Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal

by
Husband Patrick Steiner was an active duty military service member and had a group life insurance policy issued under the Servicemen's Group Life Insurance Act of 1965 (the SGLIA). As part of a status-only dissolution judgment, Husband and Alicja Soczewko Steiner (Wife), stipulated to an order requiring Husband to maintain Wife as the beneficiary of all of Husband's current active duty survivor and/or death benefits pending further court order. Notwithstanding the stipulated order, Husband changed the beneficiary of his life insurance policy to Husband's sister, Mary Furman, who received the policy proceeds upon Husband's death. The court subsequently found applicable federal law preempted the stipulated order and Furman was entitled to the policy proceeds. Wife appealed, contending federal law did not preempt the stipulated order or, alternatively, the fraud exception to federal preemption applies. The Court of Appeal concluded to the contrary on both points and affirmed the order. View "Marriage of Steiner" on Justia Law

by
The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's order denying defendants' petition to compel arbitration of a dispute with plaintiffs. The court held that the threshold issue of whether the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), 9 U.S.C. 1-16, applies or is preempted by the McCarran-Ferguson Act, 15 U.S.C. 1001-1015, and section 25- 2602.01(f) of the Nebraska Uniform Arbitration Act (NUAA) was for the court, and not the arbitrator, to decide; the trial court did not err by concluding that section 25-2602.01(f) of the NUAA is a statute that regulates the business of insurance within the meaning of the McCarran-Ferguson Act; application of the FAA would operate to invalidate or impair section 25-2602.01(f) of the NUAA; the trial court did not err by concluding that the McCarran-Ferguson Act applies and reverse preempts the FAA; section 25-2602.01(f) of the NUAA applies to the Reinsurance Participation Agreement (RPA) and renders the arbitration provision contained in the RPA unenforceable; and thus the trial court did not err by denying the petition to compel arbitration. View "Citizens of Humanity v. Applied Underwriters" on Justia Law

by
Robert Klem sued Access Insurance Company and Access General Insurance Adjusters, LLC (collectively, "Access") after he was in a car accident and Access administered his claim. Klem alleged Access falsely notified the California Department of Motor Vehicles that his care was a total loss salvage, thereby reducing its value and resulting in a loss of use. Access filed a special motion pursuant to the anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) statute. The trial court found Access' notice to the DMV was a protected communication, but that Klem met his initial burden of establishing a probability of prevailing on the merits. The trial court denied Access' motion, and Access appealed. Finding the trial court erred with respect to certain evidentiary rulings and by denying the anti-SLAPP motion, the Court of Appeal reversed and remanded for the trial court to enter a new order granting Access' motion. View "Klem v. Access Insurance Co." on Justia Law

by
McMillin Management Services, L.P. and Imperial Valley Residential Valley Residential Builders, L.P. (collectively "McMillin") filed suit against numerous insurance companies, including respondents Lexington Insurance Company (Lexington) and Financial Pacific Insurance Company (Financial Pacific). McMillin alleged that it had acted as a developer and general contractor of a residential development project in Brawley and hired various subcontractors to help construct the Project. As relevant here, McMillin alleged that Lexington and Financial Pacific breached their respective duties to defend McMillin in a construction defect action (underlying action) brought by homeowners within the Project. McMillin alleged that Lexington and Financial Pacific each owed a duty to defend McMillin in the underlying action pursuant to various comprehensive general liability (CGL) insurance policies issued to the subcontractors that named McMillin as an additional insured. The trial court granted Lexington's motion for summary judgment, reasoning, that there was no possibility for coverage for McMillin as an additional insured under the policies "[b]ecause there were no homeowners in existence until after the subcontractors' work was complete[ ] . . . ." On appeal, McMillin contended that the fact that the homeowners did not own homes in the Project at the time the subcontractors completed their work did not establish that its liability did not arise out of the subcontractors' ongoing operations. The trial court granted Financial Pacific's motion for summary judgment, finding McMillin did not establish homeowners in the underlying action had sought potentially covered damages arising out of the subcontractors' drywall installation. The Court of Appeal reversed as to Lexington, and affirmed as to Financial Pacific. View "McMillin Management Services v. Financial Pacific Ins. Co." on Justia Law

