Justia U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Insurance Law
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Plaintiff suffered serious injuries when his motorcycle collided with a car driven by a negligent motorist. After exhausting its liability limits, he next looked to the underinsured-motorist benefits of a policy covering just his motorcycle. When those benefits fell short too, he turned to a policy underwritten by Standard Fire Insurance Company that covered vehicles other than his motorcycle.   Relying on what the parties call the owned-but-not-insured exclusion, it denied coverage because the accident occurred with a vehicle that Plaintiff had decided to insure elsewhere. On cross-motions for summary judgment, the district court agreed with Standard Fire that it owed nothing. The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court rejected Plaintiff’s argument that the exclusion is ambiguous. Even if “this coverage” might lend itself to some ambiguity in isolation, the remainder of the policy points to only one reasonable interpretation: the owned-but-not-insured exclusion applies in precisely this situation. View "John Eberlein v. Standard Fire Ins Co" on Justia Law

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After being hit by an under-insured motorist, Plaintiff experienced worsening symptoms from his Parkinson’s disease. His condition eventually deteriorated to the point that he could no longer work as a doctor. Plaintiff sued Encompass Insurance for $500,000, the maximum available under his automobile policy. The state trial court granted summary judgment to Plaintiff, concluding that Encompass failed to refute that Plaintiff lost at least $500,000 in earning capacity because of the accident. On removal, a federal district court held that it was unable to vacate that judgment.   The Eighth Circuit reversed and remanded. The court interpreted Encompass’s notice of appeal as challenging the Arkansas court’s ruling, as merged into the final judgment of the district court, and held that it constituted an appeal of a “final decision of a district court of the United States” under 28 U.S.C. Section 1291.   The court also rejected the district court’s conclusion that a federal court lacks jurisdiction to vacate the state court’s summary judgment order. The court explained that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine has no application to a properly removed case where, as here, there is no attack on a separate and final state-court judgment. Finally, the court held that the Arkansas court erred by granting summary judgment. The conflict between expert witnesses created a genuine dispute of material fact, so summary judgment was improper. View "Paul Wills v. Encompass Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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Principal Life Insurance Company (Principal) offers a product called the Principal Fixed Income Option (PFIO), a stable value contract, to employer-sponsored 401(k) plans. Plaintiff on behalf of himself and a class of plan participants who deposited money into the PFIO, sued Principal under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), claiming that it (1) breached its fiduciary duty of loyalty by setting a low-interest rate for participants and (2) engaged in a prohibited transaction by using the PFIO contract to make money for itself. The district court granted summary judgment to Principal after concluding that it was not a fiduciary. The Eighth Circuit reversed, holding that Principal was a fiduciary. On remand, the district court entered judgment in favor of Principal on both claims after a bench trial. Plaintiff challenges the court’s judgment.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court agreed with the district court that Principal and the participants share an interest because a guaranteed CCR that is too high threatens the long-term sustainability of the guarantees of the PFIO, which is detrimental to the interest of the participants. The question then becomes whether the court clearly erred by finding that Principal set the CCR in the participants’ interests. The court held that the district court did not clearly err by finding that the deducts were reasonable and set by Principal in the participants’ interest of paying a reasonable amount for the PFIO’s administration.  Finally, the court affirmed the district court’s judgment in favor of Principal on the prohibited transaction claim because it is exempted from liability for receiving reasonable compensation. View "Frederick Rozo v. Principal Life Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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This insurance coverage dispute involves claims for coverage by Doe Run Resources Corporation against its insurer, St. Paul Fire & Marine Insurance Company, stemming from multiple lawsuits against Doe Run’s Peruvian subsidiary, Doe Run Peru, which allege various claims stemming from Doe Run Peru’s alleged release of toxic chemicals from a metallurgical plant. After an earlier coverage dispute in state court, where the court determined that a pollution exclusion in St. Paul’s policy precluded coverage, Doe Run filed this action alleging that additional, newly discovered facts implicated an exception to the exclusion that was not raised in the previous state court action. St. Paul filed a motion to dismiss based on issue and claim preclusion. The district court granted the motion based on issue preclusion, and Doe Run appeals.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed, concluding that the district court did not err in granting St. Paul’s motion to dismiss based on issue preclusion, and because the district court did not err, the court wrote, it need not consider the parties arguments regarding claim preclusion. The court explained that in the absence of subsequent events or circumstances representing an actual change between the prior state court action and this action, issue preclusion applies. Here, St. Paul did reconsider Doe Run’s claim for coverage when Doe Run resubmitted the claim following the nine newly filed lawsuits alleging pollution from the La Oroya plant, which alleged a new theory of liability. View "Doe Run Resources Corporation v. St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins Co" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit Rymer Companies, LLC, and Cannon Falls Mall (collectively, “Rymer”) claim their insurance policy (the “Policy”) with Cincinnati Insurance Company (“Cincinnati”) covers the costs of replacing the roof on a shopping mall owned by Rymer. Rymer appealed the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Cincinnati and its denial of Rymer’s motion for summary judgment.   At issue on appeal is whether the Policy’s ordinance-or-law endorsement covers the total replacement cost for the mall’s roof. The Second Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment and remanded. Here, the causal link between the tornado and the enforcement of Section 1511.3.1.1 is clear—the ordinance would not have been enforced “but for” the tornado. But for causation only requires a showing that in the absence of the former event, the latter would not have occurred Thus, the district court erred in concluding Rymer failed to show but-for causation between the tornado and the County’s enforcement of Section 1511.3.1.1. View "Cincinnati Insurance Company v. Rymer Companies, LLC" on Justia Law

