At issue on this appeal is whether plaintiff-appellee State Farm Fire & Casualty Company ("State Farm") is obligated under its commercial general liability ("CGL") business policy to defend and indemnify its insured against a lawsuit alleging misappropriation of confidential business information. Specifically, we consider whether the policy's "advertising injury" coverage extends to the allegations at issue in the underlying lawsuit. Defendants-Appellants Richard Steinberg and Norman Fine (the "Steinberg defendants") and Steinberg Global Asset Management, Ltd. ("SGAM") appeal from the District Court's entry of a declaratory judgment in favor of State Farm, holding that there was no duty to defend or indemnify its insured in a lawsuit alleging that the defendants misappropriated trade secrets of a competing investment firm.
Following careful review of the policy language and of the allegations of the complaint in the underlying lawsuit, we conclude that State Farm has no obligation to defend or to indemnify the insureds under the policy's "advertising injury" coverage. We therefore affirm the judgment of the District Court.
I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND
At all times relevant to this action, SGAM, of which Richard Steinberg and Norman Fine were principals, was covered by the State Farm policy at issue. The policy covers legal actions alleging any of four kinds of injury by the insured: bodily injury, property damage, personal injury or advertising injury. The coverage for an advertising injury is limited to "advertising injury caused by an occurrence committed in the coverage territory during the policy period. The occurrence must be committed in the course of advertising your goods, products or services."
"Occurrence" is defined in pertinent part to mean: "the commission of an offense, or a series of similar or related offenses, which results in personal injury or advertising injury."
The policy excludes coverage for "advertising injury," inter alia,"arising out of the wilful violation of a penal statute or ordinance committed by or with the consent of the insured."
In 1998, the events occurred that formed the basis of a lawsuit (the "underlying lawsuit") by Nicholson-Kenny Capital Management, Inc. ("Nicholson-Kenny") against various defendants the same year. The underlying lawsuit initially did not name the Steinberg defendants or SGAM as defendants. On April 25, 2000, however, Nicholson-Kenny filed a second amended complaint naming the Steinberg defendants and SGAM for the first time, and pleading four causes of action against them: tortious interference with business relationships; misappropriation of trade
The allegations of the second amended complaint are summarized as follows: Before the alleged events, Nicholson-Kenny was an investment firm managing over $80 million in assets. In May 1998, the Steinberg defendants, using SGAM as a "commercial vehicle," conspired with three Nicholson-Kenny employees to form Helios International Asset Management, Inc. ("Helios"), which was established for the unlawful purpose of tortiously interfering with plaintiff's business relationships, misappropriating trade secrets, and unfairly competing with plaintiff. These employees conspired with the Steinberg defendants to misappropriate confidential client information belonging to Nicholson-Kenny and on June 15, 1998, they closed and departed from Nicholson-Kenny's offices, taking with them Nicholson-Kenny's "confidential" client information. The confidential client information was not a mere "customer list" but was "a compilation that derives independent economic value, actual or potential, from not being generally known to and not being readily ascertainable by proper means by other persons who can obtain economic value from its use and is the subject of efforts that are reasonable under the circumstances to maintain its secrecy." The next day, the former Nicholson-Kenny employees began serving many of Nicholson-Kenny's clients from the offices of Helios. Within three weeks, Helios was managing $60 million of assets of former Nicholson-Kenny clients, something that would have been impossible without misappropriating confidential client information. Within three months, more than 80% of Helios's clients were former clients of Nicholson-Kenny. The defendants' actions caused "substantial damage" to Nicholson-Kenny's business. The Steinberg defendants, acting in conspiracy with the former Nicholson-Kenny employees, committed theft of trade secrets, a third degree felony under Florida law.
After declining the Steinberg defendants' and SGAM's request for a defense in the lawsuit, State Farm filed suit in the District Court and ultimately moved for summary judgment on all theories of coverage advanced by the Steinberg defendants. On April 14, 2003, the District Court granted State Farm's motion. The court held that, because the underlying complaint alleged "several types of criminal behavior when [the defendants] stole and destroyed trade secrets and confidential information protected by law," advertising injury coverage was not triggered, and further stated: "it cannot be the case that these terms include or even contemplated the inclusion of embezzlement and fraud and criminal taking and destruction of trade secrets and confidential information, as alleged in the complaint." The court also held that the policy's exclusion for "wilful violation of a penal statute or ordinance" barred coverage. This appeal ensued.
