Andrew Caplan, a partner at Burns & Levinson, sent me a comment that made me realize that my post was not as clear as it should have been. Andy wrote:
Massachusetts state and federal cases go both ways on the issue of whether information derived from outside the complaint may serve to negate the duty to defend.
Yes. Farm Family Mut. Ins. Co. v. Whepley, 767 N.E.2d 1101, 1104 (Mass. App. Ct. 2002)( finding “rare exception” to general rule); Gateway Group Advantage, Inc. v. McCarthy, 300 F. Supp. 2d 236, 246 (D. Mass. 2003) (following Farm Family); Dash v. Chicago Ins. Co., 2004 WL 1932760, *5 (D. Mass. Aug. 23, 2004) (dicta).
No. Millipore Corp. v. Travelers, 115 F.3d 21, 35-36 (1st Cir., 1997), citing Nashua Corp. v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 1997 WL 89163 (Mass. Super. Ct. Feb. 18, 1997) ("Where a complaint is susceptible on its face of a reading that brings the claim within the policy, the insurer cannot rely on facts outside the complaint to justify a unilateral refusal to defend."); Sterilite Corp. v. Continental Casualty Co., 17 Mass. App. Ct. 316, 324 n. 17, 458 N.E.2d 338 (1983)("[I]t is the claim which determines the insurer's duty to defend; and it is irrelevant that the insurer may get information from the insured, or anyone else, which indicates, or even demonstrates, that the injury is not in fact covered."); Essex Ins. Co. v. Berkshire Envtl. Consultants, Inc., 2002 WL 226172, *2 (D. Mass. Feb. 7, 2002); Metallized Prods., Inc. v. Travelers Ins. Co., 2003 WL 22481398, *3 (Mass. Super. Ct. Sept. 17, 2003).
Andy is correct that in most cases an insurer may not use information outside the underlying complaint to deny defense to an insured (although such information can be used to compel a duty to defend). The exception stated in Whelpley is quite narrow: it applies to facts that are (1) undisputed and (2) will not be litigated at the underlying trial, because they are irrelevant to the underlying claim.
In my previous post I discussed an example where an insurance policy covers only blue cars. The color of the car is undisputed. It will not be litigated at trial because the color of the car is irrelevant to liability. That would fall into the Whelpley exception.