Robert Hogeboom

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Administrative Law Judge Invalidates Fair Claims Settlement Practices Regulations by California Department of Insurance

Insurance companies could soon be off the hook for stiff penalties and fines imposed by the California Department of Insurance’s (“CDI”) for violations of the Fair Claims Settlement Practices Regulations (“FCPR”).  This is according to California Administrative Law Judge Stephen J. Smith, who recently issued a 51-page ruling finding the CDI’s Fair Claims Settlement Practices Regulations might not be brought as unfair claims acts.  

This ruling affects how the CDI has imposed penalties against insurers for claims since the inception of the FCPR in 1992. Since that time, only two cases have gone to adjudication challenging the procedure, and fines, as most insurance companies have chosen to settle. In both cases, the insurance companies -- an auto insurer and a life and health insurer -- retained Robert Hogeboom, senior insurance regulatory attorney with Barger & Wolen, to represent them.

In the most recent decision, Judge Smith’s ruling was based on the CDI’s Order to Show Cause (“OSC”) action alleging 697 violations against the five Torchmark groups of life and health insurers.

According to Hogeboom,

This ruling is an extraordinary indictment of the FCPR because for the past 20 years the CDI has required insurers to follow the FCPR under threat of an OSC proceeding and large fines."  

This may also result in changes to Market Conduct Examinations if they are to serve as the basis for an OSC proceeding.  

The decision will impact all lines of insurance regulated by the DOI.

Full Analysis of the Decision

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SB 631 - Restitution Bill Update

Robert Hogeboom Testifies on California Restitution Remedy Bill

On April 28, 2011, Barger & Wolen Senior Regulatory Counsel, Robert W. Hogeboom, testified before the Senate Insurance Committee as an industry expert opposing Senate Bill 631

SB 631, as drafted, would give the Insurance Commissioner additional remedies of restitution and reimbursement of attorney’s fees and costs in California Department of Insurance enforcement actions brought on behalf of consumers claiming wrongful conduct by insurers or other licensees, including producers. For more details, please see New Restitution Remedy Proposed for Insurers and Licensees in California.

Immediately before the Senate Insurance Committee hearing, author Senator Noreen Evans (D-District 2) announced her decision to make SB 631 a two-year bill. Her decision is presumed to be the result of the Legislative Counsel’s opinion to the Senate Insurance Committee raising California constitutional issues that the legislation may give the Commissioner remedies only available to the courts. 

At the hearing, Hogeboom testified that the legislation would violate the separation of powers clause in the California Constitution. Restitution is only given to quasi-judicial entities such as the California Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board. Further, reimbursement of attorney’s fees and costs would exceed even the power of the courts in most cases. 

Hogeboom also testified that because the legislation would extend payment of restitution for violations of Proposition 103’s rating law, the bill would likely require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to pass.

Based on his lengthy experience as an enforcement regulatory lawyer, Hogeboom testified that the measure would actually hinder due process rights from licensees because many producer licensees would not be able to afford an administrative hearing when they face the risk of having to pay both restitution and reimbursement of attorney’s fees and costs. This would give the CDI more leverage in forcing licensees into settlements. 

Following the April 28, 2011 hearing, the bill was put over for another year in order to more fully explore its legal issues.

For more information, contact Robert Hogeboom at (213) 614-7304 or rhogeboom@bargerwolen.com.

Recent Trends in Market Conduct Examinations

Led by Robert W. Hogeboom, with special commentary from Robert J. Cerny and Western General Insurance Company General Counsel, Daniel Mallut, Recent Trends in Market Conduct Examinations will cover:

  • The statutory framework for claims examinations and what §790.03(h) really means
  • Understanding the Unfair Claims Settlement Regulations and how, if and when they relate to a §790.03 violation
  • The examination process—new trends on which the examination will focus
  • Negotiation, resolution and cost
  • Order to Show Cause hearing process
  • New issues in market conduct compliance

When:   Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Where:  Los Angeles Airport Marriott
            5855 West Century Boulevard
            Los Angeles, CA 90045
Time:    10:00 a.m.—2:00 p.m. (lunch provided)

Who should attend? In-house counsel and senior claims personnel who specialize in the claims examination process and disciplinary actions in California.

For more information, or to register for the event: Please e-mail Heather Milligan here or 213.614.7382.

California CLE credits are provided.

"Any One Act Test" Rejected by Court in Favor of "Totality of the Circumstances"

In a non-published decision issued on November 18, 2010, the California Court of Appeal affirmed summary judgment against class-action lawyers seeking refunds on broker fees in Munn v. Eastwood Insurance Services.  

The decision rejected the argument that if a broker performs any act on behalf of the insurer, the broker is a de facto agent, and subjects the broker to a refund of all broker fees collected. 

The court rejected the “any one act test” and followed the “totality of the circumstances test,” which has been advocated by this firm for several years as the appropriate test to distinguish the difference between an agent and broker.

The “totality of the circumstances test” was codified into law by legislation in 2008 (AB 2956) that Barger & Wolen Senior Regulatory Partner Robert Hogeboom helped draft.

