St. Paul Mercury Insurance Company v. Tessera, Inc.

Filing 48

ORDER by Judge Whyte granting 29 St.Paul's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment; denying 30 Tessera's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (rmwlc1, COURT STAFF) (Filed on 11/30/2012)

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1 2 3 4 5 6 7 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 8 NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 9 SAN JOSE DIVISION 10 ST. PAUL MERCURY INSURANCE COMPANY, a Minnesota corporation, 11 Plaintiff, 12 v. 13 TESSERA, INC., a Delaware corporation, 14 Defendant. 15 CASE NO. C-12-01827 RMW ORDER GRANTING ST. PAUL MERCURY INSURANCE COMPANY'S PARTIAL MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AND DENYING TESSERA, INC.'S PARTIAL MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [Re: Docket Nos. 29, 30] 16 17 On April 12, 2012 plaintiff and cross-defendant, St. Paul Mercury Insurance (“St. Paul”), 18 filed the instant action seeking a declaratory judgment that it has no duty to defend Tessera Inc. 19 (“Tessera”), its insured, in an action brought against Tessera by Power Technology, Inc. (“PTI”) in 20 the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, Powertech Technology Inc. 21 22 v. Tessera, Inc., Case No. 11-06121 ("underlying action"). Dkt. No. 1. St. Paul also seeks 23 reimbursement of the amounts it has paid in defending Tessera pursuant to a reservation of rights. 24 Id. On October 26, 2012, both parties brought motions for partial summary judgment requesting 25 that the court resolve whether St. Paul was obligated to defend Tessera in the underlying action. 26 27 Dkt. Nos. 29, 30. Hearing on both motions occurred on November 30, 2012. Having considered the papers submitted by the parties and the arguments of counsel, and for the reasons set forth 28 1 1 below, the court grants St. Paul's partial motion to dismiss and denies Tessera's partial motion to 2 dismiss. I. BACKGROUND 3 4 5 6 A. The Contract Between St. Paul and Tessera Beginning in May of 2007 and spanning until August of 2009, St. Paul issued three insurance policies to Tessera in which it agreed to indemnify Tessera and defend it against certain 7 claims. Compl. at ¶¶ 5-8. The terms of the each insurance policy are identical insofar as relevant 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 to this action. Specifically, the insurance policy (“the Policy”) states: Personal Injury Liability: We'll pay amounts any protected person is legally required to pay as damages for covered personal injury that: • results from your business activities; and • is caused by a personal injury offense committed while this agreement is in effect. ... Personal injury offense means any of the following offenses: ... • Malicious prosecution. ... • Libel, or slander, in or with covered material. • Making known to any person or organization covered material that disparages the business, premises products, services, work, or completed work of others. ... Covered material means any material in any form of expression, including material made known or with any electronic means of communication, such as the Internet." Stip. Re Undisputed Facts ("Stip."), Ex. A, P000000075. In regards to the duty to defend, the 21 Agreement reads: "We'll have the right and duty to defend any protected person against any claim 22 23 or suit for injury or damage covered by this agreement. We'll have such a right and duty even if 24 all of the allegations . . . are groundless, false, or fraudulent." Id. at P000000076. The Agreement 25 also contains the following exclusion as to its indemnity and defense obligations for "intellectual 26 property": 27 28 2 1 2 3 4 5 Intellectual Property. We won't cover injury or damage … that result from any actual or alleged infringement or violation of any of the following rights or laws: ... Patent. ... Other intellectual property rights or laws. Nor will we cover any other injury or damage or medical expenses alleged in a claim or suit that also alleges any such infringement or violation. 6 Id. at P000000090. 7 8 9 10 B. The Underlying Action Tessera holds patents to an encapsulation process for packaging semiconductor chips. Tessera licensed those patents to PTI, a chip packager which uses Tessera's encapsulation process. On December 6, 2011, PTI brought suit against Tessera in the underlying action, alleging that 11 12 13 Tessera violated PTI's license agreement by initiating a United States International Trade Commission ("ITC") Section 337 Investigation in December 2007 ("ITC proceeding" or "630 14 Investigation"). Stip. Ex. F. Though PTI was not a named respondent in the ITC proceeding, 15 Tessera did name a PTI customer in the proceeding, which PTI claimed violated PTI's license 16 agreement and caused damage to PTI's business. Id. In the operative complaint in the underlying 17 action (the Fourth Amended Complaint), PTI brought claims of breach of contract, breach of 18 implied covenant of good faith, and fraud. Stip. Ex. I. PTI also requested declaratory judgments 19 20 that it had the right to terminate the license agreement, that the license agreement is unenforceable, 21 and that Tessera engaged in patent misuse. Id. The matter between Tessera and PTI is ongoing. 