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Posts Tagged ‘Statute of Limitations’

What can a Federal Arbitration Act Practitioner Learn from an ERISA MPPAA Pension Plan Arbitration Case?

May 5th, 2015 Appellate Practice, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Arbitration Risks, Awards, ERISA, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, Federal Courts, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, Labor Arbitration, Managing Dispute Risks, MPPAA Arbitration, Practice and Procedure, United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit Comments Off on What can a Federal Arbitration Act Practitioner Learn from an ERISA MPPAA Pension Plan Arbitration Case?

 Fourth Circuit Says Proceeding to Overturn ERISA MPPAA Pension Plan Dispute Arbitration Award is Commenced by Filing a Complaint—not a Federal Arbitration Act Application, Petition or Motion

Introduction

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“Sorry, I’m a bit of a stickler for paperwork. Where would we be if we didn’t follow the correct procedures?”

Sam Lowry (played by Jonathan Pryce ), Brazil (1985)

Dystopian-future bureaucratic procedure may be one thing, but federal court litigation procedure is quite another—not because of where we might or might not be if we don’t follow it—but simply because not following it can have disastrous consequences. That is true in spades in Federal Arbitration Act enforcement litigation, where proceedings to enforce arbitration agreements and awards are governed by a strange amalgam of procedural rules derived from the Federal Arbitration Act, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and district court local rules. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 1, 2, 3, 6(c), 7, 8, 9, 10, 12, 15, 43(c) & 81(a)(6)(B); 9 U.S.C. §§ 6, 9, 10, 11, 12 & 13; see, e.g., IFC Interconsult v. Safeguard Int’l Partners, 438 F.3d 298, 308-09 (3rd Cir. 2006); Productos Mercantiles Industriales, S.A.  v. Faberge USA, Inc., 23 F.3d 41, 46 (2d Cir. 1994).

On April 21, 2015 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit decided Freight Drivers and Helpers Local Union No. 557 Pension Fund v. Penske Logistics LLC,  ___ F.3d ___, No. 14-1464, slip op. (4th Cir. April 21, 2015), a case that helps illustrate the risks associated with assuming that the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure’s liberal pleading and amendment rules apply to applications for relief under the Federal Arbitration Act. As it turns out, the appellant did nothing wrong by assuming that the Federal Arbitration Act’s procedural rules did not trump Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, because the case fell under the Multiemployer Pension Plan Amendments Act of 1980 (“MPPAA”), and the district court erred by interpreting the MPPAA to require compliance with Federal Arbitration Act litigation procedure rules.

The MPPAA was enacted to strengthen the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”)’s provisions designed to protect multi-employer pension plans (i.e., collectively bargained pension plans funded by multiple employers, which are generally participants in the same industry).  It features a mandatory arbitration requirement applicable to disputes about collectively bargained pension plans funded by multiple employers, including disputes about an employer’s withdrawal liability—that is the amount an employer must contribute to  the fund when it stops participating in it.

It requires a party seeking judicial review of an award to do so in 30-days and, as we’ll see, it contains a provision that at first glance appears to make the Federal Arbitration Act’s litigation procedure rules applicable to judicial review of an MPPAA arbitration award. The Court held that under the MPPAA, the Federal Arbitration Act governed only arbitration procedure, not litigation procedure, and that accordingly, the award challenger’s amended complaint related back to the timely-filed original one.

yay-608942-digitalEndingFreight Drivers illustrates how important compliance with Federal Arbitration Act procedures can be, especially given the short limitation periods applicable to motions to confirm, vacate, modify and correct awards.  Had the Federal Arbitration Act’s litigation procedures applied, then the plaintiff’s “amended complaint” might have been deemed time-barred on the ground that Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(c)’s relation-back provisions apply to pleadings only, and under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and the Federal Arbitration Act, the amended complaint had to be deemed to be a motion, not a pleading. As we’ll see, that’s what the district court concluded, and the Fourth Circuit decided the case on the sole ground that the Federal Arbitration Act did not apply to MPPAA litigation procedure. Continue Reading »

