Justia U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Insurance Law
Kelly v. Maxum Specialty Insurance Group
Kelly was in a collision a drunk driver, who had been drinking at Princeton Tavern. Princeton's dram shop liability policy was issued by State National. Kelly sued Princeton in state court, obtained a default judgment, and settled for $5 million. When that lawsuit was filed, Princeton requested that its broker, Carman, notify State of its obligation to defend and indemnify. Carman did not do so. Lacking notice, State refused to cover Princeton’s liability. Princeton assigned its rights to sue Carman; Kelly sued Carman in state court for negligence and breach of contract and filed a separate state-court action, seeking a declaratory judgment that Carmen's insurer, Maxum, was obligated to defend and indemnify. Maxum removed the Declaratory Action to federal district court, asserting diversity jurisdiction. Kelly and Carman are Pennsylvania citizens. Maxum (a Georgia company) argued that the two are together interested in securing Maxum’s coverage so that diversity of citizenship would exist once Carman was realigned to join Kelly as a plaintiff. The district court remanded to state court, reasoning that the state tort action constituted a parallel proceeding. The Third Circuit reversed. Contemporaneous state and federal proceedings are parallel under the Declaratory Judgment Action when they are substantially similar; the proceedings here were not. The nonexistence of a parallel state proceeding weighed significantly in favor of the district court entertaining the Declaratory Action but did not require it. Considerations of practicality and wise judicial administration counseled against abstention. View "Kelly v. Maxum Specialty Insurance Group" on Justia Law
In re: Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park, Inc.
Pennsylvania statute, prohibiting payment of fire insurance proceeds to named insured when there are delinquent property taxes, is not limited to situations where the named insured is also responsible for those taxes. Conneaut Lake Park, in Crawford County, included a historic venue, “the Beach Club,” owned by the Trustees. Restoration operated the Club under contract with the Trustees. Restoration insured the Club against fire loss through Erie. When the Club was destroyed by fire, Restoration submitted a claim. In accordance with 40 Pa. Stat 638, Erie required Restoration to obtain a statement of whether back taxes were owed on the property. The statement showed $478,260.75 in delinquent taxes, dating back to 1996, before Restoration’s contract, and owed on the entire 55.33-acre parcel, not just the single acre that included the Club. Erie notified Restoration that it would transfer to the taxing authorities $478,260.75 of the $611,000 insurance proceeds. Erie’s interpleader action was transferred after the Trustees filed for bankruptcy. Restoration argued that Section 638 applied only to situations where the owner of the property is insured and where the tax liabilities are the financial responsibility of the owner. The Third Circuit reinstated the bankruptcy court holding, rejecting Restoration’s argument. The statute does not include any qualifications. When Restoration insured the Club, its rights to any insurance proceeds were subject to the claim of the taxing authorities. Without a legally cognizable property interest, Restoration has no cognizable takings claim. View "In re: Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park, Inc." on Justia Law
General Refractories Co. v. First State Insurance Co.
GRC, a manufacturer and supplier of refractory products designed to retain strength when exposed to extreme heat, previously included asbestos in its products. GRC was the defendant in 31,440 lawsuits alleging injuries from “exposure to asbestos-containing products manufactured, sold, and distributed by GRC” dating back to 1978. GRC’s insurers initially fielded these claims. During the 1970s and ‘80s, GRC had entered into primary liability insurance policies with several different insurers. GRC also secured additional excess insurance policies. In 1994 GRC’s liabilities from thousands of settled claims far exceeded the limits of its primary insurance coverage. In 2002, after years of continued settlements, GRC tendered the underlying claims to its excess insurance carriers. All denied coverage on the basis of a policy exclusion: It is agreed that this policy does not apply to EXCESS NET LOSS arising out of asbestos, including but not limited to bodily injury arising out of asbestosis or related diseases or to property damage. The district court ruled in favor of GRC. The Third Circuit reversed. The phrase “arising out of,” when used in a Pennsylvania insurance exclusion, unambiguously requires “but for” causation. The losses relating to the underlying asbestos suits would not have occurred but for asbestos, raw or within finished products. View "General Refractories Co. v. First State Insurance Co." on Justia Law
South Jersey Sanitation Co., Inc v. Applied Underwriters Captive Risk Assurance Co., Inc.
