by Richard W. Millar, Jr.
Here are certain types of lawsuits that make judges blanch. Family disputes, partnership disputes, and neighbor-to-neighbor disputes rank high. Add in a pseudo government such as a homeowner’s association and you are at the pinnacle because then you don’t just have two sides fighting, you have three: two neighbors who don’t get along and a Board of Directors who hates both.
It is a perfect stew, or, to continue with kitchen-related metaphors, a recipe for disaster. Emotion rules the day. There is no salve for wounded egos and no slight is too small to fight over.
But, it is perfect for columns.
Marshall Spiegel, an owner within the Chicago area 1618 Sheridan Road Condominium Association, represented by his “willful enabler,” attorney John Xydakis, sued one Valerie Hall in an attempt to remove her from the condo Board of Directors on the grounds that she was not a unit owner. (I suspect there was more to it and that was a hook to hang his claims on, but, I digress.)
That was not an auspicious start, because she provided a deed proving ownership. That, however, just caused Mr. Spiegel to expand his target horizon. All told, there were three separate cases against the association with a total of seven amended complaints which ended up being consolidated before Judge Margaret Ann Brennan in Cook County. Eventually, the court denied a motion to file a fifth amended complaint from one of the actions which asserted 99 causes of action in 223 pages. It was followed, of course, by the de rigueur motion to reconsider which too was denied. By that time almost every resident and several of their lawyers were defendants.
Judge Brennan may have been guilty of understatement when she characterized the residential environment as having become “unbearable.”
Mr. Spiegel’s claims ranged from slander, theft, harassment, stalking, leaving voicemail messages on his answering machine, leaving empty water bottles in front of his doorway, and neighbors hiding in the bushes. He also disliked the lawn furniture purchased for the common areas and my personal favorite: he objected to a provision in the by-laws which prohibited him from having shirtless massages in the pool area. (I haven’t checked my association’s by-laws but, given some of my neighbors, I can see why someone might have come up with that restriction.)
The ensuing sanctions motions were inevitable.
Noting that Mr. Spiegel and his lawyer had filed duplicative claims in different venues, including state and federal courts and the Illinois Department of Human Rights, and had filed voluminous subpoenas and discovery requests, countless irrelevant motions which were a waste of the court’s and the litigant’s time and resources, the court issued an injunction barring Mr. Spiegel from filing any further actions on the underlying claims and ordered eye-popping monetary sanctions against Mr. Spiegel and Mr. Xydakis.
Over one million dollars.
Lawyers, being picky souls, for some reason don’t like to deal in round numbers, so I will bow to precision. The sanctions totaled $1,061,672.97 and, no, I don’t know where the 97 cents came from.
Part of the sanctions went to the condo association for attorney’s fees and increased insurance costs. (I can imagine the carrier wincing every time Mr. Siegel’s name came through the claims pipeline.) Part went to one of the association’s lawyers who himself had been sued, and a fair share went to the hapless Valerie Hall who was the bullseye on the first target.
It was almost equally inevitable that, after the ruling, Mr. Xydakis is reputed to have said that the judge would be reported to the Judicial Inquiry Board for such outrageous retaliation, because these kinds of cases have a lifespan just less than the rule against perpetuities.
In a way, though, Mr. Spiegel got one thing he was after.
He lost his shirt.
Richard W. Millar, Jr. is Of Counsel with the firm of Friedman Stroffe & Gerard in Irvine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.