by
To seek redress for an opioid epidemic, characterized by the Court of Appeal as having placed a financial strain on state and local governments dealing with the epidemic’s health and safety consequences, two California counties sued (the California Action) various pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors, including the appellants in this matter, Actavis, Inc., Actavis LLC, Actavis Pharma, Inc., Watson Pharmaceuticals, Inc., Watson Laboratories, Inc., and Watson Pharma, Inc. (collectively, “Watson”). The California Action alleged Watson engaged in a “common, sophisticated, and highly deceptive marketing campaign” designed to expand the market and increase sales of opioid products by promoting them for treating long-term chronic, nonacute, and noncancer pain - a purpose for which Watson allegedly knew its opioid products were not suited. The City of Chicago brought a lawsuit in Illinois (the Chicago Action) making essentially the same allegations. The issue presented by this appeal was whether there was insurance coverage for Watson based on the allegations made in the California Action and the Chicago Action. Specifically, the issue was whether the Travelers Property Casualty Company of America (Travelers Insurance) and St. Paul Fire and Marine Insurance Company (St. Paul) owe Watson a duty to defend those lawsuits pursuant to commercial general liability (CGL) insurance policies issued to Watson. Travelers denied Watson’s demand for a defense and brought this lawsuit to obtain a declaration that Travelers had no duty to defend or indemnify. The trial court, following a bench trial based on stipulated facts, found that Travelers had no duty to defend because the injuries alleged were not the result of an accident within the meaning of the insurance policies and the claims alleged fell within a policy exclusion for the insured’s products and for warranties and representations made about those products. The California Court of Appeal concluded Travelers had no duty to defend Watson under the policies and affirmed. View "The Traveler's Property Casualty Company of America v. Actavis, Inc." on Justia Law

by
In this case, we deny relief on a petition for review of an award of benefits made by the Workers' Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB). In 2006, while working at Pearson Ford, Leopoldo Hernandez accidentally slammed the trunk of a car on his left hand and crushed one of his fingers. Although no bones in his hand were broken, he was unable to continue working at Pearson Ford because of continuing pain in his hand and shoulder. Hernandez applied for and received workers' compensation benefits. Pearson Ford's workers' compensation carrier retained the services of a private investigator, who conducted video surveillance of Hernandez following each of the three visits to his doctor in early 2010. Following each visit, Hernandez was observed taking off his sling, using his left hand to get in and out of his truck or a car, using his left hand to steer his truck or car, and on one occasion stopping at a grocery store and using his left hand to carry a bag of groceries. After the investigator witnessed other instances of Hernandez using his allegedly injured left hand, the carrier notified the district attorney, who in turn, commenced its own investigation. In specified circumstances, a worker who engages in criminal fraud in attempting to recover workers' compensation benefits and is convicted of doing so is thereafter barred from recovering benefits growing out of the fraud. However, in given circumstances where, independent of any fraud, a worker is able to establish his or her entitlement to benefits, benefits may be awarded. Here, the WCAB found evidence, independent of a worker's fraud, that he had suffered a compensable injury and was entitled to benefits. In doing so the WCAB relied on the determination of a medical expert. The Court of Appeal found no error in the WCAB's determination the workers' claim was not barred by the eventual misdemeanor conviction for workers' compensation fraud and in the WCAB's adoption of the expert's finding of a permanent disability. The Court denied the petitioner any relief on its petition asking that it vacate the WCAB's award. View "Pearson Ford v. Workers' Comp. Appeals Bd." on Justia Law

by
The State of California sued to recover from various insurers the costs of cleaning up the Stringfellow hazardous waste site, pending since 1993. The only remaining insurers were the Continental Insurance Company and Continental Casualty Company (collectively Continental), and the only remaining issues related to prejudgment interest. In 2015, Continental paid the State its full policy limits of $12 million. The trial court ruled that the State was entitled to mandatory prejudgment interest on that amount at seven percent, dating back to 1998. In the alternative, it also ruled that the State was entitled to discretionary prejudgment interest, at seven percent, dating back to 2002. Continental appealed. In the published portion of its opinion, the Court of Appeal addressed Continental’s contentions that the award of mandatory prejudgment interest was erroneous because: (1) the award was premised on the trial court’s erroneous ruling as to when Continental’s policies attached; and (2) the State was not entitled to mandatory prejudgment interest because the amount of its damages was uncertain. Continental further contended the award of discretionary prejudgment interest was erroneous because the trial court used an inapplicable interest rate. Finding no error affecting the award of mandatory prejudgment interest, the Court of Appeal affirmed. The Court did not review the award of discretionary prejudgment interest. View "California v. Continental Ins. Co." on Justia Law

