Justia Contracts Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Insurance Law
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Empire Indemnity Insurance Company issued an insurance policy (the “Policy”) to Positano Place at Naples I Condominium Association, Inc., for coverage of five buildings that Positano owns in Naples, Florida. Following Hurricane Irma, Positano filed a first-party claim for property insurance benefits under the Policy, claiming that Hurricane Irma damaged its property and that the damage was covered by the Policy. Empire determined that there was coverage to only three of the five buildings covered by the Policy but disagreed as to the amount of the loss. Positano sought to invoke appraisal based on the Policy’s appraisal provision. Positano then sued Empire in Florida state court, and Empire removed the case to federal court based on diversity jurisdiction. Positano moved to compel appraisal and to stay the case pending the resolution of the appraisal proceedings, which Empire opposed. The magistrate judge issued a report recommending that the district court grant Positano’s motion, and, over Empire’s objection, the district court ordered the parties to appraisal and stayed the proceedings pending appraisal. Empire timely appealed the district court’s order.   The Eleventh Circuit dismissed the appeal for lack of appellate jurisdiction. The court concluded that the district court’s order compelling appraisal and staying the proceedings pending appraisal is an interlocutory order that is not immediately appealable under 28 U.S.C. Section 1292(a)(1). The court also concluded that the order compelling appraisal and staying the action pending appraisal is not immediately appealable under the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”). View "Positano Place at Naples I Condominium Association, Inc. v. Empire Indemnity Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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Energy contracted with Superior for hydraulic fracking services to extract natural gas. In 2007, Energy advised Superior that it believed Superior had damaged some wells. Superior notified its insurance provider, American, which agreed to provide Superior with defense counsel, reserving its right to contest coverage. Energy sued Superior in state court. A jury determined that Superior had damaged 53 wells; the verdict form specified that Superior “fail[ed] to perform its contract" with Energy "in a workman-like manner” and that this “failure” was “a substantial factor in causing damage.”Superior’s policy with American provided coverage for “property damage” arising out of an “occurrence,” defined as “an accident, including continuous or repeated exposure to substantially the same general harmful conditions[,]” but it did not define the term “accident.” Superior also purchased an “underground resources and equipment coverage” (UREC) endorsement for coverage “against risks associated with well-servicing operations[.]”In a federal court declaratory judgment action seeking indemnification, American argued that damage caused by a failure to perform a contract “in a workman-like manner” is not an “occurrence” under the policy and that, even if the policy covered Superior’s claim, it would involve a single “occurrence” under Pennsylvania law and would be subject to a $2 million per-occurrence limit.The district court granted summary judgment for Superior. The Third Circuit reversed. An accident is “unexpected,” which “implies a degree of fortuity that is not present in a claim for faulty workmanship.” The UREC endorsement does not eliminate the policy’s “occurrence” requirement. View "American Home Assurance Co. v. Superior Well Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court granting summary judgment for United Fire and Casualty Company and concluding that Clifford Christian and/or his Estate were not owed a defense or indemnification for claims made against Christian in litigation brought by Linda and Albert Parisian, holding that there was no error.Christian contracted with a general contractor on his project to construct four townhomes, one of which was pre-sold to the Parisians. A subcontractor later sued the general contractor and Parisians to obtain payment for his work to landscape the homesites. Christian was named as a third-party defendant and sought defense and indemnification from United Fire, which had insured the general contractor with a liability policy for the period at issue. After United Fire denied Christian's request Christian's Estate initiated this action. The district court granted summary judgment to United Fire. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the complaint did not allege facts that if proven, would trigger policy coverage. View "Christian v. United Fire & Casualty Co." on Justia Law

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Gold Coast Commodities, Inc. makes animal feed using saponified poultry and plant fats at its Rankin County, Mississippi facility. Because its production process involves, among other things, old restaurant grease and sulfuric acid, Gold Coast is left with about 6,000 gallons of oily, “highly acidic,” and “extremely hot” wastewater each week. The City of Brandon, Mississippi, told a state agency that it believed Gold Coast was “discharging” that “oily, low-pH wastewater” into the public sewers. As a result, the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality launched an investigation. Two months before the Department’s investigation, Gold Coast purchased a pollution liability policy from Crum & Forster Specialty Insurance Company. After the City filed suit, Gold Coast—seeking coverage under the provisions of its Policy—notified the insurer of its potential liability. But Crum & Forster refused to defend Gold Coast. The insurer insisted that because the Policy only covers accidents. The district court agreed with Crum & Forster—that the City wasn’t alleging an accident.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court wrote that here, the Policy is governed by Mississippi law. In Mississippi, whether an insurer has a duty to defend against a third-party lawsuit “depends upon the policy's language.” The district court found that the “overarching” theme of the City’s complaint, regardless of the accompanying “legal labels,” is that Gold Coast deliberately dumped wastewater into the public sewers. The court agreed with the district court and held that Gold Coast isn’t entitled to a defense from Crum & Forster. View "Gold Coast v. Crum & Forster Spclt" on Justia Law

