LOREN J. CHASSELS, et al.
BENJAMIN L. KREPPS, et al.
Court for Frederick County
Woodward, C.J.Nazarian, Arthur, JJ.
case presents an obvious wrong that lacks an obvious remedy.
There is no dispute that the late Melissa C. Krepps
("Mother") and her husband, Benjamin L. Krepps
("Husband"), failed to maintain a life insurance
policy on Mother's life for the benefit of her minor
child ("Child"). Mother's divorce and agreement
with the child's father, Loren J. Chassels
("Father"), unambiguously required her to do so,
and Mother and Husband let the policy lapse before she died.
As a result, the $250, 000 in policy proceeds that the Child
should have collected after her mother's death were not
question is whether a meaningful remedy lies somewhere, and
if so, against whom. Father filed a six-count complaint in
the Circuit Court for Frederick County against Mother's
Estate and Husband. The circuit court dismissed the complaint
with leave to amend Count VI, a claim of unjust enrichment
against Husband, but without leave to amend the other claims.
After Father amended, Husband moved again to dismiss, and the
circuit court granted the motion, this time with prejudice.
Father appeals, and we affirm the judgment as to Counts III
and IV, reverse as to Counts I, II, V, and VI, and remand, a
partial victory that may well prove Pyrrhic.
and Mother were married, and Child was born in 2002. At the
time of Child's birth, Father and Mother were both
practicing doctors. The marriage eventually failed.
and Mother divorced on February 21, 2006 and filed a
Separation Agreement ("Agreement") with the St.
Louis County court in Missouri, where they lived at the time.
Father retained physical custody of Child, while Mother, who
later married Husband and moved to Virginia, had visitation.
As part of the Agreement, Father and Mother each agreed to
maintain a $250, 000 life insurance policy for the benefit of
Child and list the other parent as trustee beneficiary. The
Agreement also provided that if "either party fails to
provide life insurance for any reason, his or her estate
shall be liable for the amount [of $250, 000]." To that
end, the Agreement directed that "[e]ach party shall at
all times herein provided take whatever action is required to
keep his or her insurance policy or policies in full force
and effect, and shall furnish proof of such insurance
coverage and compliance with the terms herein provided, if
the course of the next several years, the relationship
between Mother and Father became strained. In 2008, Mother
stopped working as a doctor and became a stay-at-home mom for
her and Husband's children. Husband became the sole
bread-winner and took on the responsibility of paying all of
the bills. This arrangement, according to Father, allegedly
included the decision to funnel all of Mother's assets
and funds into a joint account, then into an account titled
only in Husband's name. Father alleges that in the course
of marshaling the family assets, Husband contacted Father and
left a voicemail confirming that Husband knew about the
Agreement's life insurance requirement and other details
about child support, and "that he would do whatever
is necessary to make sure the settlement agreement was
complied with." (emphasis added). In that same time
frame, Father apparently requested, and received, proof that
Mother was maintaining the required life insurance policy for
the Child. Mother confirmed that Husband maintained a life
insurance policy for Child through his Army benefits, and
Father alleged that he received a copy of Husband's
paystub showing deductions for the life insurance policy.
January 2013, Mother was diagnosed with a Stage IV melanoma
in her brain. That same year, Mother and Husband bought and
moved into a house in Maryland titled solely in Husband's
name. Also around that time, Husband changed jobs and,
because the premiums no longer were deducted from his
paycheck at his new job, stopped paying the premiums on the
life insurance policy and the policy lapsed. Father had no
notice that the premiums weren't being paid or that the
policy had lapsed. Mother died in February 2015. A month
later, Father contacted Husband about the life insurance
policy and learned that the policy had lapsed.
filed a complaint ("Complaint"), on behalf of
Child, on March 18, 2015. The Complaint named both Husband
and the Estate of Melissa C. Krepps (the "Estate")
as Defendants,  and stated six counts: Count I-Concealment
or Non-Disclosure; Count II- Negligent Concealment or
Non-Disclosure; Count III-Constructive Fraud; Count IV-
Constructive Trust; Count V-Negligence; and Count VI-Unjust
Enrichment. Husband filed a motion to dismiss the Complaint
in December 2015. After a number of continuances, the circuit
court held a hearing, took the motion under advisement, and
issued an order on April 13, 2016. The order dismissed Counts
I-V, but gave Father leave to amend Count VI. Father amended
and re-filed the full six-count Complaint on May 13, 2016.
Husband again moved to dismiss, and after a hearing on July
5, 2016, the circuit court granted Husband's motion to
dismiss on all counts with prejudice. Father filed a timely
notice of appeal.
seemed simple enough on the surface. Mother agreed, as part
of the divorce, to maintain a $250, 000 life insurance policy
on her life, with Child as the beneficiary, to provide for
Child in the event of her untimely death. Mother failed to do
so, then died. As such, Mother breached the Agreement, and
under the terms of the Agreement itself, Father would seem to
have a claim (on Child's behalf) in Mother's Estate.
problem is that there is no Estate, or at least not
yet. Father's briefs characterize Husband as willfully
diverting Mother's assets into his own name before she
died, leaving nothing subject to probate and thus no Estate
to open, and nothing against which Father and Child can
enforce Mother's failure to maintain the insurance
policy. Whether Husband's financial actions in the time
before Wife's death might amount to some sort of
fraudulent conveyance or were otherwise improper is not
before us; we don't know, and we don't speculate
about, whether there might be some way for Father to open an
Estate himself or otherwise create some avenue of recovery
against Mother's former assets.
before us instead Father's effort to recover from the
person to whom he assigns responsibility for the policy's
lapse. Stated in non-legal terms, Father blames Husband for
failing to pay the premiums and for (mis)leading Father to
believe that he and Mother were complying with the Agreement.
Father's challenge lies in converting this real-life
sense of responsibility into viable claims at law. In two
rulings, the circuit court dismissed all of Father's
claims, and his four questions on appeal coalesce ultimately
into one: did the circuit court err in granting Husband's
motions to dismiss with prejudice?Father contends that the
court erred in finding that his complaint, as filed or as
amended, did not contain sufficient facts to meet basic
pleading requirements or to state a claim. Husband responds
that even if the facts contained in the complaint were true,
they cannot state a claim upon which relief can be granted
because he was neither a party to the separation agreement
nor was he enriched by Mother's death.
reviewing a trial court's decision to grant a motion to
dismiss, we determine whether, if true, the allegations in
the complaint would "satisfy the elements necessary to
obtain the relief sought." Kaye v.
Wilson-Gaskins, 227 Md.App. 660, 674 (2016). We
"presume the truth of all well-pleaded facts in the
complaint, along with any reasonable inferences derived
therefrom." Higginbotham v. Pub. Serv. Comm'n of
Maryland, 171 Md.App. 254, 264 (2006) (cleaned
counts at issue here fall into three categories-(1) claims
that require the plaintiff to allege a duty on the part of
the defendant, (2) claims that require the plaintiff and the
defendant to be in a special ...