Saturday, July 11, 2015

4th Circuit: Liberty University's Insurer Does Not Have to Pay for Lisa Miller-Janet Jenkins Lawsuit

Alleged conspirator Mat Staver and his equally crazy wife
As regular readers will recall, Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia - a foul blight on Virginia in my view - is up to its eyeballs in involvement with Lisa Miller's kidnapping of her daughter and open defiance of court orders regarding child custody.  Having lost before the Vermont Supreme Court and even the anti-gay Virginia Supreme Court, Miller with the aid of personnel at Liberty University, including former law dean Mat Staver, Miller absconded with her daughter and has disappeared somewhere in Central America.  Federal prosecutions are ongoing against some of Miller's accomplices.  Meanwhile Janet Jenkins has filed a lawsuit against Liberty University based on the belief that Miller was aided and abetted by Liberty personnel.  Liberty has sought to have its insurance carrier pay for its legal defense.  Now, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the alleged intentional unlawful acts of Liberty personnel are outside the scope of the university's insurance policies and that Liberty must pay its own legal fees and any resulting judgment.  The ruling can be found hereWSET TV-13 has details.  Here are highlights:
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Liberty University's insurance company does not have to cover the university's costs to defend itself in a high-profile lawsuit.  An earlier decision indicated Hanover Insurance Company was responsible for covering things like attorney's fees. This is all over the legal battle relating to a custody dispute between two women who were once in a legally recognized civil union.

In the suit Jenkins filed against Liberty, she alleges they are in Nicaragua... and that employees at Liberty University, and others, helped the two leave the country. Most notably, Mathew Staver former Dean of Liberty's School Of Law and current Interim Dean Rena Lindevaldsen.

Staver and Lindevaldsen, identified as Miller's attorneys, were not named in the suit against Liberty. But the court documents spell out the accusations - that Staver and Lindevaldsen encouraged and assisted Miller in violating court orders, solicited donations to groups aimed at preventing court ordered contact between Jenkins and her daughter, and conspired with others to kidnap Isabella - even using Liberty University phone lines to communicate with the man who drove Miller and Isabella to Canada in 2009.

The issue before the court on Friday was whether the insurance company has to cover the costs of the defense. The answer from the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals – no, for a variety of reasons.
Many insurance policies contain “Intentional and Criminal Acts" exclusions - and such exclusions were in Liberty's policies.  Tellingly, the Court found in part as follows:

. . . . we conclude that the criminal acts exclusion applies for two reasons. First, the Jenkins Complaint clearly and unambiguously alleges that Appellee and its agents committed criminal acts – namely, kidnapping and conspiracy to commit racketeering, which is a federal crime pursuant to 18 U.S.C.§1962(d). The Jenkins Complaint also specifically alleges Appellee’s role in these crimes.  For example, the Jenkins Complaint contends that Staver used Liberty University’s phone lines to speak with Philip Zodhiates after Zodhiates deposited Miller and the child near the Canadian border and that other Liberty University employees assisted Miller while she was in Nicaragua. Second, the Jenkins Complaint unambiguously claims that Appellee is liable for injuries arising from those criminal acts. . . . .
Why is this case a big deal?  Because it will hopefully send a message to other Christofascist organizations that (i) they are not above the law, and (ii) that they will be on their own in defending against actions that are intentional violations of the law.

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