Six and a half years ago, this nice man with a mustache did the tamest thing a person can do on Craigslist… he sold a printer. But as the Indy Star reported, that minor decision would turn out to be the biggest mistake of his life.
Unfortunately, he sold the printer to Indiana's infamous pro se litigant, Ukranian immigrant Gersh Zavodnik. ("Pro se litigant" means he represents himself in court. You're welcome.)
Zavodnik moved here under political asylum, and then proceeded to make it really understandable why Ukraine didn't want him. Let's start with how this guy turned a $40 printer sale into a $30K payout through a frivolous lawsuit.
It happened like this: Costello, then 65, did a straightforward sale on Craigslist in 2009. The sale was $40 for the printer, plus a little more to ship—the total was less than $75. Because this was the sale of a printer and not anything of real value, that should have been the end of it. It wasn't.
First, Zavodnik tried to sue Costello in Marion County Small Claims Court for falsely advertising a malfunctioning printer with missing parts. (Zavodnik claims the printer didn't work.) He asked for the maximum $6,000 reward, but the case was thrown out due to lack of evidence–namely, because Zavodnik had thrown the printer away. That should have been the end of it, but as you know, it wasn't.
Zavodnik filed another lawsuit in Marion Superior Court, requesting damages for breach of contract, fraud, conversion, deceptive advertising, and emotional distress. The court dismissed that case, along with 26 other cases Zavodnik had brought against other people, most of whom had also sold him items on Craigslist. (If Zavodnik really kept getting taken by sellers, you'd think he would have stopped using Craigslist after his third lawsuit, right?) THAT should have been the end of it… but it wasn't.
Zavodnik appealed all of those cases because suing people is his full time job.
Then, and this is where it gets really crazy, he sent Costello paperwork asking Costello to admit that he was liable for more than $30,000 for breach of contract, fraud and conversion.
Costello didn't respond to it, for obvious reasons.
So Zavodnik sent two more requests for admissions. One asked Costello to admit that he conspired with the judge and that he was liable for more than $300,000, and another asked Costello to admit that he was liable for more than $600,000. These requests sound delirious, but they are what ended up winning his case.
According to Indiana law, if a defendant does not respond to requests for admissions—even ridiculous ones—within 30 days, they will be held liable. Costello claimed he never received the requests, but in 2015—six years after selling that printer—Special Judge J. Jeffrey Edens felt he had no choice but to award Zavodnik a judgment of $30,044.07 for breach of contract.
"What kind of reality am I in now?" Costello asked the Indy Star following the ruling. "I don't know what's going on. Why don't I know what's going on?"
Finally, Costello fought back and filed his own appeal. For the love of Craigslist, Chief Judge Nancy Vaidik saw the lawsuit for what it was and determined the $30 damages "had no basis in reality."
In a 13-page opinion, Vaidik called Zavodnik a "prolific, abusive litigant,” and the issue was put to bed.
Still, Costello was put through six and a half years of stress. It almost seems like enough for a counter-suit, but he says he has no plan to pursue any legal action against Zavodnik.
"I've had enough," he told the Indy Star. "I don't need him in my life anymore."
Costello also said he will no longer sell anything online.