Justia Insurance Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure
by
The relevant consolidated appeals constitute the latest chapter of a long-running legal battle over attempts to satisfy a 2010 default judgment of $318 million under the Anti-Terrorism Act, 18 U.S.C. Section 2333, against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia or FARC) for murder and kidnapping.   In the first appeal (Case No. 20-11736), Appellant appealed the district court’s orders directing certain garnishees to liquidate and/or distribute their assets to Plaintiffs who obtained the $318 million judgment. In the second appeal(Case No. 20-12467) Appellant appealed the denial of their motion for a preliminary injunction to stop the sale of real property located at 325 Leucadendra Drive in Coral Gables, Florida. In the third appeal(Case No. 20-12545) Appellant’s wife appealed the district court’s denial of her motion to intervene in the proceedings concerning the sale of real property located at 325 Leucadendra Drive (and owned by Leucadendra 325, one of the Appellants in Case Nos. 20-11736 and 20-12467).   In Case No. 20-11736, the Eleventh Circuit concluded that a jury must decide whether Appellant and his companies qualify as agencies or instrumentalities of the FARC such that their assets can be garnished by Plaintiffs to satisfy their $318 million judgment. The court, therefore, reversed and remanded that appeal. In Case No. 20-12467, the court dismissed the appeal as moot because 325 Leucadendra has been sold and the court lacks the ability to grant the requested relief. In Case No. 20- 12545, the court affirmed the district court’s order denying Appellant’s wife’s motion to intervene as untimely and therefore dismiss the appeal. View "Keith Stansell, et al v. UBS Financial Services, Inc., et al" on Justia Law

by
The United States Federal District Court for the Western District of Washington certified a question of law to the Washington Supreme Court. Cox Construction was the general contractor of a remodeling project. Cox hired Baker & Son Construction, Inc. as a subcontractor. A Baker employee allegedly caused a two-by-four to fall from a railing and strike Ronnie Cox, owner of Cox Construction, who later died from his injury. Baker allegedly called an insurance agent to alert them of the incident. The agent told Baker that no action needed to be taken because at that time, no claim existed. A few months later, Baker received a wrongful death claim from an attorney representing Cox’s widow. Baker notified its insurer, Preferred Contractors Insurance Company (PCIC) of the claim. PCIC denied coverage, but agreed to defend Baker under a reservation of rights. The certified question to the Washington Supreme Court related to the “claims-made” nature of the policy and the timing of Baker’s tender of Ms. Cox’s claim. The Supreme Court replied to the certified question that in light of RCW 18.27, a contractor’s commercial general liability insurance policy that requires the loss to occur and be reported within the same policy year, and provides neither neither prospective nor retroactive coverage violates Washington’s public policy. View "Preferred Contractors Ins. Co. v. Baker & Son Constr., Inc." on Justia Law

by
The United States District Court for the District of South Carolina certified a question of law to the South Carolina Supreme Court. Sullivan Management, LLC operated restaurants in South Carolina and filed suit to recover for business interruption losses during COVID-19 under a commercial property insurance policy issued by Fireman's Fund and Allianz Global Risks US Insurance Company (Fireman's). Specifically, the questions was whether the presence of COVID-19 in or near Sullivan's properties, and/or related governmental orders, which allegedly hinder or destroy the fitness, habitability or functionality of property, constituted "direct physical loss or damage" or did "direct physical loss or damage" require some permanent dispossession of the property or physical alteration to the property. The Supreme Court held that the presence of COVID-19 and the corresponding government orders prohibiting indoor dining did not fall within the policy’s trigger language of “direct physical loss or damage.” View "Sullivan Mgmt v. Fireman's Fund" on Justia Law

by
Liberty Insurance Corporation (“Liberty”) sought to rely on a general coverage exclusion, it was aware that its policy also contained an exception to the general exclusion if the Defendant homeowners, could show that the all-terrain vehicle (ATV) was not subject to motor vehicle registration and was used to “service” their cabin. One of Defendant homeowners was the only witness who testified during a bench trial.   After the trial concluded, the district court (at Liberty’s request) imposed Rule 37(c)(1) sanctions on Defendants for failing to disclose a witness. The district court also excluded one of the homeowner’s testimony about whether the ATV was registered and used to service the cabin, based on the theory that he had not been properly disclosed as a witness. The district court ruled that ATV was used to service the cabin at any time,” and thus found that the Defendants were not entitled to coverage.   The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s order imposing sanctions and remanded for a new trial. The court held that because Defendants complied with Rule 26(a)(1)(A)(i)’s requirement to disclose “individuals likely to have discoverable information—along with the subjects of that information” for the purpose of identifying potential fact witnesses, sanctions under Rule 37(c)(1) were not justified. But even Defendants had not complied with Rule 26, the district court abused its discretion by imposing Rule 37(c)(1) sanctions without analyzing (1) whether the alleged defects in the disclosures were harmless and (2) whether the defects involved willfulness, fault, or bad faith. View "LIBERTY INSURANCE CORPORATION V. YVONNE BRODEUR" on Justia Law