First Circuit Court of Appeals Decides Close Case in Favor of Confirming FINRA Arbitration Panel Award: Raymond James Financial Services, Inc. v. Fenyk

May 1st, 2015 Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Authority of Arbitrators, Awards, Choice-of-Law Provisions, Confirmation of Awards, Federal Courts, Grounds for Vacatur, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, Manifest Disregard of the Agreement, Manifest Disregard of the Law, Securities Arbitration, Statute of Limitations, United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit Comments Off on First Circuit Court of Appeals Decides Close Case in Favor of Confirming FINRA Arbitration Panel Award: Raymond James Financial Services, Inc. v. Fenyk

Introduction

Probably most of the Federal Arbitration Act Section 10(a)(4) outcome-review challenges that parties file are disposed of pretty easily because the applicable highly-deferential standard of review forecloses relief as long as the arbitrators were at least arguably interpreting the parties’ agreement, the applicable law or both. The most challenging cases are those falling either on or close to that imaginary, blurry line dividing arguable interpretation from clear disregard of the contract.  CfChicago Typographical Union v. Chicago Sun-Times, 935 F.2d 1501, 1506 (7th Cir. 1991) (“The zanier the award, the less plausible it becomes to ascribe it to a mere error in interpretation rather than to a willful disregard of the contract. This approach can make the line between error and usurpation waver.”).

yay-14640034-digitalIn Raymond James Financial Services, Inc. v.  Corp. v. Fenyk, No. 14-1252, slip op. (3rd Cir. Mar. 11, 2015), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit addressed one of those challenging cases. The panel in a FINRA arbitration (the “FINRA Arbitration Panel” or “Panel”) awarded a discharged stock broker $600,000.00 in back pay for wrongful termination, but the district court vacated the arbitration award because it concluded that the FINRA Arbitration Panel did not have the authority to award back pay in the circumstances. On appeal the First Circuit reversed, explaining in clear and cogent terms why the case, while close, was not one warranting Section 10(a)(4) vacatur.

Facts

Mr. Fenyk served as a Raymond James Financial Services (“Raymond James” or “James”) securities broker for seven years. His career there began in New York City, but he worked in Vermont beginning in 2004, managing a small branch office. He had an independent contractor agreement with Raymond James, entitled “Independent Sales Associate Agreement,” which stipulated that Florida law would govern any disputes. He also executed a Business Ethics Policy, which required him to arbitrate disputes “arising out of the independent contractor relationship.”

yay-17336082-digitalIn May 2009 Raymond James, during a routine client-communication review, discovered an e-mail sent to Fenyk’s former domestic partner, which suggested that Fenyk had an alcohol problem.  The e-mail referred to “Fenyk’s ‘slip’ and his ‘need [for] meetings and real sobriety for a dialoug [sic] with you.'” The e-mail also explained that “Fenyk’s ‘new AA friend was very hard on [him] last night.'” Slip op. at 3.

Raymond James terminated its relationship with Fenyk after it learned about Fenyk’s apparent alcohol problem. About  two years later, Fenyk filed suit “in Vermont state court alleging that he had been fired on account of his sexual orientation and his status as a recovering a recovering alcoholic, in violation of Vermont’s Fair Employment Practices Act (“VFEPA”), Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 21, § 495.” Slip op. at 4. Fenyk subsequently agreed to dismiss his complaint and commence a Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”) arbitration, as required by his agreement with Raymond James. Continue Reading »

Federal Arbitration Act Litigation Procedure Blog Posts on Final Arbitration Awards

December 30th, 2014 Arbitration and Mediation FAQs, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Awards, Confirmation of Awards, Functus Officio, Grounds for Vacatur, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, Loree & Loree Arbitration-Law Blogs, Nuts & Bolts, Nuts & Bolts: Arbitration, United States Supreme Court Comments Off on Federal Arbitration Act Litigation Procedure Blog Posts on Final Arbitration Awards

Back when we began posting in 2009 we published a “Nuts & Bolts”  series post about final arbitration awards, which you can read here. Interestingly, enough, that post, according to Google Analytics statistics, is one of the (if not the) most popular post we’ve ever published.

