COURT AFFIRMS ARBITRATION PANEL’S $14 MILLION AWARD IN FAVOR OF INSURED IN REINSURANCE DISPUTE OVER ASBESTOS CLAIMS

A federal district court has confirmed a $14 million arbitration award entered in favor of Amerisure against its reinsurer Everest. As we earlier reported, the court had previously denied the motion to seal briefing associated with Amerisure’s motion to confirm the award. Now at issue was the confirmation, modification, or vacatur of the award, which directed Everest to indemnify Amerisure for its share of asbestos losses that fell within the parties’ reinsurance treaties. Everest moved to vacate the award on several grounds, including an arbitrator’s “evident partiality” in the proceedings and the panel’s allegedly erroneous procedural and evidentiary rulings. At the core of the reinsurance dispute was whether Amerisure could aggregate individual asbestos losses into a single occurrence in order to exceed the applicable retention and thereby qualify for indemnification under the reinsurance treaties. The panel held that Amerisure could aggregate the losses by relying, in part, on what it found to be the “commonly accepted” business of treating multiple asbestos losses as a single occurrence. The panel rejected the argument that Amerisure’s claim was precluded or undercut by the fact that the underlying claims were settled as individual losses and further discounted the expert opinion testimony offered by Everest as unpersuasive. The district court, in turn, affirmed the award, rejecting all arguments of partiality or erroneous rulings. While Everest had established the panel exceeded its powers in one respect, it did not find that warranted vacatur or modification of the award. Amerisure Mutual Insurance Co. v. Everest Reinsurance Co., Case No. 14-cv-13060 (USDC E.D. Mich. Mar. 18, 2015).

This post written by Renee Schimkat.

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COURT DENIES INSURER’S REQUEST TO ARBITRATE

In a case involving a dispute arising from a fire at the Wisconsin County Courthouse, a Wisconsin federal court issued an order denying Lexington Insurance Company’s motion to participate in an arbitration between the two insurers primarily responsible for the losses. Lexington argued it was an excess insurer (or reinsurer – the parties disagreed) for the policy issued by the State of Wisconsin Local Government Property Insurance Fund insuring the county. In addition to coverage afforded by the Fund, the county was also insured by Cincinnati Insurance Company for losses to cover machinery and equipment that might not otherwise be covered by the Fund’s policy.

The Fund and the Cincinnati policies included a joint loss agreement (“JLA”) which provided that in the event of a dispute, the insurers would pay half of the disputed amount to their insured, the county, and arbitrate the dispute thereafter. The county took advantage of this provision. Lexington then sought to intervene in the ensuing arbitration, arguing that while its policy did not include a joint loss agreement, it was a follow-form policy which included that provision. The court agreed with Lexington, finding that although the Lexington policy was “a little strange,” it expressly stated it was a follow-form policy to the Fund’s policy and, further, it did not expressly exclude or supersede the joint loss agreement. The court, however, disagreed with Lexington’s view that it was entitled to participate in the arbitration between the Fund and Cincinnati. The joint loss agreement did not apply in this case because it did not apply to Lexington or allow for Lexington’s participation in the arbitration. State of Wisconsin Local Government Property Insurance Fund v. Lexington Insurance Co., Case No. 15-CV-142-JPS (USDC E.D. Wis. Apr. 17, 2015).

This post written by Brian Perryman.

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ARBITRATION AWARD CONFIRMED IN QUOTA SHARE REINSURANCE DISPUTE

An arbitration award to Petitioner, Employers Insurance of Wausau A Mural Company (“Wausau”), has been confirmed after Respondents withdrew their prior objections.  The dispute arose over payment obligations stemming from a Quota Share reinsurance agreement between the Respondents, Nutmeg Insurance Company and Twin City Fire Insurance Company (“Nutmeg/Twin”), and Wausau. The dispute went to arbitration where a panel, finding in favor of Wausau, directed Nutmeg/Twin to provide documentation relating to the claim of loss— including proof of payment and a narrative on the appropriateness of a loss settlement award.

