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  • NYDFS issues final rule to establish standards for insurance sellers

    State Issues

    On July 18, the New York Department of Financial Services (NYDFS) issued a final rule requiring licensed insurers that offer life insurance and annuity products to New York consumers to establish standards and procedures to ensure that the financial objectives of the consumer are addressed at the time of the transaction and financial exploitation is prevented. According to the NYDFS, the rule amends the state’s current suitability regulation and “provides for a best interest standard of care for all sales of life insurance and annuity products.” The rule provides that when making a recommendation to consumers with respect to policies, the producer must “appropriately address the insurance needs and financial objectives of the consumer at the time of the transaction.” According to NYDFS Superintendent Maria Vullo, “financial compensation or incentives may not influence the recommendation.”

    State Issues NYDFS Insurance

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  • Idaho enacts legislation modifying certain motor vehicle service contract provisions

    State Issues

    On March 19, the Idaho governor signed HB 521, which updates a section of the Idaho Code pertaining to the “Idaho Motor Vehicle Service Contract Act” (the Act) to, among other things, “provide[] for state of Idaho regulation of motor vehicle service contracts.” HB 521 also modifies certain provisions surrounding motor vehicle service contracts by (i) clarifying the definition of a service contract; (ii) providing for service contract reimbursement policy requirements; (iii) setting forth rules associated with the sale of service contracts; (iv) specifying recordkeeping requirements; (v) providing for licensing; (vi) stipulating violation penalties; and (vii) noting that the legislation does not preclude a cause of action under the Idaho Consumer Protection Act. Furthermore, HB 521 notes that the “Idaho Insurance Guaranty Association Act shall not apply to any motor vehicle service contract, mechanical breakdown insurance or motor vehicle service contract liability insurance policy.” The Act is effective July 1.

    State Issues State Legislation Consumer Finance Insurance

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  • 10th Circuit upholds TCPA statutory damages as uninsurable under Colorado law

    Courts

    On February 21, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit affirmed a district court’s decision that under Colorado law, an insurance company had no duty to indemnify and defend its insured against TCPA claims seeking statutory damages and injunctive relief. According to the appellate opinion, the FTC and the states of California, Illinois, North Carolina, and Ohio sued a satellite television company for violations of the TCPA, Telemarking Sales Rule (TSR), and various state laws for telephone calls made to numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry (FTC lawsuit). The FTC lawsuit sought statutory damages of up to $1,500 per alleged violation and injunctive relief. The defendant requested that its insurer defend and indemnify it for the claims pursuant to existing policies. The insurance company filed a complaint for declaratory judgment, seeking a declaration that it need not defend or indemnify the company in the FTC lawsuit. The district court determined that there was no coverage for several reasons, including: (i) that the statutory TCPA damages were a “penalty,” rendering them uninsurable under Colorado law; and (ii) that the injunctive relief sought did not qualify as damages under the policies’ definition. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed both holdings, concluding that no coverage existed. 

    Courts TCPA Tenth Circuit Appellate Damages Insurance FTC Telemarketing Sales Rule State Issues

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  • District Court Denies Summary Judgement to Both Parties, Cites Issue of Material Fact Concerning Prepopulated Electronic Signature

    Courts

    On October 18, a federal judge in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina denied summary judgment to both parties because there was a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether a “meaningful offer” of underinsured motorist coverage (UIM) was made. The insured’s electronic signature on the UIM form would indicate that the defendant made a “meaningful offer” of UIM coverage, as required under South Carolina law, and such coverage was rejected. The dispute however, in this case was about whether the electronic signature was prepopulated by the defendant.

