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Summaries and analysis of recent Delaware court decisions concerning business-related litigation.
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Addressing an issue for which there is a split in authority, the Delaware Superior Court held that a Civil Investigative Demand (“CID”) initiated by government authorities will trigger an insurer’s duty to defend and indemnify an insured. After plaintiff Conduent State Healthcare came under investigation for Medicaid fraud, defendant AIG declined to advance defense costs, arguing that the investigation, by itself, did not constitute an insurable claim under plaintiff’s policy. The Superior Court held that the policy language providing coverage for a “Claim alleging a Wrongful Act” extended to the CID. The Court rejected the argument that “investigating an unlawful act by the insured, is different from alleging an unlawful act,” finding that to be a distinction without a difference. The Court relied upon insurance contract interpretation principles and construed the policy against its drafter, holding that the duty to defend and indemnify should be interpreted broadly in favor of coverage.
This is an important decision because it upholds the right of an insurance company to recover defense costs it advanced when it is later determined there was no insurance coverage for the underlying litigation. While the opinion applies Tennessee law, some parts of the opinion suggest that the Court would reach the same result if Delaware law applied. That is so even though the Court recognized that permitting such a recovery is the minority positon in the United States. The opinion is also useful for its explanation of how an insurer may preserve its right to recover those advances by making it clear that it is advancing the costs subject to its right to recover them later if a court decides there was no insurance coverage.
Supreme Court of Delaware, Applying New York Law, finds that Settlement Amounts were not Uninsurable Disgorgement Under D&O Policies
The Supreme Court of Delaware affirmed the Superior Court’s finding that under the relevant D&O policies at issue, the settlement amounts TIAA-CREF paid to class action plaintiffs did not represent uninsurable disgorgement. In doing so, the Supreme Court distinguished certain cases from New York relied upon by the insurance companies that held settlements represented uninsurable disgorgement. Unlike the cases cited by the defendants, the settlement amounts at issue in the underlying cases here did not represent the return of ill-gotten gains. After this decision, whether or not a claim will be treated as uninsurable disgorgement should be an important consideration by defendants when deciding whether to settle merger objection litigation with a payment to the class.
This is an interesting decision for two reasons. First, it settles the choice of law in a coverage case for a nationwide set of claims. The principal place of business for the insured is the law to apply. More ›
This is an important insurance coverage decision. It upholds the claim of an insurer to bring a coverage suit to determine that a fraud exclusion applies to bar coverage on an underlying litigation that asserted a claim for fraud. This is important because fraud exclusions often depend on a finding in a final judgment of fraud by the insured in the underlying litigation. An insured may try to avoid such a judgment by settling and then asking the insurer to pay the settlement. See e.g. the decision in Arch Insurance Company v. Murdock, Del. Super. C.A. N16C-01-104 EMD (December 21, 2016), denying the use of a fraud exclusion when the underlying case was settled.
D&O policies often attempt to exclude from coverage sums paid to disgorge unlawful profits. The underlying theory is that the company did not suffer a true loss when it has to give back something that it never should have had in the first place. This decision tackles the hard problem of applying that theory in specific circumstances. The Court held that when a company settles a claim without admitting it has made an unlawful profit then the insurer has to prove the sums paid were in fact a return of an illegal profit. Merely settling a claim for some amount does not establish disgorgement occurred, even when the claim itself may have made that allegation. In particular, when the actual settlement agreement does not refer to a return of an illegal gain, there is no tie to actual disgorgement and the exclusion may not apply. Hence, when settling a claim it is important to consider how the settlement agreement should read.
The backdrop to this decision is an interesting and unfortunate one involving a divorce, allegations of illegal obscene material possessed by the former husband, followed by a civil lawsuit between the former spouses after the former husband was acquitted. Under the facts of this case, the Court finds the homeowner insurance provider has a duty to defend the former wife given the allegations of intentional and negligent conduct in her providing a harddrive and statements to the authorities about her former husband, which allegedly led to his physical injury.