Appeals panel tosses 'labyrinth' of suits vs lawyers from man whose wife died in Colorado bus accident

By Scott Holland | Nov 16, 2016

A state appeals panel has cut through a complex web of legal malpractice actions brought by a man who had essentially alleged many of his ex-lawyers had conspired with intercity bus operator Greyhound Lines to keep him from suing over his wife’s death in a bus accident 15 years ago. 

The appellate order upheld a circuit court ruling on the consolidated cases that has involved several Illinois attorneys and more than 25 appeals. 

The Illinois First District Appellate Court affirmed the ruling of Cook County Circuit Court Judge Lorna Propes in an unpublished order issued Nov. 9. Justice Cynthia Y. Cobbs wrote the order; Justices James Fitzgerald Smith and Aurelia Pucinski concurred. The order was issued under Supreme Court Rule 23, which restricts its use as precedent, except under very limited circumstances permitted by the Supreme Court rule. 

The root claim is a wrongful death lawsuit Tiberiu Klein filed May 3, 2002, against Greyhound Lines following the death of his wife, Claudia Zvunca, as the result of a being struck by a bus in Colorado. Klein brought his claims as executor of his wife’s estate, claiming wrongful death damages for himself and Zvunca’s 8-year-old daughter, though Zvunca did not have a will and Klein was not the daughter’s adoptive father or legal guardian. 

By the time the matter landed in front of the appellate panel, the list of defendants included Mark E. McNabola, Michael Cogan, Alice Dolan, Edward McNabola and Cogan & McNabola Law Firm; Kevin Chern and Macy Chern Diab Referral Agency; Gregory Marshall; Jeanine L. Stevens, Thomas A. Clancy, Josua Stern and Clancy & Stevens Law Firm; John F. Cushing and Ambrose & Cushing; Robert E. Dooley and Greyhound; James P. Nagle and Nagle & Nagle Law Firm; and Cassiday Schade & Gloor. 

In the appellate order, Cobbs noted the web of “multiple related wrongful death, survival, malpractice and fraud cases” had involved several state and federal judges, some of whom had branded the matter a “convoluted attorney created labyrinth” that is “mired in delays and impeded in its resolution” and “lengthy and somewhat confusing.” 

Nagle & Nagle represented Klein in his initial claim. He retained the Cogan firm in February 2003 after the case was transferred to Colorado. In November 2003 he had Marshall appointed administrator of Zvunca’s estate. In January 2004, Cogan filed a second wrongful death suit in Cook County, this time on behalf of Marshall, including the bus manufacturer as a defendant. The complaint was amended in April to include Greyhound and the driver. 

In April 2004 Klein fired Cogan and retained the Clancy firm, which filed a third wrongful death suit in September. Marshall resigned as estate administrator in April 2005, and in May a probate court appointed Cushing to that post. On Sept. 30, at Klein’s request, the probate court changed Cushing from independent estate administrator to supervised administrator. 

On Feb. 23, 2007, Klein filed an action “alleging breach of fiduciary duty, fraud, abusive filing of process, breach of contract, negligence, tortious interference, and civil conspiracy against various defendants including Cushing, Marshall,” Stevens, the Clancy firm, Cogan McNabola, Greyhound’s counsel Casiday Schade & Gloor; and Nagle & Nagle. Klein’s general contention was his attorneys conspired with Greyhound to let the statute of limitations expire on the estate’s claims. 

The appellate justices referenced “the protracted procedural history of the underlying Illinois wrongful death and survival case” and said it is “extremely complicated” but “the details are unnecessary for our discussion.” They also detailed the means by which several different judges were assigned various lawsuits related to Zvunca’s death. 

The actual appeal followed Propes’ denial of Klein’s petition to vacate an order granting dismissal of a malpractice claim “against several attorneys who represented the estate of Claudia Zvunca and fraud, civil conspiracy and tortious interference against Greyhound.” 

Cobbs explained deficiencies in Klein’s filing, and said it violated an Illinois Supreme Court rule, as it was “replete with conclusions and factual assertions that are not supported by the record. … This court is not a repository into which a party may dump the burden of argument and research.” Klein’s argument focuses primarily on the alleged misconduct of an “attorney, David Novoselsky, who is not a defendant in this case.” 

Although, as Cobbs wrote, “Novoselsky filed inappropriate lawsuits against the attorneys representing the estate and its administrator for the purpose of creating conflicts of interest,” that doesn’t compel the court to void all the orders he procured. Further, although the matter of which lawyer had authority to represent the estate is in dispute, that did not rob the circuit court of the jurisdiction to hear the case. 

The appellate justices also rejected Klein’s argument that it was improper to dismiss his claims, those against Greyhound and several of the attorneys, as untimely. They also suggest the circuit court denied some of Klein’s motions after determining he was attempting delay tactics and “judge shopping.”

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Cassiday Schade LLP Cogan and McNabola, P.C. Illinois First District Appellate Court Illinois Supreme Court

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