In 2008, the workers’ compensation insurance policy for South Jersey (SJ), a trash-removal business, neared expiration, SJ, through its insurance agent, entered into a three-year Reinsurance Participation Agreement (RPA) with Applied Underwriters. The RPA stated that any disputes would be arbitrated in Tortola or in an agreed location and indicated that it would be governed by Nebraska law. The RPA and its attachments total 10 pages. SJ claims that it believed the RPA was a workers’ compensation insurance policy; that Applied fraudulently presented it as such; that the RPA is actually a retrospective rating insurance policy under which premiums would be based on claims paid during the previous period; and that it was promised possible huge rebates. SJ acknowledged that Applied is not an insurer and cannot issue workers’ compensation insurance. Applied represented that SJ purchased a primary workers’ compensation policy from Continental, which entered into a pooling agreement with California; all are Berskshire Hathaway companies. The pooling agreement was a reinsurance treaty. According to Applied, the RPA was not insurance, but an investment instrument. For 34 months, SJ paid monthly premiums of $40,000-$50,000, expecting a rebate. Claims paid on its behalf were $355,000 over three years. After the RPA expired, Applied declared that SJ owed $300,632.94. SJ did not pay. Applied filed a demand for arbitration. SJ sought declaratory relief as to the arbitration provision and rescission of the RPA. The district court denied the motion to compel arbitration. The Third Circuit reversed. SJ’s challenges to the arbitration agreement apply to the contract as a whole, rather than to the arbitration agreement alone; the parties’ dispute is arbitrable. View "South Jersey Sanitation Co., Inc v. Applied Underwriters Captive Risk Assurance Co., Inc." on Justia Law
Auto-Owners Ins. Co. v. Stevens & Ricci Inc
Relying on an advertiser’s claim that its fax advertising program complied with the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), 47 U.S.C. 227, Stevens & Ricci allowed the advertiser to fax thousands of advertisements to potential customers on its behalf. More than six years later, Hymed filed a class action TCPA lawsuit, which settled with a $2,000,000 judgment against Stevens & Ricci. While that suit was pending, Auto-Owners sought a declaratory judgment, claiming that the terms of the insurance policy it provided Stevens & Ricci did not obligate it to indemnify or defend Stevens & Ricci in the class action. The Third Circuit affirmed summary judgment, finding that the sending of unsolicited fax advertisements in violation of the TCPA did not fall within the terms of the insurance policy. The “Businessowners Insurance Policy” obligated Auto-Owners to “pay those sums that the insured becomes legally obligated to pay as damages because of ‘bodily injury’, ‘property damage’, ‘personal injury’ or ‘advertising injury’ to which this insurance applies.” The “advertising injury” deals only with the publication of private information, View "Auto-Owners Ins. Co. v. Stevens & Ricci Inc" on Justia Law
Davis v. Wells Fargo
After a foreclosure case, Davis filed various claims against an entity that he calls “Wells Fargo U.S. Bank National Association as Trustee for the Structured Asset Investment Loan Trust, 2005-11” as the purported holder of Davis’s mortgage. Davis also sued Assurant, believing it to be the provider of insurance on his home. His claims arise from damage that occurred to his house after Wells Fargo locked him out of it, which went unrepaired and worsened into severe structural problems. The district court dismissed Davis’s claims against Wells Fargo, on the grounds that claim preclusion and a statute of limitations barred recovery, and claims against Assurant for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Court reasoned that Davis lacked standing to bring those claims because he sued the wrong corporate entity, namely Assurant, when he should have sued Assurant’s wholly-owned subsidiary, ASIC. The Third Circuit affirmed dismissal of Wells Fargo, but vacated as to Assurant. Standing is a jurisdictional predicate, but generally focuses on whether the plaintiff is the right party to bring particular claims, not on whether the plaintiff has sued the right party. View "Davis v. Wells Fargo" on Justia Law
State Nat’l Ins. Co v. County of Camden