The court’s decision upheld the FSC comparative rater and the electronic Zap App systems as the appropriate mechanisms for brokers to input information and process applications, and it rejected the plaintiffs’ claim that it was a process to encourage upfront underwriting and binding by the broker. 

Finally, the court recognized that the recent amendment to California Insurance Code section 1623, which includes the definition of “broker” and creates a presumption, did provide the court with “guidance in assessing the facts as part of the totality of the circumstances.” 

Barger & Wolen’s Robert Hogeboom and Suh Choi served as special consultants on the broker fee issue to Eastwood’s counsel, Milford Dahl and Zack Broslavsky of Rutan & Tucker, and to Judi Partridge, former owner of Eastwood. 

If you have any questions, please contact Robert Hogeboom via e-mail or at (213) 614-7304.

Defining "What is a Group?" Under Proposition 103

Notice of California Department of Insurance Workshop

By Robert W. Hogeboom

On Monday, November 11, 2010, the California Department of Insurance (CDI) issued a Notice of Workshop Regarding Affinity Groups Under California Insurance Code Section 1861.12.

The Workshop, scheduled for Friday, December 3, 2010, in San Francisco, deals with group rating programs and the likely need for regulations defining the term “group” for eligibility under Section 1861.12, “which is a part of Proposition 103 and authorizes insurers to issue property and casualty ‘insurance coverage on a group plan.’”

Section 1861.12 does not define the term “group” and does not specify the conditions as to when insurance may be issued on a group plan.  

Barger & Wolen notes that the issue as to “what is a group?” is of major importance to insurers that have submitted group rating plans. It is likely that the CDI will issue regulations with respect to the usage of those plans, and those regulations will likely continue the present policy of ensuring that all of the coverage offered by group members be available and offered to all insureds.

The notice sets forth 13 areas that the CDI will address at the workshop and invites written comments to be submitted prior to the close of business on December 3, 2010:

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California Department of Insurance Requests Insurers to Submit Rate Decrease Application Filings

by Robert W. Hogeboom

The California Department of Insurance (CDI) Rate Regulation Division has recently issued a first round of letters to insurers requesting that they submit rate decrease applications. All Proposition 103 lines are affected. 

Because many insurers have not recently filed rate applications, the California Rate Division suspects that due to a trend of lower loss ratios, that many insurers may be charging excessive rates.

The CDI is requesting insurers to submit rate filings and advise them of the time frame to submit the filing and threatens that if the insurer does not comply, the CDI will issue an Order to Show Cause or a mandatory request for the filing.

We have questioned the CDI's authority to mandate the submission of rate application filings. 

For more information, please view the full client alert here (pdf).

Financial Services Reform Bill and the Insurance Industry

On July 15, 2010, the United States. Senate passed the Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010. The bill now goes to President Obama for his signature, which is expected in the coming days.

The bill, which is over 1,600 pages, establishes new regulations designed to prevent the repeat of the recent financial crisis and end the prospect of future government bailouts. Oversight is established through the creation of the Financial Stability Oversight Council (“Council”).

Members of the Council consist of the heads of several Federal financial regulatory agencies and departments (including the Treasury Secretary who is to act as the Chairman of the Council) and an independent member having insurance expertise who will be appointed by the President subject to Senate confirmation. 

Article V of the bill covers insurance and creates within the Treasury Department a new Office of National Insurance (“Office”). The Office will monitor the insurance industry, coordinate international insurance issues, and provide a study with recommendations to Congress on ways to modernize insurance regulation.        

Various duties that the Office will oversee include:

  1. Monitoring all aspects of the insurance industry and identifying issues or gaps in the regulation of insurers that could contribute to a systemic crisis in the insurance industry or U.S. financial system.
  2. Identifying entities that could become subject to regulation by the Council.
  3. Coordinating federal efforts on prudent aspects of international insurance matters.
  4. Consulting with state regulators on insurance matters of national and international importance.
  5. Advising the Secretary of Treasury on major domestic and international insurance policy issues.
  6. Providing ability to collect financial information from certain insurers (smaller insurers may be exempt).

Robert W. Hogeboom, Senior Regulatory Attorney with Barger & Wolen, along with several insurance executive members of the Pacific Association of Domestic Insurance Companies (PADIC) were escorted by staff of the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies (NAMIC) in late June to meet with key legislators from the California House of Representatives and U.S. Senate in Washington D.C. to discuss the legislation and its effect on California insurers. 

Most important to the insurance industry is the fact that within 18 months the Office must conduct a study and issue a report to Congress providing recommendations on how to modernize and improve the system of insurance regulation in the United States.

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Robert Hogeboom Testifies Against Homeowners' Insurance Regulations Proposed by the California Department of Insurance

Robert H. Hogeboom, Senior Regulatory Attorney at Barger & Wolen LLP, testified on May 17, 2010, that the California Department of Insurance (“CDI”) should withdraw its proposed regulations on standards and training for estimating replacement value on homeowners’ insurance (“Proposed Regulations”). 