by
This case arose out of an insurance dispute between a general contractor, its subcontractor, and the subcontractor’s general liability carrier over water damage to a construction site caused by heavy rains. The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hired Kadena Pacific, Inc. as the general contractor to oversee construction of a building in Menlo Park. Kadena hired Global Modular, Inc. to build, deliver, and install the 53 modular units that would comprise the building. Because Kadena had hired a different subcontractor to install the roofing, Global agreed to deliver the units covered only by a roof deck substrate. Kadena originally scheduled delivery in the summer months, but delivery was delayed until October and November. Despite Global’s efforts to protect the units by covering them with plastic tarps, the interiors suffered water damage from October through January. In February, Kadena and Global mutually agreed to terminate their contract and Kadena oversaw the remediation of the water-damaged interiors and completion of the project. Global sued Kadena for failure to pay and Kadena countersued, alleging Global had breached the contract in various ways, including by failing to repair the water-damaged interiors. Before trial, the parties entered a partial settlement. Global paid Kadena $321,975 to release all of Kadena’s claims arising from the VA project except for claims covered by Global’s insurance policy with North American Capacity Insurance Company (NAC), and Global received $153,025 to dismiss its failure-to-pay claims. At trial, Kadena presented evidence on the scope and cost of its water remediation and argued Global was contractually responsible for the damage. The jury agreed and awarded Kadena slightly over $1 million. In a separate suit brought by NAC, Kadena and NAC filed competing motions for summary judgment on the issue of whether NAC’s policy required it to indemnify Global for the jury’s damage award. The trial court ruled in favor of Kadena, finding the damage award covered under NAC’s policy as a matter of law. The court also ruled that the award must be offset by the $321,975 Global paid in settlement and that Global was liable to Kadena for $360,000 in attorney fees. The Court of Appeal concluded the trial court properly determined NAC’s policy covered the water damages and Kadena was entitled to fees. However, the Court reversed the offset order because Global’s settlement payment did not compensate Kadena for the costs of its water remediation; the parties agreed to reserve that issue for litigation. View "Global Modular v. Kadena Pacific, Inc." on Justia Law

by
Real parties in interest are insurers that issued excess comprehensive general liability (CGL) policies to Montrose, a manufacturer of the pesticide DDT. Montrose filed suit seeking a declaratory judgment that it may electively stack excess policies. The trial court rejected the elective stacking in favor of horizontal exhaustion, and denied Montrose's motion for summary adjudication, granting the excess insurers' cross-motion for summary adjudication. The Court of Appeal granted the petition for writ of mandate in part and denied in part, holding that the trial court correctly rejected Montrose's elective stacking approach and thus correctly denied Montrose's motion for summary adjudication and granted Continental Insurer's cross motion. The court also held that the record did not support a universal horizontal exhaustion approach. Therefore, the trial court erred in granting the insurers' motion on the issue of duty. View "Montrose Chemical Corp. v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

by
Defendant-appellant American Safety Indemnity Company (“ASIC”) challenged a judgment awarding over $1.4 million in compensatory and punitive damages to plaintiff-respondent Pulte Home Corporation (Pulte), who was the general contractor and developer of two residential projects in the San Marcos area. ASIC issued several sequential comprehensive general liability (CGL) insurance policies to three of Pulte's subcontractors, and during 2003 to 2006, it added endorsements to those policies that named Pulte as an additional insured. The projects were completed by 2006. In 2011 and 2013, two groups of residents of the developments sued Pulte for damages in separate construction defect lawsuits. After American Safety declined to provide Pulte with a defense, Pulte filed this action, asserting that the additional insured endorsements afforded it coverage and therefore required ASIC to provide it with defenses on the construction defect issues. After review, the Court of Appeal concluded the trial court was correct in ruling that the language of ASIC’s additional insured endorsements on the underlying insurance policies created ambiguities on the potential for coverage in the construction defect lawsuits, thus requiring it to provide Pulte with a defense to them. Additionally, the Court upheld the court's decision that Pulte was entitled to an award of punitive damages that was proportional, on a one-to-one basis, to the award of compensatory damages in tort. Although the Court affirmed the judgment as to its substantive rulings, the Court of Appeal was required to reverse in part as to the award of $471,313.52 attorney fees: the trial court abused its discretion in implementing an hourly attorney fee arrangement that Pulte did not arrive at until after trial, to replace the previous contingency fee agreement in a manner that Pulte intended would operate to increase its demand. Since the trial court calculated its $500,000 award of punitive damages by appropriately utilizing a one-to-one ratio to the compensatory, the trial court had to recalculate not only the fees award but also to adjust the amount of punitive damages accordingly. View "Pulte Home Corp. v. American Safety Indemnity Co." on Justia Law