Whiteside represented the County of Camden in a lawsuit brought by Anderson, which resulted in a jury award paid, in part, by the County’s excess insurer, National. According to National, the County did not notify it of the lawsuit until several months after it was filed. Whiteside initially informed National that the case was meritless and valued it at $50,000. During trial, Whiteside changed her valuation and requested the full $10 million policy limit to settle Anderson’s claims. National conducted an independent review and denied that request. The jury awarded Anderson $31 million, which was remitted to $19 million. Days later, National sought a declaratory judgment that it was not obligated to provide coverage because the County had breached the policy contract by failing to timely notify National of the case and by failing to mount an adequate investigation and defense. National also asserted claims against Whiteside for legal malpractice, breach of fiduciary duty, and breach of contract. The court dismissed those claims because National could not demonstrate that Whiteside’s actions proximately caused it to suffer any damages. The Third Circuit dismissed and appeal for lack of jurisdiction, finding National’s notice of appeal untimely under Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 4(a)(1), View "State Nat'l Ins. Co v. County of Camden" on Justia Law
Ramara Inc v. Westfield Ins. Co
Ramara engaged Sentry as a general contractor to perform work at its Philadelphia parking garage. Sentry engaged a subcontractor, Fortress, to install concrete and steel components. As required by its agreement with Sentry, Fortress obtained a general liability insurance policy from Westfield naming Ramara as an additional insured. In April 2012, Axe, a Fortress employee, was injured in an accident. Axe filed a tort action against Ramara and Sentry but did not include Fortress as a defendant as it was immune from actions by its employees if they were entitled to compensation for their injuries under the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act. Ramara tendered its defense to Westfield, which declined to defend, claiming that Axe’s complaint did not include allegations imposing that obligation under its policy. The district court granted partial summary judgment to Ramara, and later entered a second order, a quantified judgment against Westfield for Ramara’s counsel fees and costs incurred to date. The Third Circuit first held that the district court lacked jurisdiction to alter its first order with respect to the aspects of that order already on appeal. The court affirmed that Westfield has a duty to defend Ramara in the underlying Axe action. View "Ramara Inc v. Westfield Ins. Co" on Justia Law
Hanover Ins. Co v. Urban Outfitters Inc
In 2012 Navajo Nation sued for trademark infringement, alleging that Urban Outfitters “advertised, promoted, and sold goods under the ‘Navaho’ and ‘Navajo’ names and marks” on the Internet and in retail stores “[s]ince at least March 16, 2009.” Urban Outfitters tendered the complaint to its insurers. OneBeacon provided commercial general and umbrella liability coverage to Urban Outfitters until July 7, 2010, with “personal and advertising injury” coverage. On July 7, 2010, Hanover became the responsible insurer under a “fronting policy.” On July 7, 2011 Hanover issued separate commercial general liability and umbrella liability policies to Urban Outfitters. The “fronting policy” and Hanover-issued policies excluded coverage for “personal and advertising injury” liability “arising out of oral or written publication of material whose first publication took place before the beginning of the policy period.” After providing a reservation of rights letter, informing Urban Outfitters of Hanover and OneBeacon’s joint retention of defense counsel, Hanover obtained a judicial a declaration that it was not responsible for defense or indemnification. The Third Circuit affirmed.The “prior publication” exclusion of liability insurance contracts prevents a company from obtaining ongoing insurance coverage for a continuing course of tortious conduct. Urban Outfitters engaged in similar liability-triggering behavior both before and during Hanover’s coverage period. View "Hanover Ins. Co v. Urban Outfitters Inc" on Justia Law
Indian Harbor Ins. Co v. F&M Equip., Ltd
In 2001, Furnival and its insurer agreed to a Pollution and Remediation Legal Liability Policy, detailing $10 million in liability protection; a 10-year coverage period; and insurance coverage for 12 Furnival locations, including the Elizabethtown Landfill Site, which Furnival was obligated to clean up under a consent decree with the federal government. Insurer knew about the consent decree when the Policy issued. The Policy Endorsements list five reasons for which insurer may “refuse to offer a renewal extension of coverage,” and states that insurer “shall not cancel nor non-renew this Policy except for the reasons stated above.” None of the listed reasons for non-renewal occurred. In 2006, the parties increased the Policy’s limit to $14 million. After the term expired, insurer sent Furnival’s insurance broker its version of a renewal offer, providing $5 million of coverage over a one-year term, omitting coverage for Elizabethtown, the only previously insured site for which Furnival had made a claim, refusing to renew the same terms. The Third Circuit vacated a ruling in favor of insurer, holding that, for a contract to be considered a renewal, it must contain the same, or nearly the same, terms as the original contract. View "Indian Harbor Ins. Co v. F&M Equip., Ltd" on Justia Law