Justia Insurance Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Delaware Supreme Court
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Stillwater Mining Company filed suit against its directors’ and officers’ liability insurers to recover the expenses it incurred defending a Delaware stockholder appraisal action. The superior court granted the insurers’ motions to dismiss after it found that Delaware law applied to the dispute and the Delaware Supreme Court’s decision in In re Solera Ins. Coverage Appeals (“Solera II”) precluded coverage for losses incurred in a stockholder appraisal action under a similar D&O policy. The primary issue on appeal was whether Delaware or Montana law applied to the claims in Stillwater’s amended complaint. Stillwater argued that the superior court should have applied Montana law because Montana had the most significant relationship to the dispute and the parties. If Montana law applied, according to Stillwater, it could recover its defense costs because Montana recognized coverage by estoppel, meaning the insurers were estopped to deny coverage when they failed to defend Stillwater in the appraisal action. Before the Delaware Supreme Court issued Solera II, the Solera I court held that D&O insureds could recover losses incurred in a stockholder appraisal action. Taking advantage of that favorable ruling, Stillwater argued in its complaint that Delaware law applied to the interpretation of the policies. Then when Solera II was issued, Stillwater reversed position and claimed that Montana law applied to the policies. Its amended complaint dropped all indemnity claims for covered losses in favor of three contractual claims for the duty to advance defense costs and a statutory claim under Montana law. In the Supreme Court's view, Stillwater’s amended claims raised the same Delaware interests that Stillwater identified in its original complaint – applying one consistent body of law to insurance policies that cover comprehensively the insured’s directors’, officers’, and corporate liability across many jurisdictions. It then held the superior court did not abuse its discretion when it denied Stillwater's motions. View "Stillwater Mining Company v. National Union Fire Insurance Company of Pittsburgh, PA" on Justia Law

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The issue this appeal presented for the Delaware Supreme Court’s review asked for a determination of whether premiums paid on insurance policies declared void ab initio for lack of an insurable interest should be returned. Geronta Funding argued Delaware law required the automatic return of all premiums paid on the void policy. Brighthouse Life Insurance Company argued a party must prove entitlement to restitution. The trial court agreed with Brighthouse and relied on the Restatement (Second) of Contracts to determine whether Geronta was entitled to restitution. Specifically, the court held that Geronta could obtain restitution if it could prove excusable ignorance or that it was not equally at fault. Applying this test, the court ruled that Geronta was only entitled to the return of the premiums it paid after alerting Brighthouse to the void nature of the policy at issue. Geronta appealed this ruling, arguing that the court erred when it adopted the Restatement instead of automatically returning the premiums, erred in its actual application of the Restatement, even assuming that is the proper test, and erred by precluding certain testimony from Geronta witnesses. Because this was a matter of first impression, the Supreme Court adopted restitution under a fault-based analysis as framed by the Restatement as the test to determine whether premiums should be returned when a party presents a viable legal theory, such as unjust enrichment, and seeks the return of paid premiums as a remedy. The Court held, however, that despite applying the Restatement, the Superior Court’s application of the Restatement failed to account for the relevant questions encompassed by that approach. The Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s holdings regarding entitlement to premiums and remanded for further consideration, but found no fault in the Superior Court preclusion of certain testimony from Geronta’s witnesses. View "Geronta Funding v. Brighthouse Life Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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Two questions of law were certified to the Delaware Supreme Court by the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit: (1) when faced with an action brought by an estate under 18 Del. C. 2704(b), an innocent downstream investor in a stranger-originated life insurance (“STOLI”) policy, or its securities intermediary, could assert certain defenses under the Delaware Uniform Commercial Code; and (2) whether downstream investors in a STOLI policy could sue to recover any premiums they paid. The Court answered question one in the negative: in the sui generis context of STOLI schemes, these defenses are not available. The Court answered question two in the affirmative: yes, if the party being sued can prove its entitlement to those premiums under a viable legal theory. View "Wells Fargo Bank v. Estate of Phyllis M. Malkin" on Justia Law