That may seem a bit strange, but it’s really not. Whether or not an arbitration award is a final arbitration award bears on a number of important issues, including whether the award can be confirmed, vacated, modified or corrected, and whether it is a decision that the arbitrators have the authority to revisit. And whether or not an arbitration award can be confirmed, vacated, modified or corrected before the conclusion of an ongoing arbitration proceeding has obvious time-bar consequences in light of the short limitation periods for confirming, vacating, modifying and correcting awards: to avoid forfeiture, it may be necessary to commence post-award Federal Arbitration Act enforcement proceedings before the arbitration proceeding has concluded. (See Loree Reins. & Arb. L. Forum posts here & here.)

Given the recent launch of  the Federal Arbitration Act Litigation Procedure Blog, and the need to start posting what we hope will be interesting and useful material, we decided to kick-off with the finality topic. Earlier today we published the first  segment of the series Federal Arbitration Act Finality: Is this Arbitration Decision a Final Award, An Interim Final Award, a Partial Award, a Partial Final Award or. . . What??, which you can read here.

That post outlines the topic and describes a hypothetical arbitration that gives rise to five types of awards and rulings, four of which are issued prior to the award that concludes the arbitration. Future posts  will discuss whether or not each type of award is, or may in some circumstances be, a final arbitration award for  purposes of Chapter 1 of the Federal Arbitration Act.

Another thing we’ll discuss will be the affect, if any, of Stolt-Nielsen, S.A. v. AnimalFeeds Int’l Corp., 559 U.S. 662 (2010) on the final award issue. Of all the many issues discussed in the Stolt-Nielsen case the one we hear relatively little commentary about is the Supreme Court’s rejection of the dissent’s argument that the class-arbitration consent award was not ripe for judicial review.  See 559 U.S. at 667 n.2. As part of the Federal Arbitration Act Litigation Procedure Blog final-award series, we’ll consider that aspect of the Supreme Court’s ruling and its relevance to the question whether a partial award can be a partial final award if the parties consent.

And unless we  somehow feel compelled  to publish yet another post this year, we’d like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a happy and prosperous New Year!

Philip J. Loree Jr.

 

What is the Statute of Limitations for a Reinsurance Claim under New York Law and When does it Begin to Run?

November 14th, 2014 New York Court of Appeals, Nuts & Bolts, Nuts & Bolts: Reinsurance, Practice and Procedure, Reinsurance Claims, Retrospectively-Rated Premium Contracts, Statute of Limitations Comments Off on What is the Statute of Limitations for a Reinsurance Claim under New York Law and When does it Begin to Run?

Part IV.C.2

 

Why Hahn Automotive v. American Zurich Ins. Co. is an Important Statute-of-Limitations Accrual Case (Cont’d)

Part IV.C.1 of our New York reinsurance-claim statute-of-limitations feature wrapped up our discussion about the likely influence of  Hahn Automotive Warehouse, Inc. v. American Zurich Ins. Co., 18 N.Y.3d 765 (2012) on statute-of-limitations accrual in cases where a demand for payment is an express condition of the obligor’s duty to perform.  That brings us to the fourth reason (of the seven enumerated in Part IV.B) why Hahn is an important statute-of-limitations accrual case, namely, that Hahn all but forecloses an argument that a court may justify a delay in the statute of limitations by deeming a demand requirement to be an implied condition. Continue Reading »

What is the Statute of Limitations for a Reinsurance Claim under New York Law and When does it Begin to Run?

