United States District Court, S.D. Florida
STEWART FEKETA, as Personal Representative of the Estate of SANTIA FEKETA, deceased, Plaintiff,
JOSEPH A. ZACHARZEWSKI, as Personal Representative of the Estate of WALTER RONEY, deceased; JOSEPH A. ZACHARZEWSKI, as Trustee of the WALTER A. RONEY TRUST, and CAROLYN E. EVANS BRUNS, Defendants. YVONNE POINDEXTER, as Personal Representative of the Estate of BRITNEY POINDEXTER, deceased, Plaintiff,
JOSEPH A. ZACHARZEWSKI, as Personal Representative of the Estate Of WALTER RONEY, deceased; JOSEPH A. ZACHARZEWSKI, as Trustee of the WALTER A. RONEY TRUST, and CAROLYN E. EVANS BRUNS, Defendants.
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT TRUSTEE'S MOTIONS TO
L. ROSENBERG UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
cause is before the Court on Defendant's Joseph A.
Zacharzewski, in his capacity as trustee of the Walter A.
Roney Trust (the “Trustee”), Motions to Dismiss
at docket entry 38 in case 18-CV-14156 and docket entry 30 in
case 18-CV-14155. The Motions raise identical legal issues,
both cases were consolidated by this Court, and the Motions
have been fully briefed. For the reasons set forth below, the
Motions are both granted.
Plaintiffs are the personal representatives of estates of two
individuals who were passengers in an automobile. DE 24 at 3.
Plaintiffs allege that the decedents were killed when a
recreational vehicle collided with their vehicle head-on.
Id. That vehicle is alleged to have been driven by
Mr. Walter Roney, who also died in the crash and who is also
represented now by his estate. Id.
filed separate suits in this Court, bringing claims for
negligence and for joint enterprise. The cases were
consolidated for the purposes of discovery. Plaintiffs'
claims also include counts for negligence against the
trustee of Mr. Roney's trust, who in turn filed the
Motions presently before the Court.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
deciding a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(6), this Court must accept all factual
allegations in a complaint as true and take them in the light
most favorable to the plaintiff; however, a plaintiff is
still obligated to provide grounds of his or her entitlement
to relief which requires more than labels, conclusions and a
formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.
Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544,
561-563 (2007). Unwarranted deductions of fact in a complaint
cannot be admitted as true for the purposes of testing the
sufficiency of the allegations. Aldana v. Del Monte Fresh
Produce, N.A., Inc., 416 F.3d 1242, 1248 (11th Cir.
2005). The facts as pled must state a claim for relief that
is plausible on the face of the pleading. Iqbal, 556
U.S. at 678-69.
have brought three counts against the Defendant Trustee.
Plaintiffs' Count IV and Plaintiffs' Count V are
negligence claims against the Trustee. Plaintiffs' Count
VI is a joint enterprise claim against the Trustee. To be
clear, these claims are not brought against the estate of Mr.
Roney-these claims are against the trust itself.
Trustee argues that these claims should be dismissed because
there is no allegation in the Complaint that the
trust was negligent or somehow responsible for Mr.
Roney's driving. Upon review of the Complaint, the Court
agrees-the Complaint is virtually silent as to the Trustee
and the trust. In response, Plaintiffs do not cite to
specific allegations that explain how the Trustee should be
held liable for Mr. Roney's driving, noting only that Mr.
Roney's vehicle was “funded into” the trust.
But Plaintiffs have cited to no case law for the proposition
that auto negligence claims may be brought against the
Trustee. Similarly, Plaintiffs have not alleged that the
Trustee or the trust owed any duty to them, nor can the Court
discern any legal basis upon which Plaintiffs could make such
an allegation. This is a case about an auto accident in
Florida, and the Court can see no way (and Plaintiffs have
provided none) for the Michigan Trustee or the trust to be
held liable for that auto accident. Plaintiffs have provided no
case law wherein trusts were sued for the negligence of a
driver. Plaintiffs have provided no case law showing how a
trustee could owe a duty to the victims of an auto accident.
both Florida law and Michigan law bar claims against a
trustee for the individual liability of the settlor. Pursuant
to Florida law:
After the death of a settlor, no creditor of the settlor may
bring, maintain, or continue any direct action against a
trust described in s. 733.707(3), the trustee of the trust,
or any beneficiary of the trust that is dependent on the
individual liability of the settlor. Such claims
and causes of action against the settlor shall be presented
and enforced against the settlor's estate
as provided in part VII of chapter 733, and the personal
representative of the settlor's estate may obtain payment
from the trustee of a trust described in s. 733.707(3) as
provided in ss. 733.607(2), 733.707(3), and 736.05053.
Fla. Stat. § 736.1014(1) (emphasis added). In response,
Plaintiffs take the position that they can bring a claim
against the trust under Michigan law, but the specific law
that Plaintiffs cite- Section 700.7605 of the Michigan Trust
Code-does not apply in this case. Specifically, Section
The property of a trust over which the settlor has the right
without regard to the settlor's mental capacity, at his
or her death, either alone or in conjunction with another
person, to revoke the trust and revest principal in himself
or herself is subject to all of the following,
but only to the extent that the settlor's
property subject to probate ...