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Harvest Meat Co. Inc. v. Travelers Property Casualty Co. of America

United States District Court, S.D. California

March 28, 2017

HARVEST MEAT COMPANY, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
TRAVELERS PROPERTY CASUALTY COMPANY OF AMERICA; CATLIN SYNDICATE 2003; XL SYNDICATE 1209; HARDY SYNDICATE 382; MARKETFORM SYNDICATE 2468; THE STANDARD SYNDICATE 1884; SIRIUS SYNDICATE 1945, Defendant.

          ORDER DENYING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS

          Hon. Dana M. Sabraw United States District Judge

         This case comes before the Court on the motion for judgment on the pleadings filed by Defendants Catlin Syndicate 2003, XL Syndicate 1209, Hardy Syndicate 382, Marketform Syndicate 2468, The Standard Syndicate 1884 and Sirius Syndicate 1945 (“the Syndicate Defendants”). Plaintiff filed an opposition to the motion, [1] and Defendants filed a reply. For the reasons discussed below, the Court denies the motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On June 27, 2016, Plaintiff Harvest Meat Company, Inc. filed the present case in San Diego Superior Court. The Complaint names the Syndicates and Travelers Property Casualty Company of America as Defendants, and alleges claims for breach of contract, declaratory relief and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. On July 27, 2016, Defendant Travelers removed Plaintiff's case to this Court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction.[2]

         On August 23, 2016, Plaintiff filed a First Amended Complaint (“FAC”). Plaintiff is a large producer and distributor of meat products in the United States. Plaintiff alleges that on May 6, 2015, it purchased $95, 140.20 worth of beef from Australian Premium Brands, Inc. (“APB”). (FAC ¶ 4.) That beef was shipped from Australia to Texas, where it was stored at Americold Logistics, LLC's cold storage facility. (Id.) Plaintiff requested that the beef be frozen (instead of refrigerated) so as to be resold at a later date, and APB instructed Americold to send the beef to the freezer. (Id.) The beef ultimately would have been further shipped to a buyer at a later time.

         Unfortunately, Americold failed to freeze the beef and it spoiled. (Id. ¶ 5.) Plaintiff alleges beef “spoils over time” if refrigerated and not frozen, and the beef would certainly have spoiled after being refrigerated for 90 days instead of being frozen. (Id.) It alleges, “By August 4, 2015 the Beef was a total loss and unfit for human consumption.” (Id.) On January 20, 2016, Americold informed Plaintiff the beef had not been frozen, and paid Plaintiff a portion of the loss pursuant to Americold's contractual obligations and admitted negligence. (Id.)

         Defendants Travelers and the Syndicates had both issued insurance to Plaintiff in the event of this kind of loss, and Plaintiff filed claims under both policies. Both of those claims were denied, leading to the filing of this case. Plaintiff has since settled its claims against Travelers for a portion of the loss, leaving only the claims against the Syndicate Defendants.

         II. DISCUSSION

         “After the pleadings are closed-but early enough not to delay trial-a party may move for judgment on the pleadings.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). In reviewing a motion for judgment on the pleadings, the court “must accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true and construe them in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.” Fleming v. Pickard, 581 F.3d 922, 925 (9th Cir. 2009) (citing Turner v. Cook, 362 F.3d 1219, 1225 (9th Cir. 2004)). “Judgment on the pleadings is properly granted when there is no issue of material fact in dispute, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Id. (citing Heliotrope Gen., Inc. v. Ford Motor Co., 189 F.3d 971, 978 (9th Cir. 1999)).

         Here, the Syndicate Defendants argue they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law for two reasons. First, they assert they cannot be held liable because, according to Plaintiff, the beef was a total loss by August 4, 2015, which was before the Policy took effect. Second, the Syndicate Defendants contend Plaintiff's claim is excluded under the Frozen Meat Clauses. Neither argument is persuasive.

         In the FAC, Plaintiff alleges claims for breach of contract and bad faith against the Syndicate Defendants. To prevail on its breach of contract claim (and also its bad faith claim), Plaintiff must prove “the contract, the plaintiff's performance or excuse for nonperformance, the defendant's breach, and the resulting damages to the plaintiff.” Green Valley Landowners Ass'n v. City of Vallejo, 241 Cal.App. 4th 425, 433 (2015) (citations omitted). As this is an insurance contract, Plaintiff bears the burden “to establish that the claim is within the basic scope of coverage[.]” Mackinnon v. Truck Ins. Exchange, 31 Cal. 4th 635, 648 (2003). If Plaintiff meets that burden, it becomes Defendants' burden “to establish that the claim is specifically excluded.” Id. (citing Aydin Corp. v. First State Ins. Co., 18 Cal. 4th 1183, 1188 (1998)).

         Here, Defendants argue they are entitled to judgment on the pleadings because the loss occurred outside the Policy Period. In support of this argument, Defendants rely on the “Period” Provision of the Policy, which states: “To accept all sendings commencing and all other interests at the risk of the Assured during the 24 month period commencing 1st September 2015 and ending 31st August 2017 both days inclusive, Local Standard Time at the address of the Assured.” (FAC, Ex. 3 at 7.)[3] Defendants interpret this Provision to mean that coverage does not exist unless the “loss” occurs between September 1, 2015, and August 31, 2017. Defendants assert the loss here occurred by August 4, 2015, and thus there is no coverage.

         The Period Provision of the Policy, however, is not that clear. First, the Provision does not even mention the word “loss.” Rather, it is phrased in terms of “sendings commencing and all other interests at the risk of the Assured[, ]” (id.) (emphasis added), terminology consistent with the “All Risks” policy at issue. While “All Risks” policies do not cover every conceivable risk, Reliance Ins. Co. v. Alan, 222 Cal.App.3d 702 (1990), disapproved on other grounds by Buss v. Superior Court, 16 Cal.4th 35 (1997), and generally are limited to risks of physical loss or damage, the scope of coverage is dictated by the policy. For example, the policy issued by Travelers limited coverage to “loss or damage that commences during the policy period....” (FAC, Ex. 1 at 67.) In contrast, Defendants' Policy neither defines the term “loss” nor addresses when a loss is covered. Clearly, having already made its purchase, the beef was “at the risk of the Assured” during the Policy Period, which could lead to a finding of coverage under the Policy. “Loss, ” and whether it must occur during the Policy Period, are entirely separate issues. At a minimum, there is an ambiguity whether the event at issue is covered, which precludes judgment as a matter of law on the pleadings alone.

         There is also another ambiguity in the Policy that renders judgment on the pleadings inappropriate here. That ambiguity is found in the “Subject-Matter Insured” Provision, which states: “The Subject-Matter Insured shall include Goods and/or Merchandise owned by the Assured or owned by others for which the Assured has assumed a responsibility to insure or for which the Assured has received instructions to insure prior to shipment or prior to a known or reported loss or accident.” (Id. at 8) (emphasis added). Here, as Plaintiff argues, the beef was owned by the Assured ‚Äúprior to a known or reported loss or accident[, ...


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