Giordano, Halleran & Ciesla Co-Cousel on $5.4 Million Judgment in Insurance Coverage Case
August 19, 2015
Giordano, Halleran & Ciesla was co-counsel along with the Chicago law firms of Anderson + Wanca and Bock & Hatch, LLC in obtaining a judgment in the amount of $5,484,027 in an insurance coverage case in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Monmouth County in a jury trial presided over by the Honorable Katie A. Gummer, J.S.C. .
The insurance coverage case involved a dispute between Giordano, Halleran & Ciesla’s client, Group C Communications, Inc. (“Group C”) and its insurer, Penn National Insurance Company (“Penn National”). Penn National issued two general liability insurance policies to Group C in 2004 and 2005. Group C was sued in Federal District Court in Illinois by G.M. Sign, Inc., individually and on behalf of a class for alleged violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”), 47 U.S.C. § 227 (the “Illinois Federal Class Action”). Upon service of the complaint in the Illinois Federal Class Action, Group C tendered a claim for insurance coverage under the liability policies issued to it by Penn National.
Penn National initially undertook to defend Group C in the Illinois Federal Class Action under a reservation of rights. It simultaneously filed a lawsuit in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Monmouth County, seeking a declaration that it had no duty to defend or indemnify Group C in the Illinois Federal Class Action. Giordano, Halleran & Ciesla filed a counterclaim on behalf of Group C seeking a declaration that Penn National was obligated to defend and indemnify it for the claims made in the Illinois Federal Class Action.
In 2013, Penn National and Group C cross moved for summary judgment in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Monmouth County. An Order was entered granting summary judgment to Penn National declaring that it had no duty to defend or indemnify Group C in the Illinois Federal Class Action.
As a result of this ruling, and although Group C appealed the Order granting summary judgment to Penn National, Penn National nonetheless withdrew its defense of Group C in the Illinois Federal Class Action. As a result, a judgment by default was entered against Group C based on the conclusion of the Illinois Federal Court that Group C committed violations of the TCPA and that Group C was responsible for $500 per violation under the provisions of the TCPA.
Giordano, Halleran & Ciesla successfully filed an appeal to the New Jersey Appellate Division and obtained a reversal of the trial court’s ruling that Penn National had no duty to defend or indemnify Group C in the Illinois Federal Class Action. The Appellate Division remanded the matter to the trial court to determine whether there was coverage under the Penn National policies.
In the interim, Group C entered into an agreement with G.M. Sign, Inc., the plaintiff and class representative in the Illinois Federal Class Action, in which it assigned its rights under its insurance policies with Penn National to G.M. Sign in consideration for G.M. Sign’s agreement not to pursue recovery of any portion of the judgment against Group C other than whatever insurance proceeds might be available under the Penn National policies. G.M. Sign intervened as a plaintiff-intervenor in the New Jersey lawsuit.
The trial in the matter was conducted between April 8, 2015 and April 20, 2015 before Judge Gummer at the Monmouth County courthouse. The jury was asked to determine: (1) whether G.M. Sign suffered any “property damage” within the meaning of that term in the Penn National policies; (2) whether Group C expected or intended any such property damage so as to trigger the application of the “expected or intended” exclusion in the Penn National policies; and (3) whether the property damage was a result of one or more than one occurrence. The jury concluded that there was property damage which was not expected or intended by Group C and which was a result of more than one occurrence. As a result of these findings, Group C, and G.M. Sign, through its assignment of rights from Group C, were entitled to coverage under the Penn National policies.
Following the submission of post-trial briefs, on August 11, 2015 Judge Gummer ruled that G.M. Sign, individually and on behalf of a certified class as judgment creditors of Group C, was entitled to judgment in the amount of $4,389,500 representing the portion of the underlying judgment within the applicable limits of the policies issued by Penn National. In addition, Judge Gummer also ruled that G.M. Sign and the class were entitled to post-judgment interest as a “Supplementary Payment” under the policies in the amount of $247,417.08.
On August 13, 2015 Judge Gummer issued an additional ruling concluding that Group C, and G.M. Sign via its assignment, were the prevailing parties under R. 4:42-9(8)(6), which is a New Jersey court rule which allows a successful claimant under a liability policy to recover its reasonable attorneys’ fees. Judge Gummer entered an additional award requiring Penn National to pay attorneys’ fees to Anderson + Wanca in the amount of $554,612.20, to Bock & Hatch, LLC in the amount of $107,861.25 and to Giordano, Halleran & Ciesla in the amount of $184,637.35.
Michael J. Canning and Matthew N. Fiorovanti were the attorneys at Giordano, Halleran & Ciesla who were primarily responsible for representing Group C and G.M. Sign, Inc. in this matter.