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Minkler v. Safeco Ins. Co. of America

Supreme Court of California

June 17, 2010, Filed

S174016

Opinion

 [**614]  [***614]   BAXTER, J.—We have agreed to answer a question of California insurance law directed to us by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Scott Minkler (Scott) sued David Schwartz (David) and David's mother, Betty Schwartz (Betty), alleging that David, an adult, sexually molested Scott, then a minor.  [****2] The complaint alleged, among other things, that some of the acts of molestation occurred in Betty's home, and as a result of Betty's negligent supervision.

Betty was the named insured under a series of homeowners policies issued by Safeco Insurance Company of America (Safeco), and David was an additional insured. The policies' liability coverage provisions promised to defend and indemnify, within policy limits, “an” insured for personal injury or property damage arising from a covered “occurrence,” but they specifically excluded coverage for injury that was “expected or intended” by “an” insured, or was the foreseeable result of “an” insured's intentional act. Absent contrary evidence, in a policy with multiple insureds, exclusions from coverage described with reference to the acts of “an” or “any,” as opposed to “the,” insured are deemed under California law to apply collectively, so that if one insured has committed acts for which coverage is excluded, the exclusion applies to all insureds with respect to the same occurrence. (E.g., Fire Ins. Exchange v. Altieri (1991) 235 Cal. App. 3d 1352, 1360–1361 [1 Cal. Rptr. 2d 360] (Altieri); see California State Auto. Assn. Inter-Ins. Bureau v. Warwick (1976) 17 Cal.3d 190, 194–195 [130 Cal.Rptr. 520, 550 P.2d 1056].)

However,  [****3] as is often the case, the instant policies also contained a severability-of-interests [***615]  or “separate insurance” clause providing that “[t]his insurance applies separately to each insured.” The question is whether such a clause establishes, in a case like this, an exception to the rule described above, so that Betty is barred from coverage only if her own conduct in relation to David's molestation of Scott fell within the policies' exclusion for intentional acts.

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49 Cal. 4th 315 *; 232 P.3d 612 **; 110 Cal. Rptr. 3d 612 ***; 2010 Cal. LEXIS 5669 ****

SCOTT MINKLER, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. SAFECO INSURANCE COMPANY OF AMERICA, Defendant and Respondent.

Subsequent History: Reported at Minkler (Scott) v. Safeco Insurance Company of America, 2010 Cal. LEXIS 6167 (Cal., June 17, 2010)

Decision reached on appeal by, Remanded by Minkler v. Safeco Ins. Co.,399 Fed. Appx. 230, 2010 U.S. App. LEXIS 20759 (9th Cir. Cal., Oct. 7, 2010)

Prior History:  [****1] United States District Court for the Central District of California, No. CV-07-04374-MMM. United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, No. 07-56689.

Minkler (Scott) v. Safeco Insurance Company of America, 2010 Cal. LEXIS 2162 (Cal., Mar. 2, 2010)Minkler v. Safeco Ins. Co., 561 F.3d 1033, 2009 U.S. App. LEXIS 7429 (9th Cir. Cal., 2009)

CORE TERMS

insured, coverage, severability clause, intentional act, policies, ambiguity, resident, molestation, liability coverage, occurrence, household, provisions, decisions, injury arising, homeowner's policy, exclude coverage, policy exclusion, severability-of-interests, ownership, Italics, cases, terms, additional insured, bodily injury, circumstances, coinsureds, limitation of liability, negligent supervision, insurance applies, insurance clause

Contracts Law, Contract Interpretation, Ambiguities & Contra Proferentem, General Overview, Insurance Law, Commercial General Liability Insurance, Coverage, Policy Interpretation, Ambiguous Terms, Exclusions, Intentional Acts, Evidence, Burdens of Proof, Allocation, Construction Against Insurers, Coverage Favored, Claim, Contract & Practice Issues, Exclusions