Third Circuit Affirms Houston Harbaugh’s Win for Insurer on Prior Related Acts Clause

May 21, 2024
Pictured from left to right: Director Alan Miller and Senior Associate Jake Oresick

On May 15, 2024, Houston Harbaugh prevailed on appeal for The Charter Oak Fire Insurance Company when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed the trial court’s entry of judgment on the pleadings. Attorneys Alan S. Miller and Jake S. Oresick represented Charter Oak.

The case involved as lawsuit brought by Steven Helm, a lieutenant in the City of Williamsport’s police department, against the City in 2021 in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. The suit alleged that the City denied Helm promotions in retaliation for prior lawsuits he filed against the City in 2017 and 2018 that sought relief for violations of his First Amendment rights of association and denial of promotions. Houston Harbaugh sought judgment on the pleadings arguing that there was no coverage under the Charter Oak policy for suits involving “related employment practice offenses” first brought prior to the coverage period. Houston Harbaugh argued that the 2021 suit alleged employment loss involving “related employment practices” that were deemed to have been first brought against the City in the 2017 lawsuit and thus before the inception of the Charter Oak Policy. Chief Judge Matthew W. Brann agreed that “Helm’s 2017 and 2018 suits qualify as ‘related’ to his 2021 claims,” and granted Houston Harbaugh’s motion for judgment on the pleadings.

On appeal (22-2179), a three-judge panel of the Third Circuit unanimously affirmed Chief Judge Brann’s decision. Writing for the panel, Circuit Judge Tamika Montgomery-Reeves held “the Charter Oak policy does not cover Helm III because it falls under the broadly defined phrase ‘related wrongful practice offenses’ based on the common connection to ‘facts, circumstances, [and] events’ shared with Helm I and II.”

Recent Insights