22 On February 12, 2012, Tessera notified St. Paul of the underlying action with PTI and requested 23 that St. Paul conduct a coverage review. Stip. Ex. J. St. Paul agreed to participate in Tessera's 24 defense against PTI in the underlying action, but reserved the right to contest its duty to defend 25 and to seek reimbursement. Id. 26 27 28 3 1 2 C. The Present Action On April 12, 2012, St. Paul filed the present action against Tessera seeking a declaratory 3 judgment that it has no duty to defend Tessera in the underlying action and for reimbursement of 4 the fees it has already paid. Dkt. No. 1. On May 21, 2012, Tessera answered and brought a cross5 complaint for declaratory judgment that St. Paul has a duty to defend, breach of contract, and bad 6 faith. Dkt. 11. Both parties filed partial summary judgment motions on October 26, 2012 as to 7 their requests for declaratory judgments regarding St. Paul's duty to defend. The claim for 8 reimbursement is not before the court on this motion. 9 10 11 12 13 II. DISCUSSION A. Rulings On Evidentiary Matters St. Paul filed evidentiary objections to the declaration of Michael R. Williams (“Williams Declaration”) and supporting exhibits (submitted by Tessera with both its motion for summary 14 judgment and its opposition to St. Paul's motion for summary judgment) on the ground of 15 16 relevance. Dkt. Nos. 34, 40. In his declaration, Williams offers testimony regarding an action 17 entitled St. Paul Mercury Insurance Company v. Tessera Technologies, Inc., et al., Santa Clara 18 Superior Court Case No. 110-cv-172266 ("Santa Clara Action"). While St. Paul is correct that the 19 Santa Clara Action is not a binding authority and has no preclusive effect on this court's decision, 20 this court may nevertheless consider the Santa Clara Action as an instructive authority. See Hart 21 v. Massanari, 266 F.3d 1155, 1169-70 (9th Cir. 2001). That litigation involved the interpretation 22 of the same language in the insurance Agreement that is now before this court (but with respect to 23 24 PTI's claims against Tessera in a different underlying action regarding a different PTI customer), 25 and is therefore relevant to the present matter. The court overrules St. Paul's objections to the 26 Williams Declaration and supporting exhibits. 27 28 4 1 St. Paul also requested judicial notice of certain public documents in the court's docket in 2 the underlying action. Dkt. Nos. 33, 41. The court grants this request, and takes judicial notice of 3 the following: Tessera, Inc.'s Notice of Motions, Motions and Memorandum in Support of 4 Tessera's: (1) Motion to Dismiss and (2) Special Motion to Strike filed on December 30, 2011, in 5 the underlying action. 6 B. The Duty To Defend Under California Law 7 The issue is whether the Agreement between St. Paul and Tessera obligates St. Paul to 8 9 defend Tessera in the underlying action. California law broadly construes the duty to defend. In 10 California, the insurer's duty to defend is more broad than the insurer's obligation to indemnify 11 covered claims, such that an insurer may have a duty to defend where it would not have a duty to 12 pay damages. Horace Mann Ins. Co. v. Barbara B., 4 Cal. 4th 1076, 1081 (1993). The operative 13 inquiry is not whether the underlying complaint specifically names the claims covered by the 14 policy, but rather whether there is a potential for liability for a covered cause of action under the 15 16 policy based on the allegations in the complaint and any extrinsic facts known to the insurer at the 17 time the duty to defend arises. Montrose Chem. Corp. v. Super. Ct., 6 Cal. 4th 287, 295 (1993); 18 CNA Casualty of Cal. v. Seaboard Surety Co., 176 Cal. App. 3d 595, 605 (1986). While the 19 initial determination of the duty must depend on a close reading of the third-party complaint, 20 extrinsic facts known to the insurer may give rise to the duty if they show that a covered claim 21 may nonetheless exist. Gray v. Zurich Insurance Co., 65 Cal. 2d 263, 276 (1966) (finding 22 potential for coverage when policy had exclusion for intentional acts and insured was accused of 23 24 assault and battery but could have alternatively been liable for negligent use of force). "This is so 25 because current pleading rules liberally allow amendment; the third party cannot be the arbiter of 26 coverage." Montrose, 6 Cal. 4th at 297 (citing Gray, 65 Cal. 2d at 276). Even claims brought 27 against the insured that are frivolous or groundless may activate the insurer's obligation to defend. 