    Plaintiff purchased an auto insurance policy from the defendant online, and the coverage did not include UIM coverage. Plaintiff argued that he never signed the UIM coverage provision and that instead, his signature was prepopulated by the defendant’s website. The plaintiff argued that his prepopulated signature did not satisfy the requirements for a meaningful offer of UIM coverage. The defendant rebutted by stating that prepopulating portions of the UIM form is compatible with providing a meaningful offer of UIM coverage. The court was “disinclined to agree” with the defendant’s argument that a “prepopulated signature that appears on an insurance policy before the insured reads through and signals affirmative consent. . .fulfills” the UIM requirements. After reviewing the record, which was limited to screenshots produced by the plaintiff (as the defendant’s attempt to proffer additional system-based evidence was refused by the court because the defendant previously objected to producing it during discovery), the court concluded that it could not grant summary judgment to either party because of the factual dispute regarding whether the plaintiff signed the UIM provision.

    Courts Litigation Electronic Signatures Insurance

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  • Third Treasury Report Calls on HUD to Reconsider Application of Disparate Impact Rule to the Insurance Industry

    Federal Issues

    On October 26, the U.S. Treasury Department published a report outlining a number of recommendations for ways to manage systemic risk primarily within the asset management and insurance industry.  A section of the report, however, also discusses HUD’s potential application of the disparate impact rule to the insurance industry—specifically related to homeowner’s insurance. The report, “A Financial System That Creates Economic Opportunities—Asset Management and Insurance,” is the third in a series of four the Treasury plans to issue in response to President Trump’s Executive Order 13772 (EO), which mandated a review of financial regulations for inconsistencies with promoted “Core Principles.” (See Buckley Sandler Special Alert on the EO here and InfoBytes coverage on the first two reports here.)

    HUD is authorized to adjudicate housing discrimination claims and issue rules relating to the Fair Housing Act. According to the report, Treasury recommends that HUD reconsider the use of the disparate impact theory to the insurance industry. The report notes a number of problems and challenges that would arise from applying disparate impact to the insurance industry. In particular, the report identifies potential challenges because (i) “state insurance regulations ordinarily prohibit the consideration of protected characteristics in the evaluation and pooling of risk” and at least one state expressly prohibits the collection of this data; (ii) the rule could impose unnecessary burdens on insurers and lead to actions that are not actuarially sound in an effort to avoid underwriting practices that may result in disparate outcomes; and (iii) it may be inconsistent with the McCarran-Ferguson Act and other existing state laws.

    The report also recommends, among other things, that Congress clarify the “business of insurance” exception that generally excludes these services from the CFPB’s jurisdiction. The report recommends clarification to this exception to eliminate uncertainty about the CFPB’s jurisdiction and the potential overlap between the Bureau and state insurance regulators. A fact sheet accompanying the report further highlights Treasury’s recommendations to evaluate systemic risk, streamline regulations, rationalize international engagement, and promote economic growth.

    Federal Issues Department of Treasury FHA Asset Management HUD Disparate Impact CFPB Systemic Risk Insurance

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  • District Court Fines Mortgage Brokers More Than $298 Million for Alleged FCA/FIRREA Violations

    Courts

    On September 14, a federal judge in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas ruled after a five-week jury trial that defendants, who allegedly submitted fraudulent insurance claims after acquiring risky loans, were liable for treble damages and the maximum civil penalties allowed under the False Claims Act (FCA) and the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act (FIRREA). According to the court, the evidence presented at trial demonstrated that the damages suffered by the U.S. were a “foreseeable consequence” of the defendants’ misconduct and that such misconduct was part of an “prolonged, consistent enterprise of defrauding the [U.S.],” warranting a higher level of penalties. The jury found that one of the defendants along with its CEO “submitted or caused to be submitted 103 insurance claims” while misrepresenting that its branches were registered by HUD, causing the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) to sustain damages in excess of $7 million. A separate mortgage broker defendant was found to have submitted or caused to be submitted 1,192 insurance claims causing over $256 million in damages to the FHA due to the “reckless” underwriting of loan applications, in violation of FCA. The court rejected the defendants’ request for lenient civil penalties, finding the defendants’ behavior to be “custom-designed to flout the very program that relied upon [defendants’] diligence and compliance” and demonstrating “a patent unwillingness to accept responsibility for their actions.” The FIRREA penalties resulted from defendants submitting false annual certifications to HUD that were intended “to serve as a separate and independent quality check on the [defendant’s] branches,” but instead led to injury in the form of borrowers entering into default or foreclosures, as well as elevated mortgage insurance premiums.

