Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Insurance Law
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Eghtesad’s pro se complaint claimed that he leased property to Martinez; State Farm issued Martinez a fire and liability insurance policy; Eghtesad was named on the policy as an additional insured; Eghtesad sought coverage for property damage; and State Farm told Eghtesad he was covered only for claims of slander. Eghtesad did not file an opposition to State Farm’s demurrer but asked for 60 days to try to settle and get counsel. The court continued the hearing. On the day his opposition was due, Eghtesad sought a further continuance of 90 days, informing the court that he had been involved in an auto accident. He attached a note from his doctor. The court granted Eghtesad “one final continuance” and set the hearing out for two additional weeks. Three days before the new hearing date, without having filed a response to the demurrer, Eghtesad sought another continuance, again providing a doctor’s note. The court did not grant a further continuance and sustained the demurrer without leave to amend.The court of appeal reversed, finding that Eghtesad should have been given an opportunity to amend his complaint. For an original complaint, regardless of whether the plaintiff has requested leave to amend, a trial court’s denial of leave to amend constitutes an abuse of discretion unless the complaint “shows on its face that it is incapable of amendment.” View "Eghtesad v. State Farm General Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Defendant Navigators Specialty Insurance Company (Navigators) appealed a trial court order denying its special motion to strike under California’s anti-SLAPP statute. Plaintiff Trilogy Plumbing, Inc. (Trilogy) alleged that Navigators, as Trilogy’s insurer, gave instructions with which Trilogy did not agree to attorneys Navigators had retained to defend Trilogy and wrongfully negotiated settlements without Trilogy’s consent. Navigators contended the alleged conduct constituted protected activity under Code of Civil Procedure section 425.17 (e)(2) and, therefore, the trial court erred by denying the anti-SLAPP motion. After review, the Court of Appeal affirmed: the allegations challenged by the anti-SLAPP motion described Navigators’ mishandling of the claims process with regard to 33 different lawsuits involving Trilogy. While the alleged acts were generally connected to litigation, they did not include any written or oral statement or writing made in connection with an issue under consideration or review by a judicial body and therefore did not constitute protected activity under section 425.16. View "Trilogy Plumbing, Inc. v. Navigators Specialty Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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Defendant ReadyLink Healthcare, Inc. (ReadyLink) was a nurse staffing company that placed nurses in hospitals, typically on a short-term basis. Plaintiff State Compensation Insurance Fund (SCIF) was a public enterprise fund created by statute as a workers' compensation insurer. Premiums that SCIF charged were based in part on the employer's payroll for a particular insurance year. SCIF and ReadyLink disputed the final amount of premium ReadyLink owed to SCIF for the 2005 policy year (September 1, 2005 to September 1, 2006). ReadyLink considered certain payments made to its nurses as per diem payments; SCIF felt those should have been considered as payroll under the relevant workers' compensation regulations. The Insurance Commissioner concurred with SCIF's characterization of the payments. A trial court rejected ReadyLink's petition for a writ of administrative mandamus to prohibit the Insurance Commissioner from enforcing its decision, and an appellate court affirmed the trial court's judgment. SCIF subsequently filed the action underlying this appeal, later moving for a judgment on the pleadings, claiming the issue of the premium ReadyLink owed for the 2005 policy year had been previously determined in the administrative proceedings, which was then affirmed after judicial review. The trial court granted SCIF's motion for judgment on the pleadings. On appeal, ReadyLink conceded it previously litigated and lost its challenge to SCIF's decision to include per diem amounts as payroll for the 2005 insurance year, but argued it never had the opportunity to challenge whether SCIF otherwise properly calculated the premium amount that it claims was due pursuant to the terms of the contract between the parties, or whether SCIF's past conduct, which ReadyLink alleged included SCIF's acceptance of ReadyLink's exclusions of its per diem payments from payroll in prior policy years and SCIF's exclusion of per diem amounts in paying out on workers' compensation claims filed by ReadyLink employees, might bar SCIF from being entitled to collect that premium amount under the contract. To this, the Court of Appeal concurred the trial court erred in granting SCIF's motion for judgment on the pleadings. Judgment was reversed, and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "State Comp. Ins. Fund v. ReadyLink Healthcare, Inc." on Justia Law

