Contract Breach Excluded from D&O Policy

Actual Or Alleged Contractual Liability Or Obligation Of Directors is Specifically Excluded

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Post 4820

Paraco Gas Corporation (“Paraco”), a closely-held family corporation that distributes propane fuel and equipment, appealed a June 22, 2023 judgment of the district court dismissing its breach of contract and declaratory judgment claims against Ironshore Indemnity, Inc. (“Ironshore”), an insurance company that issued Paraco the liability insurance policy at the heart of this dispute. Ironshore issued an insurance policy for Directors, Officers, and Private Company Liability coverage (the “D&O Policy” or “Policy”) to Paraco.

As its name suggests, the D&O Policy provided insurance coverage for certain acts of Paraco’s officers and directors. After a suit was brought against Joseph and Christina Armentano, who were Paraco officers, alleging that Joseph had transferred shares in violation of the terms of two Paraco Shareholder Agreements, Paraco sought coverage for defense and indemnity under the Policy for the suit (the “Underlying Action”).

In Paraco Gas Corporation, Joseph Armentano, Christina Armentano v. Ironshore Indemnity, Inc., No. 23-1069-cv, United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit (June 17, 2024) the Second Circuit interpreted the policy as it related to the facts.

THE SUIT

The district court dismissed Paraco’s suit because an exclusion provision of the insurance policy unambiguously excluded liability coverage for the Underlying Action.

THE POLICY

The D&O Policy provides a blanket statement of coverage, followed later by an exclusionary provision for certain acts. Section III.N.’s exclusion provision reads as follows: “Section III. The Insurer shall not be liable to make any payment for Loss in connection with any Claim made against any Insured: . . . N. alleging, arising out of, based upon or attributable to any actual or alleged contractual liability or obligation of the Company or an Insured Person under any contract, agreement, employment contract or employment agreement to pay money, wages or any employee benefits of any kind.” (emphasis added).”

As an initial matter, Paraco conceded that nine out of the ten claims in the Underlying Action “arise out of” alleged breaches of the two Paraco Shareholder Agreements.

The suit, in Count IV of the Underlying Action, sought declaratory relief stating that the Class A Shareholder Agreement remained in effect and governed the rights of Paraco shareholders, and that an agreement signed by Joseph purporting to terminate the Class A Shareholder Agreement was invalid.

CONCLUSION

Count IV alleges the existence of facts showing that Appellants violated the terms of the Class A Shareholder Agreement and the claim could not exist but for Joseph’s alleged violation of the agreement’s right of first refusal and stock transfer provisions. Thus, the claim is clearly positioned within the Policy exclusion.

The Second Circuit concluded that each claim in the Underlying Action arose from an “actual or alleged contractual liability or obligation of” Paraco, Joseph, or Christina, under the relevant shareholder agreements. Thus, any legal duty Ironshore had under the D&O Policy to defend and/or indemnify Paraco did not exist because the entirety of the Underlying Action falls within the Policy’s exclusion clause.

ZALMA OPINION

As a contract an insurance policy will always be read as written to provide coverage or eliminate coverage. Once the Second Circuit concluded that the contractual liability alleged in the underlying complaint was excluded Ironshore had no duty to defend or indemnify its insureds.

(c) 2024 Barry Zalma & ClaimSchool, Inc.

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About Barry Zalma

An insurance coverage and claims handling author, consultant and expert witness with more than 48 years of practical and court room experience.
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