United States District Court, District of Columbia
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
RANDOLPH D. MOSS United States District Judge.
diversity action concerns a life insurance policy covering
Dr. Eugene C. Gadaire, which was assigned to a trust for the
benefit of his wife, Elizabeth Gadaire. Dr. Gadaire’s
close friend, Dr. Jeremy D. Orchin, served as trustee.
See Orchin v. Great-W. Life & Annuity Ins. Co.,
133 F.Supp. 3d 138, 140-41 (D.D.C. 2015). After Dr. Orchin
missed a semi-annual premium payment due July 1, 2009, the
policy lapsed on August 1, 2009. Id. at 143. Dr.
Orchin missed a second payment due January 1, 2010.
Id. He did not realize that he had failed to make
payments until after Dr. Gadaire died on January 15, 2010.
Id. Mrs. Gadaire and Dr. Orchin previously sought
relief against the issuer of the life insurance policy,
Great-West Life & Annuity Insurance Company, but the
Court granted summary judgment in favor of Great-West.
Id. at 141. The remaining dispute is between Mrs.
Gadaire and Dr. Orchin.
before the Court is Mrs. Gadaire’s renewed motion for
summary judgment against Dr. Orchin on her claims for
negligence and breach of fiduciary duty. See Dkt.
57. Mrs. Gadaire contends that (1) Dr. Orchin violated the
standard of care as a matter of law and (2) the defense of
contributory negligence is inapplicable to claims that a
trustee breached his duties to a beneficiary. See
Dkt. 57-1. Dr. Orchin responds that Mrs. Gadaire cannot
prevail because, under the terms of the trust, he was under
no obligation to make payments if the trust contained
insufficient funds, and, at the time he failed to pay the
premiums, the trust lacked sufficient funds. See
Dkt. 58 at 7-10. He further contends that under the terms of
the trust, he did not have a duty to notify Mrs. Gadaire that
the trust lacked sufficient funds. Id. at 11-14.
Finally, he contends that the trust includes an exculpatory
clause precluding liability for nonpayment. Id. at
explained below, the Court holds that genuine issues of
material fact remain regarding whether Dr. Orchin met the
applicable standard of care, and it rejects Mrs.
Gadaire’s contention that the defense of contributory
negligence is unavailable as a matter of law. The Court,
accordingly, DENIES Mrs. Gadaire’s renewed motion for
summary judgment. Dkt. 57.
full history of the case is familiar to the parties and is
explained in-depth in the Court’s prior opinion.
See Orchin, 133 F.Supp. 3d 138. For present
purposes, the Court recounts only those portions of the
background relevant to Mrs. Gadaire’s renewed motion
for summary judgment.
1993 through January 1, 2009, Dr. Orchin made every
semi-annual insurance premium payment on behalf of the trust.
Id. at 142. During this time, whenever Dr. Orchin
received a premium statement, he would call Mrs. Gadaire and
tell her. Id. She would then deposit money in the
trust’s checking account, and Dr. Orchin would in turn
write a check from the trust to Great-West. Id. Dr.
Orchin did not, however, receive a premium statement for the
payment due July 1, 2009 or a subsequent lapse notice.
Id. at 143. He had moved twice, most recently in
April 2009, and, although he did submit change-of-address
forms to the U.S Postal Service, he did not provide his new
addresses to Great-West. Id. at 142-43.
October 2012, after Great-West refused to pay the proceeds of
the insurance policy to the trust, Dr. Orchin brought suit
against Great-West. Dkt. 1. In January 2013, Mrs. Gadaire
brought suit against Dr. Orchin and Great-West, see
No. 13-cv-55, Dkt. 1, and the cases were consolidated. Feb.
1, 2013 Min. Order. All three parties moved for summary
judgment: Dr. Orchin sought summary judgment against
Great-West, Dkt. 29; Mrs. Gadaire sought summary judgment on
two of her three claims against Dr. Orchin, Dkt. 30; and
Great-West sought summary judgment against both Dr. Orchin
and Mrs. Gadaire, Dkt. 31. The Court granted
Great-West’s motion and denied Dr. Orchin’s
motion and, accordingly, dismissed Dr. Orchin and Mrs.