Nutmeg/Twin subsequently objected to Wausau’s petition to confirm the award on jurisdictional grounds for “non-final issues,” specifically the parties’ obligations under various remaining claims. Wausau argued that Nutmeg/Twin’s objections were moot as the parties’ obligations had been performed. The court, however, did not need to resolve this question as Nutmeg/Twin withdrew their arbitration award objections as part of a settlement arrangement.  Employers Insurance of Wausau v. Nutmeg Insurance Company, Case No. 14-CV-9284 (USDC S.D.N.Y. Mar. 10, 2015).

This post written by Matthew Burrows, a law clerk at Carlton Fields Jorden Burt in Washington, DC.

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FIRST CIRCUIT REINSTATES ARBITRAL AWARD DESPITE ARBITRATION PANEL’S POTENTIALLY ERRONEOUS CONCLUSIONS

The First Circuit Court of Appeals recently reversed the district court’s vacatur ruling and remanded the matter for entry of an order confirming an arbitration award. While the First Circuit found that several of the arbitration panel’s holdings may have been erroneous, the court held that “even serious error” by arbitrators will not invalidate an award and, further, “any error by the panel . . . does not rise to the level necessary to justify vacatur.”  Plaintiff Robert Fenyk filed a complaint in Vermont state court alleging Raymond James Financial Services (RJFS) fired him because of his sexual orientation and his status as a recovering alcoholic in violation of Vermont employment laws. RJFS countered that Fenyk should not be afforded the protections of Vermont employment law because Fenyk was not an employee. RJFS also moved to compel arbitration pursuant to a previously signed agreement between the parties. Fenyk dismissed the suit and submitted his claims to arbitration.

In arbitration, Fenyk sought to amend his proceeding to bring additional claims under federal, New York, and Florida law. The arbitral panel denied Fenyk’s motion to amend but did award him $600,000 in back pay and $36,042.03 in attorney’s fees and costs. RJFS challenged the award in the district court, arguing that the arbitration panel had misapplied Florida law, the state where Raymond James is based. RJFS further argued that Fenyk’s claims were made beyond the one-year statute of limitations for civil rights cases, and therefore barred. The district court agreed with these positions and vacated Fenyk’s previous award, finding that the arbitrators had exceeded their authority.

A panel of three First Circuit judges unanimously reversed, remanding for the entry of an order confirming the arbitration award.  The Court held that although there was uncertainty as to whether the arbitrators had correctly applied applicable law, even “serious error” of law is not a basis for invalidating an arbitration award, and the uncertainty did not establish that they had exceeded their authority under the arbitration provision.   Raymond James Fin. Servs., Inc. v. Fenyk, 780 F.3d 59 (1st Cir. 2015) (No. 14-1252).

This post written by Whitney Fore, a law clerk at Carlton Fields Jorden Burt in Washington, DC.

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COURT PRECLUDES DISCOVERY OF REINSURANCE INFORMATION IN AIRPORT CONSTRUCTION INSURANCE COVERAGE DISPUTE

In a construction loss coverage litigation brought by Indianapolis Airport Authority (IAA) against its builders risk insurer, Travelers Property Casualty Company, IAA unsuccessfully attempted to issue a subpoena to Travelers’s reinsurer. The subpoena sought various reinsurance agreements, premium and underwriting information, analysis, communications, and loss reports. Travelers moved for a protective order and to quash IAA’s subpoena on the grounds that the discovery of reinsurance information was overly broad, unduly burdensome and not discoverable. Travelers argued that the material requested contains “sensitive business information typically not relevant to coverage itself.” The court agreed that the discovery requested was overbroad in that “IAA requests reinsurance discovery from 2005 through July 10, 2013, despite the fact that the steel tower collapse at issue in this litigation occurred January 24, 2007.” The court further found that the communications requested were irrelevant because they did “not speak to Travelers’ intent and do not clarify any ambiguous terms of the policy.” The court quashed the subpoena and entered a protective order precluding IAA “from obtaining any discovery of reinsurance documentation.” Indianapolis Airport Authority v. Travelers Property Casualty Co. of America, Case No. 1:13-cv-01316 (USDC S.D. Ind. April 7, 2015).

This post written by Michael Wolgin.

