It remains to be seen whether the current economic turmoil will result in significant additional bank failures. But if history is any guide, to the extent that there are further bank failures, there likely will also be follow-on lawsuits in which the regulators pursue claims against the failed institutions’ former directors and officers. As these claims emerge, there may also be disputed issues regarding the applicability of the failed institutions’ D&O insurance policies.
As I noted in a recent post (here), among the issues that may arise is the applicability of the regulatory exclusion. In addition, another issue that may arise relates to the potential applicability of the so-called “insured v. insured” exclusion found in most D&O insurance policies.
The “insured v. insured” exclusion typically precludes coverage for claims by or on behalf of the insured corporation, its affiliates or directors and officers against other insured persons. Over the years, the standard exclusion has been modified to provide coverage carve-backs for certain types of claims for which coverage would otherwise be precluded, such as derivative claims and employment practices claims.
During the S&L crisis in the late 80s and early 90s, the federal banking regulators actively pursued claims against the failed institutions’ former officials. As described in a July 29, 2008 memorandum from the Latham & Watkins law firm entitled “The ‘Insured v. Insured’ Exclusion in D&O Policies” (here), many of these regulator claims implicated the insured v. insured exclusion.
As the law firm’s memorandum explains, in many instances the regulators were able to argue successfully that the exclusion should not apply to preclude coverage for their claims, because the lawsuits were not the “collusive” type disputes for which the exclusion historically was meant to preclude coverage. However, as the memorandum also notes, there were cases in which the exclusion was held to bar coverage for the regulators’ claims, on the grounds that the regulator was in effect “standing in the shoes” of the failed institution.
The memorandum correctly points out that the “insured v. insured” exclusion is “heavily litigated” and “continues to be at the heart of many coverage disputes.” There are a number of reasons why coverage disputes involving the exclusion are so frequent.
First, over the years, the scope of persons insured under the typical D&O policy has expanded – for example, to include “employees” within the definition of insured persons for purposes of securities claims. In addition, many companies for their own reasons have sought to schedule additional named insureds to the policy by endorsement. While these policy extensions may be desirable from the policyholder’s perspective, problems can arise later if the extensions are not also coordinated with the language and operation of the “insured v. insured” exclusion.
Second, companies may take on forms or structures that raise fundamental questions about who is an insured under the policy. For example, insolvent companies may continue in business as a debtor-in-possession or may have its activities taken over by a receiver. These and other situations have raised and continue to raise a myriad of contentious questions about the scope and applicability of the insured v. insured exclusion.
Third, in many lawsuits, the plaintiffs’ claims may be based on information or assistance provided by former company officials. The former officials’ involvement may run afoul of the wording in the typical insured v. insured exclusion, which specifies that for claims to be covered they must be “instigated and continued totally independent of, and totally without the solicitation of, or assistance of, or active participation of, or intervention of” any insured person.
The question whether a former official’s litigation involvement falls within one of these precluded categories is a frequent source of contentious coverage disputes. (Refer here for discussion of a recent case involving these issues.) In order to try to reduce the opportunities for these types of disputes, many carriers will now agree upon request to add wording providing that the exclusion will not apply in the event of the involvement of former officials whose departure was more than a specified amount of time before (typically, four years).
As the Latham & Watkins memorandum discusses, one of the issues frequently disputed in these cases is whether the underlying claim must be “collusive” in order for the exclusion to be triggered. As the Latham & Watkins memo explains, the exclusion’s original intent was to bar coverage for collusive claims. However, not all courts have required collusion for the exclusion to be applied (refer, for example, here), although there are many jurisdictions in which collusion has been held to be required.
The importance of the “insured v. insured” exclusion and the opportunities to revise the standard wording to reduce the exclusion’s preclusive effect highlights the importance of addressing these basic wording issues at the time the policy is purchased. As the Latham & Watkins memorandum notes, each company “should seek the assistance of an insurance broker to attempt to limit the exclusion’s breadth.” The potential significance of these issues underscores the need for companies to enlist the assistance of an experienced and knowledgeable broker in their acquisition of D&O insurance.
Duties of Outside Directors Under Delaware Law: As noted by the ever-vigilant Francis Pileggi on his Delaware and Commercial Litigation Blog (here), on July 29, 2008, the Delaware Chancery Court issued an opinion in the Ryan v Lyondell Chemical Company case (opinion here) that has important implications for the duties and potential liabilities of outside directors in the merger and acquisition context.
The court held that the outside directors were not entitled to summary judgments and would have to stand trial for their role in the sale of the company, as Pileggi notes, “despite selling the company to the only known buyer for a substantial premium.”
As explained in the opinion, when the Lyondell board received the offer, it delegated much of the negotiations to the company’s Chairman and CEO; never conducted a “market check to determine whether a better price could be obtained; agreed to a deal that included protective rights, including a “no-shop provision.” Moreover, “the whole deal was considered, negotiated, and approved by the Board in less than seven days.”
The Chancery Court held that the Board could not invoke the exculpatory provisions under the company’s charter and the Delaware Code because “the Board’s apparent failure to make any effort to comply with the teachings of Revlon and its progeny implicates the directors’ good faith and, thus, their duty of loyalty, thereby, at least for the moment, depriving them of the benefit of the exculpatory charter provision.”
Pileggi’s post does an admirable job explaining the implications of the decision. Further valuable analysis of the decision can be found on the Legal Profession Blog (here).
Monster Settlement, Dude: As reflected in its July 31, 2008 press release (here), Monster Worldwide has reached a settlement in the options backdating related securities action lawsuit pending against the company and certain of its directors and officers. As reflected in the press release, the settlement consists of “a payment to the class by the defendants of $47.5 million in full settlement of the claims asserted in the securities class action. The Company's cost is anticipated to be approximately $25 million (net of insurance and contribution from another defendant).”
The Monster settlement is only the latest of the options backdating related securities class action settlements. A full list of settlements and case dispositions in the options backdating related litigation can be accessed here.
A WSJ.com Law Blog post describing the Monster settlement (and containing a nice link to The D&O Diary) can be found here.
The Securities Litigation Watch blog as updated its detailed analysis of the options backdating securities class action lawsuits, which can be found here.