Naomi Pomeroy, the award-winning chef and owner of Northeast Portland restaurant Beast, today filed lawsuit demanding her insurer cover business losses related to COVID-19.
The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in federal court, could set a precedent for thousands of businesses across the state—and possibly the country—that were denied insurance coverage for losses incurred when a pandemic shut down dining rooms.
Many businesses, including Beast, had "business interruption" coverage through their insurance policies. But insurers across the nation have told policyholders that pandemic-related losses aren't covered.
Beast, owned by Pomeroy, is now suing its insurance company, Berkley North Pacific Group, in U.S. District Court in Portland, challenging what Pomeroy describes as a "systematic and blanket refusal to provide any coverage for business losses related to the COVID-19 pandemic."
Pomeroy is represented by some heavy hitters: Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, a national plaintiff's law firm based in San Francisco, and Stoll Berne, a highly-respected Portland plantiff's firm.
Neither party could immediately be reached for comment.
Pomeroy has been one of Portland's most high-profile chefs for over a decade. She started her career in the late '90s with a supper club run out of her house, but achieved widespread fame when she opened Beast, a 24-seat prix fixe restaurant, in the Concordia neighborhood in 2007.
Pomeroy's locally sourced, French-inspired meals made Beast a fine-dining destination. It was named The Oregonian's Restaurant of the Year in 2008, and Pomeroy went on to win a prestigious James Beard Award in 2014. She and her husband also own the cocktail bar Expatriate and Colibri, a flower shop on Northeast Prescott Street.
Beast closed on March 15, 2020, due to coronavirus concerns, the lawsuit says. The suspended operations resulted in lost business income, which is covered squarely under the restaurant's insurance plan, according to the lawsuit:
"The Policy provides coverage for Lost Business Income, promising that Defendants 'will pay for the actual loss of Business Income you sustain due to the necessary 'suspension' of your 'operations' during the 'period of restoration,'" the complaint says. "The 'suspension' must be caused by direct physical loss of or damage to property at [the insured] premises."
On March 17, the restaurant requested insurance coverage. Within a week, the insurers denied the claim.
The lawsuit seeks class action status—meaning other businesses can join (so far, Beast is the sole plaintiff). But Beast contends that the insurance company's denial wasn't isolated to its business alone, and that the Berkley Insurance Company "engaged in the same misconduct" with other policyholders who "suffered losses related to the Coronavirus pandemic and submitted claims which were categorically denied."
Beast is asking the court for injunctive relief from the insurance company's "unfair and/or deceptive conduct" and wrongful denial of coverage, and for the insurers to follow through with the coverage set forth in their insurance policy.
"Defendants' categorical treatment, failure to investigate in good faith, and denial of Beast's and the Class members' claims," the complaint says, "appears to be part of a broader strategy being employed by the insurance industry generally, to broadly deny claims for business interruption coverage related to the Coronavirus pandemic."
Since Beast's closure, Pomeroy has been a prominent voice for restaurateurs, arguing that federal loans and grants don't help businesses that can't hire back all the employees they laid off.
"We need something going forward that is going to help us get through this crisis," Pomeroy told WW's news partner KATU-TV. "This is not an eight-week crisis. This crisis is going to be probably a two-year crisis, and we will need extra support."