October 6th, 2014 Choice-of-Law Provisions, Claims Handling, Contract Interpretation, New York Court of Appeals, New York State Courts, Nuts & Bolts: Reinsurance, Reinsurance Arbitration, Reinsurance Claims, Retrospectively-Rated Premium Contracts, State Courts, Statute of Limitations Comments Off on What is the Statute of Limitations for a Reinsurance Claim under New York Law and When does it Begin to Run?

 Part IV.B

 Why is Hahn Automotive v. American Zurich Ins. Co. Important?

Introduction

Now that we’ve taken a closer look at Hahn Automotive Warehouse, Inc. v. American Zurich Ins. Co., 18 N.Y.3d 765 (2012), let’s step back a bit and consider what it means both in general and in the reinsurance-claim-statute-of-limitations scheme of things.

As will be explained in this Part VI.B, Part VI.C, and Part VI.D, Hahn:

  1. Creates a new general rule, which effectively extends to a larger universe of contracts a statute of limitations accrual principle that it had applied only to certain specific types of contracts, including contracts of indemnity;
  2. Demonstrates that, outside the limited context of express conditions, breach-of-contract statute-of-limitations accrual is not exclusively a matter of party intent;
  3. Suggests that the New York Court of Appeals, if faced with an accrual question where the obligee’s demand is an express condition to the obligor’s liability, would probably not permit accrual to be delayed for more than a relatively brief period measured from the date on which the obligee was legally entitled to demand payment;
  4. All but forecloses an argument that a court may justify a delay in the statute of limitations by deeming a demand requirement to be an implied condition;
  5. Creates an analytic framework for determining breach-of-contract statute-of-limitations accrual questions that is at least as well-suited to excess-of-loss reinsurance contracts as it is to retrospective premium contracts;
  6.  Will likely be applied to reinsurance contract statute-of-limitations questions, that cedents or reinsurers may in the past have assumed would be governed by Continental Cas. Co. v. Stronghold Ins. Co., 77 F.3d 16 (2d Cir. 1996); and
  7. If so applied to a situation where, as in Stronghold: (a) the reinsurance contract does not unambiguously condition the reinsurers’ liability on claims presentation; and (b) the cedent settled the underlying insurance claims more than six-years before commencing their action, will, all else equal, likely require a finding that the cedent’s claims are time-barred.

Hahn therefore has some important claims management implications for both cedents and reinsurers, which we’ll discuss in Part IV.E.

But there is, as no doubt many readers have discerned, a proverbial “elephant in the room:” arbitration. Arbitration agreements are exceedingly common in reinsurance contracts, particularly in treaties. In Part V., we’ll discuss the profound effect that the choice between judicial and arbitral resolution of a controversy can have on statute of limitations questions, and how that choice bears on cedent and reinsurer time-bar strategy.

Finally, there is another very important—and all too frequently overlooked— consideration that we would arguably be remiss not to discuss: choice-of-law. Reinsurance disputes, like so many of their other commercial counterparts, frequently cross state and national borders, raising horizontal choice-of-law issues. But in many (indeed, probably most U.S.) jurisdictions, including New York, choice-of-law rules that determine what substantive rules of decision apply (i.e., what rules of decision apply to merits-related issues) do not determine what statute-of-limitations rules apply, and that may be true (as it ordinarily is in New York) even where parties agree that the law of State X governs their agreement.

In New York, that issue is ordinarily determined by New York’s borrowing statute, New York Civ. Prac. L. § 202, many other states have similar (although not necessarily identical) borrowing statutes and at least a few other states may either simply follow the traditional rule that forum law governs statute of limitations or apply substantive choice-of-law rules to determine the applicable statute of limitations. Part VI will thus address choice-of-law questions pertinent to the statute of limitations, focusing on New York’s borrowing statute, and discuss how choice-of-law issues affect time-bar strategy. Continue Reading »

What is the Statute of Limitations for a Reinsurance Claim under New York Law and When does it Begin to Run?