28 5 1 Horace Mann, 4 Cal. 4th at 1086 (holding that even where the appellate court found the 2 underlying plaintiff's claims to be "insubstantial," the duty to defend nonetheless existed because 3 the insurer should have raised the insubstantial nature of the claims in the defense of the insured). 4 On the other hand, the duty to defend is not without boundary. Hartford Cas. Ins. Co. v. 5 Swift Distrib., Inc., 210 Cal. App. 4th 915, __, 148 Cal. Rptr. 3d 679, 683-84 (Oct. 29, 2012). 6 "The insurer need not defend where extrinsic facts eliminate the potential for coverage despite 7 allegations in the complaint which suggest potential liability, and where the third party complaint 8 9 can by no conceivable theory raise a single issue which could bring it within the policy coverage." 10 Id. (citing Montrose, 6 Cal. 4th at 295). "[T]he universe of facts bearing on whether a claim is 11 potentially covered . . . does not include made up facts, just because those facts might naturally be 12 supposed to exist along with the known facts." Friedman Prof. Mgmt. Co. v. Norcal Mut. Ins. Co., 13 14 120 Cal. App. 4th 17, 34-35 (2004). On summary judgment, "the insured need only show that the underlying claim may fall 15 16 within policy coverage." Montrose, 6 Cal. 4th at 300 (emphasis added). If the insured does so, the 17 burden shifts to the insurer to "prove that it does not." Id. 18 19 20 21 C. Application Tessera argues that St. Paul has a duty to defend because PTI's allegations in the underlying action could support claims for defamation, disparagement, malicious prosecution, and abuse of process, which Tessera alleges are all covered claims under St. Paul’s Agreement. St. 22 23 Paul counters that PTI's allegations in the underlying action cannot support any covered claims. 24 St. Paul argues in the alternative that the intellectual property exclusion in the Agreement excuses 25 any duty to defend that may exist. 26 27 28 6 1. Defamation and Disparagement 1 Under California law, a claim for defamation can include either a claim for slander or for 2 3 libel. Cabesuela v. Browning-Ferris Indus. of Cal., Inc., 68 Cal. App. 4th 101, 111-12 (1998). 4 Libel and slander are both defined under the California Civil Code and require a "false and 5 unprivileged publication," either "by writing," Cal. Civ. Code § 45 (libel), or "orally uttered," id. 6 § 46 (slander). Defamation claims protect the plaintiff's interest in his or her privacy, Ringler 7 Assocs., Inc. v. Md. Cas. Co., 80 Cal. App. 4th 1165, 1179 (2000), and therefore require that the 8 false statement be made at least to a person other than the defamed in order to be published, 9 10 Cabesuela, 68 Cal. App. 4th at 112. The statement also must specifically refer to or concern the 11 plaintiff in some way. Blatty v. New York Times Co., 42 Cal. 3d 1033, 1042 (1986). 12 13 Disparagement liability, also called "trade libel," requires that the accused made a "publication" that was "a false assertion of fact, not an opinion." Computer Xpress, Inc. v. 14 Jackson, 93 Cal. App. 4th 993, 1010-11 (2001). The cause of action requires: (1) a false statement 15 16 of fact published to a third party, (2) that specifically refers to the plaintiff and derogates the 17 quality of its products, and (3) an injury suffered by the plaintiff because of the false statement. 18 See Total Call Intern., Inc. v. Peerless Ins. Co., 181 Cal. App. 4th 161, 170-71 (2010). 19 Tessera contends that PTI’s complaints in the underlying actions allege that Tessera made 20 defamatory and disparaging statements directed towards PTI's customers during the ITC 21 proceeding. Tessera points to the following statements from the complaint to support the duty to 22 defend: 23 25 - Tessera and PTI were parties to a technology license agreement relating to integrated circuit packages (Fourth Amended PTI Complaint ¶ 1, Stipulation Ex. I); - "On December 7, 2007, Tessera initiated [the 630 Investigation]" (id. ¶ 5); - 24 Tessera "name[ed] PTI's customers as respondents in the 630 Investigation" (id. ¶ 15); 26 27 28 7 1 2 - The 630 Investigation "accused PTI-packaged products of infringing four Tessera Patents" (id. ¶ 5); - Tessera "maintained throughout the 620 Investigation that the importation and sale of the PTI-packaged products violated Section 337 of the Tariff Action of 1930" (id. ¶ 6); - By "accusing PTI-packaged products and naming PTI's customers as respondents in the 630 Investigation," Tessera "interfered with, disrupted, and frustrated PTI's relationship with PTI's customer" (id. ¶ 15); and - Tessera's alleged acts "have caused PTI substantial damage of at least $200 million" (id. ¶ 21) 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Tessera's Opposition Br. 3-4, Dkt. No. 31; see also Tessera's Br. 6, Dkt. 30 (citing the same 10 allegations from the Third Amended Complaint). 