Representing the Insurance Agents and Brokers Association of California, Hogeboom criticized the CDI for proposing draconian regulations with no proper authority and creating a new “unfair practice” violation applicable to producers and insurers. Specifically, the Proposed Regulations provide that an estimate not conforming to the new CDI standards set forth in the Proposed Regulations is a misleading statement within California Insurance Code § 790.03, which identifies certain prohibited acts in the business of insurance.

For Hogeboom’s full analysis of the Proposed Regulations, click here.

For Hogeboom’s filed comments and objections to the Proposed Regulations, click here.

For a copy of the Proposed Regulations, click here.

Iranian Data Call ... What Next?

By Robert W. Hogeboom

On July 9, 2009, the California Department of Insurance (CDI) issued a Data Call to all insurers admitted in California seeking information on their investments in or related to Iran. The information was due on September 30, 2009. 

The purpose for the Data Call is to determine if insurer investments are “sound” and comply with applicable law. The Data Call is controversial as it is broadly drafted to include not only direct investments by insurers in the government of Iran, including organizations owned or controlled directly or indirectly by the Iranian government, but also indirect investments. Indirect investments would include, for example, an investment in a company that, in turn, does business with any of the five sectors set forth in the Data Call, including defense, nuclear, petroleum, natural gas or banking. 

As recently explained by Adam Cole, General Counsel for the CDI, the Data Call was specifically introduced by Commissioner Poizner as a measure to enforce U.S. governmental sanctions against Iran, including restrictions with respect to doing business with companies that do business in Iran. 

The Commissioner’s staff will evaluate the information over the next several weeks and will likely issue a statement of the Commissioner’s intentions. The CDI may provide the information in the Data Call directly to the Treasury Department, take further action to disallow statement credit for any direct or indirect Iranian investments as being unsound investments, or request insurers to divest themselves of such investments.

For more information, contact Robert W. Hogeboom at (213) 614-7304 or rhogeboom@bargerwolen.com.

More on Harvey Rosenfield's Initiative to Prohibit Broker and Installment Fees

By Robert W. Hogeboom

This Alert follows our Client Alert of September 4, 2009, Harvey Rosenfield Seeks Initiative to Prohibit Broker and Installment Fees.

Harvey Rosenfield’s proposed initiative, Stop Insurance Overcharges Act (pdf), of September 4, 2009, is intended to counter the July 2009 initiative, The Continuous Coverage Auto Insurance Discount Act, sponsored by CalFair and Mercury General Corp.

The historical background is as follows:

In 2004, Mercury sponsored SB 841, which codified the right to offer portable persistency discounts. In 2005, the Court of Appeal overturned SB 841, reasoning that the legislation did not further the purposes of Proposition 103. In July 2009, Mercury and CalFair sponsored an initiative for the 2010 ballot to permit insurers to offer portable persistency discounts, arguing that consumers benefit by this discount and that it encourages consumers to shop for the lowest rates.

Harvey Rosenfield argues that portable persistency punishes the uninsured. Smart’s California Insurance Report of July 15, 2009 refers to Michael Hiltzik’s July 2nd Los Angeles Times article, Mercury General using guise of benevolence to assault Prop. 103, that criticizes Mercury’s attempt to undermine Proposition 103’s ban on insurers from using the absence of prior coverage as a factor in rate setting. The article also asserts that previously uninsured motorists were charged higher premiums because they do not qualify for a discount, which, in turn, discourages them from purchasing insurance. 

The Stop Insurance Overcharges Act would also add other provisions to the Insurance Code that deal with installment fees, broker fees, the absence of prior insurance and precluding the use of claims experience. 

Proposed Section 1861.25 deals with installment fees and mandates that installment fees, including a fee for the time value of money, are premium. It further limits fees to the direct cost of collecting the installment payments. Comment: This would eliminate the ability to estimate a specific amount as the installment fee.

Proposed Section 1861.26(a) precludes the charging of a broker fee if the broker receives a commission from the insurer on the transaction.  It further requires that broker fees be fair and reasonable and not unfairly discriminatory. It requires the Commissioner to adopt regulations to establish broker fee limits. Comment: This section attempts to regulate broker fees that are not part of the rate and nullify AB 2956. AB 2956, which was unanimously passed by the legislature last year, clarifies the difference between agents and brokers by using the “totality of the circumstances” test coupled with the addition of disclosures to the consumer. 

Proposed Section 1861.27 establishes that any other amount that is billed to and paid by a policyholder constitutes premium and is subject to review and approval by the Commissioner. Comment: Harvey Rosenfield is expanding Proposition 103, which covers insurance rates, to cover all amounts paid by a policyholder. This would include all broker fees and fees charged when the broker does not receive a commission.

Proposed Section 1861.28 clarifies that the absence of prior insurance is not a criteria for auto and homeowners rates. Comment: This deals directly with the Mercury/CalFair initiative.

Finally, proposed Section 1861.29 maintains that except pursuant to Section 1861.02, an insurer may not include claims experience in determining rates, discounts or insurability. Comment: This is meant to address rating and insurability in homeowners insurance.

Contact Robert Hogeboom at (213) 614-7304 for more information.