Posted in: Insurance Law
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After disputes arose between a general contractor and two of its subcontractors, an arbitrator awarded the subcontractors money for the labor and material they had provided the general contractor along with associated costs, attorneys' fees, interest, and other sums. The general contractor declared bankruptcy before paying up, and the surety company that issued a bond guaranteeing the subcontractors would be paid tendered amounts representing only the part of the awards that compensated for labor and material (and some interest). But the subcontractors (or in one case, the subcontractor's assignee) wanted the whole of the awards and sued in federal court to get it.   The district court sided with the surety and granted it summary judgment. The Eighth Circuit reversed and remanded the district court’s decision granting summary judgment to the surety. The court held that the bond at issue obligates the surety to pay not only for labor and material but also for other related items to which Plaintiffs’ subcontracts entitle them (or their assignees). The court explained that the bond provided that if the subcontractors were not paid in full, which is the case here, they were entitled to sums "justly due," which included costs, attorneys' fees and interest. View "Owners Insurance Company v. Fidelity & Deposit Company" on Justia Law

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Rock Dental Arkansas PLLC and Rock Dental Missouri LLC (Rock Dental) operate dental clinics in Arkansas and Missouri. After Rock Dental’s insurer, Cincinnati Insurance Company (Cincinnati), denied coverage for Rock Dental’s claims for losses related to the COVID-19 pandemic, Rock Dental sued for breach of contract. The district court granted Cincinnati’s motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that Rock Dental has failed to plausibly allege that COVID-19 physically damaged its properties or that removal of any virus from its properties was required. Further, Rock Dental has not shown that it is entitled to coverage under the Civil Authority Coverage. The court explained that coverage requires allegations of physical loss of or damage to properties other than Rock Dental’s clinics. Rock Dental’s complaint contains no such allegations. View "Rock Dental Arkansas PLLC v. Cincinnati Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs appealed the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Safeco Insurance Company of Illinois (“Safeco”). The case involved a dispute over the applicability of an “other structure” exclusion in a homeowner’s policy when the building sustaining damage was “used in whole or in part for business.”   At issue is a loss caused by the failure of an in-floor radiant heat system in a pole barn that was occasionally used for business purposes. The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court’s summary judgment ruling in favor of Defendants. The court concluded that the business use exclusion for other structures precludes coverage for the loss, there is no evidence of bad faith on the part of Safeco, and Safeco had no duty to advise Plaintiffs about coverage.   The court explained that Plaintiffs’ arguments seeking to engraft an additional requirement on the business use exclusion—that the structure be used for “actual business activity”— or that the limited coverage for business property located on the premises somehow changes or modifies the plain language of the business use exclusion are unavailing. Because the policy language is unambiguous and the exclusion is neither obscure nor unexpected, the reasonable expectations doctrine is inapplicable. Thus, Safeco did not breach the contract when it denied coverage.Further, the court held that there is no other evidence of bad faith in the investigation of this claim. Finally, there is no evidence in the record to support a claim that Plaintiff either relied on the agent to provide appropriate coverage or needed protection from any specific threat. View "Joseph Wobig v. Safeco Ins Co of Illinois" on Justia Law

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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

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Torgerson Properties, Inc. ("TPI") develops and operates hotels, restaurants, and conference centers in Minnesota and Florida. It was covered by an all-risk property insurance policy issued by Continental Casualty Co. from May 1, 2019, through May 1, 2020. the policy’s Business Interruption and Civil Authority/Ingress-Egress provisions. The Business Interruption clause “covers against loss resulting from necessary interruption of business caused by direct physical loss of or damage to covered property.”   TPI filed a claim under the policy for lost business income during the COVID pandemic. After Continental denied the claim, TPI sued for breach of contract. Continental moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim. The district court granted Continental’s motion, and TPI appealed. The Eighth Circuit affirmed, holding that the district court was correct to dismiss TPI’s breach of contract action for failure to state a claim.   The court reasoned that insurance provisions covering “direct physical loss of or damage to property” are not triggered unless “there [is] some physicality to the loss or damage of property.” Oral Surgeons, P.C. v. Cincinnati Ins. Co., 2 F.4th 1141 (8th Cir. 2021) (relying on Minnesota law).  TPI tried to distinguish this case from Oral Surgeons by alleging that the virus was actually present on its property. However, TPI failed to show that causal link. The contamination did not cause TPI’s business interruption; the shutdown orders did. TPI would have been subject to the exact same restrictions even if its premises weren’t contaminated. And the cause of TPI’s business interruption—governmental orders alone—is not a direct physical loss. View "Torgerson Properties, Inc. v. Continental Casualty Company" on Justia Law