Justia Insurance Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Agriculture Law
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SFC, an equestrian center hosted off‐site trail‐riding events. SFC and American entered into a “farm-owner” insurance policy that described the insured premises as the farm’s address. The policy provides coverage for bodily injury and property damage caused by an “occurrence” that arises out of the ownership, maintenance, or use of the “insured premises” or operations that are necessary or incidental to the “insured premises.” There is no coverage for the use of a motorized vehicle except a “motorized vehicle” which is designed only for use off public roads and which is used to service the “insured premises.” Ratay, an SFC employee, transported horses, equipment, and a golf cart from the farm to a riding center approximately 15 miles from SFC’s property, and supervised those riding SFC horses while driving the SFC golf cart. Shockley was a passenger in the cart when Ratay chased a horse through a field. Shockley flew out of the vehicle. The cart ran over his leg. Shockley filed suit.The district court entered a declaratory judgment that American has no duty to defend or indemnify SFC. The Seventh Circuit reversed. In Illinois, the duty to defend is broader than the duty to indemnify. The court noted ambiguities caused by the policy’s competing characteristics as a farm-owner policy and as a commercial general liability policy. The complaint’s allegations sufficiently invoke the policy’s coverage; the golf cart was being used for business purposes. View "American Bankers Insurance Co v. Shockley" on Justia Law

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Kent backed up a grain truck that was owned by his father, Sheldon, to an auger that was being used to move grain to a transport truck. A tractor powered the auger by means of a power take-off shaft. Kent, attempting to open the truck’s gate, wanted to get extra leverage and stepped onto the auger. The auger’s protective shield had been removed. Kent’s foot was exposed to the turning shaft. In the ensuing accident, Kent lost his leg below the knee. Kent settled a negligence action against Sheldon and received $1.9 million from insurers.Kent reserved his right to pursue additional coverage under the auto policy that covered the truck. State Farm sought a declaratory judgment that no coverage was provided because an auger is neither a “car” nor a “trailer,” as defined in the policy but fell under the policy’s “mechanical device” exclusion for damages resulting from "THE MOVEMENT OF PROPERTY BY MEANS OF A MECHANICAL DEVICE, OTHER THAN A HAND TRUCK, THAT IS NOT ATTACHED TO THE VEHICLE.” The circuit court granted State Farm summary judgment. The appellate court construed the exclusion against State Farm.The Illinois Supreme Court reversed. The exclusion was not ambiguous. The auger is a machine or tool designed to move grain from one place to another and is a device that was “operated by a machine or tool” (a tractor) that is not a small hand-propelled truck or wheelbarrow, and was not attached to the insured vehicle. Exclusions are permissible if they do not differentiate between named insureds and permissive users. View "State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. v. Elmore" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision to vacate an arbitration award that the Farm won against a private insurance company that sold federal crop insurance policies to the Farm. The court held that, despite the strong presumption in favor of confirming arbitration awards pursuant to the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), the insurance company met its heavy burden to prove that the arbitrator exceeded her powers by awarding extra-contractual damages, contrary to both the policy and binding authority from the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation (FCIC). In this case, the arbitrator exceeded her powers by both interpreting the policy herself without obtaining an FCIC interpretation for the disputed policy provisions, and awarding extra-contractual damages, which the FCIC has conclusively stated in multiple Final Agency Determinations could not be awarded in arbitration and can only be sought through judicial review. View "Williamson Farm v. Diversified Crop Insurance Services" on Justia Law

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Winter wheat farmers could purchase insurance to protect against below-average harvests. The policies at issue here offered yield protection. On July 1, 2014, the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation (“FCIC”) published an interim rule to implement the 2014 Farm Bill. In that interim rule, the FCIC warned that the APH yield exclusion “may not be implemented upon publication” because “[p]roduction data availability and intensive data analysis may limit FCIC’s ability to authorize exclusions of yields for all APH crops in all counties.” Therefore, the FCIC amended the Common Crop Insurance Policy (CCIP) Basic Provisions (the actual terms of the insurance policy offered for sale) “to allow the actuarial documents to specify when insureds may elect to exclude any recorded or appraised yield.” The revised CCIP Basic Provisions stated that farmers “may elect” the APH yield exclusion “[i]f provided in the actuarial documents.” The deadline for winter wheat farmers to purchase insurance for the 2015 crop year was September 30, 2014. When Plaintiffs purchased insurance, they elected to use the APH yield exclusion. But in a letter dated October 31, 2014, the USDA notified insurance providers that the APH Yield Exclusion would not be available for winter wheat for the 2015 crop year. The letter stated that insurance providers could respond to farmers’ elections by pointing them to the USDA’s “actuarial documents,” which did not yet “reflect that such an election is available.” Plaintiffs sought review of this denial through the USDA’s administrative appeals process. An administrative judge determined that she lacked jurisdiction over Plaintiffs’ challenge because the October 2014 letter to insurance providers was not an adverse agency decision. Plaintiffs then appealed to the Director of the National Appeals Division. The Director found that the October 2014 letter was an adverse agency decision, but affirmed the FCIC’s decision not to make the APH yield exclusion available to winter wheat farmers for the 2015 crop year. Plaintiffs appealed the Director’s decision to the United States District Court for the District of Colorado. The district court reversed the Director’s decision and remanded the case to the FCIC with instructions to retroactively apply the APH yield exclusion to Plaintiffs’ 2015 crop year insurance policies, reasoning the applicable statute unambiguously made the APH yield exclusion available to all farmers on the day the 2014 Farm Bill was enacted. Finding no reversible error in the district court’s judgment, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Ausmus v. Perdue" on Justia Law

