A Dane County judge has permanently enjoined two Madison artists from filing any lawsuits against defendants and attorneys who were the subject of up to seven lawsuits that repeatedly have been thrown out as frivolous.
At a hearing Monday morning, Judge John Markson made it clear to litigants Quincy Neri and Rodney Rigsby that they could go to jail if they don’t stop serving and pursing the claims against insurance providers. In addition to enjoining them, he also said the pair must get permission from a judge before filing against anybody involved in the lawsuits.
He said “this whole thing was utterly ill-conceived from this start,” and said their attempts are “misguided” and “almost delusional.”
“Why you thought you could do this is beyond me and it really doesn’t matter,” Markson said, “but the point is you were told by a lot of different people on a lot of different times you couldn’t, and it needs to stop now.”
Neri, a glassblower and painter, and Rigsby, a cartoonist and business owner, along with children’s entertainer Catherine “The Banana Lady” Conrad, have amassed 25 lawsuits against 103 defendants, with many defendants being sued more than once in state and federal court. Several of the defendants are attorneys and insurance providers who represented other people in prior cases the trio brought.
Monday’s hearing pertained to two dismissed lawsuits Rigsby and Neri filed against 28 defendants over Mendota Reflection, a piece of art commissioned in 2008 as part of the remodeling of a Madison condominium. According to court papers, the contractor for the remodeling, Architectural Building Arts Inc., used project photos, in which Mendota Reflection can be seen in the background, on its website and for a competition.
Catherine Conrad, the litigious Madison children’s entertainer who performs as “The Banana Lady,” is suing her own car insurance company for millions of dollars.
According to the lawsuit, filed July 7, Conrad was rear-ended April 26 by Monona resident Stephanie Rowley, injuring Conrad’s neck and back. Rowley, who is uninsured, allegedly signed a note – which is included in the lawsuit – that said she was at fault and that the crash was caused by wiping up a spilled chocolate shake she bought at Culver’s.
Conrad went to an urgent care clinic the same day and made a claim with her provider, Erie Insurance.
According to the suit, she “obtained a work excuse not to wear her Banana Lady costume until care was done in September 24, 2014.”
Erie Insurance, in response to the claim, paid $10,000.
Conrad and her business partner, Rodney Rigsby, met with a claims manager on May 21 to obtain more money, though the company would not budge. According to the lawsuit, Conrad, as the result of the crash, lost money from “product sales and opportunities that numbered over $10 million.”
She is alleging breach of contract and bad faith, and is asking Dane County Circuit Judge Frank Remington for a judgment worth $2.5 million, compensatory damages, punitive damages, attorney’s fees and other money.
Conrad – who is representing herself –also seeks a jury trial. According to her suit, “The conduct of the defendants was malicious and/or done with an intentional disregard of the Plaintiff’s rights, especially since Erie knew Plaintiff’s income and businesses suffered irreparable damages from Ms. Rowley’s negligent actions.”
— Eric Heisig
In 2011, Neri and Rigsby copyrighted the piece of art and promptly sued the contractor as well as Eric Ferguson, who took the photos. Since then, six more related cases were filed, though all of them except for one have been dismissed and upheld on appeal.
But despite their dismissal – as well as thousands of dollars in sanctions and a strongly worded letter from Markson – Neri and Rigsby continued to serve processes and file claims on the insurance companies. That led to attorneys asking the judge to hold the duo in contempt of court.
“They are just proliferating just an all-out free for all of claims that, as we all know, have no basis in law or in fact,” attorney Catherine Dettman of Haley Palmersheim SC, Madison, told Markson.
Conrad sat in on Monday’s hearing, as well.
Markson said jail time could be on the horizon, something Dettman previously requested.
“I have never seen anything approaching this level of continued harassment, abuse of the system and just general mischief in support of no reasonable goal on your part,” Markson told Neri and Rigsby at the hearing.
During the hearing, Neri, her voice at times trembling, reiterated what she wrote in a previous brief: that serving processes and threatening to file claims is not serving a lawsuit. She said that meant she did not violate Markson’s order.
“I have not filed a new suit regarding this stuff at all,” she said, “and I’ve been the injured party here since 2011 and I’m out to be made to be horrible.”
She later added, “I don’t have any further suits to make. This is over.”
But Markson expressed his disbelief, saying, “You’re saying that now, though your actions, even in the last month, would suggest that you didn’t get that message.”
“Don’t be shaking your head and rolling your eyes,” the judge then said to Neri. “That’s not helping.”
Rigsby told the judge he disagreed with the attorneys’ assertions, and alleged that attorney Timothy Barber, a defendant and attorney with Axley Brynelson LLP, Madison, was lying to the judge about the case because Barber is involved in a separate federal lawsuit Rigsby filed over purported copyright violation of legal material.
Barber, in response, told the judge Rigsby’s allegations troubled him and that he has never misled the court.
“As a professional, as an officer of the court,” Barber said, “I take those allegations very seriously.”
Conrad, Neri and Rigsby had some success early on when pursuing copyright and trademark claims. However, their suits repeatedly have been thrown out as being frivolous. As of March, they had amassed more than $150,000 in judgments – with more on the way – and scorn from state and federal judges. Only $80 in judgments had been paid, yet they continue to litigate.
At Monday’s hearing, Neri and Rigsby were ordered to pay about $30,000 in attorney’s fees that stemmed from an appeal from one of the Mendota Reflection cases. Another attorney is expected to file a request for fees soon.
Markson also lifted a stay of execution for a seized piece of Neri’s work. Now, that artwork can be sold to pay off some of her judgments.Follow @eheisigWLJ
Editor’s note: The amount in judgments that Rigsby, Conrad and Neri owe was based on court filings from March 2014. The article was updated Aug. 1, 2014, to reflect that.