of "proximate cause" is an insurmountable obstacle for the plaintiff.
It is well established that proximate cause is one of the elements of a prima facie negligence case. See, e.g., Cramer v. Housing Opportunities Comm'n, 304 Md. 705, 712-13, 501 A.2d 35, 39 (1985); Vann v. Willie, 284 Md. 182, 186, 395 A.2d 492, 495 (1978); District of Columbia v. Freeman, 477 A.2d 713, 716 (D.C. 1984); District of Columbia v. Cassidy, 465 A.2d 395, 398-99 (D.C. 1983); see also W. Prosser & W. Keeton, Law of Torts § 30, at 164-65 (5th Ed. 1984).
Briefly put, proximate cause is "the legally cognizable nexus between the breach of duty and the damage suffered." Cramer, 304 Md. at 713, 501 A.2d at 39. To elaborate, a plaintiff establishes proximate cause by showing that "the injury or damage was either a direct result or a reasonably probable consequence of the [defendant's] act or omission," Freeman, 477 A.2d at 715, since "liability will not attach unless the breach of duty has a substantial and direct causal link to the plaintiff's injury," id. at 716 (emphasis added).
The corollary of these propositions is that an unforeseeable, intervening act of a third party or a plaintiff may break the causal chain such that the defendant's act or omission cannot be deemed to have been the proximate cause of the plaintiff's injury. See Cassidy, 465 A.2d at 399 ("the injury was the consequence of an unforeseeable, intervening act of a third party which could be neither anticipated nor prevented and for which the [defendant] cannot be held liable under the common law tort principles of negligence and proximate cause"); Vann, 284 Md. at 186, 395 A.2d at 495 ("We have defined proximate cause many times in our prior opinions to mean that negligence is not actionable unless it, without the intervention of any independent factor, causes the harm complained of." (emphasis added)).
On the facts of this case, the plaintiff's own acts or omissions break the causal chain and, as a matter of law, prevent the defendant from being held liable for the fire. Even if the record is not sufficiently clear to compel a definite conclusion as to whether the plaintiff was contributorily negligent, the Court holds that the plaintiff's actions were an intervening, independent cause of the fire. Moreover, although her decision to illuminate her apartment with candle light is foreseeable, her going to sleep with candles lit in two rooms or otherwise failing to attend to the candles so as to prevent one or more of them from falling onto the rug is by no means foreseeable. Although the defendant's decision to disconnect electric service to the plaintiff's apartment may have motivated her to light the candles in the first place, the plaintiff's actions were an intervening cause of the subsequent fire. In short, the Court holds that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the defendant is entitled to summary judgment because its act or omission, if any, was not the proximate cause of the plaintiff's injury.
The other aspect of the plaintiff's Complaint -- in which she seeks $ 100,000 for her "traumatic" nine-year-long relationship with the defendant -- requires less extensive discussion. The Court sympathizes with the plaintiff's plight, but she has not presented sufficient evidence to show, either from a tort or a contract point of view, that the defendant has done anything wrong. The Court realizes that being in the position of owing the defendant a substantial amount of money but not having sufficient income to remain current on her account has caused the plaintiff significant stress and anguish. However, the record indicates that the defendant attempted to cooperate with the plaintiff in working out a payment plan and in investigating the accuracy of its equipment and billing. The plaintiff's unsupported allegations of overcharging by the defendant, as well as her far-fetched speculation that the Department of Justice may be involved in some sort of a conspiracy with the defendant related to the plaintiff's unsuccessful Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA") litigation,
simply are insufficient to preclude summary judgment for the defendant.
The Court will issue an Order of even date herewith in accordance with the foregoing Memorandum Opinion.
ORDER -- January 7, 1991, Filed
In accordance with the Court's Memorandum Opinion of even date herewith, it is, by the Court, this 7th day of January, 1991,
ORDERED that the defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment shall be, and hereby is, GRANTED; and it is
FURTHER ORDERED that the above-captioned case shall be, and hereby is, DISMISSED from the Court's docket.