September 19th, 2014 Claims Handling, Contract Interpretation, Insurance Contracts, Late Notice, New York Court of Appeals, New York State Courts, Nuts & Bolts: Reinsurance, Practice and Procedure, Reinsurance Claims, Retrospectively-Rated Premium Contracts, Statute of Limitations, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit Comments Off on What is the Statute of Limitations for a Reinsurance Claim under New York Law and When does it Begin to Run?

Part IV.A

Hahn Automotive v. American Zurich Ins. Co., 18 N.Y.3d 765 (2012): Unless Parties Unambiguously Condition Obligor’s Duty to Perform on Demand for Payment, Statute of Limitations Begins to Run as Soon as Obligee is Legally Entitled to Demand Payment

If you’ve been following this multi-part post from inception, then you know that we think the New York Court of Appeals’ 2012 decision in Hahn Automotive Warehouse, Inc. v. American Zurich Ins. Co., 18 N.Y.3d 765 (2012) strongly suggests that, if faced today with facts materially identical to those in Continental Cas. Co. v. Stronghold Ins. Co., 77 F.3d 16 (2d Cir. 1996), New York’s highest court would hold that the cedent’s claims were time-barred because: (a) the notice provisions in the reinsurance contracts did not unambiguously condition the reinsurers’ obligation to pay on presentation of claims and demands for payment; and (b) the cedent was legally entitled to present and demand payment for each of its reinsurance claims more than six years before the cedent commenced its action. This Part IV.A discusses what transpired in Hahn, and Part IV.B will analyze Hahn’s likely effect on excess-of-loss reinsurance-claim statute-of-limitations accrual.

Hahn Facts and Procedural History

Hahn was a dispute between an auto parts distributor (the “Insured”), and its two insurers, both members of the Zurich Insurance Group (the “Insurers”).

During each annual period between September 1992 and September 2003, the Insurers provided general liability, auto liability and workers’ compensation coverage to the Insured. The insurance was priced using three types of alternative-risk-finance rating plans embodied in: (a) retrospective premium agreements (the “Retro Premium Agreements”); (b) adjustable deductible policies (the “Adjustable Deductible Policies”); and (c) deductible policies (the “Deductible Policies”). The Insurers also entered into certain claims services contracts (the “Claims Services Contracts”) under which the Insurers provided claims-handling services on a fixed-fee-per-claimant basis. Continue Reading »

What is the Statute of Limitations for a Reinsurance Claim under New York Law and When does it Begin to Run?

April 27th, 2014 Claims Handling, Contract Interpretation, New York Court of Appeals, New York State Courts, Nuts & Bolts: Reinsurance, Practice and Procedure, Reinsurance Claims, Statute of Limitations, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit Comments Off on What is the Statute of Limitations for a Reinsurance Claim under New York Law and When does it Begin to Run?

Part III.C

Does New York Law on Implied or Constructive Conditions

Provide a Basis for Stronghold’s Conclusion?

 

New York’s six-year statute of limitations for breach of contract does not begin to run until the obligee has satisfied all express conditions to the obligor’s duty to perform. (See Parts I and II.) Part III.B explained why we believe the Second Circuit in Continental Cas. Co. v. Stronghold Ins. Co. did not correctly interpret and apply New York law when it concluded that a garden-variety notice-of-loss provision in an excess-of-loss reinsurance contract was an express condition to the extent it required the cedent to notify reinsurers of paid-loss claims and demand payment. That (we believe) erroneous conclusion enabled the Second Circuit to hold that the cedent’s breach-of-contract claims were not barred by New York’s six-year statute of limitations, even though they were based on settlements the cedent had concluded with its insureds more than six-years before the cedent commenced its action. (See Part III.A.)

At the conclusion of Part III.B we raised the question whether Stronghold might make sense under the law of implied or constructive conditions, that is, if we were to interpret it as having construed the notice-of-loss provision as an implied or constructive condition. But Stronghold fails even if it is reconceptualized that way.  Continue Reading »

ROM Management Reinsurance Mgt. Co. v. Continental Ins. Co.: Can Parties Agree State Arbitration Law Governs their Arbitration even if the Federal Arbitration Act Applies?

