Anderson Bros. v. St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co.

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Insurance Law
  • Date Filed: 08-30-2013
  • Case #: 12-35346; 12-35454
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Reinhardt for the Court; Chief Judge Kozinski; Circuit Judge Berzon
  • Full Text Opinion

Letters that put the recipient on notice of liability and the sender's intent to pursue compensation qualify as "suits" and can trigger an insurer's duty to defend.

The Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) sent two letters to plaintiff Anderson Brothers, Inc. (“Anderson”) notifying them of their potential liability under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act for contamination of the Portland Harbor Superfund Site (“the Site”). The first letter issued pursuant to Section 104(e) of CERCLA required Anderson to answer questions to establish its liability under CERCLA; the second letter was a General Notice Letter simply identifying Anderson as being potentially responsible. Anderson’s insurer, defendant St. Paul Fire & Marine Insurance Co. (“St. Paul”), declined to provide legal defense to Anderson, claiming that the letters did not qualify as "suits" since they were not filed in a court. Anderson sued St. Paul in district court and received partial summary judgment after the court found that both letters triggered St. Paul's duty to defend. St. Paul appealed, and the Ninth Circuit affirmed. Citing both intent of the parties and St. Paul’s general insurance policies, the panel held that the letters put Anderson on notice that the EPA believed Anderson was responsible for the release of hazardous substances at the Site and that the EPA intended to pursue compensation for Anderson's role in the release. Thus, these letters were "suits" under Oregon law and triggered St. Paul's duty to defend Anderson regarding the matter. AFFIRMED.

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