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After defending the general contractor in two construction defect actions, general liability insurer St. Paul Mercury Insurance Company (St. Paul) sought reimbursement of defense costs under an equitable subrogation theory against six subcontractors (defendants) that had worked on the underlying construction projects and whose contracts required them to defend the general contractor in suits involving allegations related to their work. After a bench trial, the court denied St. Paul’s claim. Relying on Patent Scaffolding Co. v. William Simpson Constr. Co., 256 Cal.App.2d 506, 514 (1967), the trial court concluded St. Paul had not demonstrated it was fair to shift all of the defense costs to defendants because their failure to defend the general contractor had not caused the homeowners to bring the construction defect actions. St. Paul argued this conclusion misconstrued the law governing equitable subrogation and therefore constitutes an abuse of discretion. To this, the Court of Appeal agreed: (1) a cause of action based on equitable subrogation allowed an insurer to step into the shoes of its insured and recover only what the insured would be entitled to recover from the defendants; and (2) the appropriate inquiry should have been whether defendants’ failure to defend the general contractor caused St. Paul to incur the defense costs, not whether that failure caused the underlying lawsuits. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded to the trial court to grant judgment in St. Paul's favor and for a determination of defense costs each defendant owed. View "Pulte Home Corp. v. CBR Electric, Inc." on Justia Law

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The 2015 Valley Fire caused smoke damage to the Fadeeffs’ home, insured under a State Farm homeowners’ policy. Linen wall covering inside the home had started to buckle and the Fadeeffs had health concerns. With State Farm’s approval, the Fadeeffs retained ServPro to assist with smoke and soot mitigation and cleaning. State Farm’s independent adjuster (Gannaway) reported that the home was “well maintained” and that “[a]ll damage is related to smoke and soot.” State Farm made payments totaling $50,000. The Fadeeffs hired a public adjuster and submitted supplemental claims, totaling $75,000. State Farm’s independent adjuster (Carpenter), who is not a licensed adjuster in California and not licensed in any building trade reported he could not find smoke damage. State Farm retained FACS, which took only surface samples from the home and determined that no additional cleaning was required. State Farm denied the supplemental claims. The Fadeeffs filed suit, alleging insurance bad faith. The court granted State Farm summary judgment.The court of appeal reversed, concluding that multiple disputed facts made summary judgment inappropriate. It is not possible to conclude that it is indisputable that the basis for denial was reasonable. There are triable issues regarding whether State Farm could have reasonably relied on its experts. A jury should determine the issue of punitive damages. View "Fadeeff v. State Farm General Insurance Co." on Justia Law

Posted in: Insurance Law
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Plaintiffs-appellants James and Maria Mosley rented out a home they owned that defendant-respondent Pacific Specialty Insurance Company (PSIC) insured under a homeowners’ policy (the Property). The Mosleys’ tenant started growing marijuana in the Property. To support his marijuana-growing operation, the tenant re-routed the Property’s electrical system to steal power from a main utility line. The tenant’s re-routed electrical system caused a fuse to blow, which started a fire that damaged the Property. PSIC denied coverage, citing a provision in the Mosleys’ policy that excluded any loss associated with “[t]he growing of plants” or the “manufacture, production, operation or processing of . . . plant materials.” The Mosleys sued, but the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the insurance company, finding that the Mosleys had control over their tenant's conduct. A divided Court of Appeals reversed, finding no evidence the Mosleys were aware of their tenant's marijuana growing operation, and because the record was silent as to what the Moseleys could or should have done to discover it. "[T]he Mosleys did not use the Property in a prescribed way that would have allowed PSIC to suspend their insurance and deny all coverage. More importantly, contrary to PSIC’s assertion and the trial court’s finding, there was no evidence Mosleys knowingly increased a risk of fire hazard. In addition, a fact issue remains as to whether [the Tenant's] hazard-increasing conduct was within their control. If it was, then PSIC properly denied coverage. But by denying the Mosleys coverage for Lopez’s conduct, regardless of the Mosleys’ control over or knowledge of it, the Policy did not provide 'substantially equivalent' coverage to that required under [Insurance Code] section 2071." View "Mosley v. Pacific Specialty Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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North Edwards Water District (the District) selected Clark Bros., Inc. (Clark) as its general or direct contractor on a public works project to build an arsenic removal water treatment plant. Clark hired subcontractor Crosno Construction (Crosno) to build and coat two steel reservoir tanks. The subcontract contained a "pay-when-paid" provision that stated Clark would pay Crosno within a reasonable time of receiving payments from the District, but that this reasonable time "in no event shall be less than the time Contractor and Subcontractor require to pursue to conclusion their legal remedies against Owner or other responsible party to obtain payment . . . ." After Crosno completed most of its work, a dispute arose between the District and Clark halting the