An Illinois federal court recently stayed an insurer’s petition to compel arbitration of a dispute with its policyholder, finding that abstention in favor of an earlier-filed suit involving the parties was appropriate under the so-called Colorado River doctrine. A.O. Smith Corporation entered into a settlement/coverage-in-place agreement (the “Agreement”) with Allstate Insurance Company to resolve disputes between them concerning the coverage afforded by various policies for underlying asbestos claims. In exchange for certain payments, the Agreement released Allstate from all claims and liabilities under the subject policies, provided that A.O. would be responsible for a share of defense and indemnity costs, and required A.O. to cooperate in the defense of such claims. The Agreement also contained a provision mandating that A.O. and Allstate resolve disputes by arbitration.
The complex factual history regarding this case can be found here. In short, years after the Agreement was entered into, Continental Casualty Company brought suit in Wisconsin against Allstate, A.O., and other insurers seeking contribution and indemnification for amounts paid by Continental to resolve certain asbestos claims. Allstate moved to stay the action and petitioned an Illinois federal court to compel arbitration under the Agreement on the basis that certain issues involved in the Wisconsin action concerning the Agreement’s scope and A.O.’s duty to cooperate were arbitrable. The Illinois court held that it had subject matter jurisdiction over the action, rejecting A.O.’s motion to dismiss for lack thereof, on the grounds that the Wisconsin suit plainly involved matters that fell within the ambit of the Agreement’s arbitration provision, making it ripe under Section 4 of the Federal Arbitration Act. However, the court granted A.O.’s request to stay the lawsuit pursuant to the Colorado River doctrine, finding that the Wisconsin action would dispose of all the claims presented by Allstate, and that other factors, such as the desire to avoid piecemeal litigation with the other insurer-defendants, that the Wisconsin suit was filed first, the Agreement’s incorporation of Wisconsin law, and the risk of inconsistent rulings weighed in favor of abstention. Allstate Insurance Co. v. A.O. Smith Corp., No. 1:15-cv-06574 (USDC N.D. Ill. Oct. 23, 2015).