Zenith Insurance Company v. St. Paul Fire & Marine Insurance Company et al

Filing 41

ORDER granting 27 Motion to Bifurcate and Stay. The Case Management Conference scheduled for 7/6/2017 is VACATED. Instead, the parties shall file an updated Joint Case Management Conference Statement on or before 7/13/2017, which includes a proposed schedule accounting for the bifurcation. Signed by Judge Edward J. Davila on 7/5/2017. (ejdlc1S, COURT STAFF) (Filed on 7/5/2017)

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1 2 3 4 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 5 NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 6 SAN JOSE DIVISION 7 ZENITH INSURANCE COMPANY, 8 Case No. 5:16-cv-07219-EJD Plaintiff, 9 ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO BIFURCATE AND STAY v. 10 OLD REPUBLIC INSURANCE COMPANY, United States District Court Northern District of California 11 Re: Dkt. No. 27 Defendant. 12 In this action between liability insurers, Plaintiff Zenith Insurance Company1 seeks a 13 14 declaration fully or partially absolving it of responsibility for the payment of a settlement arising 15 out of a state-court action for injuries sustained in an automobile accident. Zenith and Defendant 16 Old Republic Insurance Company (“Old Republic”) both participated in the defense of the state 17 court action and equally paid a portion of the $3 million settlement proceeds based on potential 18 coverage under their respective policies. But Zenith claims that the Old Republic policy qualifies 19 as “primary insurance” for the accident by virtue of California Insurance Code § 11580.9(d), and 20 that Old Republic should consequently reimburse Zenith for the settlement funds it paid. For its 21 part, Old Republic contends in counter and third-party claims that Zenith is responsible for the 22 settlement payment due to a contractual arrangement between their respective insureds. 23 Federal jurisdiction arises pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Presently before the court is a 24 motion by Zenith and Third Party Defendant Ramirez Harvest Company, Inc. to (1) bifurcate the 25 question of whether Insurance Code § 11580.9(d) controls the priority of the Zenith and Old 26 27 28 1 The moving defendants will both be referred to as “Zenith” since their interests in this issue coincide. 1 Case No.: 5:16-cv-07219-EJD ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO BIFURCATE AND STAY 1 Republic policies from all other issues in the case, and (2) stay discovery on issues other than the 2 application of Insurance Code § 11580.9(d) until the court rules on that section’s impact on the 3 parties’ claims. Dkt. No. Old Republic opposes the motion. 4 Because this matter is suitable for decision without oral argument, the hearing scheduled 5 for July 6, 2017, is VACATED. As to Zenith’s motion, the court finds, concludes and orders as 6 follows: 7 1. Zenith’s bifurcation request is governed by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 42(b), 8 which permits the separate trial of one or more issues “[f]or convenience, to avoid prejudice, or to 9 expedite and economize.” The rule “confers broad discretion upon the district court to bifurcate a trial, thereby deferring costly and possibly unnecessary proceedings pending resolution of 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 10 potentially dispositive preliminary issues.” Zivkovic v. S. Cal. Edison Co., 302 F.3d 1080, 1088 12 (9th Cir. 2002). It also implicitly confers on the district court the “power to limit discovery to the 13 segregated issues.” Ellingson Timber Co. v. Great N. Ry. Co., 424 F.2d 497, 499 (9th Cir. 1970). 14 2. Factors relevant to the issue of bifurcation include, but are not limited to: 15 “complexity of issues, factual proof, risk of jury confusion, difference between the separated 16 issues, the chance that separation will lead to economy in discovery, and the possibility that the 17 first trial may be dispositive of the case.” MySpace, Inc. v. Graphon Corp., 732 F. Supp. 2d 915, 18 917 (N.D. Cal. 2010). “Bifurcation should be ordered only when it will result in judicial economy 19 and will not unduly prejudice any party.” Id. 20 3. Insurance Code § 11580.9(d) was enacted to sort out disputes that arise “where the 21 same person is insured by several insurers separately in respect to the same subject and interest,” a 22 situation known as “double insurance.” Mission Ins. Co. v. Hartford Ins. Co., 155 Cal. App. 3d 23 1199, (1984) (citing Cal. Ins. Code § 590). Indeed, “[t]he statute, where applicable, makes a 24 definitive imposition of primary and/or excess liability on insurers in given situations.” Hartford 25 Accident & Indem. Co. v. Sequoia Ins. Co., 211 Cal. App. 3d 1285, 1296-97 (1989). It provides, 26 in relevant part, that: 27 28 [W]here two or more policies affording valid and collectible liability 2 Case No.: 5:16-cv-07219-EJD ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO BIFURCATE AND STAY insurance apply to the same motor vehicle or vehicles in an occurrence out of which a liability loss shall arise, it shall be conclusively presumed that the insurance afforded by that policy in which the motor vehicle is described or rated as an owned automobile shall be primary and the insurance afforded by any other policy or policies shall be excess. 