    The judge imposed over $291 million in FCA treble damages and penalties against the three defendants. Additionally, each defendant was fined $2.2 million in FIRREA penalties for actions that “were neither isolated or relatively benign . . . [but] were reckless, egregious, and widely injurious.”

    Courts Lending Mortgages False Claims Act / FIRREA Litigation Insurance FHA HUD

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  • OFAC Settles with International Insurance Group over Charges of Violating Sanctions Programs

    Financial Crimes

    On June 26, the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) reached a settlement with an international financial services and insurance company based in New York for alleged violations of OFAC sanctions programs. OFAC claimed that the company “issued policies and insurance certificates, and/or processed claims and other insurance-related transactions that conferred economic benefit to sanctioned countries or persons and undermined the policy objectives of several U.S. economic sanctions programs.” Specifically, OFAC maintained the company violated the following sanctions programs: (i) Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations, 31 C.F.R. Part 560 (ITSR); (ii) Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferators Sanctions Regulations, 31 C.F.R. Part 544 (WMDPSR); (iii) Sudanese Sanctions Regulations, 31 C.F.R. Part 538 (SSR); and (iv) Cuban Assets Control Regulations, 31 C.F.R. Part 515 (CACR). The settlement requires the company to pay $148,698 to settle the claims, which the company voluntarily self-disclosed to OFAC.

    For others to avoid these issues, OFAC suggested that “the best and most reliable approach for insuring global risks without violating U.S. sanctions law is to insert in global insurance policies an explicit exclusion for risks that would violate U.S. sanctions laws.”

    Financial Crimes Federal Issues OFAC Insurance Sanctions Risk Management

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  • Nevada AG Issues Advisory Opinion Finding Assignment of a Retail Installment Sales Contract Does Not Subject Assignee to Licensure or Regulation Under Ch. 675 of the NV Code

    Lending

    Last month, the Office of the Attorney General for the State of Nevada (OAG) issued an Advisory Opinion[1] finding that a retail seller financing its own sales pursuant to the retail installment sales contract (RISC) provisions found in Chapter 97 of the Nevada Revised Statutes (NRS), but which is otherwise not engaging in lending activity, is not required to secure a lender’s license under Chapter 675 of the NRS. In reaching this conclusion, the OAG references another opinion[2]it had issued earlier this year concerning retail installment lending, and noted that “[w]hen a retail seller finances its own sales pursuant to the provisions of Chapter 97, but otherwise engages in no lending activity, the retailer's business activity is governed exclusively by the provisions of Chapter 97” (emphasis added). In light of this earlier holding, the OAG reasoned as follows:

    [W]hen a person purchases or takes an assignment of a RISC pursuant to the provisions of Chapter 97 of the NRS, the person’s acceptance of the assignment does not subject the person to regulation or licensure under NRS Chapter 675. Assuming that the person is not independently engaged in lending activity subject to licensure and regulation under NRS Chapter 675, the person’s financing activity is governed exclusively by the provisions of NRS Chapter 97. To the extent that a vehicle dealer adopts the contractual terms of the form RISC as prescribed by the Commissioner in accordance with Chapter 97, the vehicle dealer is permitted to assign the RISC to a financial institution. Although it applies in general terms to certain types of lending activity, NRS Chapter 675 does not specifically abrogate the exclusive provisions of Chapter 97 that govern the parties to a RISC made and assigned pursuant to Chapter 97.