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FIFTH CIRCUIT AFFIRMS VACATUR OF ARBITRATION AWARD WHERE ARBITRATOR FAILED TO FOLLOW PROVISIONS GOVERNING SELECTION OF ARBITRATOR AND FORUM

Organizational Strategies Inc. (OSI) had entered into an agreement with Capstone Associated Services Ltd. for the latter to form three captive insurance companies for OSI. Included in the contract was an arbitration clause that required any disputes to be resolved under American Arbitration Association rules. PoolRe (a third-party insurer), and the three captive insurers separately entered into contracts that included different arbitration provisions requiring application of International Chamber of Commerce rules. Ultimately, all of the agreements were cancelled, and Capstone demanded arbitration for breach of contract against OSI under AAA rules. When PoolRe sought to compel a separate arbitration and was unable to appoint an Anguilla-based arbitrator through the mechanism envisioned under its contracts, PoolRe intervened in the OSI arbitration for the “limited purpose of having [the arbitrator] appoint an Anguilla-based arbitrator.” Instead of appointing an Anguilla arbitrator, however, the OSI arbitrator applied AAA rules and exercised jurisdiction over PoolRe’s claims, finding that PoolRe had waived its right to arbitration in Anguilla by intervening. An award later issued, finding that OSI had breached its contracts with Capstone, PoolRe, and a law firm involved with the captive insurance program. The arbitrator granted Capstone, PoolRe and the firm more than $450,000 in attorneys’ fees, expenses and costs.

OSI moved to vacate the entire award in Texas federal court on the grounds that the arbitrator exceeded his authority by including PoolRe in the arbitration; the arbitrator was not authorized under the contracts to appoint himself as the arbitrator of PoolRe’s claims nor to apply AAA rules instead of ICC rules. The court agreed and vacated the entire award, reasoning that PoolRe’s intervention had “tainted the entire process.” The Fifth Circuit affirmed, holding that because the arbitrator “acted contrary to the express arbitrator- and forum-selection clauses in the arbitration agreements to which PoolRe was a party” the district court’s holding that the arbitrator exceeded his authority would be affirmed. The Fifth Circuit further explained that a district court does not err “by failing to vacate in part, particularly where the arbitrator awarded a lump sum ‘to be divided among the parties as they see fit.’” PoolRe Insurance Corp. v. Organizational Strategies Inc., No. 14-20433 (5th Cir. April 7, 2015).

This post written by Michael Wolgin.

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DISTRICT COURT RULES ON DISCOVERY IN BAD FAITH CASE

In a dispute between the excess and primary liability insurance carriers of a common insured based upon the primary insurer’s alleged breach of the duty to defend the common insured, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana (the “Court”) ordered the production of the complete personnel files for claims adjusters involved in the claims process for the case at issue. The excess carrier, which sought production of the claim adjuster personnel files asserted that the personnel files were relevant because: 1) the primary carrier’s guidelines stated that staff counsel is not able to make decisions regarding the claims without first obtaining authority from the claims department, and 2) the adjusters’ experiences and backgrounds were relevant to determining whether they were able to make prudent decisions regarding the underlying claim. The primary carrier argued that it should not be required to produce personnel files because the files could contain sensitive information, the production request was not narrowly tailored, and the excess insurer could obtain the information it seeks when it deposes its employees. The Court found that the personnel files may contain relevant and highly probative information concerning the experiences and backgrounds of the adjusters that handled the claim with staff counsel during the underlying suit. However, given the potential sensitive nature of such files, the Court ordered an in camera inspection of those files. See RSUI Indemnity Company v. American States Insurance, Case No. 2:12-cv-02820 (U.S.D.C. E.D. La. Feb. 18, 2015).

This post written by Kelly A. Cruz-Brown.

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FEDERAL COURT REMANDS INSURANCE DISPUTE TO STATE COURT BASED ON WAIVER

A New York federal court remanded a reinsurance dispute to state court, based on the defendant’s waiver of its right to remove. Plaintiff R&Q Reinsurance Company (“R&Q”) brought an action against Allianz Insurance Company (“Allianz”) regarding a dispute as to R&Q’s indemnity obligations to Allianz under two reinsurance contracts. Allianz timely removed the action, as it met all the requirements for federal diversity jurisdiction. However, R&Q moved to remand, based on the fact that Allianz had already answered and counterclaimed in state court, and had therefore waived its right to remove. The court agreed, granting the remand, finding that Allianz’s counterclaims, which sought affirmative relief, constituted a voluntary submission to the state court’s jurisdiction. The court denied R&Q’s bid for attorney’s fees, however, finding that Allianz had a reasonable basis on which to remove, particularly given that the action otherwise met the requirements for diversity jurisdiction. R&Q Reinsurance Co. v. Allianz Ins. Co., Case No. 15-00166 (USDC S.D.N.Y. March 20, 2015)

This post written by Catherine Acree.

