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12/03/12: Rockwell Gets Green Light To Seek Asbestos Coverage

Gilbert and Renton attorneys Bob Gilbert and Rickey Glover participated in a summary adjudication hearing concerning thousands of asbestos lawsuits in the Los Angeles Superior Court. Below is an article from Zach Winnick of Law360.com discussing the case and the victory for our client.

Rockwell Gets Green Light To Seek Asbestos Coverage

By Zach Winnick

Law360, Los Angeles (August 07, 2012, 9:59 PM ET) -- A California judge ruled Monday that The Boeing Co. had assigned insurance rights to Rockwell Automation Inc., Meritor Inc. and Invensys Inc., allowing them to pursue claims that Lloyds of London underwriters and other insurers owe coverage in tens of thousands of asbestos lawsuits.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elihu M. Berle overruled the objections of insurers and granted a summary adjudication motion by Rockwell, Meritor and Invensys seeking a finding that Boeing had assigned certain asbestos policy coverage rights in more than 80 insurance policies during a series of transactions between 1988 and 1997.

"In this case, the parties to the transactions
the Rockwell parties and Boeing have agreed on the assignments, and its the insurers who claim the agreements should be interpreted differently," Judge Berle said at the hearing Tuesday. "Lack of consent from the insurers is not a bar to any assignment of rights under the policies."

Tuesdays ruling marked a victory for the Rockwell parties in protracted litigation over asbestos liability linked to the businesses of Rockwell International Corp. before it merged with Boeing in 1996.

The Rockwell parties, who acquired the measurement and flow control and automotive businesses of Rockwell International after the merger, say they originally sued Lloyd's and other insurers in Pennsylvania state court in 2004, seeking coverage for tens of thousands of asbestos liability lawsuits stemming from the Rockwell businesses.

Lloyd's shot back with the current lawsuit in California state court, where the case has proceeded since 2005, with the insurers and the Rockwell parties filing complaints against each other to determine what insurance coverage the Rockwell parties are entitled to, if any.

The Rockwell parties' motion Thursday dealt with the issue of whether Boeing had assigned the companies rights to more than 80 insurance policies
a threshold question that would have to be answered before the companies could pursue coverage claims against the insurers.

Boeing and the Rockwell parties share a common understanding of the insurance rights transferred, according to Judge Berle, but the insurers raised objections to granting a motion for summary adjudication on whether the insurers owe the Rockwell companies any duties under the insurance policies.

At the hearing Tuesday, Judge Berle pressed attorneys for the Rockwell parties on whether the issue was appropriate for a summary adjudication motion. But the judge ultimately concluded that the issue was suitable for summary adjudication and found that the insurers had failed to raise a triable issue of fact that would merit denying the motion.

"If [Boeing and the Rockwell parties] agree on what they mean, who is the court to step in, when its ultimate goal is to enforce the parties intent?" the judge asked.

"The court concludes that the defendants are entitled to summary adjudication as a matter of law on the issue of whether plaintiff insurers owe defendants duties under the polices," Judge Berle continued. "What specific duties are owed under the policies will be the subject of further proceedings in this case."

G. Andrew Lundberg, an attorney for Rockwell Automation and Meritor, said the ruling was gratifying after five years of litigation.

We're encouraged that the judge took a rather out-of-the-box set of facts and approached it with an open mind, and we think got the right result," he said.

Representatives for the insurers weren't immediately available for comment.

Rockwell Automation and Meritor are represented by G. Andrew Lundberg, Alexandra A. Roje and David A. Barrett of Latham & Watkins LLP. Invensys is represented by Robert J. Gilbert of Gilbert & Renton LLC.

Lloyd's is represented by Russell W. Roten and Robert J. Zapf of Duane Morris LLP. TIG Insurance Co. is represented by Charles E. Wheeler of Cozen O'Connor. OneBeacon Insurance Co. is represented by Ilya A. Kosten of Selman Breitman LLP.

The case is Certain Underwriters at Lloyd's, London et al. v. Rockwell Automation Inc. et al., case number BC327570, in the Superior Court of the State of California, County of Los Angeles.