April 15th, 2014 Arbitrability, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration and Mediation FAQs, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Authority of Arbitrators, Choice-of-Law Provisions, Contract Interpretation, New York Court of Appeals, New York State Courts, Nuts & Bolts: Arbitration, Practice and Procedure, Reinsurance Arbitration, State Arbitration Law, Statute of Limitations, Stay of Arbitration, United States Supreme Court Comments Off on ROM Management Reinsurance Mgt. Co. v. Continental Ins. Co.: Can Parties Agree State Arbitration Law Governs their Arbitration even if the Federal Arbitration Act Applies?

Introduction

The Federal Arbitration Act (the “FAA”)’s ordinarily trumps state-law rules of arbitrability in state- and federal-court  disputes involving agreements falling under it.  But what happens when parties to an FAA-governed arbitration agreement have agreed that state law governs their agreement, or the enforcement of their agreement?

Odd as it may seem, the FAA allows parties to agree that state-law rules of arbitrability govern if the parties unambiguously agree that they govern, even if the result is that an issue subject to arbitration under the FAA is excluded from arbitration because of the parties’ choice of state arbitration law. That holds true so long as enforcing the parties’ choice of law does not “stand[] as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives” of the FAA. See Mastrobuono v. Shearson Lehman Hutton, Inc., 514 U.S. 52, 58-64 (1995); Volt Information Sciences, Inc. v. Board of Trustees of Leland Stanford Junior Univ., 489 U. S. 468, 474-78 (1989); Diamond Waterproofing Sys., Inc. v. 55 Liberty Owners Corp., 4 N.Y.3d 247, 252-53 (2005); see, generally, Stolt-Nielsen, S.A. v. AnimalFeeds Int’l Corp., 559 U.S. 662, __, 130 S. Ct. 1758,1773-74 (2010). Because the whole point of the FAA is to promote arbitration by enforcing the parties’ arbitration agreement according to its terms, and because parties are free to clearly exclude issues from the scope of their arbitration agreement, giving effect to a applying a state-law rule of arbitrability does not contravene the FAA or its purposes and objectives. See Stolt-Nielsen, 130 S. Ct. at 1773 (“[W]e have said on numerous occasions that the central or primary purpose of the FAA is to ensure that private agreements to arbitrate are enforced according to their terms.”), 1774 (“Underscoring the consensual nature of private dispute resolution, we have held that parties are generally free to structure their arbitration agreements as they see fit[].  .  .  .  [and] may agree to limit the issues they choose to arbitrate.  .  .  .”) (quotations and citations omitted); Volt, 489 U.S. at 476-78.

In Re Rom Management Reinsurance Mgt. Co. v. Continental Ins. Co., ___ A.D.3d ___, 2014 N.Y. Slip Op. 01546 (1st Dep’t March 11, 2014).  New York’s Appellate Division, First Department (New York’s intermediate appellate court with jurisdiction over New York and Bronx Counties (i.e., New York City’s Boroughs of Manhattan and the Bronx)), succinctly demonstrated how the parties’ unambiguous agreement to apply state-law arbitrability rules can narrow the issues that the parties would have been required to submit to arbitration had FAA rules of arbitrability applied. Continue Reading »

What is the Statute of Limitations for a Reinsurance Claim under New York Law and When does it Begin to Run?

April 12th, 2014 New York Court of Appeals, New York State Courts, Nuts & Bolts: Reinsurance, Practice and Procedure, Reinsurance Claims, Statute of Limitations, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit Comments Off on What is the Statute of Limitations for a Reinsurance Claim under New York Law and When does it Begin to Run?

Part III.B

Continental Cas. Co. v. Stronghold: Did the Court Correctly Apply New York Law?

