Federal Insurance Company v. ReedstromAnnotate this Case
Federal Insurance Company appealed a circuit court order denying its motion to compel arbitration of the breach-of-contract claim asserted against it by Kert Reedstrom. In 2008, Reedstrom entered into a written employment agreement with Marshall-Jackson Mental Health Board, Inc., d/b/a Mountain Lakes Behavioral Healthcare ("MLBHC"), to begin serving as its executive director in Guntersville. During the course of Reedstrom's employment with MLBHC, MLBHC held an executive-liability, entity-liability, and employment-practices-liability policy issued by Federal Insurance that generally protected certain MLBHC officers and employees described as "insureds" in the policy from loss for actions committed in the course of their employment with MLBHC. It was undisputed that Reedstrom was an "insured" covered by the Federal Insurance policy. The Federal Insurance policy contained an arbitration provision. A separate endorsement to the Federal Insurance policy further highlighted the arbitration provision and explained that its effect was that any disagreement related to coverage would be resolved by arbitration and not in a court of law. In July 2010, MLBHC terminated Reedstrom's employment and, in December 2010, Reedstrom sued MLBHC alleging that his termination constituted a breach of his employment contract. MLBHC asserted various counterclaims against Reedstrom based on his alleged misconduct while serving as executive director. Thereafter, Reedstrom gave Federal Insurance notice of the claims asserted against him and requested coverage under the terms of the Federal Insurance policy. Federal Insurance ultimately denied his claim and refused to provide him with counsel to defend against MLBHC's claims. A jury returned a verdict awarding Reedstrom $150,000 on his claim against MLBHC and awarding MLBHC $60,000 on its claims against Reedstrom. Consistent with its previous denial of his request for coverage, Federal Insurance refused Reedstrom's request to satisfy the judgment entered against him. Reedstrom sued Federal Insurance, asserting one claim of breach of contract and seeking $72,000 in damages ($60,000 for the judgment entered against him and $12,000 for the attorney fees he incurred in defending those claims). The Supreme Court reversed and remanded, finding that the trial court did not articulate its rationale for denying the motion to compel arbitration. The denial was apparently based on the court's resolving at least one of the arbitrability issues raised by Reedstrom in his favor and against Federal Insurance. However, because the subject arbitration provision delegated to the arbitrators the authority to resolve such issues, the trial court erred by considering the waiver and nonsignatory issues raised by Reedstrom instead of granting the motion to compel arbitration and allowing the arbitrators to resolve those issues.