11 St. Paul counters that it has no duty to defend because, with respect to defamation, "[t]here 12 are no statements in the [underlying a]ction claiming an injury to PTI's reputation," and with 13 14 respect to disparagement, "the complaint [in the underlying action] does not allege facts satisfying the requirements of 'publication' and 'specific reference.'" St. Paul's Opposition Br. 9, Dkt. No. 15 16 32-2. St. Paul also argues that any statements made during the ITC proceeding cannot support a 17 defamation or disparagement cause of action because they are barred by the litigation privilege 18 under California Civil Code § 47(b). 19 Section 47(b) provides that communications made in any "judicial proceeding" or "any 20 other official proceeding" are privileged such that they cannot give rise to tort liability. Cal. Civ. 21 Code § 47(b). "The section provides an absolute privilege for a publication filed in a judicial 22 proceeding." Alpha & Omega Dev., LP v. Whillock Contracting, Inc., 200 Cal. App. 4th 656, 664 23 24 (2011). "Although originally enacted with reference to defamation actions alone, the privilege has 25 been extended to any communication, whether or not it is a publication, and to all torts other than 26 malicious prosecution." Edwards v. Centex Real Estate Corp., 53 Cal. App. 4th 15, 29 (1997) 27 (emphasis in original). Section 47(b) does not function like an evidentiary privilege to the extent 28 8 1 that it does not bar the introduction of evidence, but instead acts as a bar on liability for privileged 2 statements. Oren Royal Oaks Venture v. Greenberg, Bernhard, Weiss & Karma, Inc., 42 Cal. 3d 3 1157, 1168 (1986). 4 Here, every allegation in the underlying action is either: (1) a statement that Tessera made 5 directly to PTI, not a false or disparaging statement about PTI to any third-party; or (2) subject to 6 the litigation privilege. The Fourth Amended Complaint also contains an allegation (not 7 mentioned by Tessera but nonetheless worth addressing) that Tessera asked PTI—outside of the 8 9 ITC proceeding—to disclose PTI's confidential royalty reports in conjunction with PTI's patent 10 license to one of PTI's customers. See Stip. Ex. I ¶ 33. While Tessera's request that PTI provide 11 an accounting to a third-party is not subject to the litigation privilege, it was not a false publication 12 made about PTI to a third-party. Rather it was an accurate disclosure made by PTI to its customer 13 14 reflecting PTI's royalty payments to Tessera. The only publications conceivably alleged to be made to a third-party were made during 15 16 the course of the ITC proceeding, and thus may not be considered to support a claim for 17 defamation or disparagement. See Cal. Civ. Code § 47(b). In this case, the litigation privilege 18 accorded to these statements is not merely a defense that St. Paul could bring in the underlying 19 action against PTI's allegation, compare with Horace Mann, 4 Cal. 4th at 1086 (where the 20 21 “insubstantial” nature of the claims did not excuse coverage, but rather was a defense of the insured), but rather a complete bar to potential liability, see Cal. Civ. Code §§ 45, 46 (a cause of 22 23 24 action requires that the publications are "not privileged"); Old Republic Ins. Co. v. FSR Brokerage, Inc., 80 Cal. App. 4th 666, 687 (2000) (holding that because allegations in the 25 complaint fell squarely within the litigation privilege, insured “failed to state an applicable cause 26 of action for bad faith”). In Horace Mann, although the court found the molestation claim at 27 issue "insubstantial," the court also held that "the evidence supported the potential for liability 28 9 1 apparent on the face of the complaint and, with it, Horace Mann’s duty to defend." 