When “Substantially Similar” Means “Fundamentally Identical”: Delaware Court Enforces Related Claim Provision to Deny D&O Coverage for Securities Class Action

Red house among white houses

The decision underscores the inherent unpredictability of “related” claim disputes and need for careful analysis of the policy language against the factual and legal bases of the underlying claims.

August 10, 2021
Geoffrey B. Fehling, Lawrence J. Bracken II & Lorelie S. Masters - Hunton Andrews Kurth

A company faces two class action lawsuits—filed by different plaintiffs, complaining of different allegedly wrongful conduct, asserting different causes of action subject to different burdens of proof, and seeking different relief based on different time periods for the alleged harm. Those facts suggest the suits are not “fundamentally identical,” but that is what a Delaware Superior Court recently concluded in barring coverage for a policyholder seeking to recover for a suit the court deemed “related” to an earlier lawsuit first made outside the policy’s coverage period. First Solar Inc. v. National Union Fire Ins. Co. of Pittsburgh, Pa., No. N20C-10-156 MMJ CCLD (Del. Super. Ct. June 23, 2021). The decision, which is not on all fours with some of the authority upon which it relies, underscores the inherent unpredictability of “related” claim disputes and need for careful analysis of the policy language against the factual and legal bases of the underlying claims.

Underlying Shareholder Class Actions and D&O Claims

Shareholders of solar panel manufacturer First Solar sued the company and its directors and officers in a class action lawsuit (the “Smilovits Action”) for the class period April 2008 to February 2012. The Smilovits Action asserted federal securities violations arising from First Solar’s alleged misrepresentations about the company’s business strategies, product design, financial strength, and ability to offer solar electricity at comparable rates to conventional energy producers (i.e., achieving “grid parity”), artificially inflated stock price, insider trading, manipulation of solar power metrics, and violations of GAAP accounting standards. First Solar submitted a claim to its D&O insurer, National Union, which provided coverage for the Smilovits Action and exhausted the policy.

Reprinted courtesy of Geoffrey B. Fehling, Hunton Andrews Kurth, Lawrence J. Bracken II, Hunton Andrews Kurth and Lorelie S. Masters, Hunton Andrews Kurth
Mr. Fehling may be contacted at gfehling@HuntonAK.com
Mr. Bracken may be contacted at lbracken@HuntonAK.com
Ms. Masters may be contacted at lmasters@HuntonAK.com



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