Ruling in favor of the insurer on a motion for summary judgment, on July 29, 2016 the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals held that under the terms of a commercial crime policy, proof of a forgery by the insured’s employee in extending $90 million of credit to a customer did not establish an unlawful taking as required by the policy terms. Tesoro Refining and Marketing Co, LLC v. National Union Fire Ins. Co. of Pittsburgh, PA, 2016 U.S. App. Lexis 13838 (5th Cir. 2016).
Tesoro, a refiner and marketer of petroleum products sold fuel on credit to petroleum distributor Enmex. On several occasions the credit director for Tesoro, for unknown reasons, falsified and forged signatures on numerous letters of credit purportedly issued to Enmex. These acts enabled the Enmex debt to Tesoro to grow to $90 million before the forgery was detected. Once the forgery was discovered, Tesoro filed suit against Enmex for breach of contract and fraud, which lawsuit was settled. Tesoro also filed a claim with its insurer National Union under its crime policy. Tesoro claimed the loss fell under the “forgery and alteration” section of the policy (which section did not cover employee forgeries) and then amended its claim to proceed under the “employee theft” portion of the insuring agreement. National Union denied coverage under both provisions. After suit was brought by Tesoro against National Union for breach of contract and bad faith, cross motions for summary judgment were filed. Ruling in favor of National Union, the federal district court in Western Texas reasoned that the employee theft coverage could include theft that was facilitated by a forgery, but that it did not cover forgery losses independent of a theft, which always required an unlawful taking in order to trigger coverage. Tesoro did not demonstrate that any unlawful taking had occurred and, therefore, the district court granted National Union’s motion for summary judgment. On appeal the Fifth Circuit agreed. Read more ›