Welcome to Part III.B of our multi-part reinsurance statute of limitations feature. (Links to previous installments are listed at the end of this post.)

If you’ve been following this series, then you already know that under New York law, the six-year statute of limitations begins to run on a reinsurance claim once it is settled and the cedent has the right to demand payment. This is the general rule that applies to other contracts of indemnity, including insurance contracts, but it is subject to an exception: when an insurance or reinsurance contract expressly conditions the reinsurer’s duty to perform its obligations on the presentation of a claim, the statute of limitations generally does not begin to run any earlier than the date the cedent presents the claim.

In Part III.A we summarized the facts and holding of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit’s decision in Continental Cas. Co. v. Stronghold Ins. Co., 77 F.3d 16 (2d Cir. 1996), which concluded that a garden-variety notice of loss provision in a reinsurance contact was an express condition to the extent that it required notice of paid loss, which the Court seemed to think was more important to reinsurers than prompt notice of the original insureds’ reported losses losses and their development over time.  Stronghold essentially created an express condition out of whole cloth by placing a strained interpretation on a timely notice provision identical in all material respects to one that New York’s highest court, in North River Ins. Co. v. Unigard Sec. Ins. Co., 79 N.Y.2d 576 (1992) (“Unigard I”), had held was not an express condition. And it relied on that interpretation to justify delaying the accrual of the statute of limitations on claims that were settled more than six-years before the Cedent commenced its action against the Reinsurers.

This Part III.B explains why we believe Stronghold misconstrued the notice provision, misapprehended its purpose and misapplied New York law on express conditions. Continue Reading »

What is the Statute of Limitations for a Reinsurance Claim under New York Law and When does it Begin to Run?

March 20th, 2014 Claims Handling, Contract Interpretation, New York Court of Appeals, Nuts & Bolts, Nuts & Bolts: Reinsurance, Practice and Procedure, Reinsurance Claims, Statute of Limitations, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit Comments Off on What is the Statute of Limitations for a Reinsurance Claim under New York Law and When does it Begin to Run?

Part III.A

Continental Casualty Co. v. Stronghold Ins. Co.: Background

In Part II (here) we reviewed New York law pertinent to express conditions and how they can delay the accrual of the statute of limitations if the plaintiff has not satisfied them.

Now let’s turn to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit’s decision in Continental Cas. Co. v. Stronghold Ins. Co., 77 F.3d 16 (2d Cir. 1996), a case that features a fairly comprehensive recitation of New York’s reinsurance-related statute-of-limitations accrual rules as they existed in 1996, but did not apply New York’s express-condition rules consistently with controlling, New York Court of Appeals authority. This Part III.A summarizes what transpired in Stronghold and Part III.B will explain why we think the case not correctly decided.

The Stronghold Facts

Stronghold was a dispute between a United States cedent (the “Cedent”) and its London-Market reinsurers (the “London Reinsurers”) that arose under certain excess-of-loss treaties reinsuring medical malpractice liability policies the Cedent had issued to its hospital insureds.

In the 1980s the Cedent settled several medical malpractice liability claims on behalf of its insureds, but did not notify London Reinsurers of the underlying losses that resulted in the settlements, or present their reinsurance claims to the London Reinsurers, until sometime after the underlying claims were settled. The record apparently did not specify the date or dates on which the Cedent first notified the London Reinsurers of the settlements and demanded payment from the London Reinsurers.

The excess-of-loss treaties (the “Reinsurance Contracts”) provided that the London Reinsurers were “liable only for the excess of loss” incurred by the Cedent in excess of specified retentions of “ultimate net loss.” The contracts defined “ultimate net loss,” as “the sums actually paid in cash in settlement of losses [for] which [the Cedent] is liable.” They also featured notice of loss provisions that said “Loss, if any, under” a policy is “to be reported to [the London Reinsurers] as soon as practicable.”

