When does an administrative action trigger the duty to defend? — UPDATED

A company received “PRP” (Potentially Responsible Party) letters from the EPA, followed by a “Unilateral Administrative Order” requiring the company to do remedial work.  Its CGL insurer denied coverage, contending that these administrative communications under CERCLA were not a “suit” that triggered the duty to defend.  McGinnes Industrial Maintenance Corp. v. Phoenix Ins. Co., No. 13-20360 (June 11, 2014, unpublished).  The insured argued that the word “suit” was ambiguous and thus led to coverage; the insurer argued that a broad reading of “suit” was inconsistent with the word “claim” in the policy and the word “petition” in the usual phrasing of the Texas “eight corners” rule.  Finding the issue important and that “the parties each make reasonable arguments” about it, the Fifth Circuit certified this question to the Texas Supreme Court: “Whether the EPA’s PRP letters and/or unilateral administrative order, issued pursuant to CERCLA, constitute a ‘suit’ within the meaning of the CGL policies, triggering the duty to defend.”  That Court has now answered yes and the case has been remanded for further proceedings.

Recent Related Posts