1 2 3 4 5 4. Zenith argues that bifurcating the issue of whether § 11580.9(d) applies to the Old 6 Republic policy and staying discovery related to all other matters would satisfy the requirements 7 of Rule 42(b). To that end, Zenith contends a bifurcation could obviate the need to try the other 8 issues in the case - including those related to Old Republic’s counter and third-party claims - 9 thereby promoting a potentially expeditious resolution and conserving judicial resources. Zenith also states the amount of discovery necessary to litigate the bifurcated issue would be minimal and 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 10 may simply involve production of the Old Republic policy declarations, production of the 12 underwriting file, and a deposition of Old Republic’s designated corporate representative. 13 5. In opposition, Old Republic makes three arguments. First, it argues bifurcation is 14 unnecessary because § 11580.9(d) is inapplicable, as the automobile involved in the accident is not 15 “described or rated” in the relevant policy. See Ohio Cas. Ins. Co. v. Aetna Ins. Co., 85 Cal. App. 16 3d 521, 524 (1978) (holding the “commensense understanding” of “described or rated” is a 17 “particularization of the vehicle.”). Second, Old Republic contends a bifurcation would not 18 resolve the indemnity issues raised by its contract-based claims, which it believes will still need to 19 be tried since they are not governed by § 11580.9(d). Third, Old Republic suggests a bifurcation 20 will unnecessarily prolong the case and impair its ability to gather evidence in support of its 21 indemnity claims. 22 6. Having considered the parties’ respective positions in light of the applicable legal 23 standard, the court is persuaded by Zenith’s argument. The limited issue of § 11580.9(d)’s effect 24 on this action, if any, is legally and factually distinct from the indemnity issues raised by Old 25 Republic’s claims and is therefore easily separated out. It is also an issue, as Zenith recognizes, 26 that will require a minimal factual investigation and can be presented and decided with minimal 27 delay. And the court is not convinced that staying discovery on other issues will unduly prejudice 28 3 Case No.: 5:16-cv-07219-EJD ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO BIFURCATE AND STAY 1 Old Republic or prevent it from obtaining relevant information since such a stay will be 2 temporary. Notably, Old Republic has not cited any specific evidence it believes will be lost if it 3 cannot undertake discovery related to other issues now. 4 7. Furthermore, the parties’ disagreement over the application of § 11580.9(d) to the 5 Old Republic policy is not one that can be sorted out in a motion such as this one, though the court 6 appreciates the preview of the arguments. Important, however, is observing that while Old 7 Republic’s opinion on the matter appears to have some legal support, Zenith’s does as well. 8 Moreover, this contested issue appears pivotal enough to determining responsibility for the 9 proceeds paid to conclude the state court action that its early resolution presents a significant opportunity to defer further litigation costs if it either proves dispositive or increases the potential 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 10 for settlement. 12 13 14 Thus, having found the relief requested promotes efficiency and economy and does not unduly prejudice Old Republic, Zenith’s motion is GRANTED. The question of whether § 11580.9(d) controls the priority of the Zenith and Old Republic 15 policies will be bifurcated from all other issues in the case. In conjunction with the bifurcation, 16 discovery is stayed on all issues other than the application of § 11580.9(d) until further order of 17 the court. 18 Because this decision will likely have an impact on scheduling, the Case Management 19 Conference scheduled for July 6, 2017, is VACATED. Instead, the parties shall file an updated 20 Joint Case Management Conference Statement on or before July 13, 2017, which includes a 21 proposed schedule accounting for the bifurcation. The court will review the statement and issue a 22 Case Management Order or schedule a conference if necessary. 23 24 25 26 27 28 IT IS SO ORDERED. Dated: July 5, 2017 ______________________________________ EDWARD J. DAVILA United States District Judge 4 Case No.: 5:16-cv-07219-EJD ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO BIFURCATE AND STAY

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