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COURT ADDRESSES HONORABLE ENGAGEMENT PROVISION IN ARBITRATION CLAUSE

In First State Insurance Company v. National Cas. Co., 2015 WL 1263147, No. 14-1644 (1st Cir. March 20, 2015), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit (the “Court of Appeals”) affirmed the lower court’s refusal to vacate an arbitration award involving contract interpretation and addressed the operation and effect of an “honorable engagement provision” in an arbitration clause.

In this case, the Appellant/Reinsurer sought to vacate a contract interpretation award involving eight reinsurance and retrocessional agreements because the arbitrators exceeded their scope of powers by re-writing the terms of the parties’ agreements. Specifically, the Appellant/Reinsurer asserted that the payment protocol set forth in the arbitration award was not based on the parties’ agreements and obligated Appellant/Reinsurer to pay billings that may not fall within the terms and conditions of the agreements. The Appellant/Reinsurer further asserted that the payment protocol would foreclose or impair its broad access rights under certain inspection and audit provisions of the agreements by conditioning those rights on the transmittal of an appropriate time-of-payment reservation of rights.

Regarding the payment protocol, the Court of Appeals determined that the payment protocol in the award tracked the plain language of the relevant portions of the parties’ reinsurance agreements. Concerning the challenge to the reservation of rights procedure, the Court of Appeals noted that the arbitration clauses for the reinsurance agreements contained an honorable engagement provision, which directed the arbitrators to consider each agreement as an “honorable engagement rather than merely a legal obligation” and further stated that the arbitrators “are relieved or all judicial formalities and may abstain from following the strict rules of law.” The Court of Appeals held that the honorable engagement provisions empowered arbitrators to grant forms of relief, including equitable remedies not explicitly mentioned in the underlying agreement. The Court of Appeal viewed the honorable engagement provisions as enhancing the prospects for a successful arbitration because they provided the arbitrators with the flexibility to custom-tailor remedies to fit particular circumstances.

This post written by Kelly A. Cruz-Brown.

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SECOND CIRCUIT AFFIRMS APPLICATION OF ILLINOIS NOTICE/PREJUDICE RULE IN REINSURANCE ROW

Granite State Insurance Company (“Granite State”) brought an action against Clearwater Insurance Company (“Clearwater”) regarding a dispute over reinsurance claims Granite State made, and which Clearwater denied based on late notice. The claims pertained to underlying settlements of a large number of asbestos claims. The reinsurance certificates required prompt notice “of any event or development” which Granite State “reasonably believe[d] might result in a claim.” The district court found that Granite State’s notice to Clearwater under the reinsurance certificates at issue was untimely, and the Second Circuit affirmed.

In particular, the Second Circuit resolved a question raised on appeal pertaining to which state law applied. The parties agreed that, if there was a conflict of laws, Illinois law would apply under a “significant contacts” analysis, versus the law of the state where the action was pending – New York. But Granite State argued that Illinois law did not clearly conflict with New York law, and that therefore the New York federal court should have applied New York’s late notice rule, which requires an affirmative showing of prejudice on the part of the party asserting late notice as a bar to recovery.

The Second Circuit affirmed, finding that Illinois law was sufficiently clear on the issue, and does not require a showing of prejudice. Therefore, the laws were truly in conflict, and conflict of law analysis required application of Illinois law. Clearwater was thus not required to demonstrate that it was prejudiced by Granite State’s late notice in order to refuse to pay Granite State’s claims for reinsurance coverage.  Granite State Ins. Co v. Clearwater Ins. Co., No. 14-1494 (2d Cir. April 2, 2015).

This post written by Catherine Acree.

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