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Defendant, a reinsurer, appealed from a district court’s ruling granting summary judgment to Plaintiff, its reinsured. On appeal, Defendant argues that the district court erroneously held that its reinsurance obligations to Plaintiff are co-extensive with Appellee’s separate insurance obligations to a third party and that it presented no triable issue of fact on its late-notice defense.   The Second Circuit affirmed. The court wrote that the district court correctly determined that English law, which governs the relevant reinsurance policy, would interpret that policy to provide coverage that is coextensive with Plaintiff’s separate insurance obligations. The district court also correctly rejected Defendant’s late-notice defense because Defendant has not shown the extreme facts necessary under English law to support recognition of that defense where, as here, timely notice is not a condition precedent to coverage. View "The Insurance Company of the State of Pennsylvania v. Equitas Insurance" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court granting summary judgment in favor of Triple-S Management Corporation and Triple-S Vida, Inc. (collectively, Triple-S) and dismissing this case brought by Dora Bonner, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Bonner's discovery-related motions and did not err in considering the evidence at the summary judgment stage.Bonner brought several claims alleging that Triple-S denied her millions of dollars of proceeds from certain certificates and devised a scheme to defraud her. After denying Bonner's motion to compel discovery and extend the discovery deadline, the district court concluded that Triple-S had established as a matter of law that the persons behind the fraudulent scheme were not related to Triple-S. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that the district court (1) did not abuse its discretion in denying the motion to compel and motion for consideration; and (2) properly granted summary judgment for Triple-S. View "Bonner v. Triple-S Vida, Inc." on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court granting a motion to compel arbitration in this insurance dispute, holding that the district court correctly granted the motion to compel arbitration brought by the underwriters of Green Enterprises, LLC's insurance policy, all syndicates at Lloyd's of London (Underwriters).After a fire destroyed one of its plants, Green, a Puerto Rican recycling company, filed an insurance claim. Underwriters denied the claim, after which Green brought this lawsuit. Underwriters filed a motion to compel arbitration under an arbitration clause in the parties' contract. The district court granted the motion and dismissed Green's claims without prejudice. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that the district court properly granted the motion to compel. View "Green Enterprises, LLC v. Hiscox Syndicates Limited at Lloyd's of London" on Justia Law

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The law firm of Brown Goldstein Levy LLP (“BGL”) and one of its partners (collectively, “Appellants”) filed suit against their insurer, Federal Insurance Company (“Appellee”), when it refused to provide coverage for costs Appellants incurred after the Government investigated the partner, executed a search warrant at BGL’s office, and notified the partner that his representation of certain clients may present a conflict of interest. The district court dismissed Appellants’ complaint, holding that there was no “Claim,” as that term is defined in the insurance policy, and alternatively that any costs Appellants incurred were excluded from the policy’s definition of “loss.”   The Fourth Circuit affirmed, concluding that there is no “Claim.” Neither the search warrant application nor the resulting search warrant is “written demand[s] or written request[s] for . . . nonmonetary relief . . . against an Insured” as required by the Policy. Therefore, the Search Warrant Claim fails because Appellants cannot state a claim for relief. The Target Conflict Letter makes no demand or request for relief against an Insured. The Government’s request to be notified promptly as to how the partner intends to proceed is not a request for “the redress or benefit, esp. equitable in nature (such as an injunction or specific performance), that a party asks of a court.” The Conflict Letters are not “Claims.” The court explained that despite Appellants’ attempts to characterize them as “demands,” they are not. Therefore, Appellants cannot state a claim as to the Partner Claim. View "Brown Goldstein Levy LLP v. Federal Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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The Plan is a nonprofit health care service plan subject to Health & Safety Code 1340, including the Parity Act, under which: “Every health care service plan contract . . . that provides hospital, medical, or surgical coverage shall provide coverage for the diagnosis and medically necessary treatment of severe mental illness of a person of any age, and of serious emotional disturbances of a child . . . under the same terms and conditions applied to other medical conditions.”Plaintiffs alleged that the Plan violates the Parity Act by “deterring members from obtaining one-on-one mental health therapy without making individualized determinations … encouraging ‘group’ therapy, without making individualized determinations" where similar practices are not followed in the treatment of physical health conditions. An Unruh Civil Rights Act claim alleged that the Plan intentionally discriminated against persons with mental disabilities or conditions. The court granted the Plan summary judgment.The court of appeal affirmed the rejection of one plaintiff’s individual claims; the Plan is not liable for the acts of its subsidiary by whom the plaintiff’s coverage was issued. The court otherwise reversed. On an Unfair Competition Law claim, the court failed to consider how the Plan’s conduct undermines its contractual promises of covered treatment in violation of the Parity Act. On the Unruh claim, triable issues of fact exist as to whether the plaintiffs were denied medically necessary treatment as a result of intentional discrimination. View "Futterman v. Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs sued Defendants GEICO Advantage Insurance Company and its related entities. Each Plaintiff possessed a vehicle that was subject to a private passenger auto insurance policy with a different Defendant (collectively, the “Policies”). Each Plaintiff’s vehicle was involved in an auto collision while insured under one of the Policies. Plaintiffs sought to represent a class of insureds claiming that GEICO failed to fully compensate them for the total loss of their vehicles under their respective insurance policies. The district court held that Plaintiffs had standing to sue on behalf of the proposed class and subsequently granted class certification. GEICO appealed both holdings.
The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court wrote it is clear that each Plaintiff individually satisfies the less stringent class certification approach. Indeed, there is no dispute that each Plaintiff alleges that he or she has suffered some injury; the disagreement between the parties concerns how those injuries relate to those of the class. Further, the court wrote it disagreed with the contention that Plaintiffs have alleged three separate injuries. GEICO’s failure to remit any of the three Purchasing Fees amounts to the same harm—a breach of the Policies. The court also concluded that the strategic value of these claims’ waiver is considerably greater than their inherent worth. It was accordingly within the district court’s discretion to rule that Plaintiffs are adequate class representatives. Moreover, the court wrote that GEICO’s arguments against class certification for this claim largely track its arguments opposing certification of Plaintiffs’ other claims. The district court’s analysis meets the requisite rigor when read in the broader context of its decision. View "Angell v. GEICO Advantage Ins" on Justia Law