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This appeal involved a challenge to how Geico General Insurance Company (“GEICO”) processed insurance claims under 21 Del. C. 2118. Section 2118 provided that certain motor vehicle owners had to obtain personal injury protection (“PIP”) insurance. Plaintiffs, all of whose claims for medical expense reimbursement under a PIP policy were denied in whole or in part, were either GEICO PIP policyholders who were injured in automobile accidents or their treatment providers. Plaintiffs alleged GEICO used two automated processing rules that arbitrarily denied or reduced payments without consideration of the reasonableness or necessity of submitted claims and without any human involvement. Plaintiffs argued GEICO’s use of the automated rules to deny or reduce payments: (1) breached the applicable insurance contract; (2) amounted to bad faith breach of contract; and (3) violated Section 2118. Having reviewed the parties’ briefs and the record on appeal, and after oral argument, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court’s ruling that the judiciary had the authority to issue a declaratory judgment that GEICO’s use of the automated rules violated Section 2118. The Supreme Court also affirmed the Superior Court’s judgment as to the breach of contract and bad faith breach of contract claims. The Court concluded, however, that the issuance of the declaratory judgment was improper. View "GEICO General Insurance Company v. Green" on Justia Law

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In March 2012, First Solar, Inc. stockholders filed a class action lawsuit against the company alleging that it violated federal securities laws by making false or misleading public disclosures ("Smilovits Action"). National Union Fire Insurance Company of Pittsburgh, PA (“National Union”) provided insurance coverage for the Smilovits Action under a 2011–12 $10 million “claims made” directors and officers insurance policy. While the Smilovits Action was pending, First Solar stockholders who opted out of the Smilovits Action filed what has been referred to as the Maverick Action. The Maverick Action alleged violations of the same federal securities laws as the Smilovits Action, as well as violations of Arizona statutes and claims for fraud and negligent misrepresentation. In this appeal the issue presented for the Delaware Supreme Court's review was whether the Smilovits securities class action, and a later Maverick follow-on action were related actions, such that the follow-on action was excluded from insurance coverage under later-issued policies. The Superior Court found that the follow-on action was “fundamentally identical” to the first-filed action and therefore excluded from coverage under the later-issued policies. The Supreme Court found that even though the court applied an incorrect standard to assess the relatedness of the two actions, judgment was affirmed nonetheless because under either the erroneous “fundamentally identical” standard or the correct relatedness standard defined by the policies, the later-issued insurance policies did not cover the follow-on action. View "First Solar, Inc. v. National Union First Insurance Company of Pittsburgh, PA" on Justia Law

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Appellees, Rite Aid Corporation, Rite Aid Hdqtrs. Corp., and Rite Aid of Maryland, Inc. (collectively, “Rite Aid”), held a general liability insurance policy underwritten by defendany Chubb, Limited ("Chubb"). Rite Aid and others were defendants in multi-district litigation before the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio (the “MDL Opioid Lawsuits”). Plaintiffs in that suit filed over a thousand suits in the MDL Opioid Lawsuits against companies in the pharmaceutical supply chain for their roles in the national opioid crisis. Certain suits were bellwether suits - including the complaints of Summit and Cuyahoga Counties in Ohio (“the Counties”) which were at issue here. The question this case presented for the Delaware Supreme Court was whether insurance policies covering lawsuits “for” or “because of” personal injury required insurers to defend their insureds when the plaintiffs in the underlying suits expressly disavowed claims for personal injury and sought only their own economic damages. The Superior Court decided that Rite Aid’s insurance carriers were required to defend it against lawsuits filed by two Ohio counties to recover opioid-epidemic-related economic damages. As the court held, the lawsuits sought damages “for” or “because of” personal injury because there was arguably a causal connection between the counties’ economic damages and the injuries to their citizens from the opioid epidemic. The Supreme Court reversed, finding the plaintiffs, governmental entities, sought to recover only their own economic damages, specifically disclaiming recovery for personal injury or any specific treatment damages. Thus, the carriers did not have a duty to defend Rite Aid under the governing insurance policy. View "ACE American Insurance Company v. Rite Aid Corporation" on Justia Law

