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Mine Safety Appliances Co. v. AIU Insurance Co.

Superior Court of Delaware, New Castle

January 21, 2014

MINE SAFETY APPLIANCES COMPANY, Plaintiff,
v.
AIU INSURANCE COMPANY, et al., Defendants.

Submitted: October 18, 2013

Upon Defendants AIU Insurance Company, Granite State Insurance Company, Insurance Company of the State of Pennsylvania, Lexington Insurance Company, National Union Insurance Company of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Chartis Property Casualty Company f/k/a Birmingham Fire Insurance Company's Motion for Summary Judgment and Partial Summary Judgment on the Ground that the Plaintiff's Claims are not Justiciable Under the Delaware Declaratory Judgment Act.

Jennifer Wasson, Esquire, Michael B. Rush, Esquire, Potter Anderson & Corroon LLP, Mark A. Packman, Esquire (Argued), Jenna A. Hudson, Esquire, Katrina F. Johnson, Esquire, João Santa-Rita, Esquire, Gilbert LLP, Attorneys for Plaintiff

Michael F. Duggan, Esquire, Brian S. Kasprzak, Esquire, Marks, O'Neill, O'Brien, Doherty & Kelly, P.C., Ellen G. Margolis, Esquire, Jan C. Walker, Esquire (Argued), Mound Cotton Wollan & Greengrass, Attorneys for Defendants

OPINION

Honorable Mary M. Johnston Judge

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL CONTEXT

Plaintiff Mine Safety Appliances Company ("MSA"), a Pennsylvania corporation licensed to do business in Delaware, manufactures and sells safety equipment, including heat protection clothing and respirators. Allegedly, at one time, MSA's respirators were defective and its heat protection clothing contained asbestos. Users of MSA's safety products have filed thousands of actions against MSA, claiming that, as a result of using MSA's products, they were exposed to asbestos, silica, and coal dust, and suffered injuries.

MSA purchased liability insurance coverage to protect itself from a variety of risks, including potential tort liability. MSA purchased insurance in layers with an escalation in policy limits, in an effort to ensure that it would have sufficient coverage should any policy be exhausted or otherwise become unavailable. MSA contends that it is covered for personal injury damages under its excess coverage policies.

Defendant insurance companies dispute their obligations to MSA to cover tort claims against MSA ("Underlying Claims"). The Underlying Claims arose out of harm suffered by the users of MSA's products. MSA has incurred significant financial expense in defending and settling the Underlying Claims. MSA filed the Delaware action on July 26, 2010, against 31 insurance companies concerning 125 insurance policies. MSA seeks: (1) declaratory judgment that the Defendant insurance companies are obligated to defend and/or indemnify MSA; and (2) an award of monetary damages incurred by MSA relating to MSA's entitlement to coverage.

In response, Defendant insurance companies filed Motions for Summary Judgment and Motions for Partial Summary Judgment, individually and collectively, challenging their payment and defense obligations.

This Motion was filed on May 10, 2013, by a subset of the 31 defendants involved in the litigation. Defendant insurance companies AIU Insurance Company ("AIU"), Granite State Insurance Company ("Granite"), Insurance Company of the State of Pennsylvania ("ICSOP"), Lexington Insurance Company ("Lexington"), National Union Insurance Company of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania ("National Union"), and Chartis Property Casualty Company f/k/a Birmingham Fire Insurance Company ("Chartis") (collectively "Movants") filed this Motion for Summary Judgment and Partial Summary Judgment on the ground that MSA's claims are not justiciable under the Delaware Declaratory Judgment Act. Defendants Granite, ICSOP, Lexington, and Chartis seek an order granting summary judgment. Defendants AIU and National Union seek an order granting partial summary judgment.

The following insurance policies ("Policies") are at issue in this Motion:

AIU:

75-100631

(4/1/78-4/1/79)

75-101017

(4/1/79-4/1/80)[1]

Granite:

80-93014

(4/1/76-4/1/77)

80-93219

(4/1/77-4/1/78)

6278-0106

(4/1/78-4/1/79)

ICSOP:

4276-2204

(5/1/76-4/1/77)

4277-2297

(4/1/77-4/1/78)

Lexington:

GC 403475

(4/1/73-4/1/76)

GC 5501378

(4/1/76-4/1/77)

GC5505569

(4/1/77-4/1/78)

5510588

(4/1/78-4/1/79)

5514176

(4/1/81-4/1/82)

5522049

(4/1/82-4/1/83)

5524816

(4/1/83-4/1/84)

5524866

(4/1/84-4/1/85)

National Union:

9608254

(4/1/85-4/1/86)[2]

652-48-81

(4/1/79-4/1/80)

Chartis:

SE 6073490

(4/1/79-4/1/80)[3]

All of these Policies are excess of at least $26, 500, 000 of underlying insurance coverage.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is granted only if the moving party establishes that there are no genuine issues of material fact in dispute and judgment may be granted as a matter of law.[4] All facts are viewed in a light most favorable to the non-moving party.[5] Summary judgment may not be granted if the record indicates that a material fact is in dispute, or if there is a need to clarify the application of law to the specific circumstances.[6] When the facts permit a reasonable person to draw only one inference, the question becomes one for decision as a matter of law.[7] If the non-moving party bears the burden of proof at trial, yet "fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, " then summary judgment may be granted against that party.[8]

Declaratory Relief

Delaware Courts are empowered to render declaratory judgments pursuant to the Declaratory Judgments Act.[9] The availability of declaratory relief involves the exercise of judicial discretion.[10] "The presence of an actual controversy is a prerequisite for declaratory relief. Lack of an actual controversy acts as a bar to a party proceeding with a case requesting ...


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