4 Cal. 4th at 2 1082 (emphasis added). Unlike in Horace Mann, where liability was plausible based on the 3 allegations in the complaint, here the litigation privilege acts as a complete bar to any potential for 4 liability. "[W]here extrinsic evidence establishes that the ultimate question of coverage can be 5 determined as a matter of law on undisputed facts, we see no reason to prevent an insurer from 6 seeking summary adjudication that no potential for liability exists and thus that it has no duty to 7 defend." Montrose, 6 Cal. 4th at 298-99 (emphasis added). The court rejects any reasoning to the 8 9 contrary in the Santa Clara Action, and recognizes that different facts were alleged in the 10 underlying action in that case. 11 In contrast to the cases cited in Tessera's brief (Atl. Mut. Ins. Co. v. J. Lamb, Inc., 100 Cal. 12 App. 4th 1017 (2002) and Travelers Prop. Cas. Co. of Am. v. Charlotte Russe Holding, Inc., 207 13 Cal. App. 4th 969 (2012))—where the allegedly defaming or disparaging statements to customers 14 were not made during litigation, and where the court did not consider the applicability of the 15 16 litigation privilege—here Tessera relies solely upon PTI's allegations that Tessera named PTI's 17 customers in the ITC proceeding and accused PTI products of infringing Tessera's patents during 18 the course of that proceeding. Moreover, in Hartford, the Court of Appeal recently rejected the 19 reasoning in Charlotte Russe as unsound. 148 Cal. Rptr. 3d at 686-87. Because all of the alleged 20 21 publications raised in the underlying action here are barred from supporting a claim for defamation or disparagement under California's litigation privilege, St. Paul has met its burden of proof that 22 23 the underlying complaint provides no conceivable theory under which PTI's complaint could 24 support liability for defamation or disparagement. 25 2. Malicious Prosecution and Abuse of Process 26 Tessera asserts that PTI's allegations in the underlying action could possibly give rise to a 27 malicious prosecution or abuse of process claim. With respect to malicious prosecution, Tessera 28 10 1 relies primarily on CNA Casualty, 176 Cal. App. 3d at 608-09 (1986) (holding that allegations that 2 the insured filed "false, frivolous and sham counterclaims . . . raised at least the possibility of 3 liability under the malicious prosecution coverage" in the insurer's policy). Defendants counter 4 that PTI could not conceivably have alleged a claim for malicious prosecution based on the ITC 5 proceeding because PTI was not a named party in that proceeding. 6 Tessera misses the mark because, as St. Paul correctly argues, a cause of action for 7 malicious prosecution may only be brought by a party "directly aggrieved" in the proceedings. 8 9 See Coverstone v. Davies, 38 Cal. 2d 315, 324 (1952) (holding that there may be no cause of 10 action for malicious prosecution against "anyone other than the person directly aggrieved"); 11 Hogen v. Valley Hospital, 147 Cal. App. 3d 119, 126-27 (1983) (same). CNA is inapplicable 12 because, in that case, the insured party was the direct target of the underlying litigation upon 13 14 which the potential malicious prosecution claim could have been based. CNA, 176 Cal. App. 3d at 608-09. The mere allegation of harm based on damage to one's customer in an ITC proceeding is 15 16 17 not a direct injury that would give rise to standing to bring a malicious prosecution claim. While St. Paul's Agreement does not actually list "abuse of process" as a covered personal 18 injury offense, Tessera relies on Lunsford v. American Guarantee & Liability Insurance Co., 18 19 F.3d 653, 655-56 (9th Cir. 1994), for the proposition that insurance coverage for malicious 20 prosecution also includes coverage for abuse of process under California law. Again, Tessera 21 misses the mark. Tessera points to no convincing authority to persuade the court of any facts in 22 the underlying action that could possibly support a claim for abuse of process when PTI was not 23 24 involved in, or otherwise directly aggrieved by, the ITC proceeding. Moreover, no facts exist in 25 the underlying action that could plausibly support an abuse of process claim, which requires a 26 willful "misuse of the power of the court." Rusheen v. Cohen, 37 Cal. 4th 1048, 1057 (2006). 27 28 11 1 There are no allegations in the underlying action that Tessera willfully used the ITC proceeding 2 for an improper purpose. 3 3. Intellectual Property Exclusion 4 Because the court holds that nothing in PTI's complaint in the underlying action could 5 possibly give rise to any covered claim under the Agreement, it does not reach the issue of 6 whether the intellectual property exclusion in the Agreement excuses St. Paul from its duty to 7 8 defend. III. ORDER 9 10 For the foregoing reasons, the court GRANTS St. Paul's partial motion to dismiss and 11 DENIES Tessera's partial motion to dismiss. 12 13 DATED: November 30, 2012 14 15 16 Ronald M. Whyte United States District Judge 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 12

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