Lincoln General Insurance Company (“Lincoln”) appealed a district court judgment, despite it having won a $16.5 million dollar tortious interference verdict, to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Lincoln alleged that the district court erred in dismissing various claims before the trial began, including: breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, conversion, and derivative liability.

The lawsuit arose from a fronting arrangement whereby Lincoln reinsured 100% of State and County Insurance Company’s (“State”) liabilities. According to the suit, U.S. Auto Insurance Services (“US Auto”) served as general agent to State. For this arrangement, Lincoln expected to receive 10% of premium payments. The rest of expected premium payments were to be divided between US Auto for management services in conjunction with payments to policyholders. Despite paying out less than anticipated for filed claims, Lincoln claimed it lost millions of dollars.

In a morass of procedural history spanning six years, the Fifth Circuit Court reversed the district court’s refusal to alter its judgment to include a breach of contract claim against U.S. Auto. The Fifth Circuit Court also reversed the dismissal of a tortious interference claim against Jim Maxwell. Jim and Doug Maxwell were co-owners of a business that became the recipient of $50 million dollars from US Auto. The Fifth Circuit Court noted that even if one included the more rigorous “active participation” element to tortious interface–a debatable position in Texas—Jim Maxwell’s conduct was tortious. Defendants attempted to skirt this issue altogether by alleging that the tortious interference award was barred by a two-year statute of limitations. The Fifth Circuit Court disagreed, noting that Lincoln filed the action before the limitations period had run out as they “did not and could not have” reasonably known about the facts comprising the tortious interference claim until US Auto became insolvent.

Lincoln Gen. Ins. Co. v. U.S. Auto Ins. Serv., Inc., No: 13-10589 (5th Cir. May, 18, 2015)

This post written by Matthew Burrows, a law clerk at Carlton Fields Jorden Burt in Washington, DC.

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