Benchmark Ins. Co. v. Sunz Ins. Co., 21-1679

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtERICKSON, Circuit Judge.
Citation36 F.4th 766
Parties BENCHMARK INSURANCE COMPANY, Plaintiff v. SUNZ INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant - Appellant SUNZ Insurance Solutions, LLC, Defendant Butler American Holdings Inc.; Century Employer Organization, LLC, Defendants - Appellees IS Development Group, Defendant Payday, Inc., Defendant - Appellee Staff Pro, LLC, Defendant
Docket Number21-1679
Decision Date06 June 2022

36 F.4th 766

BENCHMARK INSURANCE COMPANY, Plaintiff
v.
SUNZ INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant - Appellant

SUNZ Insurance Solutions, LLC, Defendant

Butler American Holdings Inc.; Century Employer Organization, LLC, Defendants - Appellees

IS Development Group, Defendant

Payday, Inc., Defendant - Appellee

Staff Pro, LLC, Defendant

No. 21-1679

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit.

Submitted: October 21, 2021
Filed: June 6, 2022


Christopher Stephen Carver, Jason Samuel Oletsky, Akerman LLP, Fort Lauderdale, FL, Ena M. Kovacevic, Anne Michele Lockner, Robins & Kaplan, Minneapolis, MN, for Defendant-Appellant.

Mitchel Krouse, Krouse Law Firm, Lakewood Ranch, FL, Kelly P. Magnus, Nilan & Johnson, Minneapolis, MN, Jessica C. Richardson, Rolf E. Sonnesyn, Tomsche & Sonnesyn, Minneapolis, MN, for Defendants-Appellees.

Before ERICKSON, GRASZ, and STRAS, Circuit Judges.

ERICKSON, Circuit Judge.

SUNZ Insurance Company ("SUNZ") appeals from the denial of its motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, to compel arbitration of the crossclaims filed in this procedurally complex insurance dispute. SUNZ argues the district court lacked

36 F.4th 769

subject matter jurisdiction over the crossclaims between non-diverse parties in the underlying interpleader action and otherwise erred by denying arbitration. We reverse and remand.

I. BACKGROUND

This litigation stems from agreements between several insurance companies to provide large deductible workers’ compensation policies in multiple states. Under such an arrangement, insurers typically require the insured to post collateral to cover claims within the deductible range as a condition of coverage. SUNZ is a Florida insurance company licensed to write workers’ compensation policies in 16 states. SUNZ Insurance Solutions, LLC ("SIS") is an affiliate of SUNZ. Benchmark Insurance Company ("Benchmark") is a Kansas insurance company with its principal place of business in Minnesota licensed to write workers’ compensation policies in 49 states plus the District of Columbia.

In 2015, Benchmark and SIS signed a Program Manager Agreement which allowed SUNZ to provide coverage to insureds in markets where it was not licensed. Under the agreement, Benchmark issued large deductible workers’ compensation policies to be managed and administered by SIS. Benchmark and SIS also signed a Large Deductible General Agent Agreement, whereby SIS would collect deductible collateral from insureds under the policies that SIS issued on Benchmark's behalf. And, under a Reinsurance Contract, Benchmark ceded to SUNZ all the premiums and losses on the policies that SIS issued on Benchmark's behalf. In October 2016, SUNZ and Benchmark signed a Reinsurance Treaty Trust Agreement which directed SUNZ to deposit funds to be held in trust for Benchmark's benefit and applied to SUNZ's liabilities under the partnership.

Payday, Inc. ("Payday") and Century Employer Organization, LLC ("Century") are two Florida companies that entered into materially identical Program Agreements with SIS in April and October 2017, respectively. These Program Agreements, which are governed by Florida law, set forth the binding terms and conditions of the forthcoming insurance policies between the parties. Each Program Agreement contains a broad arbitration clause applicable to "any controversy or claim arising out of or relating in any way to this [Program] Agreement or the breach or alleged breach hereof." The agreements also purport to be "binding and effective" as to the respective parties, in addition to "the insurance companies issuing any of the policies pursuant to this Insurance Program." However, the first page of each Program Agreement also states that the insurance policy will prevail in the case of a conflict between the Program Agreement and the insurance policy. Both Payday and Century obtained large deductible workers compensation insurance policies from SIS (the "Policies").

In late 2017, SUNZ terminated its business relationship and relevant agreements with Benchmark. No new policies were issued or renewed after that time, but insureds could continue to file claims under their existing policies. On January 27, 2020, SUNZ served Benchmark with an arbitration demand seeking the release of approximately $50.5 million in excess collateral held by Benchmark and related to the terminated partnership.

In April 2020, Benchmark filed an interpleader action in the district court, naming various interpleader defendants, including SUNZ and 35 insureds—including Payday and Century—that were issued policies under Benchmark's prior relationship with SUNZ and SIS. In short, Benchmark alleged SUNZ wrongly co-mingled collateral

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deposits and trust funds with respect to the policies issued by SIS on Benchmark's behalf. According to Benchmark, it was holding a large sum of excess collateral that could be claimed by any of the named interpleader defendants.

In May 2020, SUNZ filed a counterclaim against Benchmark, alleging breach of the Reinsurance Treaty Trust Agreement. In June 2020, Payday and Century—represented by the same counsel—filed materially identical crossclaims for breach of contract against SUNZ.1 Both Payday and Century alleged their Program Agreements were rendered void because they were never filed with, or approved by, a state insurance regulatory authority. They also argued that the insurance policies themselves supersede the Program Agreements, that SUNZ improperly increased the collateral required under the policies, and that SUNZ improperly administered the policies.

On June 8, 2020, Benchmark deposited interpleader funds totaling $20,533,594 into the district court's registry....

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1 practice notes
  • Baker v. Davidson, 5:21-CV-05093-KES
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. District of South Dakota
    • 17 Noviembre 2022
    ...are part of the same case or controversy if they derive from a common nucleus of operative fact.” Benchmark Ins. Co. v. SUNZ Ins. Co., 36 F.4th 766, 771 (8th Cir. 2022) (quoting Myers v. Richland Cty., 429 F.3d 740, 746 (8th Cir. 2005)). A common nucleus of operative fact exists when the cl......
1 cases
  • Baker v. Davidson, 5:21-CV-05093-KES
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. District of South Dakota
    • 17 Noviembre 2022
    ...are part of the same case or controversy if they derive from a common nucleus of operative fact.” Benchmark Ins. Co. v. SUNZ Ins. Co., 36 F.4th 766, 771 (8th Cir. 2022) (quoting Myers v. Richland Cty., 429 F.3d 740, 746 (8th Cir. 2005)). A common nucleus of operative fact exists when the cl......

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