Thursday, January 3, 2008

Royal Indemnity v. Apex Oil Company

Jan 2: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit, Case Nos. Case No: 06-3454, 06-3461 and 06-3469. Royal Indemnity Company brought the action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 2201 and 2202, to seek a declaration of the rights and obligations of Royal Indemnity Company, various other insurance companies and Apex Oil Company, Inc. (Apex), under certain insurance policies Royal Indemnity Company and the other insurance companies issued to Apex. The Appeals Court affirmed the district court’s decision to abstain, but vacated the dismissal order and remanded the case so that the court can instead enter an order staying the proceedings.

Between May 2003 and April 2005, the State of Illinois, the United States, and a group of individuals filed five separate lawsuits (the underlying suits) against Apex in state and federal courts in Illinois based on the actions of Apex and its predecessor companies in releasing contaminants into the soil surrounding its oil refinery in Hartford, Illinois. Royal Indemnity Company defended Apex on the majority of the underlying suits. On August 5, 2005, Apex brought suit against multiple insurers in the Circuit Court of Madison County, Illinois (the Illinois lawsuit), seeking a declaration of the parties’ rights and responsibilities with respect to the Hartford soil contamination under policies the insurance companies had issued to Apex.

On March 22, 2006, Royal Indemnity Company initiated the lawsuit by filing a complaint in Federal court pursuant to the Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. §§ 2201 and 2202, “seeking adjudication of the parties’ rights and obligations under certain insurance policies.” In its complaint, Royal Indemnity Company also sought a declaration of the rights and responsibilities of the parties based on claims of equitable contribution, subrogation, unjust enrichment and/or equitable estoppel for the costs Royal Indemnity Company incurred in defending Apex as well as attorneys’ fees, costs and interest.

Royal argues that the district court erred in applying the Wilton and Brillhart abstention doctrine and instead should have applied the “exceptional circumstances” test articulated in Colorado River. The Eighth Circuit said, "However, unlike Colorado River, this lawsuit involves a declaratory judgment action. Apex, therefore, claims that the district court correctly relied upon Wilton and Brillhart to govern its abstention analysis." Royal also argued that the Ninth Circuit’s decisions in Government Employees Insurance Co. v. Dizol, 133 F.3d 1220 (9th Cir. 1998) (en banc), and United National Insurance Co. v. R & D Latex Corp., 242 F.3d 1102 (9th Cir. 2001), support its claims that Wilton and Brillhart do not apply here. However, the Appeal Court said, "...not only are these cases not binding precedent for us, they are easily distinguishable..."

Access the complete opinion (click here).