The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York recently denied an insurer’s attempt to compel the court to change a credibility decision it rendered following a bench trial in reinsurance litigation between Utica Mutual Insurance Co. and Munich Reinsurance America Inc. that we’ve been following closely.
We’ve previously written about this litigation (multiple times, not counting related litigation, which we’ve also written about multiple times). But even with all the hype, a quick overview is in order. Utica issued primary policies to insured Goulds Pumps Inc. that, in the Second Circuit’s words, “had a glaring omission: they did not include aggregate limits of liability.” The results of that omission were potentially catastrophic for Utica because Goulds could potentially select a primary policy to apply to all asbestos claims that would never exhaust or trigger excess policies. Thus, in the underlying litigation, Goulds wisely argued there were no aggregate policy limits while Utica insisted the policies had such limits and that the fact that they did not actually appear in the policies “was a mere ‘scrivener’s error.’” Goulds and Utica ultimately settled the underlying dispute. The settlement agreement provided that the primary policies “have … an aggregate limit of liability.” Utica attorney and vice president Bernard Turi was involved in the settlement negotiations and the drafting of the settlement agreement.
Litigation between Utica and Munich regarding Utica billings to Munich under facultative reinsurance certificates Munich issued to Utica in 1973 followed.
During a ten-day bench trial, Turi testified that during the settlement negotiations with Goulds, Utica did not bargain for Goulds’ agreement that the primary policies had aggregate limits. Turi testified that Goulds agreed that the policies had such limits and always had.
Following the trial, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York ruled in favor of Munich in one case (Utica I) and Utica in another (Utica II). With respect to Turi, the court concluded that Turi’s testimony “that Utica did not bargain for Goulds’ agreement that the primary policies had aggregate limits as part of its settlement with Goulds” was not credible. The court noted that Turi had conceded on cross-examination that “getting Goulds to agree to aggregate limits in the primary policies had value to Utica.”
Utica appealed the court’s ruling against it and filed a Rule 52(b) motion to amend the court’s finding regarding Turi’s credibility regarding settlement negotiations. Utica specifically claimed that the court failed to distinguish between whether the policies “in fact” had aggregate limits, which Utica claimed was not bargained for, and whether Utica nevertheless compromised with Goulds to resolve a disagreement about that fact, which Utica agreed it had.
The court denied Utica’s motion. It noted that Goulds had claimed in the underlying litigation that the policies did not have aggregate limits, that there was an enormous risk to Utica if the court were to accept that position, and that Goulds ultimately agreed in the settlement agreement that the policies had aggregate limits. The court explained that its findings regarding Turi’s credibility was not premised on whether the policies actually had aggregate limits and that the court did not find that Utica had bargained for “the fact” of aggregate limits as Utica claimed the court had. Instead, the court reaffirmed its decision that, under the circumstances, any contention that Utica had not bargained for Goulds’ agreement that the policies contained aggregate limits was not credible. The court noted that the high standard for succeeding on a Rule 52(b) motion was not satisfied and declined to amend its findings of fact.
Munich believed that Utica’s Rule 52(b) motion was so meritless that it sought sanctions, but the court declined to award them, concluding that the standard for sanctions was not met.
Utica Mutual Insurance Co. v. Munich Reinsurance America, Inc., No. 6:12-cv-00196, 6:13-cv-00743 (N.D.N.Y. Feb. 27, 2020).