Gadaire’s claims against Great-West. See
Orchin, 133 F.Supp. 3d at 141.
same time, however, the Court denied Mrs. Gadaire’s
motion for summary judgment on her negligence and breach of
fiduciary duty claims against Dr. Orchin, holding that she
had failed to demonstrate the absence of genuine issues of
material fact for the jury. Id. at 153-54. As the
Court explained, the record established that Dr. Orchin
requested that the U.S. Postal Service forward his mail but
did not update his address with Great-West and did not pay
the insurance premiums in a timely manner. Beyond that,
however, the record included no evidence of Dr.
Orchin’s care-or lack of care-in administering the
trust. Id. Nor did the record establish-as a matter
of law-the degree of “diligence” that was
required of Dr. Orchin. Id.
addition, Dr. Orchin had raised a number of potential
defenses in his opposition to Mrs. Gadaire’s motion.
Id. He argued, for example, that Mrs. Gadaire was at
least partially responsible for the lapse of the insurance
failed to provide him with the money required for payments;
did not notify him that she had not provided the necessary
funds for two insurance periods; failed to “institute
any sort of calendar system” to track her obligation to
provide the funds; and failed to notify Great-West that she
was not receiving copies of premium notices.
Id. (quoting Dkt. 37 at 11-12). In reply, Mrs.
Gadaire then asserted for the first time that the defense of
contributory negligence is inapplicable to a claim by a
beneficiary of a trust. Id. The Court declined to
decide that issue because it was not raised in Mrs.
Gadaire’s opening brief and, in any event, it was
inadequately briefed. Id. And, because the Court had
already concluded that Mrs. Gadaire had not established her
entitlement to summary judgment, the Court did not address
Dr. Orchin’s further arguments that exculpatory clauses
in the trust agreement precluded Mrs. Gadaire’s claims
for negligence and for breach of fiduciary duty; that under
the terms of the trust, he lacked a duty to pay the premiums
in the absence of sufficient funds in the trust account; that
Mrs. Gadaire’s damages were not proximately caused by
him; and that the defense of assumption of risk barred Mrs.
Gadaire’s claim for negligence. See Dkt. 37.
order to provide Mrs. Gidaire with the opportunity to address
these issues, the Court denied her motion “without
prejudice to Mrs. Gidaire filing a renewed motion addressing
(1) whether D.C. law permits a trustee to assert the defense
of contributory negligence against the trust’s
beneficiary, and (2) whether or in what circumstances a court
can conclude as a matter of law that a defendant’s
conduct violated the applicable standard of care.”
Orchin, 133 F.Supp. 3d at 154-55. Mrs.
Gadaire’s renewed motion for summary judgment is
presently before the Court. Dkts. 57-59.
Gadaire contends that Dr. Orchin violated the applicable
standard of care as a matter of law and that the defense of
contributory negligence is unavailable to a trustee. Dr.
Orchin, in turn, argues that, under the terms of the trust
agreement, he did not have the duties alleged by Mrs.
Gadaire; that contributory negligence is indeed available as
a defense, giving rise to a question of fact for the jury;
and that an exculpatory clause in the trust agreement bars
Mrs. Gadaire’s claims. The Court addresses each
argument in turn.
Standard of Care
Gadaire first contends that she is entitled to summary
judgment on her negligence and breach of fiduciary duty
claims because Dr. Orchin violated the standard of care as a
matter of D.C. law. In a negligence action, “[t]he
plaintiff bears the burden of presenting evidence
‘which establishes the applicable standard of care,
demonstrates that this standard has been violated, and
develops a causal relationship between the violation and the
harm complained of.’” Morrison v.
MacNamara, 407 A.2d 555, 560 (D.C. 1979). “[A]
claim for breach of fiduciary duty under D.C. law”
requires the plaintiff to show “that the defendant: (1)