Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP, the Law Office of Alexandra Foote, and Stoll Berne announced the filing of a nationwide federal class action breach of contract lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon against Berkley North Pacific Group, Berkley Insurance Company, W.R. Berkley Corporation, and Continental Western Insurance Company. The action is filed on behalf of James Beard award-winning chef Naomi Pomeroy’s celebrated restaurant Beast and all similarly-situated restaurants with business interruption insurance from the defendant insurers. The complaint alleges that after Pomeroy’s Beast restaurant suffered catastrophic financial losses in the wake of government-ordered shutdowns, the restaurant’s business interruption policy claims were wrongly denied coverage by Berkley North Pacific Group and the related insurers.
“We are honored to have the opportunity to represent Naomi Pomeroy as she courageously takes action as a class representative on behalf of all other restaurants that were also wrongly denied insurance coverage despite having faithfully paid their premiums for years,” said Lieff Cabraser partner Robert Nelson, who represents the plaintiffs in the case. “This is the third lawsuit we have filed in the last two weeks on behalf of some of the country’s finest chefs, including Pim Techamuanvivit and Daniel Patterson, and we anticipate filing additional actions against other insurance companies in the very near future on behalf of chefs, independent restaurant groups, and others.”
An Oregon native, Pomeroy is celebrated in Portland for her contributions to the city’s renowned culinary culture, receiving the prestigious James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Northwest in 2014. She is also a Food & Wine “Top 10 Best New Chef in America” alum and a “Star Chefs” Rising Star, and on the leadership team of the Independent Restaurant Coalition (IRC), a grassroots movement to secure vital protections for the nation’s independent restaurants and the millions of restaurant workers impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. In mid-March 2020, Beast was forced to shut down in anticipation of the order of the state of Oregon. The closure and the accompanying loss of income forced Pomeroy to lay off her employees.
Beast was covered as a policyholder under insurance from Berkley North Pacific Group and the other defendants which provided coverage for business interruption. Pomeroy anticipated re-hiring her staff once defendants began providing the contracted insurance coverage for Beast’s business shutdown, particularly as the restaurant’s insurance policy expressly provides coverage for “Lost Business Income” and the consequences of actions by “Civil Authority.”
Contrary to the coverage provisions in its policy with Beast, and the obligations defendants undertook in exchange for receiving years of insurance premium payments, defendants summarily denied Beast’s business interruption coverage claim. The complaint alleges that this denial was part of a premeditated strategy by defendants to deny all claims related to the “shelter in place” orders associated with COVID-19. The complaint further alleges that defendants’ decision to deny coverage was untethered to the facts of Beast’s claim, which defendants did not adequately investigate, or the specific coverage provided by Beast’s policy, and was therefore illegal.
“Pomeroy’s claim is not unique, but her restaurant certainly is, and her leadership here is a clarion call to action. Her voice is one of the strongest in the independent restaurant and sustainable food movement nationwide, and she is standing up for all chefs, asking for their courage to join her,” notes Alexandra Foote, who also represents the plaintiffs. “The loss of Beast would be tragic forever, and wholly avoidable, if only the insurance industry would simply honor the basics of its policies.”
Plaintiffs’ complaint alleges that this total denial of valid and justified business interruption claims constitutes a breach of contract, a breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and unlawful trade practices, and seeks declaratory relief including specific performance of the insurance policies as well as general, compensatory, and treble damages.
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