Reinsurer Prevails In Dismissing Breach Of Contract, Bad Faith Claims Asserted By Underlying Policyholder

Carlton Fields

A federal district court in Pennsylvania recently dismissed all claims asserted by an insured against a reinsurer in a coverage dispute over an explosion at plaintiff Three Rivers Hydroponics (“Three Rivers”)’s commercial greenhouse. Three Rivers’s greenhouse was insured by Florists’ Mutual Insurance Co. (“Florists”), which in turn reinsured that policy through Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company (“HSB”). Three Rivers’s amended complaint alleged breach of contract, bad faith, and civil conspiracy claims against both Florists and HSB. In this opinion the court granted defendants’ motion to dismiss aimed at removing HSB from the lawsuit and dismissing the civil conspiracy claim against both.

First, the court dismissed the breach of contract claim against HSB because there was no privity of contract between it and Three Rivers and Three Rivers was not a third-party beneficiary of the reinsurance agreement. Simply put, Three Rivers was not a party to the reinsurance agreement between HSB and Florists and HSB was not a party to the insurance policy between Three Rivers and Florists; nor had HSB assumed Florists’ obligations under the insurance policy. Additionally, Three Rivers was not a third-party beneficiary of the reinsurance agreement because the parties did not express an intention to benefit Three Rivers anywhere in the relevant contract and there were no compelling circumstances to grant third-party beneficiary status. In particular, the court rejected Three Rivers’s argument the implied covenant of good faith evidences intent to benefit third-parties because allowing it would mean that every reinsurance agreement necessarily intends to benefit individual underlying policyholders, an untenable result under Pennsylvania law.

Second, the court dismissed the bad faith claim against HSB after finding it was not an “insurer” under Pennsylvania’s bad faith statute. HSB was not identified as an insurer in policy documents, was not a party to the policy, and did not act as an insurer. Furthermore, Pennsylvania courts have held that parties lacking contractual relationships with the insured (such as reinsurers) cannot be sued under the bad faith statute.

Third, the court dismissed the civil conspiracy claim against both defendants. The court side-stepped deciding plaintiff’s argument that bad faith can be the predicate tort for a civil conspiracy claim by holding that the conspiracy claim failed to allege the required malice element where it could not allege defendants acted without a business motive.

Finally, the court partially granted Florists’ motion to strike. It struck the complaint’s introduction because it technically violated the requirement for numbered paragraphs, but denied the requested strikes otherwise because the procedural device was not intended to address the merits and defendants failed to satisfy the heavy burden required for a motion to strike.

Three Rivers Hydroponics, LLC v. Florists’ Mut. Ins. Co., Case No. 15-809 (W.D. Pa. Feb. 8, 2018).

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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