project. As Clark sued the District, Crosno sought to recover payments owed under the public works payment bond that Clark had obtained for the project. The issue this case presented for the Court of Appeal's review involved Crosno's claim against the bond surety, Travelers Casualty and Surety Company of America (Travelers). At issue was whether the pay-when-paid provision in Crosno's subcontract precluded Crosno from recovering under the payment bond while Clark's lawsuit against the District was pending. Relying on Wm. R. Clarke Corp. v. Safeco Ins. Co., 15 Cal.4th 882 (1997), the trial court found the pay-when-paid provision here unenforceable because it affected or impaired Crosno's payment bond rights in violation of Civil Code section 8122. With the facts largely undisputed, the court granted Crosno's motion for summary judgment and entered judgment in its favor for principal due plus prejudgment interest. Travelers argued the trial court misconstrued Wm. R. Clarke and erred in failing to enforce the pay-when-paid provision against the bond claim. After carefully considering the parties' arguments, the Court of Appeal agreed with the trial court's analysis and affirmed. View "Crosno Construction, Inc. v. Travelers Casualty etc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against defendants after defendants denied plaintiff's claim for damages to its apartment complex caused by a ruptured underground water main.The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's judgment following summary adjudication in favor of defendants on plaintiff's claim for breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing relating to the parties' insurance contract. The court agreed with the trial court that there is no material dispute whether defendants denied the claim in good faith based on an expert report concluding the damage was not caused by the broken water main. In this case, there is no dispute that defendants based their claim denial on the final expert report, and there is no evidence that the report was contrived or false. View "501 East 51st Street v. Kookmin Best Insurance Co." on Justia Law

Posted in: Insurance Law
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Travelers won summary judgment in this duty-to-defend insurance dispute with its insured, KLA. The superior court concluded that the language of the commercial liability insurance policies, which covered claims for “malicious prosecution,” could not have created an objectively reasonable expectation that Travelers would defend a “Walker Process claim” against KLA. The Walker Process claim that KLA tendered to Travelers alleged that KLA had fraudulently procured a patent and used that patent to attempt to monopolize the market for a product. KLA argued that it was objectively reasonable for it to expect the “malicious prosecution” coverage in its policies to extend to this Walker Process claim. The court of appeal affirmed. Coverage language is construed as of the time of issuance of the policy, so the construction of that language cannot depend on the precise allegations made in a subsequent complaint. The history of prior litigation between the parties did not change the basis for this claim into one for malicious prosecution because there were no allegations of any legal proceedings involving the patent. View "Travelers Property Casualty Co. of America v. KLA-Tencor Corp." on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Court of Appeal's review centered on whether a binding arbitration clause in an insurance policy issued by plaintiff Philadelphia Indemnity Ins. Co., applied to a third party, defendant SMG Holdings, Inc. The policy had been issued to Future Farmers of America, which was holding an event inside the Fresno Convention Center. Future Farmers had licensed the use of the convention center from its property manager, SMG. As part of the license, Future Farmers agreed to obtain coverage for itself and to name SMG as an additional insured. Thereafter, Future Farmers obtained a policy from Philadelphia Indemnity, which provided coverage for “managers, landlords, or lessors of premises” as well as for any organization “as required by contract.” The policy also contained an arbitration clause for coverage disputes. During the Future Farmers event, an attendee was injured in the convention center parking lot. When the injured man sued SMG, which also managed the parking lot, SMG tendered its defense to Philadelphia under the policy. Philadelphia refused, believing SMG was not covered under the policy for an injury occurring in the parking lot. After two years, Philadelphia petitioned the trial court to compel arbitration against SMG. The trial court denied the petition, concluding no evidence was presented that the parties to the policy intended to benefit SMG, and Philadelphia was equitably estopped from claiming SMG was required to arbitrate the dispute. Philadelphia contended: (1) the trial court erred in determining SMG was neither a third party beneficiary of the policy, nor equitably estopped from avoiding the policy’s arbitration clause; (2) alternatively, the court erred in finding Philadelphia estopped from compelling SMG to arbitrate; and (3) the coverage dispute was encompassed by the arbitration clause and arbitration should be ordered. The Court of Appeal agreed SMG could be compelled to arbitrate. Judgment was reversed, the trial court's order vacated, and the trial court directed to order arbitration of the coverage dispute. View "Philadelphia Indemnity Ins. Co. v. SMG Holdings, Inc." on Justia Law