When an ex- Chairman, CEO and Director sues his former company, are the company’s defense expenses covered under its D&O insurance policy? According to the June 24, 2011 report and recommendation of Middle District of Tennessee Magistrate Judge John S. Bryant, applying Tennessee law, they are not. A copy of Magistrate Bryant’s report and recommendation can be found here.
In October 2009, David Resha, a current shareholder and former Chairman, CEO and director of American Security Bank & Trust Company, sued the company in Tennessee state court for alleged violations of law and fiduciary duty. Resha alleged that the company had violated its bylaws and asserted the right to inspect the company’s books and records. American Security is the sole named defendant in the action.
The company submitted the action as a claim to its D&O insurer, seeking reimbursement for its defense expenses. The carrier denied coverage for the claim and American Security filed an action against the carrier alleging breach of contract and bad faith and seeking a judicial declaration that all past and future expenses incurred in defending against Resha’s claim are covered.
The policy contained the standard D&O insurance agreements for nonindemnifiable loss (Side A coverage) protecting the individual directors and officers in the event indemnification is not available to them due to insolvency or legal prohibition, and for corporate reimbursement (Side B coverage), reimbursing the company to the extent it does indemnify the individual directors and officers. At least as presented in the Magistrate Judge’s report and recommendation, the policy did not contain a separate insuring agreement providing coverage for the entity’s own losses (Side C coverage).
The policy defined the term “Claim” to mean a “civil proceeding commenced by the service of the complaint … instituted against an Insured Person or against the Company, coverage is granted to the Company.”
Resha’s lawsuit named only American Security as defendant in the lawsuit. Due to the absence of an entity coverage insuring provision, there is no separate coverage for the company under American Security’s D&O insurance policy. The company nevertheless argued that the insurer should reimburse the company’s defense costs because the complaint asserts bad faith actions and breaches of fiduciary duty by American Security directors, and therefore “impliedly” asserts claims against the directors.
The Magistrate Judge rejected American Security’s arguments, holding that because Resha’s complaint did not name the directors as defendants, the action has not been “instituted against” them. He said that to find under these circumstances that Resha’s action was “instituted against” the directors, the court “would be required to find the words ‘instituted against’ to be ambiguous.” He said that ‘after considering the usual, natural, and ordinary meaning of these words, there is no ambiguity to be found and any premise to the contrary must be rejected.” He added that “to find otherwise would violate the intent of this D&O policy and effectively change it into a comprehensive corporate liability policy.”
The Magistrate Judge went on to hold that “to the extent that a claim has been made against the directors and officers of American Security in substance, though not in form,” the claim would be barred by the policy’s Insured vs. Insured exclusion, since Resha, as the company’s former CEO is an insured person under the policy.
American Security had tried to argue that because Resha was also a shareholder, his claim was in the nature of a derivative claim, and therefore his action fell within the exception to the Insured vs. Insured exclusion for derivative claims. Without deciding whether or not Resha’s action was a derivative claim, the Magistrate Judge concluded that the derivative claim exception to the Insured vs. Insured exclusion did not apply, because Resha’s action was not maintained “independently of, and totally without the participation of any Insured” as would be required in order for the derivative claim exception to the Insured vs. Insured exclusion to apply.
The Magistrate Judge recommended that the insurer’s motion to dismiss be granted and the complaint against it dismissed.
Assuming that the description of American Security’s D&O insurance policy in Magistrate Judge Bryant’s report and recommendation is complete, its policy is somewhat unusual as most current D&O insurance policies include a so-called entity coverage insuring provision (Side C coverage) providing insurance for the entity’s own separate liability exposures. Subject to all of the typical policy’s terms and conditions, entity coverage does provide a form of corporate liability protection.
However, even if American Security’s D&O insurance policy had carried the typical entity coverage insuring provision, Resha’s claim would still have run afoul of the policy’s Insured vs. Insured exclusion, and indeed if anything the exclusion’s applicability would have been even more clear.