We review a district court's order granting summary judgment de novo. Iraola & CIA, S.A. v. Kimberly-Clark Corp., 325 F.3d 1274, 1283 (11th Cir.2003). Because federal jurisdiction over this matter is based on diversity, Florida law governs the determination of the issues on this appeal. Davis v. National Medical Enterprises, Inc., 253 F.3d 1314, 1319 n. 6 (11th Cir.2001). In insurance coverage cases under Florida law, courts look at the insurance policy as a whole and give every provision its "full meaning and operative effect." Hyman v. Nationwide Mut. Fire Ins. Co., 304 F.3d 1179, 1186 (11th Cir.2002), citing Dahl-Eimers v. Mutual of Omaha Life Ins. Co., 986 F.2d 1379, 1381 (11th Cir.1993) and Excelsior Ins. Co. v. Pomona Park Bar & Package Store, 369 So.2d 938, 941 (Fla.1979).
Florida courts start with "the plain language of the policy, as bargained for by the parties." See Auto-Owners Ins. Co. v. Anderson, 756 So.2d 29, 34 (Fla.2000). If that language is unambiguous, it governs. If the relevant policy language is susceptible to more than one reasonable interpretation, one providing coverage and the other limiting coverage, the insurance policy is considered "ambiguous," and must be "interpreted liberally in favor of the insured and strictly against the drafter who prepared the policy." Id.
Under Florida law, the general rule is that an insurance company's duty to defend an insured is determined solely from the allegations in the complaint against the insured, not by the true facts of the cause of action against the insured, the insured's version of the facts or the insured's defenses. Amerisure Ins. Co. v. Gold Coast Marine Distributors, Inc., 771 So.2d 579, 580-81 (4th Fla. Dist.Ct.App.2000). If the allegations in the complaint state facts that bring the injury within the policy's coverage, the insurer must defend regardless of the merits of the lawsuit. Id. Furthermore, any doubt about the duty to defend must be resolved in favor of the insured. Id. at 581-82. Coverage is determined from examining the most recent amended pleading, not the original pleading. Cf. id. at 582. Conclusory "buzz words" unsupported by factual allegations are not sufficient to trigger coverage. Id.
In 1998, one district court observed that "[a]n insurance company's duty to defend intellectual property claims under the rubric of `advertising injury' is the subject of countless lawsuits — indeed, a recent litigation explosion — throughout the country." Winklevoss Consultants, Inc. v. Federal Ins. Co., 991 F.Supp. 1024, 1026 (N.D.Ill.1998). The following year, the Third Circuit commented that "[t]he applicability of [advertising injury coverage] to a variety of torts has been the subject of numerous cases in federal courts. With varying degrees of success, insured parties have sought coverage for the underlying actions of patent infringement, trademark or trade dress infringement, misappropriation of trade secrets or other confidential information." Frog, Switch & Mfg.Co. v. Travelers Ins. Co., 193 F.3d 742, 747 (3d Cir.1999).
In the ensuing years, courts have been called on to examine the applicability of advertising injury clauses in CGL policies to an ever-expanding array of underlying factual allegations and alleged torts based on them, even as the standard CGL policy language has undergone periodic revision by the Insurance
For purposes of adjudicating coverage disputes, this Court has distilled the typical CGL policy language on advertising injury into a three-part test:
Hyman v. Nationwide Mutual Fire Ins. Co., 304 F.3d 1179, 1187 & n. 7 (11th
The Steinberg defendants assert that the underlying lawsuit alleges a cognizable advertising injury because it contains allegations that fit two of the enumerated offenses in the policy: "infringement of copyright, title or slogan" and "misappropriation of advertising ideas or style of doing business." We disagree.
For the first theory, the Steinberg defendants rely on the opinion of a Mississippi district court holding that misappropriation of a customer list qualified as an "infringement of copyright, title or slogan" because "the Court finds that the Alabama action may be said to involve an infringement of [plaintiff's] title to the customer list," Merchants Co. v. American Motorists Ins. Co., 794 F.Supp. 611, 618 (S.D.Miss.1992). We find more persuasive the reasoning set forth in Winklevoss Consultants, Inc. v. Federal Ins. Co., in which an Illinois district court rejected the notion that alleged trade secret misappropriation could be covered as an "infringement of title." 991 F.Supp. at 1040. Citing the definition of "title" in Black's: "a mark, style, or designation; a distinctive appellation; the name by which anything is known," Black's Law Dictionary (6th ed. 1990), and Webster's: "an inscription placed over, upon, or under something to describe, distinguish, explain or entitle it ... a descriptive name: a distinctive appellation or designation," Webster's Third New Int'l Dictionary 2400 (1981), the court observed that the underlying complaint alleged that the insured was "stealing secret formulas and proprietary data entry questions," not "emulat [ing] a distinctive mark describing the software or a name by which the software was known to the public." Winklevoss, 991 F.Supp. at 1040. On that basis, the court denied coverage under the "infringement of title" clause. See also, Zurich Ins. Co. v. Amcor Sunclipse, 241 F.3d at 608 (rejecting insured's argument that solicitation of competitor's customers was "infringement of title," stating "to rule in [insured's] favor, a court would have to give both `infringement' and `title' unusual meanings, ripping them from the context that is the best guide to their meaning").
