (Katrina)1 , was also a party to the proceedings and was represented by attorney Martin. Judge Cesario presided over the guardianship proceedings. Judge Cesario appointed GAL Franciszkowicz to serve as the GAL for Mr. Phillips's mother, Lorraine Phillips.

¶ 4 A little over three years later, Mr. Phillips filed his initial complaint in case No. 14-L-006759 against attorney Bruzgul and Bruzgul & Associates. That initial complaint alleged that Mr. Holmes and Ms. Capalletto of the Office of the Public Guardian "fabricated a story to put [Mr. Phillips's] mother in an institution." Additionally, Mr. Phillips alleged that GAL Franciszkowicz, the GAL appointed for his mother, Lorraine Phillips, in the guardianship proceedings, "told [Mr. Phillips] that if he did [not] sign an agreed order to establish a guardianship with Associated Bank and Katina Phillips, that [Mr. Phillips's] mother would go into an institution." The complaint stated that attorney Bruzgul did not object but "rather, unduly influenced [Mr. Phillips] to agree to the same and to stop the [guardianship] trial." The complaint alleged that, on June 27, 2012, Mr. Phillips represented to Judge Cesario, the judge presiding over his mother's guardianship proceedings, that he wanted attorney Nejla Lane to be the attorney for his mother's estate as she had been in the years preceding his mother's disability. In his complaint, Mr. Phillips asserted that GAL Franciszkowicz agreed with this request and Judge Cesario confirmed she would allow attorney Lane to remain as cocounsel for the estate. He claimed that, ultimately, Judge Cesario entered three orders: (1) one creating a plenary guardianship; (2) one appointing Mr. Phillips and his sister, Katrina, as coguardians of their mother and identifying a care plan; and (3) one requiring Mr. Phillips's mother's estate to find cocounsel for attorney Lane. According to Mr. Phillips, attorney Bruzgul subsequently filed a motion to reconsider because attorney Lane was later removed from representing Lorraine Phillips's estate by Judge Cesario, but attorney Bruzgul never sought appellate review. It is unclear from his initial complaint and the record whether he believed attorney Bruzgul should have appealed both the order appointing attorney Lane as cocounsel and the judge's denial of the motion to reconsider.

¶ 5 In his complaint in case No. 14-L-006759, Mr. Phillips asserted two causes of action against defendants attorney Bruzgul and Bruzgul & Associates: legal malpractice and breach of contract. The legal malpractice count alleged that attorney Bruzgul did not operate in a way that a reasonably competent attorney would have, specifically that she failed to: (1) appeal the removal of attorney Lane; (2) advise Mr. Phillips of his rights prior to entering into an agreed order on June 27, 2012, to establish a guardianship with Associated Bank and Katrina; (3) "structure the order such that the money owed to the Estate was to be paid to [Mr. Phillips] as a preference, with priority before all other claims"; (4) give Mr. Phillips "adequate notice of fee petitions in a timely manner pending by various attorneys"; (5) review the conflict of interest created by attorney Martin representing two of the three coguardians for Lorraine Phillips's estate; and (6) inform Mr. Phillips of the option to file an emergency motion to stop the impending settlement of a lawsuit involving his mother's property. The breach of contract count contained the same allegations as the legal malpractice count.

¶ 6 On May 14, 2015, Mr. Phillips voluntarily dismissed his initial complaint in case No. 14-L-006759. On February 27, 2017, Mr. Phillips filed his first amended complaint2 in case No. 16-L-004893 against attorney Bruzgul, Bruzgul & Associates, GAL Franciszkowicz, attorney Martin, Katrina, Ms. Capalletto, Judge Cesario, and Mr. Holmes. The first amended complaint in case No. 16-L-004893 alleged, as the initial complaint in case No. 14-L-006759 had alleged, that the agreement that included his sister as coguardian was improper; that the removal of attorney Lane was improper; and that the parties acted in concert to deprive Mr. Phillips of the ability to have a court reporter record the settlement discussions for the lawsuit involving a part of his mother's property. The first amended complaint in case No. 16-L-004893 also alleged that attorney Bruzgul failed to request a copy of the home inspection report completed by Mr. Holmes and Ms. Capalletto of the Office of the Public Guardian; did not review a retainer agreement with the successor attorneys to attorney Lane; and did not provide Mr. Phillips with a prior opportunity to review fee petitions by the other attorneys. Mr. Phillips filed six counts in the first amended complaint, namely: legal malpractice, breach of contract, denial of due process under section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ( 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (2012) ), conspiracy to deny due process under section 1985 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ( 42 U.S.C. § 1985 (2012) ), civil conspiracy, and negligent settlement. The legal malpractice count in the first amended complaint in case No. 16-L-004893 essentially mirrored the legal malpractice count in the initial complaint in case No. 14-L-006759 but added that attorney Bruzgul "wrongfully insist[ed] and implor[ed]" Mr. Phillips to sign the agreed order, even though the negotiation was allegedly accomplished through "wrongful and illegal intimidation" by attorney Martin and GAL Franciszkowicz. Mr. Phillips claimed that the intimidation occurred when attorney Martin and GAL Franciszkowicz told him that his mother would be sent to an institution if he did not sign the agreement. The breach of contract count in the first amended complaint in case No. 16-L-004893 contained the same allegations as the initial complaint in case No. 14-L-006759 except it added that Mr. Phillips had paid attorney Bruzgul $20,000 over the course of her representation. The third count in the first amended complaint in case No. 16-L-004893 alleged that Ms. Capalletto and Mr. Holmes from the Office of the Public Guardian, GAL Franciszkowicz, and Judge Cesario all violated Mr. Phillips's due process rights by sealing the settlement proceedings and not allowing Mr. Phillips to have a court reporter present to record the settlement discussions. The fourth count stated the same allegations against the same defendants under a theory of civil conspiracy to deny Mr. Phillips due process of law. The fifth count alleged civil conspiracy by the defendants, based on the allegations in the third and fourth counts. The sixth count was brought only against attorney Bruzgul and Bruzgul & Associates and alleged that attorney Bruzgul and Bruzgul & Associates should have told Mr. Phillips that the agreed order improperly added his sister as coguardian, since his sister, via counsel, allegedly threatened to institutionalize his mother if he did not agree. Mr. Phillips alleged that those actions by attorney Bruzgul and Bruzgul & Associates also constituted a civil conspiracy.

¶ 7 Attorney Bruzgul and Bruzgul & Associates filed a motion to dismiss Mr. Phillips's complaint in case No. 16-L-004893, arguing that the proper venue for the cause of actions being brought by Mr. Phillips was in Lorraine Phillips's guardianship proceedings, which were ongoing. On December 13, 2017, a hearing was held on the motion to dismiss, and the trial court dismissed the first amended complaint in case No. 16-L-004893 for want of prosecution. The trial court's ruling was based, in part, on Mr. Phillips's failure to...

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