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At issue in this appeal was a statutory scheme that dictates how to calculate farmers' crop insurance policies. Determining that it had jurisdiction over the appeal, the Fifth Circuit held that farmers were permitted to exclude the historical data for the 2015 crop year, even though the FCIC had not completed its data compilation. In this case, the FCIC has not provided any textual or contextual clues that would cast doubt on the plain language of the Federal Crop Insurance Act, 7 U.S.C. 1508(g)(4). Therefore, the farmers prevailed at Chevron step one. View "Adkins v. USDA" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment deferring to an insurance policy interpretation made by the FCIC and a determination regarding the FCIC's authority made by the RMA. The court held that the clear language of the Federal Crop Insurance Act indicated that Congress intended the Corporation to have extensive and broad authority; given the FCIA's broad grant of authority to the Corporation, and the specific authority over the provisions of insurance and insurance contracts found in 5 U.S.C. 1505 and 1506, substantial deference was given to the FCIC's interpretation of the special provision; and, considering the plain language of the insurance contract and the deference given to the RMA in its role of supervisor of the FCIC, the RMA's determination that the FCIC was required to provide an interpretation of the special provision to the arbitrating parties was not clearly erroneous. View "Bottoms Farm Partnership v. Perdue" on Justia Law

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From 2006-2012 Packerland deceived at least one of its customers about the protein content of its Whey Protein Concentrate. Land O’Lakes purchased Packerland’s protein concentrate for use in making foods for calves and other young animals. Buyers infer protein levels from measuring nitrogen: a seller can add another nitrogen-rich substance to produce higher scores. The Ratajczaks, who owned Packerland, started adding urea to its protein concentrate. in 2006. Land O’Lakes suspected that the concentrate was high in nonprotein nitrogen but could not learn why; the Ratajczaks made excuses that Land O’Lakes accepted. The Ratajczaks sold Packerland in 2012. The new owner kept them as employees; they kept adding urea until the buyer learned what the truth. The Ratajczaks lost their jobs and settled for about $10 million before the buyer filed a complaint. Land O’Lakes stopped buying Packerland’s product and asserted claims of breach of contract, fraud, and violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. Packerland’s insurers refused to defend or indemnify it or the Ratajczaks; the Ratajczaks’ personal insurer refused to indemnify them for their settlement with Packerland’s buyer. The district court dismissed Land O’Lakes’s suit and ruled in favor of the insurers. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting Land O’Lakes’ claim to treble damages under RICO and state-law and the Ratajczaks’ claims that Packerland’s insurers and their own insurers had to defend and indemnify them. View "Land O'Lakes, Inc. v. Ratajczak" on Justia Law

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Fred and Tina Preisler operated a dairy farm and raised cattle. The Preislers hired Kuettel’s Septic to apply septage, which is primarily composed of human urine and fecal material, to their farm fields. The Preislers subsequently experienced problems with their well water. The Preislers sued Kuettel’s Septic, other defendants, and their insurers, alleging, among other claims, negligence in storing and in applying septage resulting in nuisance and trespass. The circuit court granted summary judgment for the insurers, concluding that a pollution exclusion clause precluded coverage for harm resulting from the Preislers’ water supply’s contamination. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that “a reasonable insured would understand that decomposing septage is a ‘contaminant’ and therefore a ‘pollutant’ as defined in the policies when it has decomposed and seeps into a water supply.” View "Preisler v. Kuettel's Septic Serv., LLC" on Justia Law

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In 2011, Robert and Jane Falk spread liquid cow manure onto their farm fields for the purpose of fertilization. The manure leeched into and contaminated the wells of the Falks’ neighbors. Wilson Mutual Insurance Company, the Falks’ insurer, filed a declaratory judgment motion claiming it did not have a duty to defend or indemnify the Falks against allegations that they negligently spread manure on their property and thereby polluted their neighbors’ wells. The circuit court granted the motion, concluding that the Wilson Mutual policy issued to the Falks contained an exclusion for pollution and that manure is unambiguously a pollutant. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that manure is not a pollutant because, to a reasonable farmer, manure is “liquid gold.” The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the pollution exclusion in the policy unambiguously excludes coverage for well contamination caused by the seepage of cow manure. View "Wilson Mut. Ins. Co. v. Falk" on Justia Law

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This declaratory judgment action concerned a controversy over the limits of an insurance policy issued by Insurer to Insured. A livestock company (Company) brought suit in Minnesota state court against Insured after Company's cattle in Insured's care died in unusually high numbers. Insured submitted the complaint in the underlying action to Insurer. Insurer refused to defend or indemnify Insured in the case brought by Company, basing its denial of coverage on an exclusion in the liability insurance policy for damage to property in the "care, custody, or control" of the insured. The Minnesota district court entered judgment against Insured. Insurer then commenced this action against Company and Insured in federal district court, seeking a declaratory judgment that the claims alleged in the underlying action were not covered under Insured's policy with Insurer and that Insurer therefore had no obligation to defend or indemnify Insured. The district court concluded that the claims were covered by the policy and granted Company and Insured's motion for summary judgment. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, holding that because Company's cattle were under Insured's care, custody, and control when they were damaged, the policy did not provide coverage for Company's claimed loss. Remanded. View "Grinnell Mut. Reinsurance v. Schwieger" on Justia Law