We now turn to the Steinberg defendants' second theory: that the Nicholson-Kenny lawsuit's allegations of misappropriation of a customer list and other confidential information triggers a duty to defend and/or indemnify under the "misappropriation of advertising ideas or style of doing business" clause of the policy's definition of "advertising injury." Although this clause disappeared from standard-form CGL policies in 1998, see n. 3 above, the courts have adjudicated numerous lawsuits contending that allegations of trademark or trade dress infringement trigger coverage under this clause. In Hyman, this Court held that trade dress infringement may, under certain circumstances, constitute a misappropriation of either "advertising ideas," defined as "any idea or concept related to the promotion of a product to the public," or "style of doing business," defined as "the manner in which a company promotes, presents, and markets its products to the public." 304 F.3d at 1188-89, 1191. See, also, State Auto Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co. v. Travelers Indem. Co. of
The instant appeal, however, does not concern trademark or trade dress infringement but rather the misappropriation of trade secrets — specifically, confidential business information. Among federal appellate courts, only the Ninth Circuit has specifically addressed the applicability of the "misappropriation of advertising ideas or style of doing business" clause in a CGL policy's advertising injury coverage for a lawsuit alleging misappropriation of a customer list and other confidential information. In Sentex Systems, Inc. v. Hartford Accident & Indemnity Co., 93 F.3d 578 (9th Cir.1996), that court affirmed a district court's holding that the insurer had a duty to defend its insured under the "misappropriation of advertising ideas or style of doing business" clause where the underlying complaint alleged that the insured had induced a third party to breach a non-competition agreement with the underlying plaintiff company, to misappropriate its "trade secrets, including customer lists, marketing techniques, and other inside and confidential information" and, together with the insured, to solicit the underlying plaintiff's customers. Id. at 579-80.
While the Sentex court held that "misappropriation of advertising ideas" was broad enough to reach the allegations of the complaint in the underlying action at issue before it, the court expressly stated that it did not consider misappropriation of a customer list a covered offense alone. "We do not necessarily agree with the district court's broader conclusion, however, that allegations of misappropriation of customer lists ... can alone trigger coverage" Id. at 581. Cf. Frog, Switch & Mfg. Co., 193 F.3d at 748, (commenting that the "Ninth Circuit affirmed only after expressing its unease with the breadth of the district court's holding"); Hyman, 304 F.3d at 1188, n. 8, (noting Ninth Circuit's "reservations about the `district court's broader conclusion'"). The same year it decided Sentex, moreover, the Ninth Circuit rejected a coverage claim under the "misappropriation of style of doing business" clause for a suit alleging theft of trade secrets that did not arise in the course of advertising activities. Simply Fresh Fruit, Inc. v. Continental Ins. Co., 94 F.3d 1219 (9th Cir.1996).
In Frog, Switch & Mfg. Co., 193 F.3d 742, the Third Circuit held in favor of the insurer where the underlying plaintiff, a competitor of the insured, brought a lawsuit alleging that the insured had misappropriated its trade secrets and "confidential business information" by obtaining
In the instant appeal, the alleged misappropriation of a confidential customer list cannot, under accepted principles of insurance contract construction, be held to fall within the policy language regarding misappropriation of either "advertising ideas" or "style of doing business." A confidential customer list is a trade secret, not an idea about advertising or an outward expression of a business's style. Without relevant, attendant allegations pertaining to advertising, no coverage under a "misappropriation of advertising ideas or style of doing business" theory is available to the Steinberg defendants.
Having found that the Steinberg defendants fail the first prong of the three-part test set forth in Hyman, we need not reach the second and third prongs. Nor need we review the district court's determination that coverage is also barred by the operation of the "wilful violation of a penal statute" exclusionary clause.
State Farm's CGL policy was not intended to offer "advertising injury" coverage for litigation arising from the conduct alleged against the Steinberg defendants. The allegations of the underlying lawsuit constitute neither "infringement of copyright, title, or slogan" nor "misappropriation of advertising ideas or style of doing business." Judgment in favor of State Farm is AFFIRMED.