by
Affirming the district court’s summary judgment in favor of National Railroad Passenger Corporation and other railroad companies, the Ninth Circuit held that, as to railroad employees, the federal Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act preempts California’s Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act, which requires employers to provide employees with paid sick leave that they may use for specified purposes.   RUIA provides unemployment and sickness benefits to railroad employees, and it contains an express preemption provision disallowing railroad employees from having any right to “sickness benefits under a sickness law of any State.” Looking at the plain meaning of the statutory text, the court concluded that the preemption provision broadly refers to compensation or other assistance provided to employees in connection with physical or mental well-being. The court concluded that RUIA’s statutory framework and stated purposes confirm the breadth of its preemptive effect.   The court found unpersuasive an argument by the California Labor Commissioner and union-intervenors that RUIA does not preempt the California Act as to railroad employees because the benefits the Act offers are different in kind than RUIA’s benefits. The court also found unpersuasive (1) an argument that RUIA should be interpreted as preempting only the kinds of state laws that existed at the time RUIA was amended to provide for sickness benefits; and (2) various textual arguments in support of a narrower interpretation of the preemption provision. View "NAT'L RAILROAD PASSENGER CORP. V. JULIE SU" on Justia Law

by
The Louisiana Independent Pharmacies Association (“LIPA”) sued Express Scripts on behalf of its members, seeking a declaratory judgment on whether La. Rev. Stat. Ann. Sections 22:1860.1 and 46:2625 are preempted by Medicare Part D.1 Express Scripts moved to dismiss LIPA’s request for declaratory judgment regarding the reimbursement provision for failure to state a claim, see Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), on the basis that Medicare Part D preempts the reimbursement provision for prescriptions covered by Part D plans The district court concluded, however, that Express Scripts failed “to meet its burden of showing preemption or any other basis for dismissal.” Express Scripts moved to certify the order denying its motion to dismiss for interlocutory appeal under 28 U.S.C. Section1292(b). The district court granted certification,   The Fifth Circuit vacated the district court’s order concluding that the court lacks both federal question and diversity jurisdiction. The court explained that here, LIPA seeks a declaration that Express Scripts’ state law and related contractual obligation to reimburse LIPA’s member pharmacies for the provider fee is not preempted by federal law. Applying the well-pleaded complaint rule requires the court to imagine a hypothetical coercive lawsuit brought by Express Scripts against LIPA’s member pharmacies. But none is conceivable, thus, because Express Scripts has no possible ground for a coercive lawsuit, no federal question arises for purposes of jurisdiction in LIPA’s declaratory judgment case. Accordingly, the court concluded that LIPA must make the same showing to satisfy the amount in controversy requirement. View "LA Indep Pharmacies v. Express Scripts" on Justia Law

