Ace American Insurance Co. v. The Wattles Co., 071919 FED11, 17-15392

Docket Nº:17-15392
Party Name:ACE AMERICAN INSURANCE COMPANY, a Pennsylvania corporation, Plaintiff-Counter Defendant-Appellant, v. THE WATTLES COMPANY, a Washington corporation, Defendant-Counter Claimant-Appellee.
Judge Panel:Before ED CARNES, Chief Judge, ANDERSON and JULIE CARNES, Circuit Judges.
Case Date:July 19, 2019
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

ACE AMERICAN INSURANCE COMPANY, a Pennsylvania corporation, Plaintiff-Counter Defendant-Appellant,


THE WATTLES COMPANY, a Washington corporation, Defendant-Counter Claimant-Appellee.

No. 17-15392

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

July 19, 2019

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia

Before ED CARNES, Chief Judge, ANDERSON and JULIE CARNES, Circuit Judges.


This appeal involves a complicated property insurance coverage dispute between an insurer and a landlord claiming through its prior tenant, the named insured under the relevant policy. The insurer, Ace American Insurance Company ("Ace"), appeals the judgment of the district court granting summary judgment- and a coverage award of $1, 133, 918.93-to the landlord, The Wattles Company ("Wattles"). Ace argues that the $2 million policy deductible has not been met.1Because the district court erred in concluding the deductible was satisfied, we reverse and remand with instructions to enter summary judgment-and an order declaring that the policy does not provide coverage for Wattles's claims-in favor of Ace.


A. Factual Background.

1. Exide leases industrial building from Wattles for use in its battery formation operations.

Starting in the early 1980s, Wattles leased an industrial office building and warehouse located in Sumner, Washington (the "Building") to Exide Technologies, Inc. ("Exide"). Under a series of written lease agreements, Exide used the Building to conduct battery formation operations until about 2009. These operations involved filling lead batteries with sulfuric acid and charging them, which caused sulfuric acid mist to be emitted into the warehouse space within the Building.

2. Exide works through its insurance broker to obtain insurance policies from Ace and other insurers as part of a worldwide property insurance program for 2006-2007.

Sometime in 2006, Exide instructed its insurance broker Marsh USA ("Marsh") to renew its international property insurance program for the 2006-2007 term. Marsh then sent an underwriting submission out into the marketplace requesting quotes from various insurers. Ace responded to the underwriting submission through its managing general agent Starr Technical Risks Agency, Inc. ("Starr"), and Exide eventually authorized Marsh to instruct Starr to bind coverage for a portion of the 2006-2007 program. Starr primarily worked with the insured's broker (Marsh) and not the insured (Exide) in underwriting Ace's portion of the insurance program. As Ace's managing general agent, Starr had "entire authority" to issue and sign insurance policies for Ace.

Starr, on behalf of Ace, issued revised Binder No. 0638, which identified Exide as the named insured and revealed total insured property values in excess of $3 billion. Ace agreed to provide up to $60 million per occurrence in coverage, or up to 20% of the cumulative limit of the $300 million per occurrence program assembled by Marsh. Several other insurers, including AIG and Allianz, covered the remaining $240 million in risk. Exide agreed to pay Ace a total annual premium equal to $900, 000.

Ace, through Starr, eventually issued property insurance Policy No. PGL N0 19 28 24 7 (the "Policy"), which covers the period from September 1, 2006 through September 1, 2007. The Policy is not a general liability policy; rather, it is a policy of property insurance. It "insures against all risks of direct physical loss of or damage occurring during the Term2 of Insurance to property described [in the Policy]." The record before this Court does not contain a schedule describing the specific property locations insured under Exide's 2006-2007 insurance program, but the "Global Property/Boiler & Machinery Program Specifications" (the "Program Specifications") included at the beginning of the Policy identify a "Worldwide" territory, excluding Afghanistan, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, and any other countries subject to U.S. State Department trade or economic sanctions. The Policy also identifies specific program sublimits applicable to losses occurring in the Netherlands, Germany, Japan, and Mexico. In addition to domestic endorsements applicable in thirty-seven states within the United States, the Policy contains coverage exclusions that refer to the countries of Spain, France, Germany, and South Africa. Notwithstanding the clearly international character of Exide's 2006-2007 insurance program (of which the Policy is a part), Ace and Exide agreed that the law of the State of Georgia would govern the interpretation of the terms and conditions of the Policy.

3. The Policy includes three coverages that are potentially relevant in this case, all of which are subject to a $2 million per occurrence deductible.

The Policy covers three specific categories of losses that potentially relate to this case.3 First, section 7.A. (3) of the Policy (the "Leased Property Coverage Provision") covers damage to "Real and Personal Property of others . . . which is in the Insured's [Exide's] care, custody, or control." Second, and most relevant to our disposition of this appeal, section 8. (J) of the Policy (the "Tenants and Neighbors Provision") expressly extends coverage under the Policy to include (1) (a) The liability which the Insured incurs as a tenant for damage to real and personal property by a peril insured against;

(b) The liability which the Insured incurs for damage to real or personal property from a peril spreading from the Insured's premises to the premises of neighbors and co-tenants;

(c) The liability which the Insured incurs as landlord for damage to the personal property of tenants by a peril insured against as a result of constructional defects or lack of maintenance.

(2) This extension applies only to liability incurred in those countries in which a Napoleonic or other civil or commercial code applies due to loss or damage by a peril as defined by such code and as insured hereunder.

Third, subject to a $500, 000 sublimit, section 8. (F) of the Policy (the "Defense Costs Provision") covers "the costs and fees to defend any claim or suit against the Insured alleging physical loss or damage as insured against to property of others in the care, custody or control of the Insured." Like other coverages under the Policy, these three coverages-damage to property leased by Exide, liability incurred by Exide under the Tenants and Neighbors Provision, and Exide's own defense costs-are all subject to an occurrence-based deductible before the Policy provides any coverage at all.

In this regard, the Policy had a "Program Deductible" of $2 million per occurrence for all perils. In determining whether the deductible is satisfied, the Policy requires that "[a]ll losses, damages or expenses arising out of any one occurrence shall be adjusted as one loss, and from the amount of such adjusted loss shall be deducted [$2, 000, 000]." Where defense costs are involved, the Policy also requires that the amount of any defense costs "shall be included within and not additional to the total amount of the loss to which this policy's limits and deductibles shall be applied." With these basic Policy provisions in mind, we turn to consider the somewhat complicated procedural history of this case.

B. Procedural Background.

1. Wattles sues Exide in Superior Court in the State of Washington.

Under its relevant lease with Wattles, Exide was required to keep the Building "in good order, condition and repair" and surrender it to Wattles "in good condition . . . ordinary wear and tear excepted." Exide's battery formation operations took a toll on the Building over the years, and the sulfuric acid mist emissions that resulted from those operations were at least partly to blame for significant damage to some of the Building's structural components (including the Building's wooden roof trusses).

In March 2013, Wattles filed suit against Exide in Superior Court in Pierce County, Washington (the "State Court Litigation") alleging that Exide breached its obligations under the lease "by failing to keep the property in good order, condition and repair; by us[ing] the property in a manner that tended to create waste; by failing to repair structural damage caused by Exide's operations; and by failing to remove the contaminants present at the property as a result of Exide's operations." In addition to its breach of contract claim, Wattles also alleged that "Exide breached its tort duty to avoid an unreasonable and improper use of Wattles'[s] property so that no substantial damage would be done to it," and that "Exide breached its implied duties of good faith and fair dealing by failing to disclose to Wattles the risks of Exide's...

To continue reading