The London Reinsurers denied each of the reinsurance claims during the period 1987-1990, and in 1991 the Cedent commenced an action for breach of contract in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. The London Reinsurers defended on late notice and statute-of-limitations grounds.

As respects the date on which the statute of limitations began to run on each reinsurance claim, the London Reinsurers argued that each claim accrued when the Cedent settled the claim with its insured. Each claim was settled more than six years before the Cedent commenced its action. According to the London Reinsurers, the Cedent was entitled to indemnity immediately upon payment of each settlement, even thought it did not demand payment from the London Reinsurers until a much later date. Alternatively, the London Reinsurers argued that even if their indemnity obligation was conditioned on the Cedent’s presentation of a reinsurance claim for payment,  each of the Cedent’s individual breach of contract of contract claims accrued on the date it became entitled to demand payment from the London Reinsurers, and that occurred each time the Cedent settled an underlying claim.

The Cedent argued that the claims accrued when the London Reinsurers allegedly breached the reinsurance contracts by refusing to pay the claims. Since the London Reinsurers did not refuse to pay the claims any earlier than 1987, and the Cedent commenced its lawsuit in 1991, the lawsuit would not be barred by the statute of limitation under the Cedent’s date-of-accrual theory.

Back in 1991, as some readers may recall, the New York Court of Appeals had not yet decided whether a reinsurer could successfully defend on late notice grounds without establishing prejudice. But in 1992, the London Reinsurers’ litigation strategy was dealt a painful blow when the New York Court of Appeals held, in Unigard Sec. Ins. Co. v. North River Ins. Co., 79 N.Y.2d 576 (1992), that unless a late notice provision expressly conditions a reinsurer’s liability for the claim on timely notice—i.e., the late notice provision is an express condition, not simply a promise—a reinsurer must establish prejudice to be relieved of liability based on the cedent’s failure to provide timely notice of a claim or occurrence.

Answering a question certified to it by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, New York’s highest Court explained that, to be express conditions, contractual provisions must unambiguously evidence the parties’ intent to make performance of a duty conditional.[1] The New York Court of Appeals also held that the notice provision before it—which required “[p]rompt notice . . . of any occurrence or accident which appears likely to involve this reinsurance’”—was not an express condition, and that accordingly, the reinsurer in that case could not be relieved of liability for the cedent’s late notice of the loss or losses sustained and reported by the insureds, unless the reinsurer could prove it suffered prejudice as a result of the late notice.

Not too long after the New York Court of Appeals’ landmark reinsurance-law decision answering the Second Circuit’s certified question, the Second Circuit issued its own landmark decision in the Unigard case, holding, among other things, that the reinsurers were unable to establish either prejudice—i.e., “economic injury”—resulting from late notice or that the cedent acted in bad faith in failing to provide timely notice (which would have relieved the reinsurer from liability even without a showing of prejudice).[2]

The London Reinsurers apparently concluded that they could not establish the requisite prejudice to prevail on their late notice defense, a decision which apparently prompted the parties to enter into a stipulation designed to facilitate summary judgment on the merits in favor of one party or the other on the statute of limitations issue. To that end the London Reinsurers agreed to waive their late notice and all other defenses other than statute of limitations, and stipulated with the Cedent that: (a) New York law governed; (b) New York’s six-year statute of limitations applied; (c) the Cedent satisfied all conditions of the Reinsurance Contracts; (d) the Cedent had settled its claims with its insureds more than six years prior to commencing the action; and (e) the Cedent had commenced the action within six-years of the London Reinsurers’ earliest denial of any of the claims.

The parties cross-moved for summary judgment, and the district court ruled in favor of the Cedent, holding that no breach of the Reinsurance Contracts occurred until the London Reinsurers refused to pay the Cedent’s claims. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the Cedent, holding that the Cedent’s causes of action did not accrue until the London Reinsurers denied the Cedent’s claims.

The London Reinsurers appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which affirmed the district court’s judgment. Continue Reading »