by
The issue this case presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review centered on whether Appellant’s legal malpractice claims against Appellees, her former attorneys, were barred under the Court’s decision in Muhammad v. Strassburger, McKenna, Messer, Shilobod & Gutnick, 587 A.2d 1346 (Pa. 1991), which held that a plaintiff could not sue his attorney on the basis of the adequacy of a settlement to which the plaintiff agreed, unless the plaintiff alleged the settlement was the result of fraud. Appellant, Dr. Ahlam Kahlil, owned a unit in the Pier 3 Condominiums in Philadelphia; the unit was insured by State Farm Fire and Casualty Company (“State Farm”). The Pier 3 Condominium Association (“Pier 3”) was insured under a master policy issued by Travelers Property Casualty Company of America (“Travelers”). In May 2007, Appellant sustained water damage to her unit as a result of a leak in the unit directly above hers, which was owned by Jason and Anne Marie Diegidio. Due to the water damage, Appellant moved out of her unit and stopped paying her condominium fees. Appellant filed suit against State Farm and Travelers, alleging breach of contract and bad faith, and against the Diegidios, alleging negligence. A year later, Pier 3 filed a separate lawsuit against Appellant for her unpaid condominium fees and charges. In affirming in part and reversing in part the trial court, the Supreme Court found that by finding Appellant’s claims were barred under Muhammad, the lower courts ignored other averments in Appellant’s complaint which did not allege fraud, but, rather, alleged legal malpractice by Appellees in allowing Appellant to enter into a settlement agreement in the Water Damage Case that subsequently precluded her from raising her desired claims in the Fees Case, while repeatedly advising Appellant that the settlement agreement would not preclude those claims. "[A]s our review of Appellant’s complaint demonstrates that she was not merely challenging the amount of her settlement in the Water Damage Case, but rather alleged that Appellees provided incorrect legal advice regarding the scope and effect the Travelers Release, we hold that Muhammad’s bar on lawsuits based on the adequacy of a settlement is not implicated in this case." View "Khalil v. Williams" on Justia Law

by
The Thompsons own property in Sonoma County that is subject to a conservation easement (Civ. Code 815) in favor of SLT, which prohibits any impairment of the land’s conservation values. SLT sued, alleging that the Thompsons had done work on the parcel that caused damage in violation of the conservation easement. The Thompsons tendered defense of the action to Burlington Insurance, which declined the tender on the ground that the action did not arise from an “occurrence,” defined as an “accident.” The Ninth Circuit upheld the denial of coverage.While that appeal was pending, the Thompsons tendered defense of the action to Crestbrook and Nationwide, under policies identical in relevant part to the Burlington policy. The insurers declined the tender. The trial court ultimately upheld the denial of coverage. The California court of appeal affirmed. The federal court judgment precludes relitigation of whether the SLT action arose from an “accident” within the meaning of the two insurers’ policies. The issue here is identical to the issue in the Burlington litigation. No material change in the law since the Burlington judgment diminishes its preclusive effect and there is no unfairness in affording the Burlington judgment preclusive effect. View "Thompson v. Crestbrook Insurance Co." on Justia Law

by
Ila Reid appealed a district court’s summary judgment dismissal of her breach of contract claim against Primerica Life Insurance Company (“Primerica”). Reid brought her claim after Primerica filed an interpleader action to resolve competing claims to her late husband Garvin Reid’s life insurance beneficiary proceeds. She contended Primerica acted unfairly in multiple ways to create the controversy and thus the district court should not have permitted Primerica to use interpleader as a shield against her breach of contract claim. Finding no reversible error, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s summary judgment order in favor of Primerica. View "Primerica Life Insurance Co. v. Reid" on Justia Law

by
Lia Kazan (“Lia”) visited an Alexandria, Louisiana motel to meet some friends. During the course of her visit, she went went to the motel parking lot to retrieve something from her vehicle. Anthony Murray, another motel guest, exited his room and approached the vehicle with Lia inside. Audio from the camera footage recorded Lia screaming “stop,” “no,” and calling for help accompanied by repeated honking of the vehicle’s horn. Murray then started the ignition and, with Lia in the passenger seat, reversed out of the parking lot onto the service road. The vehicle was later found submerged in Lake Dubuisson – the bodies of Murray and Lia were recovered in the water. Lia’s death was classified as a homicidal drowning. Ali Kazan and Ebony Medlin filed suit, individually, and on behalf of their daughter, Lia (collectively “Plaintiffs”) against several parties, including the motel’s owner, Vitthal, LLC, and its insurer, Great Lakes Insurance Company SE (“Great Lakes”), seeking damages for Lia’s kidnapping and death. In response, Great Lakes filed a petition for declaratory judgment averring it had no obligation under the operable commercial general liability policy (“the CGL Policy”) to defend or indemnify the other defendants. Great Lakes moved for summary judgment on its petition arguing the CGL Policy contained an exclusion – specifically defining “assault,” “battery,” and “physical altercation” – which barred coverage for Lia’s kidnapping and death. The Louisiana Supreme Court granted review in this case to determine whether an insurance policy, by its own terms, excluded coverage for damages arising from a kidnapping resulting in death. The Court found the clear and unambiguous language of the relevant policy exclusion barred coverage. View "Kazan et al. v. Red Lion Hotels Corporation, et al." on Justia Law