Piedmont Realty Office Trust v. XL Specialty Insurance Co.Annotate this Case
Piedmont Office Realty Trust, Inc. purchased two insurance policies: a primary policy issued by Liberty Surplus Insurance Company and an excess coverage policy issued by XL Specialty Insurance Company ("XL"). The excess policy provided that XL will only pay for a "loss" which Piedmont became "legally obligated to pay as a result of a securities claim." The policy also contains a "consent to settle" clause. In addition, the policy contains a "no action" clause which read: "No action shall be taken against the insurer unless, as a condition precedent thereto, there shall have been full compliance with all of the terms of this policy, and the amount of the insureds’ obligation to pay shall have been finally determined either by judgment against the insureds after actual trial, or by written agreement of the insureds, the claimant and the insurer." Piedmont was named as a defendant in a federal securities class action suit in which the plaintiffs sought damages exceeding $150 million. Relatively early in the litigation, Piedmont moved for summary judgment. The district court denied Piedmont’s motion. Thereafter, following years of discovery and litigation, Piedmont renewed its summary judgment motion. The district court granted the renewed motion and dismissed the class action suit. Plaintiffs appealed. While the plaintiffs’ appeal was pending, plaintiffs and Piedmont agreed to mediate plaintiffs’ claim. By that time, Piedmont had already exhausted its coverage limit under its primary policy and another $4 million of its excess policy simply by defending itself. Anticipating a settlement with plaintiffs, Piedmont sought XL’s consent to settle the claim for the remaining $6 million under the excess policy. XL agreed to contribute $1 million towards the settlement, but no more. Without further notice to XL and without obtaining XL’s consent, Piedmont agreed to settle the underlying lawsuit with plaintiffs for $4.9 million. The district court approved the settlement and Piedmont demanded XL provide coverage for the full settlement amount. XL refused. Piedmont filed suit against XL for breach of contract and bad faith failure to settle. XL moved to dismiss the complaint; the district court granted XL’s motion; and Piedmont appealed. The 11th Circuit certified three questions to the Georgia Supreme Court: (1) Under the facts of this case, was Piedmont "legally obligated to pay" the $4.9 million settlement amount, for purposes of qualifying for insurance coverage under the Excess Policy?; (2) In a case like this one, when an insurance contract contains a "consent-to-settle" clause that provides expressly that the insurer's consent "shall not be unreasonably withheld," can a court determine, as a matter of law, that an insured who seeks (but fails) to obtain the insurer's consent before settling is flatly barred from bringing suit for breach of contract or for bad-faith failure to settle?; and (3) In this case, under Georgia law, was Piedmont's complaint dismissed properly? The Georgia Supreme Court responded: absent XL’s consent to the settlement, under the terms of the policy, Piedmont could not sue XL for bad faith refusal to settle the underlying lawsuit in the absence of a judgment against Piedmont after an actual trial. It follows that the district court did not err in dismissing Piedmont’s complaint.