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After a jury trial, Noranda Aluminum Holding Corporation, an aluminum-products manufacturer, won a judgment against its insurance companies for more than $28 million. The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed, and the Superior Court awarded Noranda post-judgment interest at 6 percent (the same rate as pre-judgment interest) because that was the legal rate in effect when the insurance liability first arose. On appeal, Noranda argued the Superior Court should have used an interest rate of 7.5 percent, which was the legal rate on the date judgment was entered. To this, the Supreme Court agreed, holding that, in 6 Del. C. section 2301(a)'s final sentence, the judgment entered by the Superior Court in Noranda’s favor “shall, from the date of the judgment, bear post-judgment interest of 5% over the Federal Reserve discount rate[.]” Because the Federal Reserve discount rate was 2.5 percent on October 17, 2019, the date the Superior Court entered judgment, the Supreme Court reversed and remanded with instructions to award Noranda post-judgment interest at 7.5 percent. View "Noranda Aluminum Holding Corporation v. XL Insurance America, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2001, Lavastone Capital LLC (Lavastone) entered into an agreement with Coventry First LLC (Coventry) to purchase “life settlements” – life-insurance policies sold on the secondary market. One was that of Beverly Berland. Lincoln Financial (Lincoln) issued the policy to Berland in 2006. But Berland did not act alone in acquiring it. A few months before, she approached a business called “Simba.” As Simba pitched it, the transaction allowed clients to “create dollars today by using a paper asset, (a life insurance policy not yet issued from a major insurance carrier insuring your life)” by selling it on the secondary market. Clients did not need to put up any money upfront. Instead, they got nonrecourse loans to finance the transactions, which allowed them to make all necessary payments without tapping into personal funds. The only collateral for the loan was the life-insurance policy itself. Berland agreed to participate in several transactions with Simba, profiting greatly. Lavastone kept the policy in force, paying all relevant premiums to Lincoln Financial. Upon Berland’s death more than seven years later, Lincoln paid Lavastone $5,041,032.06 in death benefits under the policy. In December 2018, Berland’s estate filed a complaint against Lavastone in the District Court, seeking to recover the death benefits that Lavastone received under 18 Del C. 2704(b). In 2020, the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. In 2021, the District Court certified the three questions of law to the Delaware Supreme Court. The Supreme Court responded: (1) a death-benefit payment made on a policy that is void ab initio under 18 Del. C. 2704(a) and PHL Variable Insurance Co. v. Price Dawe 2006 Insurance Trust was made “under [a] contract” within the meaning of 18 Del. C. 2704(b); (2) so long as the use of nonrecourse funding did not allow the insured or his or her trust to obtain the policy “without actually paying the premiums” and the insured or his or her trust procured or effected the policy in good faith, for a lawful insurance purpose, and not as a cover for a wagering contract; and (3) an estate could profit under 18 Del. C. 2704(b) where the policy was procured in part by fraud on the part of the decedent and the decedent profited from the previous sale of the policy, if the recipient of the policy benefits cannot establish that it was a victim of the fraud. View "Lavastone Capital LLC v. Estate of Beverly E. Berland" on Justia Law

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In 2011, Appellants Eric Monzo and Dana Spring Monzo purchased a homeowners insurance policy issued by Appellee Nationwide Property & Casualty Co. (“Nationwide”). The policy contained standard exclusions for water damage and earth movement, along with optional water backup coverage. In July 2017, a heavy thunderstorm destroyed a pedestrian bridge and retaining wall located at the Monzos’ residence. A pair of engineering reports prepared after the storm indicated that a combination of water backups from drainage systems, scouring of supporting earth embankments, heavy rain, and tree debris caused the damage. The Monzos filed a claim with Nationwide, seeking coverage under the homeowners insurance policy. Nationwide denied coverage, and the Monzos sued. The court granted summary judgment for Nationwide, holding that the policy’s earth movement and water damage exclusions applied. The Monzos appealed, arguing the Superior Court erred by granting summary judgment too early in the discovery process, misinterpreting the policy, and denying a motion for post-judgment relief. Having reviewed the briefs and record on appeal, the Delaware Supreme Court: (1) affirmed the Superior Court’s holding that Nationwide was entitled to summary judgment regarding the collapsed bridge; (2) reversed the Superior Court’s holding that Nationwide was entitled to summary judgment regarding the retaining wall; and (3) affirmed the Superior Court’s denial of the Monzos’ post-judgment motion. View "Monzo v. Nationwide Property & Casualty Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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An excess insurer under a directors’ and officers’ liability insurance policy sought a declaration from the superior court that coverage under the policy was not available to fund the settlement of two lawsuits: a breach of fiduciary duty action in the Court of Chancery, and a federal securities action in the United States District Court for the District of Delaware. In a series of decisions, the superior court rejected the insurer’s claims and entered judgment in favor of the insureds. Aggrieved, the insurer contended the superior court committed several errors: whether the insurance policy, which insured a Delaware corporation and its directors and officers but which was negotiated and issued in California, should have been interpreted under Delaware law; whether the policy, to the extent that it appeared to cover losses occasioned by one of the insureds’ fraud, was unenforceable as contrary to the public policy of Delaware; whether a policy provision that excluded coverage for fraudulent actions defeats coverage; and whether the superior court properly applied the policy’s allocation provision. Finding no reversible error, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed the superior court. View "RSUI Indemnity Co. v. Murdock, et al." on Justia Law