A New York federal court recently denied a motion to dismiss a claim filed by two reinsurers, Employers Insurance Company of Wausau and National Casualty Company. The claim sought a declaration disqualifying Hunton & Williams as counsel for their reinsured, Utica Mutual Insurance Company, in a subsequent arbitration dispute concerning the reinsurers’ obligations for the amounts paid in an underlying settlement. Hunton & Williams had represented Utica in negotiating the underlying settlement and in litigating coverage issues against Utica’s insured. The reinsurers argued that, in the underlying litigation, Utica had a “common interest” with its reinsurers to minimize the liability to Utica’s insured; therefore, the Hunton & Williams attorneys, in effect, represented the reinsurers’ interests in the underlying litigation. The reinsurers argued that the rules of professional conduct prohibit the attorneys from representing Utica in the subsequent arbitration because such representation was adverse to them. The district court concluded that the reinsurers had stated a valid claim to disqualify the attorneys based on the rules governing concurrent and successive representation, noting that even if the reinsurers were not the clients of Hunton & Williams in the “traditional sense,” an inquiry into the potential conflict was still warranted. The court also found that the reinsurers had plausibly alleged that the “witness-advocate” rule may apply in the case because the attorneys may be called as witnesses in the arbitration proceeding to testify concerning the reasonableness of the underlying settlement.
Utica Mutual Ins. Co. v. Employers ins. Co. of Wausau and Nat’l Cas. Co., No. 6:12-CV-1293 (USDC N.D. N.Y. Sep. 22, 2014).