Shannon Santos (Of Counsel-Los Angeles) and David Simantob (Partner-Los Angeles) appeared pro hac vice in Florida and obtained summary judgment in the District Court for the Northern District of Florida, Tallahassee Division, on a question of first impression for Wilson Elser's client, an insurance company. At issue and not previously adjudicated in Florida was whether a claim for slander of title constitutes oral, written, or electronic publication of material that slanders or libels a person or organization or disparages a person's or organization's goods, products, or services - thus triggering coverage by our client for personal and advertising injury.
The plaintiff sued our client's insured, a design firm, for purportedly filing false liens against the plaintiff's properties for work completed without authorization and for which he refused to pay. Our client denied the insured a defense, as there was no claim of "personal and advertising injury." The plaintiff prevailed against the insured, obtaining a judgment of over $500,000 for lost wages caused by the impact of the liens. The plaintiff filed a coverage action against our client seeking recovery of the judgment, attorneys' fees, and pre-judgment and post-judgment interest totaling over $2 million. The insured was not a party to this coverage action, and the duty to defend was not at issue. Shannon and David relied on decisions from across the country holding that a claim for slander of title, which includes an element of disparagement of a person's title to real property, doesn't constitute slander of a person or organization triggering coverage. On cross-motions for summary judgment, the northern district court agreed with Wilson Elser's policy interpretation. It held that the false statements pertained to the plaintiff's title to real property, not the plaintiff himself. The court also found that the plaintiff failed to establish the elements for libel required to trigger coverage and that the policy does not cover slander of title.
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