The inclusion of the Insured vs. Insured exclusion in the D&O insurance policy is usually explained as a way to avoid the provision of insurance coverage for “collusive” claims. But that is not the only reason the exclusion is there. It is also a means to avoid insurance for corporate “infighting” where company officials attempt to pursue their disputes and rivalries in Court. The requirement that a derivative claim must be independent and without the participation of an insured person in order for the exclusion’s coverage carve back for derivative claims to apply is just an illustration as the ways the typical exclusions seeks to avoid coverage for infighting type claims.
Although Magistrate Judge Bryant’s report and recommendation does not say, it seems possible that Resha’s action represents just such an example of corporate infighting. The report and recommendation does not explain why Resha no longer is Chairman, CEO and a director of the company, but his action alleging by law violations and seeking access to the company’s books and records sounds like part of an ongoing dispute after his departure from office. In any event, Resha’s claim is the kind for which most D&O insurance policy’s typically would not provide coverage.
For a more detailed discussion of the Insured v. Insured exclusion generally, refer here.
Morrison: Domestic Transaction in Other Securities?: In its June 2010 decision in the Morrison v. National Australia Bank case, the U.S. Supreme Court said that the Exchange Act applies only to “transactions in securities listed on domestic exchanges, and domestic transactions in other securities.” Among other issues with which the lower courts have struggled in the wake of Morrison has been the reach of Morrison’s second-prong; that is, what are “domestic transactions in other securities?”
A July 8, 2011 decision by the Eleventh Circuit may shed at least a little bit of light on this question. The case, styled as Quail Cruise Ship Management Ltd. V. Agencia de Viagens CVC Tur Limitada, which can be found here, involved the sale of M/V Pacific, a boat once featured in The Love Boat television series. The sale was effected by a transfer of shares. The buyer alleged that it had been induced to purchase the shares through a series of misrepresentations, in violation of the U.S. securities laws.
The district court had concluded that it did not have jurisdiction over the dispute because the shares were not listed on a U.S. exchange (the Eleventh Circuit correctly noted that the issue was not jurisdictional at all, but was rather under Morrison a question as to whether or not the U.S. securities laws applied).
The Eleventh Circuit held that because the complaint alleged that "the acquisition of the Templeton stock closed in Miami, Florida, on June 10, 2008, by means of the parties submitting the stock transfer documents by express courier into this District," the Complaint at least alleged that the final act to effect the share transfer took place in the U.S. Of course, whether or not the share transfer actually took place in the United States and whether the transfer actually effected the sale of the ship are questions of fact for later determination.
Accordingly, the Eleventh Circuit held that it “cannot say at this stage in the proceedings that the alleged transfer of title to the shares in the United States lies beyond § 10(b)’s territorial reach.” the Eleventh Circuit vacated the district court’s dismissal and remanded the case for further proceedings.
A further discussion of this case can be found in a July 15, 2011 post on the Corporate and Financial Weekly Digest blog, here.
The Message is Getting Through in China, Too — At Least to a Certain Extent: In numerous posts on this blog, most recently here, I have noted the increasingly challenging D&O insurance market for U.S.-listed Chinese companies. The word about the challenging insurance market for these firms apparently is getting heard in China, too, at least based on one recent article. On June 24, 2011, the People’s Daily Online (English edition) carried an article entitled “D&O Premiums Skyrocket After U.S. Lawsuits” (here).
Although it is good that this message is getting communicated in China, the article soft-pedals the problem. D&O insurance premiums for U.S.-listed Chinese companies have gone up much more than the 20% increase cited in the article – that is, if you can find coverage at all. The article does at least go on to note, with greater (but not yet complete) accuracy, that in some cases the premiums have doubled. The premium increases have in fact been even more dramatic than that.
“Starring Your Love Boat Crew”: Those of you interested in having a look at the M/V Pacific or who just want a short trip down memory lane will want to view this video clip of the opening credits from The Love Boat, which according to Wikipedia, aired on television from 1977 to 1986.