    Notably, the Opinion was issued in response to a request from the Commissioner of the Financial Institutions Division of the Nevada Department of Business and Industry (NDBI), seeking a “formal opinion” regarding certain indirect vehicle financing transactions that use the form retail installment contract prescribed for use in the sale of vehicles pursuant to NRS 97.299. Specifically, the Commissioner sought an opinion addressing “[w]hether a financial institution that purchases Retail Installment Sales Contracts ("RISC[ s ]") from motor vehicle dealers in the State of Nevada (i.e. engages in indirect financing) is required to be licensed pursuant to Chapter 675 of the NRS[.]” The Commissioner also requested clarification addressing “[w]hether NRS Chapter 675 requires such a financial institution to have an in-state physical presence[.]”

    Lending Agency Rule-Making & Guidance Insurance State Attorney General

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  • Gov. Cuomo Announces New Title Insurance Regulations Target Business Gifts, Ancillary Fees and Transactions with Affiliates

    State Issues

    On May 1, New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced two new proposed regulations to “crack down on unscrupulous practices in the title insurance industry.” According to the Governor, the proposed measures were drafted in response to an investigation by the state Department of Financial Services (“NYDFS”), which found that “meals, entertainment, gifts” and other “inducements” provided in exchange for referring business to a title insurance company or agents, were charged to customers under the guise of “marketing expenses.”  The first proposed regulation would, among other things, clarify the rules about “meals and entertainment” expenses, and other ancillary fees that title agents or title insurers may charge a customer. The second proposed regulation would require title insurance companies or agents that generate a portion of their business from affiliates to function separately and independently from any affiliate and obtain business from other sources. Importantly, a press release issued by NYDFS explains that “emergency” versions of both of these regulations have already been adopted by NYDFS (in response to the aforementioned investigation). As explained by NYDFS, the emergency rules, which are currently in effect, will remain in effect until final regulations are adopted.

    State Issues Agency Rule-Making & Guidance Insurance NYDFS

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  • New Mexico Enacts New Laws Affecting Payday Lenders, Check Cashing Service Providers, and the Enforcement of Service Contracts / Warranties

    State Issues

    On April 6, New Mexico enacted H.B. 347, a bill amending the New Mexico Small Loan Act of 1955 (NMSLA) and Bank Installment Loan Act of 1959 (NMILA) to effectively eliminate “payday loans” in the state by requiring that loans of $5,000 or less be made pursuant to the NMSLA or NMILA. Specifically, the new law caps the annual percentage rate of such loans at 175% and requires lenders operating in New Mexico to provide loan terms of at least 120 days, and a minimum repayment schedule of four installments of substantially equal amounts. The new law also limits the fees and charges a lender may assess in connection with loans made under the NMSLA or NMILA as well as the number of times a lender may present a check or other debit for payment. Furthermore, lenders are prohibited from extending loans under the NMSLA or NMILA if the consumer has not repaid any loans previously obtained under these acts, and all lenders must report the terms of these loans to consumer reporting agencies. Notably, these new requirements do not apply to federally insured depository institutions. Moreover, H.B. 347—which takes effect on January 1, 2018—will be enforced exclusively by the state. Counties, municipalities, and other political subdivisions of the state are preempted from any regulation of terms and conditions regarding these loans whether by ordinance, resolution, or otherwise. A violation of either the NMSLA or the NMILA will constitute an unfair or deceptive trade practice under New Mexico’s Unfair Practices Act.

    Also on April 6, Governor Susana Martinez signed into law S.B. 220, a bill that amends the Service Contract Regulation Act by adding and amending definitions; providing for surety through insurance policies; and providing specific information to be included into contracts and warranties. Specifically, the amendments—which are scheduled to take effect on June 16—allow providers to obtain a reimbursement insurance policy in lieu of maintaining a deposit with the Superintendent of Insurance.

    That same day, Governor Martinez also enacted H.B. 276, a bill that increased from $500 to $2,500 the revenue threshold within a 30-day period that triggers New Mexico’s Uniform Money Services Act licensing requirement for check cashing businesses. H.B. 276 is scheduled to take effect July 1.

    State Issues Payday Lending Check Cashing Insurance

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