On May 14, 2020, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, in Tambellini v. Erie Ins. Exch., 52 WM 2020, denied a policyholder’s application requesting that the Court exercise its extraordinary “King’s Bench” powers and assume plenary jurisdiction over its COVID19-related business interruption coverage suit filed in Allegheny County and over all similar coverage cases in Pennsylvania state courts. The brief Order does not state the basis for the Court’s denial of the application.
As we reported last week, the application was filed by a Pittsburgh-based restaurant, which initiated an action for declaratory and injunctive relief in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County against Erie Insurance Exchange, seeking a declaration that coverage under its policy with Erie should extend to its business losses arising out of the shutdown occasioned by the virus. The application requested that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court immediately exercise jurisdiction over the proceedings-and thus allow the policyholder to effectively leapfrog the lower Pennsylvania Courts-in order to expeditiously streamline the decision of whether the restaurant and other Pennsylvania business establishments should be covered for allegedly similar COVID-19 related business losses. In resisting the application, Erie and several amici argued that because each insurance claim in necessarily individualized, and because insurance coverage disputes do not rise to the level of “immediate public importance” for the purposes of the Court’s exercise of extraordinary jurisdiction under the statutory dictates of 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 726, the Court should refrain from exercising its “King’s Bench” powers.
We expect that arguments about the individualized nature of insurance contract disputes to be made before the United States Judicial Panel on Multi-District Litigation (“MDL”) in connection with the pending petition to consolidate all federal COVID cases nationwide. Perhaps this ruling by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court foreshadows how the MDL Panel may address this similar request.